On Greece and Syriza: Against the inhumanity of austerity, we pose the fullness of human liberation!

February 4, 2015

The electoral victory of Greece’s Syriza party represents an important step in resisting the brutal austerity that has been imposed on the Greek and European working class as the capitalist system’s response to its own intractable, seemingly never-ending 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%. The capitalist crisis is the most vicious of zero-sum games, in which everything is taken from the life fabric of human society until nothing is left but wars and accounting ledgers. While we in News and Letters Committees celebrate the resistance represented by the Greek vote against this intolerable system, Syriza’s immediate follow-up to the election cannot be overlooked.

That Syriza attempts to embody a form of anti-capitalist politics makes it the necessary object of revolutionary criticism. Its victory has been made possible by a worldwide movement, begun and inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. Coinciding with the Georgia prisoners’ strike in the U.S., this world movement is profoundly anti-racist, cross-cultural and international, as well as anti-capitalist. It is the reason why Syriza’s base is made up of workers, feminists, youth, environmentalists and LGBT people, the many voices that made themselves heard in 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.

In this regard, serious alarms must be raised by Syriza’s choice to ally with the racist, theocratic Independent Greeks party, who also have opposed the austerity imposed on Greece, but from a very different perspective. It is to be hoped that this unprincipled alliance will be short-lived and not become the model for a politics that brings together “Left” and Right in a way that can only lead to future disasters and the suppression of genuine opposition to the rule of capital. For now, the most likely effect—perhaps intended, perhaps not—will be to dismay and demobilize the most revolutionary elements of Syriza’s voting base.


Syriza doesn’t speak with one coherent voice. As member Stathis Kouvelakis has described, there are “many levels of discourse.” This translates as pragmatism. It is the language spoken by party leader and new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, as Kouvelakis has described: “He went to places or institutions that are patronized by the mainstream or even the economic oligarchy. These are very exclusive clubs in which very important people of business and of finance convene and discuss. The impression was that when he was there, he was presenting a much milder version of the approach of the party. When he went to New York and spoke at the Brookings Institute, he made repeated references to the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt. When he went to Austin, Texas, he said that Syriza would never abandon the euro” (Jacobin interview).

Early statements by new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis seemed to confirm this pragmatic orientation. He said, “All we’re asking for is an opportunity to put together a proposal that will minimize the costs of Greece’s loan agreement and give this country a chance to breathe again after policies that created massive social depravity” (The New York Times, Jan. 29). That is one battle in the class war that it is necessary, now, to fight and win—not least for the inspiration it would lend to the struggle across Europe and the world.

But that leaves other questions. The effort of “pragmatists” with state power who try to “manage” the capitalist crisis, like President Obama, has led to attempts to blur the stark opposition between revolution and genocide in Syria—the current test of world politics—and it is no accident that Syrian and Palestinian refugees fleeing President Bashar al-Assad make up a large portion of those immigrants that the xenophobic Independent Greeks have so demonized.


One of the most troubling pre-election trips taken by new Greek Prime Minister Tsipras was to meet with the Serbian “Movement of Socialists,” the dregs of the political tendency whose spokesperson was once the renegade Marxist Mihailo Markovic. Though they call themselves “a nationally responsible party of the fighting Left,” the party’s current leader, Alexander Vulin, serves as the Minister of Labor in the Serbian government, slashing workers’ wages and retirement and disability benefits.

Tsipras may have felt that by aligning with the likes of Vulin he was simply courting a “useful” ally. But behind the fake rhetoric there lies the reality of that political tendency’s role in the Bosnian genocide that was the test of world politics in the post-Cold War landscape of the 1990s. It isn’t only that Marxist philosopher Markovic, author of the Serbian Academy of Sciences Memorandum that became a warrant for genocide in the hands of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, betrayed the movement for human freedom by promoting narrow nationalism and racism. It is also that Markovic attempted to justify this in the name of Marx’s humanism, thus transforming the philosophy of human liberation into its opposite.

This deformation of Marx’s humanism to a new form of National Socialism is the death of revolutionary thought, and Marxist-Humanists will never allow it to claim a historic right to exist.[1] It is in this light that we find Tsipras’ flirtation with this retrogressive tendency to be most troubling. We trust that our revolutionary Greek comrades will reject such misalliances and rather take the opportunity, in the spirit of the revolutionary critique of reality, to point to the assistance that narrow Greek nationalism had lent to Milosevic’s genocidal state in Bosnia.

