on syriza…by the tptg

OΝ SYRIZA ΑND ITS VICTORY IN THE RECENT GENERAL ELECTIONS IN GREECE

tsipars and the right

 left and right – unite and fright

 pdf: text_on_syriza (3)

(see also the postscript to this text: “60 days older and deeper in debt” and “Minister of Sic”)

On the 25th of January of 2015, for the first time in Greek history, a left-wing party, SYRIZA, won the general election with a majority of 36.34%, 8.5 percentage points above Nea Dimokratia (“New Democracy”), the traditional right-wing party and the main force of the departing government coalition. However, SYRIZA didn’t win an absolute majority since it gained 149 seats in parliament (a minimum of 151 seats is needed to win a vote of confidence). In consequence, they formed a coalition with “Anexartitoi Ellines” (“Independent Greeks”), a right-wing nationalist populist party which gained 4.75% of the votes and 13 seats in parliament. Such a collaboration became possible due to the firm opposition of “Anexartitoi Ellines” to the memoranda austerity programs in the previous years despite the great differences in issues like immigration and foreign policy between the two parties.

The working class and the petty bourgeoisie vote for SYRIZA was a revenge vote against a right-wing government whose harsh austerity programs had disastrous effects on their lives and had pushed them to depression and suicidal tendencies. It was a vote against the politics of fear that had promoted not only police repression of struggles but also numerous daily, small and depressing “civil wars” among the workers. It was a vote against the constant and monotonous propaganda of “there-is-no-alternative” dogmas. Nothing illustrates the popularity of SYRIZA’s alternative political program better than this example: inside the Amygdaleza concentration camp, the “illegal” immigrants who had revolted against their incarceration in the summer of 2013 and who are not eligible to vote were rhythmically chanting “Tsipras-Tsipras” in the face of their wardens on the night of January 25.

As we will show in greater detail in the remainder of this text, SYRIZA’s main positions are a) the write-off of the biggest part of the Greek government debt as well as other debt relief measures and b) the abolition of the memoranda austerity (i.e. capital devaluation) programs. It is interesting to note that only recently SYRIZA cadres have expressed optimistic views concerning the acceptance of their positions and proposals by the creditors, i.e. the rest of the EU member-states, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF. It is possible that this optimism is connected with the fact that the ongoing deflation and stagnation within the European Union, in connection with the recent oil price slash, has led to the launching of a very large “quantitative easing” (QE) bond-buying program by the ECB, amounting to 1 trillion euros, to provide demand stimulus to the European economies. This recently announced QE strategy signals a policy of inflationary devaluation of money capital within EU as a whole, by means of the euro-currency depreciation that might prevent the imposition of new harsh austerity measures to specific EU-member countries or the tightening up of budget deficits, even though this shift does not mean that good ol’ fiscal terrorism will be abandoned as a tool to attack proletarians in EU.

Furthermore, a few European government officials have expressed support for or sympathy with the positions of SYRIZA, such as the finance minister of Ireland who, two weeks before the Greek general elections, backed the idea for a European debt conference or the chancellor of Austria who criticized the austerity programs and expressed the will to discuss specific debt relief measures. It seems that, because of the lingering economic stagnation, a small but growing fraction of the European capital is pushing for the abandonment of the hard austerity policy promoted by Germany. Recently, several prominent economists and financial columnists have not only acknowledged that debt relief is necessary but have actually endorsed  SYRIZA’s program for the replacement of expenditure cuts by demand stimulus spending.[1] Even if Martin Schulz, the German social-democrat president of the European Parliament, expressed the conviction that SYRIZA will not achieve a haircut on the Greek debt, he nevertheless spoke about proceeding to a “compromise”.

At the same time it seems possible that SYRIZA will use other instruments of foreign policy such as the ability to veto decisions in order to press for concessions from the European Union.

 

Ηow SYRIZA came to be the majority party in Greece

SYRIZA is the acronym for “Synaspismos Rizospastikis Aristeras” which is translated into English as “Coalition of the Radical Left”. SYRIZA was created in January 2004 as a coalition of several leftist political parties and groups with the most important ones being Synaspismos (Coalition of Left, of Movements and Ecology), AKOA (Renewing Communist Ecological Left), KEDA (Movement for the United in Action Left), DEA (Internationalist Workers Left) and KOE (Communist Organization of Greece). SYRIZA was transformed into a single-party before the general elections of June 2012 when it seemed possible to win the elections in order to be eligible to receive the bonus parliamentary seats given to the majority party under the current Greek electoral system. Synaspismos was by far the strongest and biggest constituent of SYRIZA and was initially formed in 1989 as a coalition between KKE (the pro-soviet Communist Party) and Greek Left, the successor of KKE Interior (a euro-communist party which split from KKE in 1968). KKE left Synaspismos in 1991 when the hard-liner Stalinist faction purged all the more social-democratic oriented members, including the General Secretary of the party, who resigned and remained in Synaspismos. AKOA split from KKE Interior at the end of the ’80s whereas KEDA split from KKE at the beginning of the ’90s. DEA was a split from the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party (associated with the International Socialist Tendency) and KOE the successor of a splinter group from the maoist party KKE-Marxists/Leninists.

