Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 14, 2014

Left Forum 2014 — Syriza panel

Filed under: Greece,Left Forum — louisproyect @ 4:15 pm

This is the sixth and final in a series of videos I made at the recently concluded Left Forum.

The question of Syriza is very fresh in my mind after seeing Alex Callinicos attack it in his prolix article “Thunder on the Left”.

More generally, evidence of a new form of left politics emerging has proved more apparent than real. The profound economic and social crisis in Greece and intense working class resistance to the austerity policies imposed by the troika of the European Commission, ECB, and International Monetary Fund allowed Syriza to skyrocket into the dominant position to the left of centre in Greek politics. After Syriza’s spectacular advances in the parliamentary elections of May and June 2012, there was much tut-tutting about my description of its politics as left reformist which, or so it was claimed, failed to acknowledge the extent to which Syriza represented a break with the old polarities of reform and revolution. In the subsequent two years, under Alexis Tsipras, Syriza has marched firmly onto the centre ground in order to project itself as a responsible party of government, in the process marginalising its left opposition. This shift is epitomised by Tsipras’s coming out after the European elections in favour of the shopworn centre-right architect of austerity Jean-Claude Juncker for president of the European commission: left reformism would look good by comparison.

Callinicos’s distinction between reform and revolution is based on an idealist conception of politics. By idealist, I don’t mean like the Boy Scout pledge of honor but in Plato’s Republic where people living in a cave only have an impression of reality rather than reality itself. As Socrates puts it:

And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

The role of a philosopher-king in Plato’s Republic is to educate the unenlightened cave dweller about the realities beyond the cave. Thus, the role of Marxists is to educate the mass movement about the need for revolution. Callinicos (and his fellow Leninists) are a kind of priesthood that has achieved enlightenment. They go out among the cave dwellers to explain why a revolution is necessary. This involves pointing out the “historical lessons” of the 20th century in such a manner that the recitation on the Russian Revolution will cause the scales to fall from the listener’s eyes. In some ways, this is the same approach as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have literature tables at major subway stations throughout New York.

I have an entirely different take on Syriza, similar to that of Peter Bratsis—the panelist who begins just after 33 minutes into the video. Like Bratsis, I view Syriza as a reformist party that will never be able to lead a revolution but there is no use in lecturing the masses about that. They don’t see the problem in terms of capitalism but in terms of austerity. They vote for Syriza because the party is opposed to austerity. If Syriza is elected and continues to support austerity, that will raise the question of the need to transform the economic system that imposes austerity no matter the party that is in power.

In “Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder”, Lenin proposed that the Communists form an electoral bloc with the Labour Party led by Philip Snowden and Arthur Henderson. After WWI broke out, Ramsey MacDonald resigned in protest for its support for the war. Arthur Henderson, who joined Lloyd George’s War Cabinet, was his replacement. Has Alexis Tsipras been guilty of any crime more serious than this? People like Callinicos make a big deal out of Syriza sticking with the Euro as if the currency a nation is based on makes a real difference when it is dominated by imperialism. Greece’s problems do not revolve around the currency it uses but rather in its relationship to the rest of the world capitalist system.

Finally, the real issue facing the Greek left is how to unite people on a class basis against a ruling class that is tightly coupled to the German bourgeoisie. Syriza offers a framework for revolutionaries that will enable them to connect with millions of Greeks who have not yet achieved a revolutionary consciousness. Unlike the Greek Communist Party, Syriza is relatively open and transparent—a function of the “reformism” that Callinicos disdains. The alternative to the CP and Syriza is the tiny and inconsequential Antarsya that is united around the need for revolution but a “reformist” party that can begin to serve as a pole of attraction for revolutionaries. In the event that Syriza is elected and fails to carry out its mandate, it will be up to its left wing to push the agenda for overcoming austerity in the only way possible: overthrowing Greek capitalism.

