This week I am delighted to welcome back Derick Varn to the show. After listening to the previous show about Cultural Marxism with Doug Lain, Derick sent me an email saying he’d like to come on the show and give his two cents. What followed was a wide ranging discussion on ideology, value theory, and the historical emergence of capitalism. We also discussed the possibility of a revolutionary movement based on a system without abstract value, Marx’s critique of the Gotha Program, and Star Trek as a Marxist Tract. And top of all that, the possible productivity of a communist state, game theory and alternative histories, and the Spanish revolution. You can find Derick’s blog here: https://symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com/ You can find Derick’s and Amogh’s Podcast here:http://sympthomaticredness.libsyn.com/ The music on this episode was: ‘The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra ‘If Not For Money’ – The Wytches
Five years after his 4-CD compendium The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010 the radical English singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson has released a new album, Where are the Barricades? Rosselson turned 80 in 2014, so his announcement that “after some sixty years of songwriting… this is my final recording” is hardly shocking, but will nonetheless distress those for whom his consistent advocacy of social change and support for the underdog has long been an inspiration.
Rosselson, the son of communist Jewish immigrants to Britain, made his name contributing satirical songs to the classic 1960s BBC TV show That Was The Week That Was, and he has never abandoned a very English form of political satire. Indeed some more po-faced purists may well be aggrieved by the sheer frivolity of the first song on the album (the earliest version of which dates back to 1986):
Full Marks for Charlie.
He’s the bugbear of the bosses.
Workers of the world unite!
Charlie Marx is dynamite.
In fact the transmission of serious political comment through the medium of cheek, conveyed in a voice that in an earlier review I described as possessing a “vaguely Monty Pythonish quality (Eric Idle comes to mind!)”, is so characteristic of Rosselson that the listener’s response to his music may depend on her/his tolerance of the combination. To which I must add a further comment from that review: “When Rosselson sings, the vocal idiosyncrasies are inseparable from his intractable and endearing integrity.”
The satirical mode is conspicuous in Looters (“You smash up the shops and you get free stuff/ It’s all about the money nowadays…innit?”), Benefits (“Come all you skivers, welfare cheats...”), and the title song, Where are the Barricades? (here making its fourth recorded appearance) which effortlessly manages a direct quotation from the Communist Manifesto:
See how the bubbles are bursting
‘All that’s solid melts into air’
The stairs are beginning to rattle
And the rats are beginning to stare.
However, Rosselson’s range is wider than this. While he has admitted to avoiding love-songs (“love, a word that has rarely passed my songwriting pen”), he has instead composed what he calls “relationship songs” entailing “a sideways look at love, sex, marriage, relationships and angst…” Active Ageing is a comical example of this, while Marital Diaries are bitter-sweet slices of married life spoken by Rosselson and Liz (Elizabeth) Mansfield. To the latter (minus Rosselson) is assigned Paris in the Rain, an “attempt at an English French-style chanson”, beautifully accompanied on piano by Fiz Shapur. Fair’s Fair, originally written for Roy Bailey (who participates in a couple of songs on this album, but not this one) is a seemingly apolitical celebration of the fun of the fair, rollercoaster, dodgems and all. Four Degrees Celsius, opening and closing with a line from the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman (‘On a summer season when soft was the sun’), is an enigmatic allegory that may or may not evoke ecological apocalypse.
I have previously described Rosselson’s anti-Zionist Song of the Olive Tree as “perhaps his most beautiful composition”, and perhaps the most powerful song on the new album is The Ballad of Rivka & Mohammed, the note on which in the CD booklet is almost an essay on Israel’s persecution of the people of Gaza.
As the election season reaches full swing, the inevitable claims of who did what and when, and what this means in the future intensifies. One oft-repeated tale beginning to reemerge is that an expansion in public spending during the 2000s is a, or perhaps the leading cause of the subsequent financial and debt crisis. After all, as seen below, the crisis manifested itself in an explosion of the public deficit and overall debt, which eventually culminated in an inability of the government to borrow from financial markets in 2010. While the topic has been much-discussed, it’s worth going over this again as there are several misunderstandings, and some questions which I think elements of the left have had difficulty answering too.