The creation of SYRIZA is directly connected with the political ferments and developments which took place during the period of the “anti-globalization” movement and the prevalence of the so-called anti-neoliberal discourse within the ranks of the movement. Specifically, all these seemingly heterogeneous political groups united around the opposition to the neoliberal restructuring of the capitalist welfare state and opted for a return to a more social-democratic management of capitalist social relations. The organizational vehicle for this unification was the “Space for Dialogue for the Unity and Common Action of the Left” formation which prepared the Greek leftist participation at the 2001 Genoa “anti-global” demonstration. Without a doubt, there are still different positions within SYRIZA with regard to a series of issues such as the nationalization of banks or the participation in the Eurozone but at this point the more “radical” social democrats, who support the nationalization of banks as well as the so-called Euro-sceptics, who are for the exit from the Eurozone are at the losing side within the party.

***

Before the outbreak of the “debt crisis” in 2010 –which was a manifestation and aggravation of the protracted capitalist reproduction crisis in Greece– and the imposition of the shock policy of constant and variable capital devaluation through the mechanism of the infamous “memoranda” –i.e. the austerity programs connected with the loans given by the Troika (IMF, ECB, European Union)[2]– in the years that followed, SYRIZA had never won more than 5% of the vote in both the European and the national elections. SYRIZA emerged as the main opposition party in the repeated general elections of 2012 only after the retreat, recuperation or defeat of the struggles against the imposition of the policy of capital devaluation (16.78% of the vote in May and 26.9% in June 2012).

This development is greatly related to the central role played by SYRIZA within the “movement of the squares” which erupted at the end of May 2011 and lasted in a vigorous manner for more than one year. The main manifestation of the “movement of the squares” in Greece was the occupation of  Syntagma square (the central square of Athens opposite Parliament), which lasted for two months in the summer of 2011. This movement seemed to give a perspective of overcoming the sectional logic of the trade unions and a perspective of questioning the political parties of the left as alienating forms of representation of working class practices as well as the political system as a whole. However, it remained at the level of political protest and the demand for “real / direct democracy”, although its role in calling strikes against the medium-term agreement and in the organization of the battles against the police forces of capitalist rule in June 2011 was crucial. The party mechanism of SYRIZA and other organizations of the left took part incognito in key organizational groups in the square and thereby succeeded largely in dominating the content and the forms of struggle by promoting a nationalist leftist ideology of “national independence”, “productive reconstruction of the Greek economy”, “cancellation of the odious part of the debt”, etc. Furthermore, this mechanism did its best to limit the struggle to a purely symbolic level, undermining any practical suggestions that were made for the expansion of the struggle to the workplaces and the unemployment offices, while it promoted provocateurology against those that clashed with the forces of order in mass demonstrations at that time.

The “movement of the squares” was based either on the creation of new “popular assemblies” in the neighbourhoods of Athens and in provincial towns or the temporary reinvigoration of already existing ones (with their genealogy going back to the December 2008 revolt). In the period following the movement of Syntagma square there was a current of mobilizations promoting “refusal of payments from below” organized mainly by the assemblies. The mobilizations mainly focused on the refusal of payment of: a)  electricity bills, which at this point and for the next 3 years included a surcharge for a new property tax, b)  transport tickets, the price of which  had been increased, and c)  highway tolls, which have been multiplied and at the same time their fare has been increased. The members of SYRIZA and other leftists, who participated in the “popular assemblies” promoted a shift of the focus of the mobilizations from proletarian antagonistic activities –e.g. the reconnection of electricity in working class houses or the blockade / sabotage of ticket cancelling machines in the metro stations – to legal actions which often involved the apparatuses of the municipalities administered by left/social democrat mayors.

SYRIZA’s attempts to recuperate the mobilizations were widely successful and a rather easy task due to the latter’s interclass composition and political content: the assemblies, even when they were predominantly composed of proletarians of all sorts, never defined themselves as working class collectivities; they were rather perceived by the majority of their members as assemblies of local citizens/private individuals/private property owners. From there it was a short step to be subsumed into the social-democratic discourse of “citizens’ social rights”, “common goods rights”, etc. which has been promoted by SYRIZA. For example, the neighbourhood assemblies have organized a series of so-called solidarity activities, such as soup kitchens, self-organized health centers, co-operative (simple) commodity exchanges, service exchanges (e.g. foreign language classes) within an interclass anti-government framework. This self-managed austerity strategy was widely adopted by SYRIZA, which, as will be shown below, has included a “social” or “solidarity” economy as one of the “pillars” of its program for the “productive reconstruction of the Greek economy”. Today, SYRIZA controls a plethora of such rank and file “solidarity” organizations including self-organized health centers and pharmacies, commodity exchanges, poverty relief groceries, etc. Our position that the boundaries between such projects and charities led by the Church and NGOs are blurred has been confirmed by the recent declarations of support for the philanthropical mission of the Church, which were expressed by the president of SYRIZA at a meeting with the Archbishop in a church charity institution. Furthermore, SYRIZA utilized the neighbourhood assemblies in order to strengthen its local branches, which often copied the assembly form and recruited members from the neighbourhood assemblies.