 

March 7, 2014

From Both Sides of the Aegean

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,Greece,Turkey — louisproyect @ 12:52 pm

Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 7-9, 2014

Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean”

In the Wake of the Ottoman Empire

by LOUIS PROYECT

It would be hard to imagine a documentary making more of an impact on the mind, the heart and the eye than Maria Iliou’s “From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924” that opens at the Quad in New York on March 21.

When I ran into Ms. Iliou before a press screening at the Quad on Tuesday, she described her new film as a follow-up to “Smyrna: the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City”, a film that I reviewed for CounterPunch almost a year ago.  The first paragraph of that review referred to my personal connection to the terrible tragedy of September 1922:

In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.

As in the first film, Iliou draws upon a treasure trove of historical photos and film footage, interviews with academic specialists in Greek and Turkish history, and reminiscences of the children and grandchildren who were driven from their homeland both through naked terror and through “legal” decisions made at the top by cynical politicians. Given the pain—both physical and emotional—visited on the Greeks and the Turks, the distinction between illegal and legal becomes moot.

While the film would be of particular interest to someone like myself, it has a universal message for those who cannot but be aware of the toxic after-effects of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims fought to defend statehood claims like vultures fighting over dead meat.

full article

March 13, 2013

Greek anarchists and Greek politics

Filed under: anarchism,Greece — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

Last night I went out to Brooklyn to hear 3 Greek activists who are on tour in the USA talking about the resistance to Golden Dawn. I was anxious to hear what they had to say even if the email I got from the group hosting the meeting struck me as a bit dubious:

Again, how to articulate an anti-capitalist and anti-state politics as not just abstract ideology but material reality, how to promote new forms of life between us, to create new spaces and territories which can demonstrate a social force, which reveal a collective strength, to overcome all those counterrevolutionary tendencies working against us. Or, how to live communism, while spreading anarchy.

I should start off by saying that I am by no means opposed to anarchists and even hailed their audacity in the Occupy Movement as crucial to its success, even if I found the black bloc wing of the movement toxic.

Vangelis Nanos, the first speaker, gave a very interesting overview on the Greek ultraright going back to the Ioannis Metaxas dictatorship from 1936-1941. He made the case that Golden Dawn’s roots are in the original fascist movement that continues to exercise behind the scenes power whether there is formal democracy or not. I made a mental note to look for a history of modern Greece written from a Marxist or radical perspective.

After tracing the history of the ultraright through 1981, he switched gears and began talking about the contemporary situation. I had hoped that he would elaborate on the tactics being used by anarchists, including the use of motorcycle brigades numbering hundreds of machines, but mostly he was content to just allude to various confrontations such as breaking up Golden Dawn rallies, etc.

His main emphasis was instead on the need to build up “horizontalist“ alternatives to capitalism such as recovered factories, fairs, squats, neighborhood markets, clinics, etc. He claimed that the movement to build such institutions was undermined by the 2012 elections in which the masses’ attention was diverted to discussions about the IMF, the Euro versus the Drachma, etc.

Sofia Papagiannaki, the next speaker, was heard on video since she had to return to Greece for her job. Her talk focused on the failure of the Greek left to root out the “deep state” institutions that Nanos identified but was not exactly clear on what that entailed.

Thanasis Xirotsopanos, the final speaker, took up where Nanos left off and went on at length about the “horizontal and solidarity economy” that the new Greece would be based on. He described the trade union movement as worse than useless and called for the need to break with “hedonistic growth”. All in all, I could not escape the feeling that such a message would be lost on most working class Greeks.

But what really made me sit up and take notice was Xirotsopanos’s statement that social democracy was dead. I imagined that this was probably a more acceptable formulation than “socialism was dead” even though I am sure he would have defended that as well. I honestly did not come out to Brooklyn for a confrontation so I did not challenge him in a polemical fashion during the Q&A.

I did, however, raise the question of SYRIZA and whether their objection to it was tactical—in the sense that its participation in the election undermined their horizontal kitchens, etc.—or whether it was based on principle, namely that state power was always corrupting.