Notes: The Fiscal Balance and Adjusted Balance are shown on the left-hand side, Expenditure and Debt are shown on the right-hand side. Adjusted Balance taken from IMF’s World Economic Outlook. All others are taken from Eurostat.
The most obvious counter to the argument that bloated public spending was at the centre of the crisis is to point out the actual trajectory of fiscal policy in the 2000s. As shown above, Ireland actually ran a surplus (blue line) in all but one year of the 2000s pre-crisis, and also had one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the developed world. As a proportion of national income, spending increased, but quite modestly considering the low base. Thus, if anything, it was a model of fiscal prudency.
The counter to this is that, yes, the headline deficit was actually a surplus, but this masks underlying structural weaknesses. As we all know by now, the surpluses arose because of transient taxes such as stamp duty and other bubble-related windfalls. There was an expansion in public spending and the headline surplus was in reality a deficit (or as economists would say there was a structural public deficit). This was hidden by a basket-case economy, which delayed the inevitable collapse. In reality, the state was spending money it didn’t have – government profligacy in the form of excess spending has been a root cause of our woes. This can be seen clearly by the evolution of the cyclically-adjusted government balance, which clearly shows a large deficit from 2001 on.
A not inconsiderable portion of the left have difficulty answering this, and as a result it weakens the case for greater public investment in services, infrastructure, and so on. One response is to point to the costs of the bank bailout. Another is to repeat the point that the public finances were in surpluses. Another criticism is that it is in practice impossible to measure a structural deficit: that is, one cannot disentangle structural versus cyclical components of the deficit. I think all of these answers are somewhat weak, and leave open the charge of denial.
With the general election now upon us, Fine Gael and Labour can be expected to highlight the need for a “strong government”, while attacks on the left parties have suggested that they are uninterested in governing and only interested in being “wreckers”. This can be a difficult argument on the doorsteps, against a long history of assuming that only parties in power can “deliver” (usually particular benefits for local groups). I want to suggest that ungovernability would not be such a bad thing, and that a “weak government” is in the interests of most people in the country.
What “strength” has meant over the past five years has been strength at imposing decisions made elsewhere – by the Troika collectively, by the EU or ECB individually, by “the markets” or in some sweetheart deal with multinationals – on a population which has been increasingly recalcitrant. Not strength in representing our interests, but strength in riding roughshod over our interests and our resistance. A strong government is not our friend if it is on the right (and there is no real chance of anything else in the next Dáil).
Conversely, on all recent opinion polls a weak right-wing government is almost certainly the least bad outcome we can hope for, whether that be a coalition of FG, Lab, SDs and independents or – on different numbers and backroom deals – FG in some sort of arrangement with FF (minority government? government of national unity?) The reason for this is that a weak government is one which is less cohesive, and less effective at imposing other people’s interests in the face of our resistance.
I don’t want to overstate the case for this – even a weak government will pull together and ignore all possible popular resistance to, for example, the US military use of Shannon or Shell’s presence in Erris, and will continue to stand over whatever violence is required. However, not every issue will be so easy to handle. Water charges stand at the head of the list of a series of impositions by recent “strong governments” which may prove far more politically problematic for a “weak government”.
At its simplest, a “weak government” is one which will have to pay far more attention to social movements and popular pressure; it will have fewer rewards to offer for loyalty and will have less scope to threaten internal “dissidents” within what is likely to be a fairly thin majority. Indeed, the strategy of “ram the changes through and people will have forgotten in five years’ time” becomes less likely if the government’s lifetime may be considerably shorter.
The February Issue of Socialist Voice is now online.
The current election campaign and the election of a new Dáil present new challenges and opportunities for the working people of Ireland.
Working people have experienced prolonged attacks on their living standards, on social welfare benefits, pensions, and public services, as well as the imposition of water charges.