The ability of SYRIZA to substitute (to a limited, yet substantial, extent) the functions of the disintegrating welfare state in Greece has been augmented by its recent gains in the local elections. For example, SYRIZA administers the Regional Administration of Attiki (the most-populated Greek region where the city of Athens is situated) since September 2014 and has implemented the reconnection of electricity to a significant number of poor households providing 360 euros per year to each household where electricity has been cut off.

Moreover, after the defeat of the struggles in the public sector (with the exception of the struggle against the new employee and workplace unit evaluation system, which is still pending), a defeat which occurred due to a number of reasons, some of which have been presented in our above-mentioned texts, SYRIZA emerged as the political party which would restore the status quo ante by cancelling the redundancies and the lay-offs at the universities and, more broadly, in the public services and re-opening ERT (the national radio and television broadcasting network which was closed down by the previous government, dismissing about 3000 employees). In the case of struggles against factory closures, SYRIZA has actively promoted the self-management of factories by their former employees based on the example of VIOME[3] as well as the organization of the distribution of their output through self-organized commodity exchanges without intermediaries. The self-management of bankrupt enterprises and the creation of new cooperative enterprises, the self-organization of the output distribution/consumption networks and the creation of associations of self-managed enterprises that will provide supporting functions such as legal, consulting and accounting services “in order to create economies of scale” or even the creation of cooperative credit institutions constitute the program of SYRIZA for the “social economy” pillar of their “productive reconstruction” plan.

On the same terrain of political representation, SYRIZA’s power was augmented by its resolute opposition to the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn’s impact on the national constituency was highly reinforced after the recession of the “movement of the squares”. This movement had combined a grassroots “revolt from the left” with a “revolt from the right”. After its retreat, the most passive and racist part of the grassroots “revolt from the right” against austerity measures found a political representative in this political party. This representation was encouraged by the governing right-wing party and the mechanisms of the “deep state”. When its members’ physical violence against immigrants and leftists ran amok in September 2013 and its autonomisation from the state became obvious, their right-wing brothers in government were obliged to put its leadership in jail. However, the real winner of this state anti-fascist campaign was SYRIZA, which had supported all the anti-fascist activities of the previous years inside and outside “popular assemblies”.[4]

The dominance within the anti-austerity movement of the nationalist discourse concerning the renegotiation/reduction of  government debt – a statist reduction of payments from above (a concern shared also by Golden Dawn) as opposed to the proletarian refusal of payments from below – and the “productive reconstruction of the Greek economy” combined with the dominance of the social-democratic discourse about “citizens’ social rights”, “common goods rights”, “self-management” and the “social-economy” to pave the way for the emergence of SYRIZA as the next ruling party. After actively undermining the potential development of the struggles in the workplaces, the squares and the streets into a proletarian movement that could threaten the rule of capital and its state, SYRIZA managed to transform their defeat into its electoral power. A large section of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie rested their hopes for the reversal of the politics of capital devaluation on the polling success of SYRIZA. The new government coalition is the reconnection of the grassroots “revolt from the left” with the more active and non-fascist “revolt from the right” on the capitalist state level. Normally, this will open up a new round of revendicative struggles of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie.

 

What happens to left political programs when social movements retreat?

It is interesting to draw up a list of the changes of SYRIZA’s political program from 2010 till today. In order to illustrate the changes more clearly we have divided them into the following categories.

Government debt management: the main position of SYRIZA’s program concerning the restructuring of government debt has remained the same since 2010, i.e. to renegotiate the government debt with the aim of writing-off its biggest part. Recently, they have invoked the historical precedent of the 1953 debt relief treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and creditor nations after the London Debt Conference. On the other hand, the main changes can be summarized as follows: a) in 2010 and 2011 SYRIZA argued for direct borrowing from the European Central Bank (ECB) at very low interest rates, similar to the ones offered to private banks, whereas in their most recent program they argue for “quantitative easing” policies through the purchase of government bonds by the ECB; b) since 2012 SYRIZA has proposed a deferred payment of interest until the Greek economy recovers as well as the establishment of an “economic growth clause” regulating its repayment; and c) in 2011 SYRIZA argued for an extensive audit of the government debt in order to cancel its odious part, a position which has since been removed from the program. It is also telling that in 2010 and 2011 SYRIZA asserted the abolition of the European stability pacts whereas in 2015 they just ask for the exclusion of public investment programs from the restrictions of the Stability and Growth Pact. Furthermore, in 2010 SYRIZA advocated the restriction of the free movement of capital e.g. through the imposition of the Tobin tax, a position which has since been purged from the program. Last but not least, in the program of 2015, SYRIZA calls for the establishment of a substantial grace period so that the Greek state will not have to service any debt for a number of years in order to immediately channel funds into investment spending as a lever to “restart the economy”.