They answered that nothing would have been gained by SYRIZA winning the election and pointed to PASOK’s electoral victories that accomplished nothing even though there were high hopes at the time. Back in 1977 there were different expectations, as this New Left Review article by Nicos Mouzelis would indicate:

The Greek general election of November 1977 has not only brought profound changes in the political map of Greece, it has also resulted in a configuration of political forces which is unique in the context of European politics. For Greece itself, the exceptional significance of the elections lies in the fact that the ‘liberal versus conservative’ cleavage within the bourgeoisie, which has dominated most of the country’s parliamentary history, has finally given way to a more profound class polarization. For the first time since the Civil War, one can now speak of class divisions having a real reflection in the composition of parliamentary blocs. For Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the major victor (in relative terms), has by its partial mobilization of the rural population and the urban petty bourgeoisie seriously challenged the traditional political formations of the Greek ruling class with their inter-class support.

Indeed, during its earlier phases running the government, PASOK carried out some reforms that were nothing to be sneered at, including some that addressed the “deep state” concerns raised by the speakers. From Wikipedia:

In 1986, the PA.SO.K. government amended the Greek constitution to remove most powers from the President and give wider authority to the Prime Minister and the Executive Government. Civil marriages, not consecrated by religious ceremony, were recognized as equally valid with religious weddings. The left-wing Resistance movement against the Axis in World War II was recognized after, and leftist resistance fighters were given state pensions, while political refugees of the Greek Civil War were finally given permission to return to Greece. The National Health System was created and various repressive laws of the anti-communist postwar establishment were abolished, wages were boosted, an independent and multidimensional foreign policy was pursued, many reforms in Family Law to strengthened the rights of women and the Greek Gendarmerie was abolished in 1984.

In the 1990s PASOK took a “modernization” turn in keeping with what Tony Blair was up to in Britain, which led to working class discontent and the victory of New Democracy, a Tory-like party that won a narrow victory over SYRIZA in the last election.

I have noticed since the SYRIZA’s leaders tour to the USA a few months ago that sections of the left have escalated their attacks on the Eurocommunist formation. It does not seem important to them that SYRIZA maintains a big tent structure that allows the far left to make contact with the masses in a way that a small propaganda group cannot. Nor do they see the importance of regroupment process through SYRIZA that might eventually encourage Maoist and Trotskyist groups to think past their own limitations. One such malcontent posted this peevish comment on my blog around the time that the SYRIZA leaders were speaking at Bard College’s Jerome Levy Institute:

This is Lenin Reloaded from Greece. I was wondering, given your support for SYRIZA, what your feelings are about the fact that SYRIZA advertises Bard College as an emblem of progressive political thought, is promoting it through its party newspaper, reflects the rhetoric of the Levy Institute to the last detail, is promoted by Dimitris Papademitriou politically, and will be visiting the Institute in a couple of days officially to crown the partnership.

The following post is in Greek (as most of them are in my blog), but it links to several of your articles on Bard College’s relations to big corporate capital, right-wing Zionism, the persecution of academic freedom, anti-labor practices, and its attacks on the Occupy Movement, which SYRIZA was supposed to be supportive of.

Here’s the link: http://leninreloaded.blogspot.com/2013/01/blog-post_21.html

After reading this once more, I wonder if I am now required to divorce my wife who has been invited to participate in a conference on Hyman Minsky hosted by the Jerome Levy Institute this summer. Maybe I should also denounce myself publicly since I looked forward to going up to Bard with her to hang out with my friend John Halle who teaches at my alma mater.

In some ways, the Levy Institute is the perfect place for SYRIZA to visit since think tank has employed Anwar Shaikh in the past, arguably one of the preeminent Marxist economists in the world. Michael Hudson, the author of “Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” is another Levy Scholar as well as a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.

Whether or not the leaders of SYRIZA are to the right of Shaikh and Hudson does not matter that much to me. My take on SYRIZA is quite a bit different than most people on the left.