Today it isn’t only some utterly corrupted former Marxists who stand on Milosevic’s legacy, but legions of the European Right who echo his anti-Muslim racism and violent vile threats. The alliance between Syriza and the racist Independent Greeks (one of whom has obscenely been named as Defense Minister!) has only encouraged such forces, from France’s Marine Le Pen on down, to hail Syriza’s election, which should have been seen as an unambiguous defeat for all they represent.

Some in Syriza’s leadership have also flirted with Russia’s ultra-nationalist, imperialist “Eurasianism” ideologue Alexander Dugin. Dugin has supported Putin’s imperialist crimes in Ukraine and Syria and recently called for a new genocide against Ukrainians. The mutual embrace of Russian fascist Dugin and American fascist David Duke only emphasizes the lurking danger of a new world war.


The history of the Cold War and beyond should have made clear the futility of revolutionaries relying on appeals to one imperialism as against another. As Syria has demonstrated once again, imperialists are united first and foremost in their unremitting hostility to revolution.

It may be true that the alliance with the Independent Greeks is meant to bolster the new Syriza-led government’s position in its confrontation with the European Union. But it was felt as a slap in the face by many of the party rank-and-file, and by many outside Syriza who support the struggle against austerity from a revolutionary perspective. Serious activists and thinkers know that 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. The moment cries out for a deepened philosophic confrontation: Where is the needed banner of a total uprooting of the system and creation of new human relations as the goal?[2]

The masses who took to the squares of the Middle East and Europe have continued to pose this question in many ways, from the deep humanism of the Syrian Revolution to the anti-austerity vote in Greece. Against this backdrop the critique of Syriza (or its leadership) can be expressed in positive terms. The people who have carried on the spirit of Syntagma Square by organizing mutual support, by organizing against the Greek fascist party Golden Dawn, 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 may fall short of asserting human liberation as the ultimate goal. It is they who command our deepest solidarity.

–The Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
February 3, 2015

[1] See Bosnia-Herzegovina: Achilles Heel of Western ‘Civilization (News and Letters, 1996) for our presentation of this, not as a purely “political” position, but as a necessary philosophic category.

[2] See “From the U.S. to Ukraine, crises and revolts call for philosophy,” Marxist-Humanist Perspectives 2014-2015. Published in News & Letters, May-June 2014.

0 thoughts on “On Greece and Syriza: Against the inhumanity of austerity, we pose the fullness of human liberation!

  1. What a great statement! It makes us clear how political parties should root their political actions not just on tactics and strategies, but on a humanist philosophy of liberation. Without that, although they have an “anti-imperialist” speech, they are nothing. But there is good news about Greece: as the statement says, the rank-and-files (workers, youth, women, national minorities), whose demands made possible the electoral triumph of Syriza, “are those best-placed to move beyond the failings and blind spots of Tsipras and others who may fall short of asserting human liberation as the ultimate goal. It is they who command our deepest solidarity”.

  2. I agree that the statement is very good and poses serious questions about the revolutionary character of Syriza, which, it should be noted, is a classical popular front including Stalinists, Maoists and “Euro
    communists’, which makes their flirtation with the pseudo Marxists of the former Yugoslavia and Russia more understandable, and I agree with the basic premise that revolutionary forces cannot build a revolutionary movement in alliance with fascists. We should be declaring war on all fascists, driving them out of the political realm forever. Narrow nationalism of whatever sort is the counter revolution in theory and practice. It is no wonder that the Stalinists and fascists find common ground in Russia today. I find it hard to decide if Putin is a Stalinist fascist or a fascist Stalinist or both.Syriza wants a government that unites fascists and the “left” but they are only digging their own grave and that of the revolution. They should reread Trotsky’s warnings to the German working class in the months and days before Hitler took power, But what should be also said is that ultimately a serious and true revolutionary change of society is impossible via the electoral path. In the end, it will be the masses in arms, liquidating the entire bourgeois structure, abolishing the standing army and police,that will carry the revolution to its ultimate and true victory . The lessons of the Paris Commune should never be forgotten

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