Greece: SYRIZA versus the Capitalist Institutions of the European Union – the First Defeat

To cut or to leavePublished: 25 July 2015
Author: Soteris Vlachos (Socialist Expression, Cyprus)

The Result of the Referendum
The five-month battle of SYRIZA inspired millions in Europe and the world. The NO result of the Referendum, in the middle of an actual banking coup and a near strangulation of the economy, was a crowning moment of this process. However, instead of this point being used as a springboard for even more decisive action by the leadership of SYRIZA, the very next day Syriza?s leader, Tsipras, laid down their arms. By openly stating that the purpose of the Referendum was to reach a better agreement rather than to leave the Eurozone, Tsipras opened the way for German Finance Minister Schäuble and the rest of the Eurogroup gang to impose on them an extremely degrading agreement. An agreement that provides even for the dismissal of the few workers that SYRIZA government had rehired and terminates of all legislation that had passed through parliament since SYRIZA was elected.

It could be easy for someone to call this treason. But that would be an easy way out, a dismissal of the necessity to discuss and understand the reasons for this unexpected capitulation. That would be equivalent to us giving up the opportunity to better prepare for the next battle – because it must be clear that a battle was lost in this class war that the capitalist institutions of Europe are continuing to relentlessly wage against the peoples of Europe.

An Important Heritage
The battle SYRIZA offered to the European Movement was more probably than anyone else has since the time of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the October Revolution. SYRIZA negotiated with the European institutions in a totally open way, providing information to the public on everything being discussed behind the closed doors. At least as long as the negotiations were managed by Varoufakis. They put the discussions on politics and economy, which for decades were held only in the circles of the intelligentsia, in every home, in every public place. But above all they highlighted the international dimension of the battle of the Greek people arguing that a solution could only come through radical political changes in Europe and not in conflict with it.

After this epic battle hardly anyone could seriously accuse the leadership of SYRIZA of conscious treason. The reasons for their turnaround must be sought elsewhere. One possible conclusion, however, is no less daunting: “No one can be victorious against the European Institutions.”

It is imperative to understand what has happened and why it happened, so as to better equip ourselves. There are major dangers ahead. There stand the class opponents of the European peoples, ready to deliver any blow necessary against the people.

But even more important are the dangers that may arise from attempts to find shortcuts out of this desperate situation, by hasty and desperate moves in SYRIZA and the Left in general, which would lead to further fragmentation of the left and render its unity in action even more difficult.

Hard Questions Arising from Unexpected Developments
“Could … the struggle of the popular classes to improve their lives … have as a center … a government that has participated in the formulation and implementation of the 3rd Memorandum? … And what role can the party of Syriza play, the main governmental force today? (John Milios, in charge of SYRIZA pre-election economic policy)

Only terror may be felt by thousands of fighters of the Left in the prospect of Syriza being lost as a vehicle for the movement. And we believe that it is too early for such a conclusion. Nor that this question can be decided by any of the political fractions of SYRIZA. It will be decided by the popular masses, by their decision to continue or not continue providing support to SYRIZA for at least a bit longer, or until new decisive movements of the working class elsewhere in Europe give new impetus to the Greek movement.


The First Indications of a Possible Retreat
“From the slogan of ?overthrow of the existing order? to “the historic compromise” (and from the slogan of “social needs before profit” to the slogan of “productive reconstruction”)… The agreement the Greek government signed at the summit of July 12, 2015 launches a new phase for the Greek society, the Left and SYRIZA”. (John Milios)

Since mid-2014, Milios had identified policy changes in SYRIZA, which he considers as part of the ?historic compromise?.

In addition to the above, such a change, he says, could be traced in “the approach to the center-left forces, especially to DIMAR (a left of centre party in the previous government coalition – ed) that had accepted the memorandum…?.

Serious concerns were also caused by other factors that revealed the inadequacy of SYRIZA?s platform, such as the fact that “a radical program to tackle unemployment had never been constructed…?.

Thus, according to Milios, “we could see what was coming: The final blackmail by the institutions, which would take place after the weakening of banks and the exhaustion of the treasury of the State, to force the Greek government to adopt a third Memorandum…?.

Firstly, we are not quite sure that the approach to DIMAR was a wrong move. The issue is not whether to approach this kind of political formations, but with what program to do so.

As for the fact that there were problems in SYRIZA?s program, there is no doubt. To what Milios says we can add many other problems that we occasionally spotted. They never seemed to have a plan on how to deal with the banking system ?a matter of crucial importance. Or a plan on how to deal with the armed forces of the state. Other problems were the repeatedly contradictory statements in relation to whether the battle against austerity was a national or an international one; the nomination by SYRIZA of ex-Conservative Party Minister, Paulopoulos, to the Presidency of the Greek Republic; and many others.

