Syriza – A Sign of Life on the Left

I’ve been reticent to offer thoughts on Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections. Quite simply, there are many others who, knowing much more about the institutional, legislative and cultural realities, are infinitely better qualified to comment on the technical matters involved. But not to comment at all on one of the more promising political developments in recent times might give the impression that I am uninterested or simply don’t care, which is very far from the truth. So what follows are some brief, scattered impressions, nothing of which is intended to be at all authoritative.

1. Whatever ultimately comes of this latest development in Greece – and, for all I can tell, it could be next to nothing or plenty – the Greek voters should be congratulated for having the courage to reject the disastrous neoliberal agenda being pushed onto humanity by the austerity-crazed and utterly corrupt center-left and center-right parties currently dominating almost every country in the world. If Syriza ends up doing an about face – and I’m not at all suggesting they will – it won’t be the fault of the Greek electorate. Contrast this with the voting behavior typical in most other parts of the world, in which electorates continue to switch tamely and subserviently back and forth, ad nauseam, between two morally bankrupt and all but indistinguishable establishment parties.

2. Even if Syriza ends up disappointing, it has been fun to see the neoliberal writers at the supposedly progressive Guardian all in a tizz over what, for them, is quite evidently a horrifying development. Every time I suffer the misfortune of stumbling upon that publication, having inadvertently clicked on a twitter link lacking the common courtesy of a BIG WARNING SIGN, I am reminded of why I avoid it like the plague. By contrast, the response of the mainstream left in the US, led by Paul Krugman, has been refreshing.

3. If anything does end up happening for the better, now that a left-wing (though hardly radical) party has gained power, it will demonstrate, once again, that nothing economically progressive ever gets implemented by government without a strong grassroots, radicalized left applying immense and sustained pressure on government from below. In the present instance, this had to be taken to the point of tossing the establishment parties out of office. Establishment parties, whether ostensibly of the left or right, never have done, and never will do, anything of economic benefit for the majority except when pushed hard, and even then only under sufferance, bitching and moaning all the way. Without the influence of an active grassroots left in the first half of the twentieth century, establishment liberals and conservatives (it hardly matters which) would never have implemented welfare-state or New Deal-type measures, worker protections, full-employment policies, banking regulations, corporate regulations, nationalizations, and so on. With the decimation of the grassroots left, the unchallenged rise to supremacy of neoliberalism over the past forty years has seen establishment parties do nothing but whittle away hard-won economic gains secured in a bygone era. In most countries, voters have inadvertently given the green light to this destructive process, and continue to do so. Hopefully Syriza’s electoral success can give a kick start to grassroots left movements elsewhere. And hopefully Syriza’s supporters keep applying heat on the party, because without it, when push comes to shove, Syriza might yet find that the path of least resistance entices them into being just another ineffectual Obama Democratic Party or French Socialist Party.

4. Most intriguing, perhaps, is to speculate on the possible strategy of Syriza when it comes to dealing with the demands of the Troika. Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister, has been quoted as stating that “Greece will neither want to leave the euro nor threaten to do so”. At first glance, that might come across as indicating a determination to stay in the euro. But, strictly interpreted, the statement leaves the question pretty much wide open. The statement is not inconsistent, for instance, with the possibility that Greece is forced to exit, ostensibly against its will, or finds it necessary, however unfortunate …, to exit. I’m not suggesting that the statement is necessarily code along those lines. I simply don’t know. But Yanis, being in part a game theorist, would not be ignorant of strategic considerations such as the benefits of making any exit the responsibility of Greece’s neoliberal enemies. If the euro comes down, let it be on the Troika’s or Germany’s head. That might be a potential scenario. Or maybe not.

5. In many ways, the cleanest economic solution, even if coming with short-term costs, would seem to be an exit from the euro and reintroduction of the drachma. But that, perhaps, is the unsentimental, and perhaps overly economistic, perspective of an outsider looking in. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) itself is agnostic on the choice between exit and reforming the eurozone to make it work. Either is perfectly possible, in principle. For the latter to be attractive, it would be necessary to introduce not only a mechanism for fiscal transfers, but a mechanism that is subject to accountable, democratic process. Grexit, despite its challenges, might still be the easier short-term solution, but maybe the overwhelming preference of Europeans, including the Greeks and Syriza, is to work towards a kind of United States of Europe. Maybe, long term, this is seen as being worth the trouble. Ultimately, it is a question for Europeans to decide.

6. Unless the Troika is pressured into making significant concessions, it will be difficult for Syriza to reverse austerity while remaining within the euro. Here is one suggestion of how that might be done (h/t Clonal Antibody):

Rob Parenteau — How to Exit Austerity, Without Exiting the Euro

There is plenty of other MMT analysis of Greece being posted. Bill Mitchell has recently researched and written a book on the Eurozone, and frequently comments further at his blog. Warren Mosler and Bill Black have been posting quite regularly on the topic. Someone associated with the Levy Institute is intimately involved in what is going on (another h/t to Clonal Antibody):