Banking system and private debt: there has been a fundamental change of the program of SYRIZA with regard to the banking system. In particular, in 2010 and 2011 SYRIZA advocated the nationalization of the banks whereas in 2015 they are only speaking about the establishment of a public investment bank and a number of specialized public credit institutions for small enterprises, self-managed enterprises and farmers. Every reference to the nationalization of banks has been erased. Since 2011 SYRIZA has included in its program a provision for the settlement of non-performing loans of households and enterprises while the 2015 program promises that the auctioning of primary residences will be forbidden. Moreover, the 2015 program advocates the settlement of private debts to the state due to taxation or due to outstanding contributions to the social security funds by setting upper limits to debt installments, which will be connected to household income. At the same time, they promise to stop property foreclosures and criminal prosecutions of individuals, who will voluntarily settle their debts to the state.

Privatizations / nationalizations: SYRIZA has not changed its position about stopping the privatization of public utilities, public enterprises and infrastructure. However, its initial position in 2010 to “gradually” re-nationalize “strategic enterprises” such as telecommunications, electricity and infrastructure such as ports, airports and roads has gradually been abandoned. Since 2012, SYRIZA has connected the re-nationalization of “strategic enterprises and infrastructure” with the availability of funds in order to buy out stocks and property rights, a condition which practically means that re-nationalization will not take place. Also, since 2012 SYRIZA has advocated the transfer of the ownership of natural and mineral resources to a public treasury in order to use them as collateral for the issuance of government bonds. Their position in 2010 for the re-regulation of the market (utilities, etc.) has been abandoned.

Public investment: SYRIZA programs have not changed since 2010 with regard to their intention to increase public investment as a lever both for growth and for the so-called productive reconstruction of the economy. In this context, they promise to raise the expenditure on scientific research, mainly conducted in the Greek universities, and facilitate certain industries (e.g. medicine production). In 2015, SYRIZA is calling for a European “new deal” that will reverse deflation and fuel growth in Europe through an EU-backed public investment program.

Taxation / expenditures: the position of SYRIZA in 2010 and 2011 of imposing a tax of 45% on the undistributed profits of big capitalist enterprises has been erased from its program since 2012. Also, their promise of abolishing tax exemptions for shipping capital in 2010 and 2012 has been watered down since in their most recent program they only talk about reviewing all exemptions and the abolition of only those, which are “not related to shipping activity per se”. As far as the taxation of “natural persons” is concerned, the 2010-11 position of increasing direct taxation of the richer strata has disappeared, whereas in the program of 2015 they are only speaking about the gradual reduction of indirect taxation “after deliberation”, contrary to their position in 2010 for an immediate reduction of indirect taxes and their position in 2012 for the reduction of value added tax in tourism and dining. However, in the 2015 program SYRIZA promises to increase tax-free income for all natural persons to 12.000 euros, to abolish the new property tax, the heating oil tax and the poll tax imposed on self-employed workers. Furthermore, they promise to reduce the tax burden of small enterprises. As far as state expenditures are concerned, during 2010 and 2011 SYRIZA advocated increasing  social expenditure and the reduction of defense expenditure whereas after 2012 SYRIZA has only talked about freezing the reduction in social expenditure. After 2014 their position is that they will maintain a balanced government budget, a position which is usually equivalent to the continuation of austerity despite and in contradiction with their promises.

Wages / labour relations: the program of SYRIZA in 2010 promised an increase in wages, pensions and unemployment benefits. In 2011 their position had changed to the immediate restoration of wages and pensions to the levels of 2009, before the imposition of the memoranda programs. In 2012 they only advocated freezing wage and pension reductions and the gradual restoration of wages to the levels of 2009, whatever is meant by that, and only promised the immediate restoration of the minimum wage. In 2015 they are just promising the immediate restoration of the minimum wage to the levels of 2009. As far as labour (i.e. exploitation) relations are concerned, in 2010 they advocated the imposition of new restrictions on lay-offs whereas after 2012 they have only promised to abolish the 2010 legislation, which provides for the “liberalization” of the labour market by making lay-offs easier, reducing severance pay and limiting the application of collective agreements. SYRIZA still advocates the reduction of precarious labour through the abolition of indirect employment and the curbing of outsourcing in the public sector. However, they contradictorily admit that they will use subsidized programs of temporary labour in municipalities as well as “training programs” in order to reduce unemployment. Also in the programs of 2012 and 2015 SYRIZA promises the criminalization of employing undeclared (“black”) labour and the reinforcement of the state agency which observes labour legislation. Last, in their most recent program they promise to fully restore Sunday holidays for retail shops.

Benefits: SYRIZA promised in 2010 to increase unemployment benefits. In their most recent program their position is just to restore unemployment benefits to 2009 levels (461 euros for 12 months). In 2012 they promised to extend unemployment benefits to the self-employed while in the 2015 program they are talking about the redesign of unemployment benefits in order to cover part of those self-employed workers without income. While they advocated the extension of the duration of unemployment benefits to 2 years in 2012, in their most recent program they promise such an extension only for long-term unemployed workers. However, they promise to abolish the imposed restriction on the total length of benefits (400 total subsidized day benefits per 4 year period). Also, they have included in their recent program a number of benefits for the alleviation of extreme poverty, i.e. free electricity and food tickets for 300.000 households, free housing for homeless people through the utilization of empty municipal buildings and empty hotels which will be subsidized, free medical care for the unemployed and people with no social security, free transport for the unemployed and workers with a very low-income. SYRIZA had understood that it could gain many votes by promising to provide a pittance to the significant group of pauperized households.

