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New Socialist Webzine

Syriza. Defeat. Victory. Defeat.

By Richard Seymour

It is gut-wrenching, watching Syriza [the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left] beg, and plead with the creditors not to crush Greece. Too late did they realise that they weren't negotiating. They had nothing to do negotiate with, no cards to play. They went looking for the 'good euro', and found only ruthless, mercenary capitalist enforcers. They sought compromise and were given fiscal strangulation.

Even after their big deal with the creditors in February, wherein they gave up most of their emergency programme, none of the money they expected was forthcoming. Their means of raising money were cut off. For months and months, they made concessions; the troika made none. Finally, they were all set to sign up to a deal considerably worse than any imposed on previous governments. The troika demanded more, on pain of destroying the banking system.

Now, it seems, Syriza has caved and proposed a deal which is even worse than the worst. Cuts. Privatisations. Pension “reforms.” VAT increases. Recessionary measures. Barely a trace of a progressive agenda left here, notwithstanding the strenuous and heartbreaking efforts of euro-leftists to give it a gloss. In some respects, they have delivered, after months of fighting, a more complete victory to the neoliberal managers of Europe than the latter could have won on their own account.

The social catastrophe that has befallen Greece is now going to be prolonged – the suicides, the premature deaths, the medicine shortages, the starvation, the wage losses, unemployment – but without any possible conviction that, say, a new radical left government might be elected and put an end to the misery. What sort of political forces might stand to gain in that terrain is obviously undecided; but we have seen what the worst of it could be.

Negotiations: Worse than Nothing

In a way, none of this is surprising. The only possible coherent basis for any alternative to austerity was a “Grexit” [Greek exit from the Eurozone] prepared for early on, both in terms of public opinion and effective war-readiness. There was nothing else coming down the pipeline.

The dominant forces in the Syriza leadership wouldn't have it. Not for a second would Prime Minister Tsipras, his Deputy Dragasakis, or the recently appointed negotiator Tsakalotos, allow this outcome. For them, Grexit was worse than austerity.

Of course, even if they thought that was true, the failure to even plan for such a contingency, to wargame the possible outcomes and get people in the state apparatuses ready to act, was a huge mistake.

I am not forgetting that they are a left government trying to operate within the confines of a capitalist state penetrated by imperialism. I am not oblivious of the fact that the permanent state apparatuses may have sabotaged and undermined them at every turn – certainly, the constant leaks undermining the previous commitments against privatisation suggest civil service lobbying.

So it's quite possible that a Syriza government trying to prepare for a situation tantamount to war – Grexit being a huge national effort, not something a few technocrats can manage – would have been subverted and sabotaged quickly. But from what I can see, all efforts have been obsessively focused on negotiations, and those have delivered precisely worse than nothing.

Oxi = Revolt

So what was the meaning of last week's referendum? Why did they call it, and what happened to “Oxi” [No]? It is fair to say that the Syriza leadership never expected 61% of Greeks to actually support them. Neither did I.

The Oxi rallies were enormous, but the fact of this translating into such a tremendous surge at the ballots, mostly coming from the working class and from younger voters – but actually spread across all the districts of Greece, the rural as much as the urban – bespeaks a revolt on the scale of the “national-popular.” No one could have anticipated it.

So what did they anticipate? We could infer the answer from their behaviour. On the day after the referendum, Varoufakis was relieved of his negotiating duties (leaving aside his generally right-cleaving positions, the creditors evidently hate him), and instead a new team including delegates from To Potami and Pasok was sent to discuss the terms of surrender.

Tsakalotos sent a letter pleading for a new bailout, with a promise of a new memorandum. This move would have made much more sense had there been a narrow vote for Yes, or even a narrow No. It makes no sense at all now.

It is at least plausible that Syriza leaders would have preferred to lose and be forced to resign, rather than take responsibility for this deal. It is also plausible, lest we overlook the option, that the Syriza leadership is utterly at sea, pulled hither and thither by tides and winds it knows nothing of.

Whatever the reason, the referendum did happen and the result was astonishing. The majority of Greeks did come out to clearly reject austerity. The public protests and rallies building to it, against the ferocious pressure of the reactionary media and the threats of the Eurogroup, almost had the character of a social movement. If we're fortunate, they were the beginning of one.

This introduces a significant cleavage between the government and its base. Objectively, that is the basis of a political split. Whether anyone in Syriza will recognise that remains to be seen.

As I write, we're waiting to see what the parliamentary votes will look like. There is immense pressure on Syriza Members of Parliament to give Tsipras the authority to negotiate and finalise a deal on this basis.

There are all sorts of lures being dangled. Maybe the Eurogroup will sink it. Maybe if the final deal is terrible you can oppose it then. Hold tight for now, and things will look better in a few days.

And rods are being wielded. Don't make Tsipras look bad. Don't bring the government down. Don't let the European masters have that victory.

Suicide

So it is important to be clear: if Syriza supports and implements this deal, it is over. It will not recover. It may exist as a party, but as a force of the radical left it will be all but redundant. It may as well be a centrist, austerian coalition. A left that goes along with this will be committing suicide.

And finally, don't put your faith in the idea that maybe if Syriza hangs in there, does what it's told, eventually, after a while, Spanish anti-austerity party Podemos will come, maybe some other radical left formations will come, and the balance of power will tilt.

Even if that was how the European institutions work – and they have proven they aren't susceptible to that kind of pressure – this outcome will seriously undercut the chances for the European radical left.

Be clear that we are looking a world-historic defeat in the eye. And act accordingly.

Richard Seymour is a socialist, writer, teacher and neurotic. He is the author of Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made (Pluto, 2014), which Alan Sears calls "a crucial reference point for the Left" in his review of the book for New Socialist Webzine. An earlier article by Seymour published days after the February 18 Presidential election, "Syriza's Mauling at the EU Negotiations," can be found here.

This article is reprinted from Lenin’s Tomb.

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