The failure of Syriza (and of the Left’s illusions)

(Click here for German version.)

Syriza participated in the Greek elections of January 2015 as the „party of the radical left“ and as such it became elected. Now, one month after taking office and after endless negotiations with the European Union, there is not a single point in which this party hasn‘t failed or hasn‘t betrayed its goals and promises. The debt cut, which Syriza initially demanded, had been officially changed into „refinancing“, „payment extensions“ etc. already in early February. On Friday, 20th January, Syriza’s second key promise was also given up: the end of the Troika and the EU austerity dictates. In the negotiations, Syriza had conceded not to move back on any of the „reform measures“ dictated by the EU and implemented by the previous government, and furthermore not to take any steps which might run contrary to the Troika. In the list of its own „reform measures“, which Syriza had to submit to the EU on the 23.02.2015, the only remainder of its grandly announced social program is the handing out of food stamps.

Syriza’s failure couldn‘t be more complete. No one is immune against the possibility of failure. Mistakes are made, situations are misjudged. But what is one to expect from Syriza now? First of all, that they admit their failure: out of honesty and liability towards all the people in Greece, which Syriza was to represent, and whose further impoverishment they are now to execute for an indefinite time. They could, after all, still make use of their option to withhold their approval to the EU measures, or they could simply step back. – But what do these new big men at the head of the state do instead? They bluntly report their obvious failure as a victory. On the 21.02.2015, just one day after their unconditional surrender, Tsipras actually had the impudence to declare: „Yesterday we have taken a decisive step. We leave the austerity measures, the bailout program and the Troika behind us.“ And this was meant to be the portrayal of an „agreement“, on which even Schäuble commented that it would be difficult for Syriza „to explain that to its voters“.

It is high time for a realistic evaluation of this „party of the radical left“ and to get rid of all the „left-wing“ illusions attached to it. The impudence, in which they lie to themselves, and to all those whose impoverishment they will now carry forward for the next years, shows that there is nothing left to expect of Syriza. This supposedly „radical left“ had, from the very beginning, nothing to do with any actual social critique, with any critique of the necessary crisis and the absurdity of capitalist production – a production solely for profit, never for human needs. Syriza never wanted to talk about the irrationality of this capitalist system of profit production, which ruins people not because there is too little being produced, but because there is too much produced and the individual worker becomes thus superfluous and dispensable for capital. It never wanted to talk about all that which are silent preconditions of profit production’s beautiful „rationality“ in the Western centers: not about the patriarchal and sexist delegation of reproduction to women, not about the racist exclusions. Syriza’s pseudo-Marxist finance minister Varoufakis never aimed at any refusal of the absurd constraints, which capitalism puts on human social life. The goal, from the very beginning was nothing but an alternative capitalist economic program: just like all parliamentary and democratic parties, Syriza had committed itself to the capitalist recovery, to business profits and the creation of „employment“ in capitalist enterprises. The „alternative“ was not about the question of what would be the goal, but only about the question how this was to be achieved: Syriza always understood and still understands itself as the advocate of an alternative economic ideology, which instead of „save costs and work more“ has the alternative credo of „borrow, create more „employment“ and work more“ as its maxim. In both cases, the goal is as pointless as it is impossible to achieve.

It is clear that the „Keynesianist“ economic program – named after the British economic „scientist“ John Maynard Keynes and aiming at public spending by the state to support the economy – cannot work any more today. The current crisis is not caused by a lack of capital, but by an absolute abundance, an over-accumulation of capital: on the one hand, billions of Euro can‘t find a „profitable“ investment opportunity, while on the other, capitalist industrial production is paralyzed by saturated markets, a surplus supply of commodities (indicated already by the low prime rate of interest for all the money that can‘t find any demand).

The intrinsic logic and necessity of the crisis thus can‘t be beaten by these seemingly „well-meaning“ capitalist economic programs. What is necessary today and what is imminent to the logic of the crisis is the complete devaluation of the superfluous capital, the erasure of the unprofitable billions of Euros – a still pending erasure, which was only delayed, but not prevented after the economic crash of 2009. In the current situation, an additional public lending program, i.e. an increase of the superfluous capital, would in turn only increase the overproduction and underemployment. The crash is inevitable and with every „bailout package“, with every „financial injection“, its impact on the masses of people will only be more devastating.
This is not the right place for a complete exposition of crisis theory. It is nevertheless necessary to firmly grasp that even in case of a success in the negotiations with the EU, Syriza’s program could not overcome the current logic of crisis, overproduction, underemployment and impoverishment, but would rather continue the downward spiral of mass poverty.