The Question of Capitalist Development after 2008
“After 2012 … SYRIZA had adopted a strategy of ‘historic compromise’ … in the spirit of a party and a government of “national unity… (This strategy) is characterized by the relative withdrawal of the request for “redistribution “/ ?the rich to pay for the crisis “… in favor of the request for “productive reconstruction…?. (Milios)
The goal, says Milios, to abolish social contradictions, was abandoned. In the new strategy the objective became: “‘Smoothing and alleviating social contradictions, and have a “national objective” common to all: the development of the capitalist economy of Greece…?.

But what would be wrong if the Greek capitalist economy could develop, allowing thus the smoothing and softening of the social contradictions? The broad masses, even those who support the Left, do not dream of much. It’s enough to have some guarantee of stability in their lives and the hope that this will improve, even slightly, year after year, in order to give their wholehearted support to a Left government. They may hold on to the dream of a superior society without class conflicts, but they do not stop wishing for feasible improvements now.

But people?s expectations of stability in their lives and a hope that things will improve, even slightly, year after year, is a false expectation and hope. 2008 marked the beginning of a new phase of capitalism. A phase similar to the one in which humanity entered after the crash of 1929. A phase in which, for reasons explained quite well, according to our view, by Marx, the economy has not the potential to recover, or of conceding to the most moderate demands.

And it was exactly such few, very moderate and minimum demands that SYRIZA argued for at the European negotiating table over the last five months. But the capitalist institutions did not make the slightest concession. They refused to give even one inch on demands that were considered basic human rights in the period prior to 2008, on demands that cannot even provide for a minimum standard of living.

“The strategy of ‘historic compromise’, namely the perception that eventually Greece, after the 2008 crisis, may be governed the same way it was governed in the pre crisis period, is illusory, and the result of it can only be the defeat of the strategy of the left..?. (John Milios)

This illusion, that there are solutions without a rupture with the system and its institutions, is, according to Milios, the underlying factor that led to the signing of the third memorandum by the SYRIZA government and to its first defeat.

This is an Epoch when the Most Moderate Demands can Lead to Rupture and Revolution
But all the problems of SYRIZA?s program recorded by Milios, do not give to developments a deterministic character. They did not render the signing of the third memorandum by the government of SYRIZA inevitable. 2008 determines the beginning of a new era in which no country can be governed in the pre-2008 way, as Milios correctly claims. Irrelevant to what the leaders of a party like SYRIZA say and claim at all levels, a decisive factor forming the consciousness of the party and giving it direction, is the fact that even the most modest demands cannot be implemented without a break with the system.

These conditions will repeatedly bring the masses onto the historical stage and increasingly transform them into a decisive factor in the unfolding process. From this arises the enormous revolutionary potential of our epoch. And it was based on this undisputed truth of our times that we based our wholehearted support to the leadership of SYRIZA, and not because we believed that Tsipras was a repetition of Lenin, or that the program of SYRIZA was based on a revolutionary strategy.

In social conditions when the masses intervene into the scene of history, nothing is given or constant, least of all the thoughts and aims of leaders of left centrist parties like SYRIZA. Varoufakis was the one who negotiated the moderate demands. There is not much doubt that he did not have any revolutionary aims. The institutions however, were so cruel ?because they were defending a system that has little room for concessions – that they did not give Varoufaksis the chance to compromise, and so he did not compromise. That was a possibility open for Tsipras as well.

Only Two Possible Outcomes
We often argued that there is no solution to the crisis outside of the Euro and the European Union. In our last post on the Socialist Network website, we wrote that:

?We are fast approaching the moment of truth. Greece may soon find itself out of the Eurozone as a result of a conscious decision of the capitalist institutions of Europe. But it is one thing to be expelled from Europe after you have defended the basic demands of the people of Greece, demands that many other European working people equally consider important and unquestionable. It is a totally different matter to cultivate the illusion that there is a solution to the crisis outside of the Eurozone. That there is even a remote chance of success on an independent national path.?

If such a rupture materializes – and this is something we still consider unavoidable given that the economic plan imposed on the Greek government will soon prove to be utterly inadequate to reverse the process of economic catastrophe – then we will get into a period in which there are only two possible outcomes:

(a) Either the SYRIZA government, if they are still in power, would be able to gain the support of the German and the European masses in general, contributing to a sudden and decisive change of the balance of political forces throughout Europe


(b) The German and European masses would maintain their support to Wolfgang Schäuble and his likes, until the deepening of the crisis expresses itself through uncontrollable national conflicts.