Within the European Union and the United States and other advanced capitalist regions they say competition is king. Competition is what gives the modern market economy its legitimacy. It’s taught in second-level and third-level educational institutions, in departments of economics, business, and law
Hillary Benn, the British Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, made a striking statement in the House of Commons in the debate on British intervention in the civil war now taking place in Syria. He compared the situation to that of the Spanish Civil War;
Tomás Mac Síomóin
I mbliain seo chomóradh Éirí Amach 1916 cluinfear moltaí á dtabhairt go fuíoch ag boic na bunaíochta do laochra na Cásca. Ach tá ard-chuspóirí na laoch céanna tréigthe, is faoi their, ag na boic chéanna le fada an lá. Ní chluinfear teagasc sóisialach Shéamais Uí Chonaíle á mholadh óna mbéala siadsan, ar ndóigh. Bíodh spléachadh againn ar chuid de cháipéisí bunúsacha ghluaiseacht na saoirse le méid na feille seo a thomhas.
It is being reported that some Scots intend voting Yes in the British referendum dealing with Britain’s membership of the European Union. Apparently their decision is based on the rather shaky principle that if a significant number of English people wish to leave, they will vote to remain.
The centenary of Bob Doyle’s birth occurs on 12 February. He was born into poverty in North King Street, Dublin, and the eventual break-up of his family led to a life of foster care and orphanages, where he suffered hunger and regular beatings.
The launch event takes place in Connolly Books (East Essex St, Temple Bar) at 6 pm on Wednesday 9th December.
How are social movements doing in Ireland? What kind of real change might be on the cards, here and in Europe or further afield? What are the key issues that we should be thinking about if we want to see it happen?
Co-written with Norwegian researcher on Indian movements Alf Gunvald Nilsen, my book We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism (Pluto, 2014) draws on the Maynooth tradition of activist research in social movements to read Marxism as a reflection of the learning of popular struggles and uses this approach to explore how movements grow out of the struggle to meet human needs, how they develop, how the collective agency of the powerful and wealthy works and what all this means for the struggle against neoliberalism today.
Launched at the London “Historical Materialism” conference, the book has raised interest wherever movement struggles are intense (reprinted in South Africa, translated into Turkish, with Indian editions and translations under discussion) and we have been invited to discuss the book at Ruskin College Oxford’s International Labour and Trade Union Studies MA, the European University Institute’s social movements research centre, the Collège d’Etudes Mondiales in Paris, the University of Gothenburg’s Forum on Civil Society and Social Movements, Reykjavík Academy / Radical Summer School, the University of Bergen, and in South Africa at the universities of KwaZulu Natal, Johannesburg, Wits and Rhodes among others.
It’s been reviewed among other places in Counterpunch, Working USA, Marx and Philosophy, Radikalportal, Trade Unions and Global Restructuring and Social Movement Studies, along with mentions on Pravda.ru and … the Huffington Post. Excerpts and related essays have appeared in Ceasefire, Progress in Political Economy, OpenDemocracy, Reflections on a Revolution, Discover Society and E-International Relations.
For the Dublin launch, rather than focus exclusively on the book there will be a discussion about the state of movements and our possible futures. Chaired by John Bissett, there will be short talks from Margaret Gillan, Andrew Flood and Fergal Finnegan to open a wider debate.
The launch event takes place in Connolly Books (East Essex St, Temple Bar) at 6 pm on Wednesday 9th December.
By way of an appetiser, here are some excerpts from what the book has to say about working-class community activism in Ireland
Probably the most encouraging development that has come out of the water charges movement has been the accentuated understanding of ‘them’ and ‘us’; the idea that society is organised so as to benefit the minority at the expense of the majority. This is the starting point that all of us on the left had been yearning for since the beginning of the crisis. Undoubtedly, it was slow to arrive but when it finally did so, it was truly an explosion of struggle and organisational prowess, as we finally said ‘enough is enough’.
Any lingering illusions that the mainstream media, establishment parties or big business exist to better our lives, will have been dispelled for those at the heart of the movement. However, conclusions on how to change society for the better are numerous, unclear and disjointed. This comes as no surprise with an embryonic movement, which lacks ready-made and large radical institutions to provide solutions.
Ireland is a tax haven for big business
Rome, or Dublin for that matter, wasn’t built in a day. Economies and societies are incredibly complex systems that have developed over centuries. Ireland’s economy, in particular, presents many structural challenges for the left that simply cannot be wished away or eradicated overnight. The most successful capitalist economies are those which have the strongest industrial bases, specifically economies which actually make things and have goods or raw materials to trade with others countries or markets.
