The speed with which many leftists around the world have concluded that Syriza has sold out strikes me as a bit precipitous.
One day, Hail Syriza. Next day, Phooey on Syriza. Perhaps more time is required to judge what has happened, and what response is needed, not to mention more information.
Tsipras went to the Greek public for a referendum. This was a powerful instance of democratic behavior. It was exemplary in its own right, and he is praised for it across the left, even while various finance czars decried the idea that people should have any say in their own lives providing a very stark and instructive contrast. Surprisingly, despite incredible media machinations, Tsipras’ preferred position won very strongly. Then, even more surprisingly, after but another day, Tsipras offered a new and only modestly altered proposal to the masters of Europe presumably in a last ditch effort to avoid Grexit. He seemingly, to many observers, sold out his population.
Okay, one possibility is that indeed the population was ready and prepared to fight for way more concessions including backing it up with an exit, and so Tsipras folded out of cowardice or due to wanting to preserve the perks of his position, or even out of ideological loyalty to corporate power, whatever the costs for others might be. But is this really plausible? Should we so quickly throw Tsipras under the bus – to use an American expression for it – as our explanation of his apparent turn about? Maybe that is the explanation – but what if it is wrong?
Suppose we ask, what would it have looked like if Tsipras took the referendum and went to the masters of Europe and said, cancel the debt or a large portion of it, anyhow, and sign off on our programs for Greece, or we are leaving you, now, and if he was then shown the door? Would that have been a victory against austerity?
Maybe it would have been, if, for example, the next day there would be millions in the streets, energized, not just present for a day, but ready to dig in and fight for months upon months, and if the government had workable plans and organizational means to keep the economy afloat while rebuilding and renovating it, including undertaking nationalizations, price and wage controls, redistributive policies, and implementing whatever currency policies and grassroots goods provision, and whatever else was needed not only immediately, but for a long time to ward off the predations of European and American finance capital who would want a separated Greece to fail even more than they wanted to preserve austerity in the first place. But what if all this activism was unlikely or even transparently not going to occur? And what if there was tons of support for fighting against austerity and for a better deal, as the referendum suggested, but very little support for Grexit and sustained even fiercer fighting thereafter?
What if, in other words, the day after Grexit, most of the Greek population would be blaming Syriza and not the masters of Europe for the ensuing chaos? If so, the get-tough scenario would look less like victory and more like disaster. (Please note, this possibility also reveals a completely different grounds for criticizing Syriza – not that they are sell outs or bad negotiators, or whatever else of that sort, but that they spent five months totally caught up in dancing with the Devil to the near exclusion of preparing the Greek population, and even the apparatus of Syriza itself, to fight fiercely and successfully for clear goals during and after an exit.)
So, if Tsipras’s assessment of likely outcomes after the referendum was that Grexit would bring disaster, what would his offering new last ditch proposals accomplish? If they were accepted, as has apparently happened, it would gain some time, again, and win some modest gains on some fronts, while agreeing to continued austerity and even incurring some serious losses on other fronts, to be sure – and while looking like a beaten supplicant, as well, – but if it allowed refurbishing and deepening popular support rather than seeing it melt into acrimonious, depression-induced passivity after an exit, the fight could at least continue and perhaps re-intensify. On the other hand, what if the masters received the new proposal and still said goodbye Greece? What then? Well, if that happened, Tsipras may have been thinking, it would be totally clear to the Greek population, and to most of the world, that Grexit was the will of the masters of Europe and could be blamed only on them, not on Syriza, in which case Tsipras and Syriza would be in position to rally not merely the left wing of Syriza, if even that, but 60% and maybe even 75% of the population, all highly angry and motivated.
Is Tsipris a very clever organizer seeking to amass sufficient strength to proceed successfully in new rounds of struggle in the future, or is he a mere doormat for the masters? Do I know? No. But I don’t think others know either, so I wonder why there is a rush toward explanations that let us hurl epithets at folks who need help, not hostility.
To my eyes, Greece was and still is navigating an almost impossible path with very little outside aid and against a draconian and relentless enemy. Syriza entered the government with a very fledgling party, barely enough people to even fill posts, I suspect. And then it undertook negotiations – a dance with the devil – which became, at least viewing from the outside, the focus of almost all its sharply limited energies. This was the mistake – and a very large one, in my view. The problem was believing that the other side could be convinced by intelligence, dignity, and, yes, compromise – rather than realizing that the other side’s goals, including primarily demolishing any serious opposition to austerity, trumped all reason, all human sympathy, all dignity – as usual for corporate agendas. The tug of war was one of power – class warfare – not one of economic logic, all along. But based on believing that economic logic could prevail and perhaps simply not being sufficiently activist oriented, Syriza failed to build sufficient understanding, commitment, and organization at the grassroots to make the threat of a successful Grexit credible.
One last point – for some reason everyone seems to take at face value what the masters say – and now I am talking about the Masters of the Universe, in Washington, and not just their allies in Europe. To my eyes, however, masters everywhere have been and are still confronting a choice. In their view, should they try to avoid disrupting international markets unduly by cutting back even minimally on austerity for Greece to get a deal – or should they risk the disruptions that might accompany Grexit but, in the process, have in their view a near certainty of thoroughly demolishing Syriza and, by extension and example, other such efforts throughout Europe?
The Germans seemed to feel that the latter task warranted the risks. The widespread claim is that the U.S. masters thought the risks of disruption and what it might unleash outweighed the gains of punishing Syriza’s dissent – or, put differently, outweighed the risks of a Syriza surviving and even growing. Okay, this is possible, of course, but is it plausible?
Remember Vietnam – and basically all the wars since? The U.S. risked making a complete mess of its economy to prevent the “spread of a good example” – that is, to prevent the example of a country extricating itself from the network of subservience to U.S. and corporate control and the U.S. did that out of fear the example might spread. A Greece seeking to end austerity and then to redevelop in a manner leaning seriously left is a far more dangerous example not least because it is occurring in a world far more open to following the lead, it seems to me, than was Vietnam’s resistance. So my guess is that the Germans were not in the back rooms listening to U.S. anger, but were instead doing, in a very real sense, a job for the U.S. and all the world’s upper crust.
The final result appears to be Germany, and the U.S. too, I believe, deciding they could have their cake – no exit – and eat it too, force sufficient compliance on Syriza to crack its support and ultimately bring it down. And, on the other side, Tsipris presumably feels he has at least kept Syriza in the struggle, avoided the catastrophe of an exit blamed on Syriza, and can battle on from a position a little worse in some respects, but a little better in others, than in the past – with a public and international audience, as well, that now knows far better the rules of the dance and may be able to organize to fight on.
My own reaction is that some time may be essential to decide who is right. But here will be a clue, I think, as to where things may go.
Will Syriza immediately begin serious plans for grassroots struggle oriented to withstand truly draconian attack. Will it prepare to be ready, next time, to exit if need be? And will Podemos and others in Europe and more widely rally to Greece, militantly, as well as pursue their own struggles with an eye on the need not for reason when dancing with the devil, but for grassroots, sustained, and well organized power when doing so?