In other words, we will enter into a period which will end ?either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes?. (Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto)

These are the only possible paths through which history can express itself after 2008.

A lack of faith in the potential of a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, and the fear that such a course could lead the Greek people to a catastrophe, is the decisive factor, we believe, that led SYRIZA?s leadership to accept the proposed deal, this new memorandum.

Nobody on the Left should pose the potential of a catastrophe for the Greek people in a light-minded way. In our previous post on The Socialist Network website, as well as in many cases in the course of the last years, we have repeatedly pointed out the power that a dozen European and American banks have to inflict a mortal blow to any national economy, regardless of the currency it possesses and in reverse proportion of this currency?s relative weight in the international market. It seems that Schäuble and the banks? sabotage of the Greek economy the days before and after the Referendum, were very successful in passing this message through to the Greek leadership in the most undisputed way.

Serious Problems in the Left Platform in SYRIZA – When Would Rupture Have Meaning?
It is exactly on the issue of how these threats can be dealt with, that lies the considerable weakness of the left opposition within SYRIZA.

They did not miss the chance, once more to speak about a betrayal, but without providing a viable, convincing alternative.

Lafazanis, leader of the Left Platform, said on July 22, the day the discussion in the House on the bills was held, that “we flagrantly do injustice to ourselves when we claim that there is no alternative to the memoranda and austerity??

And by that he did not mean that the alternative was the effort to mobilize the European population in support of the Greek masses, as the only way to secure protection from the stranglehold imposed on them by the capitalist institutions of Europe, but he meant a return to the drachma, the old Greek currency, the most ?capitalist? recipe for curing the economic crisis.

He meant a ?solution? already chosen by the most nationalist circles of the European Union, a solution which will be adopted by serious sections of the European bourgeois as well, when they realize the inevitable: that the European countries cannot stay united within a capitalist Eurozone.

These Left forces keep insisting on a return to the drachma, which is a national approach to the crisis, and a totally inadequate one.

They insist on solutions that would put them into the hopeless position of having to compete for market share with the corporation giants and the Banks of Europe, in this relentless epoch.

They still fail to understand that after the 2008 organic world crisis of capitalism, the crisis can be overcome only through the cooperation of European states. A cooperation that is the exact opposite of the national economic competition that now works so relentlessly towards an immense destruction.

They still fail to see that even if they were to nationalize the banking system and the key industries of Greece, that would mean nothing if it was not to be followed by similar moves in the rest of Europe in a relatively short period of time.

They still fail to see that a rupture with the political representatives of capital in Europe would have meaning only if it could be the spark that would put an immediate end to the rule of Schäuble and his likes; the spark that would put into the scene the only factor that could provide a counterweight to the immense power of the private Banks; the only factor that could really be the key to the solution of the economic crisis – that is the European proletariat. Without possessing any special knowledge in economics, which is not what is needed today, the European proletarian can use its social weight to impose political decisions at a European level, for debt elimination, for planning of finance and investment on a pan-European level and pan-European control of the banks. Exactly what is needed today.

They keep insisting on proposals which put them completely out of the Marxist analysis which they constantly claim to possess.

Can a Defeat Be Avoided?
We certainly face the possibility of a considerable defeat. The size of this defeat will mainly depend on whether the Greek masses maintain their support for SYRIZA, at least until political developments in Europe give new impetus to the Greek movement and help SYRIZA to achieve a more decisive political orientation.

To maintain the support of the masses SYRIZA will have to act. Although there is not really much SYRIZA can do to reverse the extremely bleak perspectives imposed on Greece by the new memorandum, it can still gain time by waging a real internal fight against corruption, tax evasion by the rich and the corporations, and in general do everything possible to reassure the masses that it is still their vehicle to change society.

By doing this it will enhance in the masses a fighting spirit and, this in its turn, will make the imposition of this severe memorandum ? the effects of which on a bleeding Greek society it is hard to imagine – even more difficult. And it will also send an international message to the people of Europe, to the people of the World, that hope is still alive.

Could though, at this late juncture, a defeat be avoided if SYRIZA?s leadership turned around and rejected the agreement? Could such a rejection lead to a pan-European mobilization of the masses that would change the balance of forces throughout Europe in a relatively short period of time?

Even if the above was not a perspective that we really believed was feasible today, would a rejection of the proposals serve the international revolution more, even if this meant the sacrifice of the Greek people?

Soteris can be reached by email at:

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