Book Review: WHO IS CHARLIE? Emmanuel Todd (Polity, 2015)
The targeted killing of staff at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris took place on 7th January 2015 and on the 11th of the month a mass protest demonstration in the city attracted between 1.5 and 2 million people. The march had an impeccable pedigree, headed as it was by the likes of Angela Merkel, François Hollande, David Cameron, Jean-Claude Juncker, Nicholas Sarkozy and Donald Tusk. ‘I am Charlie’ became synonymous with ‘I am French’ and when the now state-subsidized satirical magazine was relaunched its cover showed Muhammad with a penis-shaped face and wearing a turban from which hung two round shapes like testicles. For protestors a pencil on a poster became a symbol of liberty, forgetting the way caricatures of Jews had been a stock part of Nazi anti-Semitism.
The people on the protest march did not represent a cross-section of French society: the less well-off from the suburbs, whatever religion they did or did not profess, were not on the streets of Paris; nor were the working class of provincial France well represented. It was a largely middle-class affair with its roots in the old Catholic substratum of France and not in the secularism of the country’s republicanism. Emmanuel Todd sees his country lying to itself, provoking the thought that Charlie is an impostor, and reminds readers that two years earlier Paris had witnessed another huge demonstration, between 340,000 and 800,000 people, protesting at the legalisation of homosexual marriages. Such large numbers did not characterise reactions to the spread of anti-Semitism in France that resulted in the killing of three Jewish children in Toulouse in 2012 or the killing by a French citizen of four people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014.
Religious beliefs and practices have dramatically declined in France, just as elsewhere across Europe, with the proportion of children born out of wedlock increasing from 5.5% in 1960 to 55% today and the numbers of practising Catholics falling from 33% to 6%. Such a change can destabilise the group psyche of regions where Catholicism was deeply rooted, creating metaphysical anxiety, and Todd’s term for the anthropological and social fallout from this is ‘zombie Catholicism’.
One of the most common and easy ways to make money for a charity purpose is to organize local raffles, lotteries and games, such as card games that are the most played and popular table…
The Greek Elections’ Results
The number of the people that did not vote is the largest one in the elections history so far. This is to do with the capitulation of Tsipras, and the enforcement of the left TINA, as well as with financial restrains for the voters that had to travel.
Syriza’s victory was not based on ‘hope’ or any expectations for a more socially just governance. It was a personal victory for Tsipras, which tapped into the emotional “he’s a good kid, the EU were hard on him, at least he negotiated hard” on one hand, and the more moderate, centrist “Now that he got rid of the left burden, he will be more sensible and the government will be more stable” on the other. The new left TINA, in particular, played a role in reversing the radicalisation of large groups of the Greek population (especially the young, and working class urban areas), and appealed to the collapsing middle classes. “Stability” has entered Syriza’s vocabulary.
Tsipras’ victory was also based on the ideological and organisational defeat of the left alternatives. KKE’s stance in the memorandum sounded like a broken clock that tells the time correctly twice a day, but they failed to support and express the OXI. LAE (Popular Unity) ran for the elections attempting to express the OXI, while at the same time attempting to revive Syriza’s -in my view bankrupt- programme. However, their focus was on humourous TV spots, rather than the programme itself and the fact that it was mostly a party/front of prominent ex Syriza MP’s that have not addressed what their role in the Syriza government was turned a lot of people off. Antarsya-EEK, going through a split (with ARAN and ARAS siding with LAE), got a few thousand votes more than they did in the January elections. However, their programme needs to be substanciated. It also has not reached the wider population (partly due to the small organisation and lack of access to the media) and they failed to present it in detail. In this sense, Antarsya is seen as a useful force for the struggles, but not good enough as a parliamentary force.
A separate mention to the declining votes of Golden Dawn is necessary here. Golden Dawn did not manage to grow in an environment, which is characterised by disappointment on one hand, and the refugee crisis on the other. Even though their votes were higher than last elections on the Islands of Kos and Lesvos, they were not significantly higher and they were mostly votes that came from other right wing parties, such as New Democracy. It is also important to stress that dispite their attempts they have not managed to build a fascist movement on the streets as their presence, on those islands too, is very limited and they are outnumbered by the activists standing in solidarity with the refugees.