Pensions: back in 2010 SYRIZA promised to abolish all the laws that had attacked social security rights and pensions since 1990 and recognize the debts of the state to the social security funds. In the 2012 program this position had been erased and they only promised to restore employer contributions to their previous higher levels, fight contribution evasion by employers, freeze pension reductions, “gradually restore pensions” to their previous levels and abolish the 2011 exemption of many jobs from the “hazardous occupation” category which is favorable to workers. As was mentioned above, the promise of 2010-11 to restore pensions to 2009 levels has been replaced both in the 2012 and the 2015 programs by a promise to freeze pension reductions. Furthermore, in the 2015 program they claim that they will review the exemption of jobs from the “hazardous occupation” category, contrary to their 2012 promise to immediately abolish this exemption. They also claim that they will reduce retirement ages by 2 years, i.e. restore retirement age to 65 years for full pensions and to 60 years for reduced pensions. Moreover, they promise to abolish the new method for calculating pensions after 1/1/2015, as well as the restrictions for the award of a reduced pension which exclude many workers from the right to a pension (i.e. according to these restrictions, a worker should have made contributions for 100 workdays per year within the last 5 years).

Social economy” (self-managed sector): in 2010 the program of SYRIZA did not give much emphasis to the “social economy” apart from a reference to supporting farmer associations. This started to change in 2012 when the program promised to provide incentives and accommodations for the development of the “social economy”. This has completely changed in the 2015 program, where it becomes evident that SYRIZA gives much weight to this sector both for the reduction of unemployment and for the “productive reconstruction of the economy”. This change reflects the growth of the “social economy” sector, as more and more proletarians partially cover their needs or even make both ends meet by engaging either in such projects or in low cost businesses. Specifically, they promise to help the takeover and self-management of bankrupt enterprises by changing the bankruptcy law. Also they promise to support cooperative enterprises and associations through tax exemptions, European subsidies, funding by specialized public credit institutions as well as through the creation of supporting facilities providing consulting, accounting and legal services.

Public sector jobs: The 2012 program promised the abolition of the law for redundancies and lay-offs in the public sector. In the program of 2015, SYRIZA promises that public sector workers, who have been laid off or made redundant, will return to their previous positions. They also promise to abolish the new employee and unit evaluation system and replace it with an evaluation system that will be based on “objective factors and indicators”, whatever is meant by that. Furthermore, they intend to aboolsh the new strict disciplinary law for public sector workers which was imposed in the context of the memoranda legislation. Last but not least, they promise the creation of thousands of permanent stable public sector jobs in education, health care and social protection as a part of their commitment to create 300.000 jobs in total in the public, the private and the self-managed sectors.

***

The previously presented and rather long-drawn out catalogue of the changes in the program of SYRIZA illustrates convincingly the gradual watering down of its positions towards a more timid social democratic direction, as well as their contradictions. The gradual adjustment of SYRIZA to realpolitik shows that, after pruning out most of the positions, which are considered to be unacceptable from the standpoint of the dominant neoliberal capitalist strategy in the Eurozone, and by keeping and maybe enriching the most harmless ones such as those concerning the so-called social economy, it can transform itself into a “fresh” and rather competent manager of the capitalist state.

TPTG, January 2015

 

Appendix: On some theoretical debates inside SYRIZA that were quickly put aside

The anti-state communist minority in Europe and elsewhere, who still concern themselves with issues of communization, the capitalist state and value theory might be interested to know that one of the main architects of SYRIZA’s program – and a member of the negotiating team of the new government with the rest of the EU member-states – was, until some years ago, the main theoretician of the Althusserian faction of SYRIZA and a leading critic of the neo-gramscian state theory and the left ricardian labour theory of value!

Here are some interesting quotes from his texts:

It’s the parliamentary “filtering” of different class practices (the practices not only of the bourgeoisie and its allies but also of the working class and its allies) that makes their “representation” inside the state feasible; that makes their subsumption to the general capitalist interest practicable… It’s not a particular party but the whole parliamentary system that ties the lower classes to the “political class” of capitalist rule. It’s not a particular party but the capitalist state as a whole that constitutes the real “party”, the real “representative” of capital, the political condensation of capitalist rule. That’s why, since the era of Marx, all the “visions” and the attempts of the reformist political vehicles to “conquer” and socialize the state have ended to the nationalization of the visionaries and a rude awakening.[5]

Classical political economy was an embodied labour theory of value and a theory of the exploitation of wage labourers by propertied classes. The main currents of Marxism adopted this classical theory of value and exploitation by removing Marx’s critique of it. This theoretical mutation is closely connected to the ideological and political mutation of the Left from a movement of radical contestation to a power of management and reform of the capitalist system… In its “conservative” version this problematic raises the issues of the “fair” pay of the worker, her “dignified living conditions”, pay rises in accordance to productivity of labour etc. In other words, the immediate demands of the workers in their conflict with capital are raised to the status of a “social ideal”, since the forms of capitalist relations of power are taken as a “necessary fact”. In its “radical” version this classical theory of value and exploitation envisages a “capitalism without private capitalists”: “socialization”, i.e. public property of the means of production goes hand in hand with the maintenance of all forms of the capitalist economy and the capitalist state… The transition from capitalism to communism is necessarily related to the abolition of value form, i.e. money and the commodity, and the form of enterprise.[6]