To reprise my views, I see SYRIZA as a throwback to the parties of the Second International in which left and right wings vied with each other. That includes the Russian Social Democratic Party that was home to a Bolshevik and Menshevik faction. It was a huge mistake for the Comintern to create a new kind of party that was purged of the reformist elements since the net result was division in the working class. Marxist parties have to engage with different levels of consciousness in the working class. When you amputate your right arm because it offends you, you lose contact with the masses who have not reached revolutionary conclusions. I should add that in Russia that condition was not met until the summer of 1917.

October 12, 2012

Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left

Filed under: Fascism,Greece — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm

Post image for Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left: Report + Video

Golden Dawn Unites NYC Left: Report + Video

by Louis Proyect, Unrepentant Marxist on October 11, 2012

June 18, 2012

New contributions to North Star symposium on SYRIZA

Filed under: Greece,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:53 pm

Lessons for Socialists, From Occupy Boston to Greece

by admin June 17, 2012

By Doug Enaa Greene of the Boston Occupier It is an interesting moment for socialist activists in the Occupy movement. Although I have called myself a revolutionary communist for more than a decade, it was not until Occupy Boston started on September 30, 2011 that I can date my introduction activism. Since that time, I […]

shareshare

Read the full article →

Thumbnail image for What Can American Leftists Learn from the Success of SYRIZA?

What Can American Leftists Learn from the Success of SYRIZA?

by admin June 16, 2012

By Richard Estes, anti-authoritarian activist and blogger Even now, the significance of SYRIZA’s success in the recent Greek parliamentary election is not well understood. While leftists bicker over whether SYRIZA is reformist (ones senses the ghosts of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) lingering in the background), Greek workers […]

shareshare

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Thumbnail image for Another Occupy Is Possible – and Necessary

Another Occupy Is Possible – and Necessary

by admin June 15, 2012

By Chris Maisano of Democratic Socialists of America and the Jacobin editorial board At the height of Occupy Wall Street’s efflorescence, when the enragés who took up residence in Zuccotti Park succeeded in raising the battle standard of the 99% for the entire world to see, I sat down for an interview with Frances Fox […]

June 15, 2012

Party-building for the 21st Century

Filed under: Greece,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

Party-Building for the 21st Century

by admin on June 14, 2012

in analysis, roundtable

By Louis Proyect (Unrepentant Marxist, Marxmail founder)

Revolutionary struggles in other countries often serve as useful lessons in strategy and tactics for us. While Greece is by no means at the point of a proletarian revolution, the success of SYRIZA naturally raises questions about its validity as a model for the American left.

In my view, there are two very important lessons we can draw as we work towards creating our own party that fights both in the streets and at the ballot box.

The first of these is the need to reconsider whether the “program” of a left party has to be defined on the basis of some kind of revolutionary “continuity” or “tradition” that establishes its pedigree going back to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Karl Marx before him. The basic confusion is over whether a group should be constituted on a program geared to the exigencies of the current class struggle or on a doctrine that defines the party on a series of historical controversies going back for over a century. When you form a party on the basis of doctrine, you are following the model of a religion that, for example, defines itself on a body of written work that upholds the correct stance on questions such as the status of the Virgin Mary or who was correct in the split between Rome and the Eastern Orthodoxy.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=897

June 14, 2012

The U.S. Left and the Audacity of SYRIZA: a Roundtable

Filed under: Greece,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 10:59 pm

A Symposium at North Star

The U.S. Left and the Audacity of SYRIZA: a Roundtable

by admin on June 13, 2012

in event

Greece’s May 6 election rattled international investors and European governments alike after the country’s voters abandoned the two parties of austerity PASOK (social democrats) and New Democracy (Greece’s GOP) and voted in droves for a radical left coalition called SYRIZA, which seems determined to halt the austerity measures if they can win enough votes and/or make parliamentary alliances to form a government in the June 17 elections.

The prospect of defeating the austerity drive in Greece is real and has generated excitement on the left internationally.