In all, the 2.86% (155000 votes) of LAE. the rise of votes to Antarsya-EEK (by 4200 votes), as well as smaller maoist and troskyist parties, such as the ML KKE-KKE (ml) coalition and OKDE, and the stability in the votes of KKE would not allow anyone to say that the Greek left is dead and buried, far from it. This is evident especially in comparison to the losses of votes for Syriza, and the establishment parties. Syriza lost 320000 votes, while New Democracy lost 192000,To Potami lost 151000, Golden Dawn 8800.
Regardless of the voting outcome, I believe, discussions and other collaborative efforts from a movement-building perspective between LAE and Antarsya-EEK and other anticapitalist organisations-parties will take place the following period, as the struggle against the 3rd Memorandum will start unfolding.
Ronan Burtenshaw argues that now is the time to start discussing alternative political and economic unions for Europe
2015 has been a year when a decade has happened for Europe’s Left.
In just a few months we have seen the election of SYRIZA, the unprecedented crisis in Fortress Europe and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as British Labour leader, not to mention the municipal victories in the Spanish state and the development of Right2Water into Ireland’s largest ever social movement.
Further developments are promised in the cascade of elections to come in Europe’s periphery.
But, as we welcome the opportunities that have opened up, we should acknowledge the paths that have closed. Most prominently, the defeat of the Left government in Greece has raised serious questions about the way forward for our growing movement.
One of the fulcrum points for this debate is the European Union, which was so important in determining the prospects of SYRIZA. Europe’s Left has been divided on this question for some time – the majority faction saw the EU as a site of struggle which could be won and turned to progressive ends, the minority saw membership of it as an insurmountable obstacle to anti-neoliberal strategy.
Both camps had valid bases for their position. The majority, which includes the leadership of most of Europe’s radical Left parties, argued that globalised capitalism could not be effectively challenged by a nation state. The minority argued that the European Union was irredeemably pro-capitalist.
In the end, the Troika used these two poles as a binary to entrap the Greek government. We now know that the price for remaining in the European Union and euro is accepting austerity and post-democracy. But the only alternative proposal has been unilateral exit and facing international capital alone. The Greek people, finding neither option attractive, are likely to punish the Left in the forthcoming elections.
But this binary – false internationalism or a return to the nation state as the only paths out of neoliberalism – is not only a problem for Greece. In the other states of the European periphery such as Ireland and Spain it places severe limitations on the prospects of growing left-wing movements. In Britain, with the new possibilities of a Corbyn Labour party, it creates a hugely problematic dynamic for the upcoming EU referendum, offering ideal ground for a narrow debate between the nationalist right and cosmopolitan neoliberals.
There is an urgent need for Europe’s Left to break this binary and construct a new horizon that seeks to transcend the limitations of the European Union and the nation state.
For this, we need a debate about alternative economic and political unions.
September Edition of Socialist Voice Out Now
Much ado about nothing:
The “peace process” in the North is going through one of what appear to be regular spasms, this time resulting from the killing of two men who the press claim were former members of the IRA in Belfast. The fall-out from the killing of Kevin McGuigan on the 12th of August rumbles on as a result of comments made by the chief constable of the PSNI, George Hamilton, which sowed confusion and provided the pretext for current developments…………
Lansdowne Road (the Haddington Road Extension)
This headline sums up the proposed Lansdowne Road Agreement. Brendan Howlin and union leaders have been making a lot of noise about pay restoration and the end of the so-called financial emergency. It has been hyped in the bourgeois yellow press that civil and public servants would receive a pay increase of €2,000 per annum under the deal. Howlin and the Labour Party spin doctors have tried to give the impression that but for them the nasty Fine Gael party would have given nothing. This is nonsense. The Labour Party is a willing partner in the austerity programme.
Don’t privatise the banks?
Very early in the present crisis the CPI argued against nationalising the banks, on the grounds that this would be socialising tens of billions in debts, would bankrupt the state, and would create conditions for a general downward restructuring of the economy. The party introduced and popularised the slogan “Repudiate the debt” as the clearest anti-imperialist class position, which attempted to challenge both the Irish establishment and the European Union and indeed the global financialised economy.
