Monday 26 January 2015

Syriza and Us

'Radical Left Takes Power'. There's a headline not seen in my lifetime. Syriza's victory in yesterday's Greek elections is rightly being greeted with dismay, derision, and near panic by those who presume to know the needs of Greece better than the 2.2m voters who turned out against a completely unnecessary economic depression and austerity-without-end. Sadly, it was just two seats short from acquiring an absolute majority, tingeing the celebrations with a bit of 'oooh, 'ang on a minute' as Syriza came to a governing arrangement with the Independent Greeks, also known as the British Conservatives' Greek sister party.

Alexis Tsipras and his cabinet, due to be appointed tomorrow, face an incredibly difficult situation. They may have the goodwill of most of the left from across Europe with them, but they could find the financial clout of the ECB and bond markets against them. Internally there are problems too. Even if Tsipras is able to renegotiate the bail out on the most favourable terms austerity policies are unlikely to be reversed in short order. The restoration of pensions, the minimum wage, and sacked public sector workers isn't going to happen tomorrow. Easing off these policies and then clearing up the economic damage left behind might not happen at a pace agreeable to a chunk of Syriza's support. Managing the situation politically is very tough and disappointment and disillusion is an ever-present danger. The only way Syriza can mitigate the potential damage is avoid the spin and stupid optimism of their predecessors who, like our beloved government, bemoaned "tough choices", without seriously tackling tax avoidance and evasion and, in Greece's case, ingrained corruption. Syriza has no choice but to be completely honest with their electorate and the Greek people at large about the challenges and problems facing it.

Another problem is with the state apparatus itself. There are two issues here. Firstly, Syriza is very well placed to purge the administrative machinery of the persistent pockets of corrupt officialdom. As it has supplanted PASOK as the main proletarian party in Greece, albeit with significant small business support also, taking on and rooting corruption out is sociologically possible because its core constituency does not benefit from those kinds of relationships. It's hurt by them. The same is true of tax evasion. Just as it's utopian to believe the Tories here would crack down hard on legal and illegal tax dodging schemes because it's their base who benefits, so it was true of New Democracy's relationship to the conservative business interests aboard their coalition. Only a party standing apart separately from those interests can take them on. Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution finds itself confirmed in constitutional politics too. Taking on entrenched corruption will be a tough fight, and Syriza are certainly motivated enough to do it, but it comes back to matters of timing and energy required.

This is because there's another potential battle within the state looming: that between a government of socialists and a thuggish police force sympathetic - in the main - to Golden Dawn. Lest anyone forget the police's appalling record of attacking what were protesters and are now government supporters. The New Democracy coalition undertook a limited offensive against fascist infiltration of and collaboration between them and the police after Golden Dawn supporters murdered an anti-fascist musician in September 2013. Their so-called fuhrer, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, currently awaits trial for that murder and his alleged involvement in the disappearance of up to 100 migrant workers. Yet the fascists, while still small and hopefully an electorally spent force, might yet be a focal point for reaction within the police and security services. Syriza's 2012 programme demands the removal of arms and masks from those policing demonstrations, and calls for a more comprehensive training programme aimed at understanding the social roots of crime. That was then. Now? I don't know, but one assumes that Syriza comrades have been giving this some serious thought. (If any reader can shed a light, please comment below).

Syriza and its Independent Greek bedfellows make for awkward pillow partners. Syriza is uncompromisingly progressive on social issues, the role of religion in public life, immigration, and so on. The ANEL are not. Yet at least on the primary issue before Greece - the renegotiation of austerity - their positions are more or less identical, even if the bases for it are quite different. For leftists here in Britain who are getting a bit twitchy about it and are already looking for signs of a sell out, as Syriza's leadership have proved themselves politically adept enough to steer their party from a ragtag and bobtail outfit of Trots and Maoists to government in less than a decade, I think it's fair to say they no how to treat with and the dangers of doing a deal with these characters better than you and I.

And that, overall, is the sort of stance the British left should take toward Syriza. They're the experts about the politics of their land, not us. There are a great many activists and thinkers in left politics here who do have expertise and experiences Syriza might find useful. They may occasionally avail themselves of an insight that a bit of distance and grounding in a different political history that could help. The British left should comment and above all learn from the experiences of the coming weeks and months. There is no room for lectures, for carping, for the performative piety of lefty identity politics. Above all the role of the left here, regardless of our background, is to offer solidarity with Syriza, defend it from the calumnies sure to be chucked at it by homegrown idiots and enemies, and make the case that another form of politics is not just possible, but can win too.


Speedy said...

Who will blink first? Given that 70 per cent of Greeks support continued membership of the Euro, it seems likely it will be Syriza. This is all about, as it has always been, Germany. Already there are grumblings about QE - Merkel may feel obliged (indeed, may wish) to make an example of the Greeks. As one can see from the mismanagement of the Euro - folly and hubris has far from been extinguished from European politics.

Each country is obsessed with its own history - sees Europe through its own lens. For the (Independent) Greeks it is German war reparations, for example. It was only due to US intervention that the Greeks were not ejected from the Euro last time around (the Americans were aghast at the determination of the Germans to "punish" the Greeks, oblivious to the economic consequences). This time they are apparently confident that there are enough "safeguards" in place to do so.

Geed on by the Independent Greeks, will Syzria realise the Germans are not bluffing? Ultimately perhaps both Greek parties will decide exit blamed on the Germans is best. This scenario I would say is a 50/50 possibility. Given that the subsequent collapse of the entire currency (if Greece can go, who will be next?) is also a 50/50 possibility, we are talking very high stakes.

Could never happen? I hope not - the human price will be incalculable - but history is not on our side.

Anonymous said...

Syriza need to push for closer EU integration, making the argument that the lack of political unity is hurting the economy.

They should also have a populist and patriotic war on corruption and tax evasion. They can use the coalition partners for this purpose. In fact they can get their coalition partners to do much of the dirty work.

Oh and they should find other partners a.s.a.p.

asquith said...

Samurai Socialist said...

Nice post, I agree with the sentiments here. The key point though is that this is unchartered territory in European politics. Even though we are seeing a rise in support for the popular and radical left across southern Europe, each of these movements has its own ingrained national characteristics and it is difficult to know at the present time where the true overlaps between them are. Syriza and Podemos, for example, are often portrayed in the UK press as representing the same movement but this is only broadly true.
As you say, instead of imposing our left wing ideals on to this movement the British left should watch, wait and learn from the experience of the coming weeks. Whatever happens is going to have repercussions for the left across Europe so we should offer solidarity and support during the coming struggle.

Samurai Socialist said...

I have just started blogging about socialism and related themes so please feel free to drop by for a look -