The North Star’s roundtable on SYRIZA aims to explore some of the following issues and questions:

-Is winning elections in a capitalist “democracy” a more effective means of resisting austerity than general strikes, creating prefigurative/direct democratic institutions, and massive street battles and direct actions, all of which have been done in Greece for the past three years?

-Is a repeat of Spain 1936 on the cards, when a fascist military coup was launched in response to the election of the leftist Popular Front, inaugurating a bloody civil war and anarchism’s high point in the 20th century?

-Does SYRIZA represent the “Second Coming” of social democracy?

-What implications do the Greek elections have on the issue of direct versus representative democracy?

-Most importantly, what lessons can be taken from the SYRIZA experience and applied here, if any? What would an American equivalent of SYRIZA look like and would Occupy be friendly, hostile, or indifferent to it?

Of course no one can answer all of the questions. The point is to not to come up with “correct” answers but generate some thoughtful dialogue and comradely debate among anti-capitalists and explore our common ground in a coherent, organized way. Hopefully this will provide the basis for future collaboration.

Participants include socialists Louis Proyect (Unrepentant Marxist, Marxmail founder), Chris Maisano (Democratic Socialists of America, Jacobin editorial board), anti-authoritarian Richard Estes (American Leftist), and Doug Enaa Greene (Boston Occupier newspaper). [List still in formation. Email thenorthstar.info@gmail.com if you are interested in participating in video or text format.]

1. “Party-Building in the 21st Century” by Louis Proyect

June 9, 2012

Debating SYRIZA

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 10:15 pm

Although I have been very critical of Slavoj Zizek in the past, I can only say Bravo to his London Review of Books article “Save us from the saviours”, especially this:

Only a new ‘heresy’ – represented at this moment by Syriza – can save what is worth saving of the European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity etc. The Europe we will end up with if Syriza is outmanoeuvred is a ‘Europe with Asian values’ – which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but everything to do with the tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy.

This was a most welcome shift from the proselytizing for “communism” that has marked his contributions in the recent past. Backing SYRIZA is not necessarily the same thing as a communist revolution, but it certainly is a break with the IMF and Wall Street backed austerity that is literally costing the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Greeks:

Dimitris Christoulas, a divorced and retired pharmacist, took his life on Wednesday in Syntagma Square, a focal point for frequent public demonstrations and protests, as hundreds of commuters passed nearby at a metro station and as lawmakers in Parliament debated last-minute budget amendments before elections, expected on May 6.

In a handwritten note found near the scene, the pensioner said he could not face the prospect “of scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child,” blaming the government’s austerity policies for his decision.

–NY Times, April 6 2012

While nobody—well, at least me and my readers—can argue against the need for abolishing capitalism in Greece, there is still a basis for voting for SYRIZA that rests on a number of points in its program, including these:

  • Free health benefits to the unemployed, homeless and those with low salaries.
  • Subvention up to 30% of mortgage payments for poor families who cannot meet payments.
  • Increase of subsidies for the unemployed. Increase social protection for one-parent families, the aged, disabled, and families with no income.
  • Fiscal reductions for goods of primary necessity.
  • Nationalization of banks.

Some are not happy with Zizek’s support for SYRIZA. Despite my admiration for the contributors to Roar Magazine, an online publication that identifies strongly with the Occupy movement, editor Jerome Roos’s “Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s rising star, is a radical in name only”,  leaves something to be desired:

In truth, a SYRIZA victory will do little to revolutionize Greek society and much less to free Greece from the neoliberal shackles of the eurozone. While Tspiras’ heart undoubtedly beats on the left side of his chest, SYRIZA’s policies will do more to stabilize than to overthrow the discredited and dysfunctional system he despises so much. Indeed, for all his eloquence and good intentions, Tsipras promises little more than radical social democracy. The only reason SYRIZA is considered far-Left is because the center has moved light years to the right.