L. Randall Wray — Jobs for Greeks

7. Yanis Varoufakis has been referred to – and has referred to himself – as an accidental economist and now reluctant politician. Like Tony Aspromourgos in this piece, I see no reason to doubt that depiction. Unlike Tony, I do not know Yanis on a personal level, but did have the good fortune to be taught by him in numerous undergraduate courses and later tutored on the introductory macroeconomics course at Sydney Uni, which was designed, organized and lectured by Tony and Yanis. An intellectual such as Yanis turns into an accidental economist, perhaps, when he is no longer able to quell the nagging sensation that, in the messy world of economic policy, things are turning increasingly pear-shaped thanks first to Thatcherites in the UK (his student days), then Howardites in Australia (his Sydney Uni days) and most recently neoliberal ideologues in the Eurozone. That accidental economist might finally feel compelled to transform himself, at least for a time, into a reluctant politician when the political establishment becomes so utterly corrupt, malicious and/or inept that there remains little alternative but to leave the relative peace of intellectual inquiry – even if of a narrow economic kind – to engage the petty squabbles of sociopaths with no higher aim than the squandering of anything of value ever achieved in the torturous history of struggle for human progress.

With all this in mind, I take the latest developments in Greece as at least a little positive – as, at minimum, some small sign of a potential lying dormant in humanity that is now rousing itself in the home of democracy. It may yet amount to little, but at least the Greeks are giving it a shot, and providing a lead for other electorates and other grassroots movements around the world to emulate. The neoliberal vandals won’t stop, ever, unless we put a stop to them. This initial step in Europe needs to be the first of many. We need mass non-violent resistance the world over till sanity prevails, and sooner rather than later.

6 thoughts on “Syriza – A Sign of Life on the Left

  1. What about a regional currency, only used for doing business in Greece? Would that not be near to a sovereign country with its own currency? Is it not worth to discuss, whether a bancor could be useful?

  2. January 25 marked the ushering in of what is hoped to be the world’s first genuine, but non-dictatorship of the proletariat, ‘workers’ government’ since the Popular Front in Spain. However, January 25 also marked the ushering in of what the inter-war social democracy hoped to be the ‘labour revolution’.

    Indeed, ever since discussions on ‘workers’ governments’ resurfaced, I can’t help but think why criticisms of this Comintern framework, such as those found in the Weekly Worker, did not compare it to what the renegade Kautsky wrote about coalition governments comprised predominantly of parliamentary ‘democratic socialist’ forces. This is something which not even Chile’s Salvador Allende had, but now which Greece’s Alexis Tsipras has, not least because of the efforts invested in service-oriented solidarity networks.

    As a comrade told me, there is not just public support, but public pressure on the party to take responsibility. However, the political and economic conditions aren’t there for the push towards scrapping private property relations.

    Coincidentally, this week also marks the ushering in of the world’s first Communitarian Populist Front since the Chartist movement and Paris Commune of the ‘working classes’ in Britain and France, respectively, with Syriza working with the anti-fascist, stridently anti-austerity, but right-populist Independent Greeks to break away from the class-collaborationism of popular fronts and sheer hypocrisy of united fronts.

  3. Peter’s observation of one ‘class’ of human beings (whether right, left, central or inverted) exploiting another, is quintessential: the age, civilisation, cultural and organisational characteristics of today are more a distraction, a contemporary veil over fundamentals. That is, the panorama of human history is superficially a play of ‘class’: unfortunately a deadly play.

    So, nothing really changes unless human expression changes.

    For example, the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang who ‘unified’ the Chinese kingdoms under one rule, did so at the point of a sword dripping with pain, and human blood. Then he bade his subjects spend the next 40 years building a burial city to house his body, together with thousands of terracotta warriors to protect him (!) – not the first time a people have been ruled by an idiot (of our times, a dynastic ‘leader’ in his). The EU was created because current idiots could not get along: why would making an Agreement on a piece of paper change that?

    Syriza I guess is symbolic: a little bird of hope and freedom, cowering in a cage that is made out of nothing more substantial than an ideology; a cage with no door; tethered by concepts. And the unconsciousness of the Greek people, the greed of its own oligarchs. (who are not really ‘Greek’ in that they predate their own country) and the Troika (who are not really ‘European’ in that they place their boots over the throats of their brothers). Then there are predator countries and corporations roaming the globe.

    Welcome to planet earth!

    I hope Zorba wakes up and fights – wins back their human birthright: dignity, peace and prosperity.

    If we were awake we would protect our only treasure.

    After 200,000 years on the road, what does it really mean, to be human ……?

  4. #4: Speculation is not really necessary. Some links that enlightened me on Grexit & Syriza’s overall strategy, which I think is exactly right: Greece’s duty to negotiate with Berlin: Part B of an interview with Roger Strassburg and Jens Berger, of NachDenkSeiten . Confirms a summary of Greece’s position by Frances Coppola at Forbes here:
    Greece has no intention of leaving the Euro or the EU. (But others might force it out)
    Greece has no intention of defaulting on its debts to primary official creditors. (But others might force it to)
    Greece is committed to pursuing policies that promote the economic stability and recovery of Europe. (But others might not be)
    Putting paid to a wrong answer often enough heard on the first question to ask about Grexit: Greece could feed itself, says farmers conference.

    On “fiscal transfers” – as Wray says, a misnomer – they’re fiscal, but they’re not transfers. “Fiscal equalisation” (Godley) seems preferable.

    “Doktorgroßvater” answers a question you ask in the next post.

  5. ooops – the heaviness of it all got to me:

    …. a cage with no door; tethered by concepts.

    … with an open door, but meshed in concepts.

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