All is not quite what it seems:
According to an article by Hugh O’Connell on the web site journal.ie, our now ailing and tetchy Labour Party leader has commissioned a company called Marmalade Films to produce a series of short social-media-based advertisements commending the party’s performance in government.1 These short film clips deal with the themes of jobs, families, and business, asserting that the Labour Party is good for all three, though offering little evidence to support the claim.
One step nearer to privatising schools
Dónall Ó Briain
The national school on the island of Inis Meáin, Co. Galway, needs a second teacher—not because of the number of pupils (there are only nine) but because of the number of subjects to be taught. Up to now the solitary teacher has been expected to teach the whole national school curriculum.
Samir Amin: A life that continues to be lived:
Samir Amin is recognised as one of the most important and most inspiring living Marxist theoreticians and philosophers. I would strongly recommend that people read his regular articles in Monthly Review (posted on the MR e-zine) and his books, most notably his recent publications The Law of Worldwide Value (second edition, 2010) and The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism (2013).
Reasons why I am not a capitalist
1. It is not the perfect system that it has been advertised to be. It had a beginning and a middle, and we are now at the end. It will not self-perpetuate into the indefinite future. The responsible solution is to search for alternatives not rooted in austerity and oppression.
The Pope calls capitalism’s bluff:
Tomás Mac Síomóin
Pope Francis is no 21st-century Karl Marx. But when it comes to the critical analysis of modern monopoly capitalism and its role in the creation of human suffering on a massive scale, the Italo-Argentine and the German Jew sing from the same hymn sheet.
The case against the privatisation of water:
Here are ten reasons—among many—why the privatisation of drinking water could spell doom for the Irish people and many of the world’s 6 billion-plus people:
The availability of safe, legal abortion and affordable, reliable contraception is really good for women. Being able to decide if and when to have a child (or more children) improves women’s educational outcome, our career prospects, our health, the health of our relationships, the well-being of our…….
Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment:
Abortion is a work-place, equality and human rights issue. Since its formation in September 2014 the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment has argued that this is the case.
Democratic Programme for the 21st Century:
The Democratic Programme for the 21st Century is timely, not just in its connection to the many coming centenaries and memorials over the next number of years, kicked off with the recent O’Donovan Rossa events……..
Everyone wants to get home: at the end of the day, a place of comfort and security, repose. It’s not the magnitude of the space – a bedsit can be remembered with affection – but the space itself, somewhere you fit in.
For Ghada Karmi home is Palestine, the place she left as an infant in 1948, and she returns there in 2005 to Ramallah in the West Bank, the seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), after half a century spent living in Britain. She secures a job as a consultant for the Media & Communications ministry of the PA, which at that time also administers Gaza although a Hamas government is about to emerge there and challenge Fateh’s long-standing claim to represent Palestinian aspirations to statehood. Hamas is prepared to launch rocket attacks on Israel; Fateh is accused of subservience to the occupying power and its ongoing building of a high concrete wall to divide up the West Bank and screen off Jewish settlements from the Arab areas around them.
Fateh’s energies are caught up in the myriad NGOs that emerged in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, when Palestinian statehood seemed only a matter of time. Israel plays with time, waiting for the generation who fled their homes in 1948 to die out and bury with themselves the right to one day return to their land. After a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin, when Jewish militias killed some 120 inhabitants, Ghada Karmi’s family departed, thinking to return when the situation calmed down. That was fifty-seven years earlier. In Ramalleh in 2005, political priorities have changed and Karmi sees the formation by the PA of an 8,000-strong ‘counter terrorism force’ which brings murderous attacks on Hamas members and the gratitude of Israel.
The last few weeks have seen a number of crushing developments in Greece. Especially the Greek referendum and the signing of a new memorandum by the SYRIZA government are historical events which will strongly influence not only the future of the Greek but of the European Left as well. They will also influence the further course of the EU and the Eurozone, which came on the verge of dissolution and showed by the way it dealt with the crisis its true class nature.