Fair enough, Dr. Milios! Thanks for this excellent critique of reformist politics! But what has this self-understanding got to do with SYRIZA’s program? Absolutely nothing! The problem of the disconnection of theory and practice is well known in the revolutionary movement ever since the era of German social democracy. Many decades ago, Paul Mattick had criticized Kautsky for his inability to imagine that a Marxist theory should be supplemented by an adequate Marxist practice. So, his understanding “that for Marx, value is a strictly historical category; that neither before nor after capitalism did there exist or could there exist a value production which differed only in form from that of capitalism” was totally useless.[7]

With the academicization and professionalization of Marxist theory in the last decades things have become even worse. In public political meetings, conferences, reading groups, summercamps, demos etc. one constantly comes upon hundreds of leftist PhD students, researchers, journalists etc. Most of the times one finds oneself wondering whether it is a genuine interest in anti-capitalist politics that brought them there or if this involvement is just a necessary step towards a profession guaranteed by the capitalist state, a capitalist enterprise or a reformist party.

 TPTG Postscript (end of March 2015) to this here.

Footnotes 

[1] In a letter sent to Financial Times on 22/1/2015 entitled “Europe will benefit from Greece being given a fresh start”, Stiglitz, Pissarides and other “top” bourgeois economists supported a) the replacement of public expenditure cuts with public investment programs that will increase demand and stimulate growth as well as with “more efficient tax collection”; b) a “further conditional increase in the grace period, so that Greece does not have to service any debt, for example for the next five years and then only if Greece is growing at 3% or more”; c) “debt reduction, especially of bilateral official debt to further increase the fiscal space available” and d) “significant money for efficient investment projects, especially for exports”. The same letter recalled the substantial debt relief of the German debt in the 1950s and essentially replicated many proposals originally put forward by SYRIZA.

 

[2] For an extensive analysis of the capitalist crisis, its management by the Greek state and the Capitalist International (IMF, EU, ECB, etc.) and the class struggles that took place in Greece after 2010, see our texts: Burdened with debt, “Preliminary notes towards an account of the «movement of popular assemblies»”, “Down with the Stalinists! Down with the Bureaucrats”, “Burdened with debt reloaded”, “Counting Defeats: Internal devaluation, the failure of working class struggles in Greece & the Sino-Greek «success story»” and the interview of our group by Juraj Katalenac “An Interview” which are available at: http://www.tptg.gr/?page_id=105.

[3] VIOME is a building material factory, a subsidiary of Filkeram & Johnson, which has been taken over by its workers after its bankruptcy and abandonment by its owners. For more information cf. http://www.viome.org/.

[4] For more about the issue of fascism/antifascism in Greece, see our forthcoming text “Antifascism vs fascism: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

[5] John Milios, Marxism as conflict of currents, Athens, 1996.

[6] John Milios, The critique of political economy as a critique of the Left, Theseis #101, 2007. This interpretation of Marx’s theory is based on Michael Heinrich’s work and the Neue Marx-Lektüre school of thought but we can’t go into details here.

[7] The quote is from Paul Mattick, Karl Kautsky: From Marx to Hitler, Living Marxism, vol.4, #7, 1939.

Note: the photo at the top of this page and its caption was not in the original TPTG text, but has been put there by me.

11 Responses to on syriza…by the tptg
  1. S.Artesian says:

    Thank you for reproducing this.

  2. Just a few days ago there was an anti-fascist demo in Athens, with thousands of anarchists and others. Before the election of Syriza, the cops would have been very ostentatiously in front of their wagons, advancing to beat up protesters – the usual. But post-election, the cops stood out of sight behind their vehicles, whilst in front demonstrators covered the cop cars etc with “ACAB” and other anti-cop graffiti.

    Obviously Syriza need to maintain a front of representing change (and in fact, probably expressing a bit of real change – particularly towards increasing employment in the state sector) – but I suspect that this will mean, in terms of demonstrations, more CCTV cameras filming demonstrators, less arrests during demonstrations, but a lot more afterwards, after the cops have gone through all the videos.

  3. Thought it was worth adding the following from an email list:

    X said the following:

    “i thought the following three paragraphs stood out for me, because they go beyond the usual ‘leftist electoral politics’. may be you can give some more concrete examples – though no hurry…

    “The party mechanism of SYRIZA and other organizations of the left took part incognito in key organizational groups in the square and thereby succeeded largely in dominating the content and the forms of struggle by promoting a nationalist leftist ideology of “national independence”, “productive reconstruction of the Greek economy”, “cancellation of the odious part of the debt”, etc.”

    You said that they tried to re-focus direct activities (‘reconnection of electricity’ etc.) on a legal level of appealing to local municipalities etc.. Do you have other examples? And if they were ‘incognito’ in the movement, how did they then build up their party credentials? Did they have to stay incognito, due to distrust towards electoral parties? At what point did that change?