The fact that Syriza never even imagined a break-out from the capitalist-democratic coercive system is also obvious when it comes to the very way in which Syriza entered negotiation with the Troika and the EU governments. Syriza’s „constructive“ negotiation with the reigning institutions have nothing in common with the radical left. The initial, almost naive rumbling in the corridors of the EU could never hide the fact that Syriza joined the negotiations as an utterly normal bourgeois party, and thus accepted all facets of the system and its „rules of the game“. It had thus accepted, that the life and survival of the people in Greece was dependent upon the premise that the interests of the different European capitalist factions – represented by the European finance ministers – were to be satisfied. It had thus accepted that even the hope for a relief of the social misery for the people in Greece was dependent upon the premise, that concessions to the bourgeois parties of Europe, representing again the interests of capital, were made. Walking the way of every social-democratic party, it was more important for Syriza to honor these bourgeois game rules, than to put its own social goals into practice.

Thus, Syriza at last had no choice but to also bury its „alternative“ economic program – which was nothing but a poor relaunch of „Keynesianist“ illusions – last week. On the next lower level of „compromise“, this allegedly left-wing alternative now has accepted that cost saving is to be done – and again wants to falsely assert its „sovereignty“ by deciding about the „how“: instead of cost-cutting social welfare, the money shall be collected by fighting corruption, tax avoidance etc. This is an endless game, and it is plain to see that the needed billions will never be gathered that way (or in any other way that avoids a debt cut). It is thus as well plain to see, that the austerity politics will be continued. Syriza has failed.

Now, what lessons are to be learned from this self-abandonment and failure of Syriza?

  1. Of all the different „left wing parties“ which stand for election in the different European countries, Syriza was the most „left-wing“ and most „radical“. Its complete failure anticipates the failure of the German „Die Linke“, of the Spanish „Podemos“, of the „unconditional basic income“, the „post-growth economy“ and all other capitalist sham alternatives. Compared with Syriza, these parties don‘t even have the aspiration to touch any part of the economic order or policy. Just like Syriza, all of them are committed to the valorisation of capital, the system of property ownership and the interests arising from them.
  2. Syrizas shameful failure shows the failure of parliamentarism and all left-wing state illusions: the bourgeois state is and will always remain an apparatus of domination: capitalist, racist, patriarchal, sexist. Whoever aspires to wield its power has to accept its necessities – first of all, the necessity that it remains solvent, i.e., that it can finance itself from successful capital accumulation and the successful exploitation of the workers. The commitment to the success of national capital valorization and accumulation – the only source of all state budgets and political power! –, means the rejection of any radical social change, which would always endanger this valorisation and the public tax income derived from it. In order to step out of this cycle, social movements need to free themselves from the bondage of „affordability“ and show that all the goods needed for social reproduction are already present or can be produced with the present production facilities. The barrier to their production – and thus to the fulfillment of basic human needs – is only a relative one, namely that of capitalist profitability.
  3. The mechanism of Syriza’s betrayal of its own goals and of the people in Greece is itself part of the „beautiful system“ of representative democratic capitalism. Once elected, the new „big men“ Tsipras and Varoufakis are formally no longer bound to the well-being of their voters, but to the functioning of the capitalist state. Their new „partners“ are the reigning elites within the EU, NATO etc. The ballot box is not the usage of the power of the individual, but its abdication.
  4. The EU’s enforcing of Syriza’s unconditional surrender shows itself the weakness of the capialist-democratic domination. The possibility of resolving the conflict within the system, the transformation of all critique into a mere alternative within the system, reaches its own limits during the crisis. The system thereby shows its own limits and instability: whoever wants to stop the mounting impoverishment of the people, whoever wants any social improvement, can no longer expect any results from delegating it to parlamentarians, no matter what „radical“ image they portray of themselves.
  5. So what is the left to do now? (I.e., the radical left movement, not the German or other left-wing parties.) – It must finally start to take its social destiny into its own hand. It has to fundamentally reject any notion of handing over its goals to these „big men“ and to watch their success or failure just like a soccer game on TV. In Greece, it could be advantageous to exploit the current confusion of the Greek democratic reigning elite: it still hasn‘t accepted its role as bloodhound of the European and Greece bourgeoisie, it still isn‘t determined to quell any protests. Now would be the time for more appropriations, more factory occupations, more squatting, and a decisive advance against the fascists of „Golden Dawn“ at all levels. This offensive practice is ever more urgent, since the current Greek confusion might be over in a couple of month.
  6. And the radical left in Germany? – It is far away from contributing anything that might be of direct support for the people in Greece. Instead of absorbing itself now in an immanent and merely symbolic pseudo-practice or putting its hope in another relaunch of supposedly „revolutionary“ upheaval in the peripheral regions, it should stand up to its historic responsibilty as the left and strive for an education and explanation of the current conditions: now is the time not to keep the knowledge about the inner workings and tendencies of capitalist society to oneself, but to offensively and publicly confront and denounce the reigning bourgeois and democratic interpretations of the crisis and of capitalist society in general. Here and now. This is the only way in which the German left may gain strength, in order to become capable of social intervention.

We are now in an epoch, in which every person in the radical left needs to ask herself, what she or he has contributed in our times, in which everything was dependent on the fact that those who know the workings of capitalist society do no longer keep it to themselves, but wield it against the reigning system and its self-interpretation. If the silence of the radical left isn‘t overcome now, the left will be confined to only lamenting and philosophizing on the social conditions for yet another generation.