SYRIZA’s signing of a new memorandum cannot be called otherwise but a heavy, unacceptable compromise and a capitulation. This is all the more true, since the Greek people, with its decisive “No” had expressed a massive support for a break with the memorandum policies in the Greek referendum just a week ago. The SYRIZA leadership, however, and Alexis Tsipras personally, chose to come in line with the spokesmen of “Yes”, the bankrupt bourgeois Greek political forces that supported the previous memoranda and the corrupt Greek and European elites.
This choice of the SYRIZA leadership does not in the least diminish the importance of the daring “No” raised by the Greek people in the referendum. This was a “No” not only to the EU agreement proposals, but the memorandum and austerity policies as a whole. The Greek people stood up against unbearable pressures by the Greek mass media, the parties of the ruling class and the EU leaders and showed, by their stance and vote, that they are ready and willing to support another road and overthrow the austerity policies. This result, unexpected even to the most optimistic commentators of the Left, is a proof of the possibility and a call for resistance of the European peoples, as the only force capable of producing radical change.
The decision of the SYRIZA leadership to compromise at all cost with the lenders must be criticized by all Left activists and Marxists in particular. However, it is essential to provide a serious criticism, which points exactly and explains its mistakes.
A number of ultra-Left forces here in Greece, and perhaps elsewhere too, respond to SYRIZA’s compromise by shouting “betrayal”, arguing it proves the bankruptcy of reformist tactics and the fact that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is the only road. However, this kind of criticism misses the fact that the situation in January, when the SYRIZA-ANEL government was formed, was not revolutionary, and it is neither so now. In such a situation it is necessary to maneuver and arguing that focusing on maneuvers and reforms leads to a deadlock, is the wrong way to argue. While this is true on the long run, it does not rule out the necessity to deal seriously with the phases of the struggle when maneuvering predominates and this cannot be done by calling for the immediate application of revolutionary tactics.
In fact, the SYRIZA leadership must be criticized not for maneuvering in general, but for maneuvering badly. It must be criticized for the vacillations and lack of planning it showed during this phase of maneuvers, leading it to a position where it was forced to accept an intolerable compromise. In particular the following points should be noted:
- SYRIZA lost too much time in meaningless negotiations for months. The dragging on of these negotiations was just a means for the ruling circles of the EU to drive the Greek economy to the present financial suffocation, after exhausting its reserves. The supposed progresses during these negotiations, like the Greek 47 pages proposal, were all sham, a plot intended by the German ruling circles to bring about the present situation.
- The election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as President of the Greek Democracy was also an unnecessary concession. It indicated SYRIZA’s leadership readiness for further moves to the Right, when the situation called for cautious moves to the Left.
- The payment of roughly €8 billion in February-June from the Greek reserves to the EMF was also a step leading to direct capitulation. If the SYRIZA government wanted to base itself on the people, it should have led things to a referendum in February or March, when it had still the means to resist for some time the economic sabotage from the EU. Obviously, if the Greek government had some billions € in reserves this might not suffice to support a break with the EU, but it could help endure for some months a situation with closed banks, etc, and this would put the EU ruling elites under pressure, as the consequences of the protracted instability would begin to be strongly felt by their economies too.
- Apart from these Right mistakes, the SYRIZA leadership made, in our opinion, a “Left” mistake when it rejected the conciliatory proposal made by Merkel just before the decision for the referendum. This proposal for an extension of the present memorandum for 5 months would have provided the Greek state €15.5 billion for this five month period. It would have been a harsh compromise, including an “evaluation” by the “institutions”. However it would last for only 5 months leaving further options open, while not including the devastating, enslaving conditions of the new memorandum, like the sell-off of public property. During that time the Greek government would build up some monetary reserves from various sources (EU inputs, tourism, taxation etc). Moreover, the end of this five month period would coincide with the parliamentary elections in Spain. A Greek referendum at that time, together with a possible victory of the Left forces in Spain (especially if they are able to unite), would have given a strong thrust to popular movements across Europe.
All this comes to show that, despite all negative aspects, this would have been an acceptable compromise. The reason the SYRIZA leadership failed to take advantage of that opportunity is its fear of the people, together with its illusions about the real intentions of the EU leading circles. As a result it never considered seriously the prospect of a rupture at a suitable moment and of preparing the people for it, but chose to reach a “final” agreement at all costs, falsely hoping it would not be so harsh.