    “Today, SYRIZA controls a plethora of such rank and file “solidarity” organizations including self-organized health centers and pharmacies, commodity exchanges, poverty relief groceries, etc.”

    How does that happen materially, what is their ‘control’? (e.g. resources/money or connection to the state administrations)

    “The self-management of bankrupt enterprises and the creation of new cooperative enterprises, the self-organization of the output distribution/consumption networks and the creation of associations of self-managed enterprises that will provide supporting functions such as legal, consulting and accounting services “in order to create economies of scale” or even the creation of cooperative credit institutions constitute the program of SYRIZA for the “social economy” pillar of their “productive reconstruction” plan.”

    Is this more than a symbolic/external support of self-management? Meaning, it is one thing to promise financial support of bankrupt companies, a different thing to encourage workers to ‘take-over control’ of a company by actually changing the relation between production and wider ‘coordination/management’ internally. How quantitatively significant (how many people make use of it) is the parties ‘welfare network’ and how does it relate to their influence within the cooperative sector?

    —-

    To sum up the questions: how relevant is the social existence of the party as a welfare organisation or body which supports cooperative efforts and how do they relate this to their parliamentary politics (do they refer to a necessity to find wider ‘political solutions’ in close relation to people’s experience that ‘welfare associations or cooperatives or even acts of appropriation’ have reached limits)? Also in terms of party members: how many members are actually involved in ‘constructive work’ (sorry for Gandhian term), and what is the relation between these militants and the political direction and leadership of the party?”

    The TPTG (or at least, some of them) responded with this:

    “Here are some first answers.

    1. The main strategy of Syriza’s involvement in the movement in the occupation of Syntagma square was simultaneously to keep the mobilizations going and at the same time contain their more threatening characteristics (e.g. specific proposals for independent, anti-political working class action, critique of political representation, violence against the police etc).

    Another example was the legalistic ways it proposed for the refusal of payment of various taxes apart for the property tax.
    Certain Syriza tax consultants would come to gatherings at the square and propose ways to evade tax payment by sending letters to the authorities protesting the taxes’ anti-constitutionality.

    They had to be incognito in the beginning since the hostility against political parties was widespread.
    However, one could easily spot Syriza cadres not only in Syntagma but also in the neighborhood assemblies where they were of course well-known.
    Inside the latter ones, they tried to keep a low profile in the sense that they did not openly advertise or actively promote the party line but they were acting within the assemblies as “individuals” while everybody knew that they were party functionaries.
    The party line was: “swim with the tide”. A clever strategy indeed that many times made the distinction between the movement and the party almost impossible.

    For example, in the popular assembly where I participated, Gavriil Sakelaridis, the now government spokesman, was active in a very discreet way, i.e. he was just one of us, without ever attempting to create a party circle inside the assembly to impose a party line. As long as the assembly’s political line was a “citizens’ rights” one, this was perfectly fine for Syriza’s cadres. However, in Syntagma where the huge mass of people was completely uncontrollable and more diverse they acted incognito in party circles.

    Here’s a funny story that happened in another popular assembly in the center of Athens: due to an e-mail sent by mistake to its mailing list, the party’s strategy was revealed as being one of cover-up of the party identity of their members in the assemblies (in case of course they were not well-known local cadres). When some non-party members of the assembly protested against this tactics, the Syriza members retorted that “it is a good thing that we participate as individuals. Would you prefer to have here the stalinist cadres?”

    As the movement was gradually deflating (I would determine this point in mid-2012 after the failure of the assembly coordination and the general elections), Syriza members became more vocal and more conspicuous as such. It was then that a lot of people who were active in the movement turned to Syriza. Gradually the party started holding its own gatherings in the neighbourhoods using the same assembly form and attracting the same people (or even more) who, disappointed at the failure of the movement from below and frustrated by the continuation of the austerity measures, rested their hopes on Syriza, i.e. on a government change. During 2013 and 2014 these people became the party’s main resources.

    On the other hand, there were institutional channels who promoted the party’s policies like mayors, municipal factions, professionals like doctors, chemists etc who organized and promoted self-help networks, continuing the work done previously in the assemblies (in certain cases, the assemblies themselves were from then on mainly organized by Syriza party members). An example is the organisation “Solidarity for all ” which is connected to many popular assemblies controlled by Syriza and is the main social policy channel of Attiki Regional Administration.

    2. Concerning self-management, I think our text is very clear: “Specifically, they promise to help the takeover and self-management of bankrupt enterprises by changing the bankruptcy law. Also they promise to support cooperative enterprises and associations through tax exemptions, European subsidies, funding by specialized public credit institutions as well as through the creation of supporting facilities providing consulting, accounting and legal services”.

    3. I don’ t understand your question “how relevant is the social existence of the party as a welfare organisation or body which supports cooperative efforts?” It’s pretty clear how relevant it is. They [Syriza] connect “social economy” with parliamentary politics. In their ideological and practical strategy, they do not bring the one against the other, in the sense that the movement’s limits should be overcome only by the conquer of power, but they claim to use political power to empower the movement by giving it access to greater financial resources.