Maybe there is something I am not getting, but calling for the nationalization of banks doesn’t sound like a promise to “stabilize the system”. And at the risk of lowering the bar to toe level, the prospects of having a party committed to “radical social democracy” sounds pretty good to me.

In many ways, Zizek’s understanding of the importance of SYRIZA resonates with the recent Hardt-Negri declaration that sometimes it is good to have progressive governments in power:

From the 1990s to the first decade of this century, governments in some of the largest countries in Latin America won elections and came to power on the backs of powerful social movements against neoliberalism and for the democratic self-management of the common. These elected, progressive governments have in many cases made great social advances, helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty, transforming entrenched racial hierarchies regarding indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, opening avenues for democratic participation, and breaking long-standing external relations of dependency, in both economic and political terms, in relation to global economic powers, the world market, and US imperialism.

Of course, despite their acknowledgement that countries like Venezuela are “helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty”, their main interest is in seeing the “struggle continue” against Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales et al. This argument actually has merit, as long as it is understood that the social movements have a vested interest in seeing a Hugo Chavez running the state rather than a Felipe Calderón as it was in the past for an Alexander Kerensky rather than a General Kornilov.

Hardt and Negri’s flight from lofty “communist” abstractions, like Zizek’s, has sparked criticism. John Holloway, the author of the nonsensical “How to Change the World Without Taking Power”, does not like his comrades’ new direction at all. He reproves Michael Hardt for allowing the “abolition of capitalism” to take a back seat in “Commonwealth”, their latest book. (One can assume that the ideas expressed in the declaration were introduced there.) But even more tellingly, Holloway worries that they have almost come up with a “programme of transitional demands”. In such circles, you can be assured that this amounts to apostasy.

Hardt recognizes exactly what it is troubling Holloway:

Our differences are probably most pronounced with regard to the so-called progressive governments in power today, especially those in Latin America. As you know, Toni and I, like you, are critical of all of these Leftist parties and governments, from Argentina and Brazil to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. And like for you too our hopes and inspirations are linked primarily not to the governments but the powerful social movements that created the possibility of their electoral victories. But we do not regard these governments solely as antagonists.

It is not far-fetched to make the linkage between Latin America and Greece, as a May 13 NY Times article pointed out:

According to Gikas Hardouvelis, a senior economic adviser to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and a participant in the talks over the most recent bailout, the I.M.F. supports a more relaxed view about the cuts in light of Greece’s economic hardship.

“For whatever reason, the hard-liners in Europe are saying that we deserve it,” Mr. Hardouvelis said. “They have destroyed the political center here, and the possibility of creating another Hugo Chavez is not zero.”

Notwithstanding the invocation of the Venezuelan leader as bogeyman, the more imminent likelihood is that SYRIZA’s leaders will embrace a form of Kirchnerism, to coin a term that describes Argentina’s recovery from a Greek-type abyss not too long ago. While the policies pursued by left-Peronists in Argentina seem all too easy to dismiss by the dreamers of the absolute, they would certainly be embraced by a working class in Greece that is being nailed to the IMF’s cross.

But more to the point, it is unlikely that Greece will be allowed to pursue such a neo-Keynesian program. Powerful imperialist institutions will do everything in their power to derail even a modest reformist agenda. If and when a struggle emerges between SYRIZA and the Wall Street/Washington/Bonn axis, the left will need to mobilize to defend the bolder measures such as nationalizing the banks while protecting the government against fascist attacks and CIA subversion. In an escalating series of confrontations, it cannot be ruled out that popular power will dictate the outcome and usher in a new type of society that hearkens back to the original Marxist vision of a classless society. But to stand on the sidelines now, because SYRIZA is not “revolutionary”, is a big mistake.

