From the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters
The Jan. 25 electoral victory of Greece’s Syriza party was an important first step in resisting the brutal austerity that has been imposed on the Greek and European working classes as capitalism’s response to its own intractable, seemingly endless crisis. Unemployment is conservatively estimated at 25.8% with youth unemployment at 49.6%; nominal wages have fallen 23.5%; and public health care spending has fallen by 40%. These conditions are unlivable.
The subsequent meeting on Feb. 21 between the new government leaders and European Union bosses was widely presented as a defeat for Syriza’s anti-austerity agenda. It would be more accurate to call it a recapitulation of the last few hundred years of history in one afternoon. That people’s democratic aspirations and the rule of capital are incompatible is a fundamental lesson of the modern world.
Seldom does history present a clearer example of Marx’s categories come to life than in the Greek people’s struggle today. (For more on Syriza’s challenges, see “On Greece and Syriza: Against the inhumanity of austerity, we pose the fullness of human liberation!“) Marx’s discussion of the historic tendency of capitalist accumulation culminates in just the problem: What form will be taken by wealth? “Wealth” as capital will be translated into the vicious zero-sum game seen in Greek and European austerity. The real wealth of human freedom and self-development begins with the negation of that anti-human logic.
NEED FOR REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS
As Marx demonstrates in Capital, this debt is really a form of primitive accumulation, with all the violence this implies. The demand of European bankers and officials that Greece should squeeze ever more from the life of its people is an extension of the same alienation and dispossession seen in the conquest of the Americas, and its genocide and slavery as the fundamental building blocks of modern bourgeois society.
That Syriza attempts to embody a form of anti-capitalist politics makes it the necessary object of revolutionary criticism. Its electoral victory was made possible by a worldwide movement, begun and inspired by the Arab Spring revolts. This world movement is profoundly anti-racist, cross-cultural and international, as well as anti-capitalist. That’s why Syriza’s base includes workers, feminists, youth, environmentalists and LGBT people, the many voices of the 2011 occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens. At such a time of ferment, revolutionary thought will either rise to the moment and develop further, or it will die.
Nothing could be in greater contradiction to the movement that lifted Syriza to prominence than the parliamentary alliance with the racist, theocratic Independent Greeks party. They also opposed austerity, but from a far different position. This alliance has since led reactionaries and neo-fascists from Marine Le Pen in France to Alexander Dugin in Russia to hail Syriza as a potential model for their own plans. While party leaders may regard this alliance as necessary to bolster their stand against the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund, it was a slap in the face to many in the party rank-and-file.
The way new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke with a forked tongue following the Feb. 21 concessions made to the austerity regime also represents a deep-rooted problem. In calling the negotiations “a decisive step, leaving austerity, the bailouts and the Troika,” Tsipras displayed Syriza’s pragmatism of “many levels of discourse,” telling an audience what it wants to hear. (For a philosophic critique of the Syriza government’s Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, see “Greece: postmodernism in power.”)
This led Greek Leftist Manolis Glezos to say, “The fact that the Troika has been renamed ‘the institutions,’ the Memorandum has been renamed the ‘Agreement,’ and the creditors have been renamed the ‘partners,’ in the same manner as baptizing meat as fish, does not change the previous situation….For my part I apologize to the Greek people for having assisted this illusion.”
DANGERS OF RETROGRESSION
Tsipras’ pre-election visit to meet with the Serbian “Movement of Socialists” also remains troubling. These are the dregs of the tendency once spoken for by renegade Marxist humanist Mihailo Markovic, author of the Memorandum that became a warrant for genocide in Bosnia and Kosova in the hands of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The party’s current leader, Alexander Vulin, serves as Serbia’s Minister of Labor, slashing workers’ wages and retirement and disability benefits.
It would be easy to say, with the all-too-knowing attitude of the old Left, well, nothing is to be expected from the election of a party as contradictory, in some respects as compromised, as Syriza. That attitude cedes too much power to Tsipras and other leaders who are where they are only because masses of people rejected the logic of capitalism in opposing austerity.
There is no escape from the problematic of our time, the sharpness of revolution and counter-revolution contending while the prolonged global capitalist crisis refuses to end. Where is the needed banner of a total uprooting of the system and creation of new human relations as the goal?
The people who carried on the spirit of Syntagma Square by organizing mutual support, defending immigrants, fighting the fascist Golden Dawn party, and by asserting their own voices as women, youth, workers, LGBT, immigrants, environmentalists and internationalists are those best placed to move beyond the failings and blind spots of Tsipras and others who fall short of asserting human liberation as the ultimate goal. It is they who command our deepest solidarity.