    How many of their members are involved in party «constructive work»? I don’ t know exactly, but from our experience in the social movements, more or less all their members are involved in trade unions, popular assemblies and “solidarity activities”. Also, up to now there have been no major conflicts between the rank-n-file and the leadership of the party. On the contrary, all the initiatives of the rank-n-file have been encouraged by the leadership. But there is a possibility that this will change in the future for the obvious reason that the rank-n-file will find itself now against a leadership transformed into a government that manages capitalist social relations.

    To sum up: if you can’ t organise a distinct grassroots anti-capitalist movement of direct appropriation of wealth with a clear anti-democratic discourse, sooner or later a left-wing populist party (or even a right-wing populist party) will take your place. This also happened in the late seventies with PASOK -but that’s another long story to tell.”

    X then said:
    “regarding point 2): I just wondered to which extend they are able to offer their party apparatus as a coordinator between self-managed companies and their welfare organisations, e.g. by helping to distribute products or services these workers produce. one thing would be that they ‘only’ promote self-management politically and may be facilitate financial help, the other thing would be that workers ‘under self-management’ depend on party networks to actually run their enterprises.

    regarding point 3): The main thing I would like to understand is whether the party plays an important role in the material reproduction of workers and if so, of which section of the class. This would be a certain shift from parliamentary party politics to something like a party system. As historical examples we can take, e.g. the early CPI(M) in India, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela under Chavez, the management of ‘cooperatives’ by the Italian PCI or even to a certain degree the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – where the party initially forged a link between ‘movement’, welfare and state power and later on used the material dependence of parts of the working class on their party apparatus in order to put pressure on both local bourgeoisie and ‘industrial’ working class.

    The CPI(M) basically managed to produce a mass base amongst the poorest sections of the proletariat through limited land occupations and urban food distribution. They used their muscle-power within the unions to force the local industrialist to cooperate with them once they were in state power (West Bengal). This enabled them to finance the material support of their members amongst the poorest, who they were then able to use to discipline workers or peasants who went ‘out of control’. We were able to see similar things e.g. when Chavez oil-rent crumbs supported urban poor were mobilised against ‘privileged’ striking teachers.

    Therefore the question how quantitatively important these party-run welfare institutions are and how they are materially sustained…”

    And some of the TPTG replied:

    “Regarding point 2: Yes, they don’ t only promise financial help to the “cooperative” sector but up to now there have been political networks affiliated to Syriza (or sympathetic to Syriza) that help producers to distribute their products or services -in some cases these two, cooperatives and networks, have merged into one. Have in mind that this sector is small and it is considered by the party to be only the “third pillar of the reconstruction” of the capitalist economy, alongside the big private and public (state) sectors.

    Regarding point 3: From now on, strengthened with money by the state, at least according to their declarations, the party-run welfare institutions will play a more important role in the material reproduction of the poorest sections of the proletariat than they did before. But I don’ t think that it will be easy to mobilize poor proletarians against striking “privileged” workers because it is mainly on the workers in the public sector that Syriza is based. The government’s announcement of the rise of the minimum wage in some indefinite time during this year has created a kind of mini turmoil in the private sector. The bosses are pressing the workers to sign individual contracts on the basis of today’s minimum wage and this has caused some reactions against the bosses which were unusual in the last two years of almost total defeat of the workers in the private sector.

    Regarding reproduction in general: Have in mind that capitalism in Greece is a kind of petit bourgeois/familistic welfare capitalism. As my comrades had explained last year in Etival:

    “Greek (extended) family plays two important and interlinked roles by being: the main welfare and protection provider for its members and the key institution in the consolidation and reproduction of capitalist relations in Greece… The massive restructuring of the greek productive and reproductive model, as part of the violent policies of internal devaluation that has been implemented under the pretext of “sovereign debt crisis”, had to take into account this “hybrid”/dual character, ensuring that both family-based small-scale ownership and public spending channeled to welfare state, which is then mainly consumed as family income, are efficiently targeted.”

    So, Syriza, through social measures like the ones mentioned in our text mainly tries to reverse this attack on the ability of the family to provide protection to its members. That’s the main reason for its popularity. It is important though to mention that the actual public spending will be 2 billion euros less, according to their recent announcements, and the debt write-off has been miraculously erased…

  4. Check out this: http://www.trust.org/item/20150205172246-8inli/?

    Shows how Syriza needs to demonstrate the appearance of a break with the past

  5. Recommended: “Yani and the Hand Jive”, an article about Greece, Syriza, privatisation and the Troika : http://thewolfatthedoor.blogspot.fr/2015/02/yani-and-hand-jive.html

  6. Research query from the University of Working Titles :

    Help needed: Conducting research for book, working title A Government of the Political Economists, by the Political Economists, and for the Political Economists

    Is there any individual who is a member of the Syriza Central Committee and not at some time in the past or currently, a professor of political economy?

    Please contact me by email at sartesian@earthlink.net

    http://thewolfatthedoor.blogspot.fr/2015/03/query.html

  7. Recommended: The Political Economy of Things (about Greece and Syriza etc.) from The Wolf Report: Nonconfidential analysis for the anti-investor –
    http://thewolfatthedoor.blogspot.fr/2015/03/the-political-economy-of-things.html

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