The British SWP has had the most remarkable reaction to SYRIZA. As an international organization, they have a member group in Greece that belongs to ANTARSYA, a coalition of small propaganda groups to the left of SYRIZA including Maoists and ortho-Trotskyists. In an interview with Socialist Review, the party’s monthly magazine, their co-thinker Giorgos Pittas laid out ANTASYRA’s perspective:

Syriza is rising further in the polls. So we start by saying we have to fight hard against the pro-austerity parties who are terrified and attacking the left. We say victory to the left, but we also say that we want the anti-capitalist left to be part of it, so we will take part in the elections and we call on people to vote for Antarsya.

Perhaps one of the best known SWP members internationally is Richard Seymour, who blogs at Lenin’s Tomb and has been on tour recently promoting his new book American Insurgents: A Short History of American Anti-Imperialism. He also takes a position at odds with Pittas, but put forward in a most comradely fashion. In the article titled “The Challenge of SYRIZA”, he argues:

Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being ‘proved’ repeatedly.  There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) Syriza are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe – the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following Syriza’s election.  In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20.  There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses.  Perhaps so, but thus far Syriza have not withdrawn from their fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures.  They did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now.

I would advise caution on this line of critique, therefore: it is very well to criticise what Syriza has actually said and done, but it isn’t necessary to second guess what Syriza will do.  The point will be to support the mass movements capable of pressuring a Syriza-led government from the left.  No, they are not a revolutionary formation; no, they won’t overthrow capitalism; no, their manifesto is not a communist manifesto.  Yet it is just possible that Syriza won’t betray workers in the interests of European capital, and that all the stern augury will have been displacement activity.

In a fascinating exchange of views underneath the article, Richard makes clear that ANTASYRA might want to rethink its approach:

They [ANTASYRA] can do whatever they want, but what is this about ‘silencing’ themselves?  The only way they can express a voice is by subjecting themselves to an electoral wipe-out?  That’s their main area of strength here?  I mean, seriously, what is the argument for standing?  Is it to gain as big a voice as possible?  If so, then it’s not going to happen – and if it did, it might have an impact on the outcome of the elections that Antarsya would not want to be responsible for.  So, what else?  To keep their presence on the ballot?  Why?  In *every* election, this is essential?  To get over a message?  Their best way of reaching people is through an electoral process in which they will get a fraction of one percent, and at that a fraction of the vote they previously got in the parliamentary elections, which was smaller than the previous high in the regional elections, and no seats anywhere?  I see absolutely no argument for their *having* to stand.  So, by all means, they will do whatever they think best – they certainly won’t listen to me.  But perhaps we should reflect on what this means for us.  If we end up rationalising a position that makes no sense, and internalising its presuppositions, there’s a risk we can make worse mistakes.

(It should be added that a lively exchange of views on the Egyptian elections is also taking place in these circles, a topic for another article.)

For those familiar with my critique of “democratic centralism”, it will come as no surprise that I view the discussion taking place on Richard’s blog as essential for the evolution of the British SWP and its international organization. When a deep-going debate such as this begins to take place on the left, it will naturally be reflected in the ranks of every organization. It benefits the left to air out our differences in public since they help to clarify our thinking—especially when the participants are well versed in Marxist politics. Keep in mind that Lenin and Bukharin had public debates during WWI on the national question. This was the Bolshevik norm and if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for us.

Finally, I want to suggest that SYRIZA has much more in common with traditional Marxist concepts of a “revolutionary program” than many on the left realize. (I will be elaborating on this at some length in a pending article.) Our tendency is to mistake doctrine with program. For example, not long after I joined the SWP of the United States in 1967, I asked an old-timer up in party headquarters what our program was. (A Maoist friend had challenged me about our bona fides.) He waved his hand in the direction of our bookstore and replied, “It’s all there.” This meant having positions on everything from WWII to Kronstadt. Becoming a “cadre” meant learning the positions embodied in over a hundred pamphlets and books and defending them in public. Of course, this had much more in common with church doctrine than what Karl Marx had in mind when his Communist program sought, for example:

  • Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  • Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

When you stop and think about it, this is sort of the thing you can find in SYRIZA’s program. Maybe it is time for the left to rethink the question of how we demarcate parties? Instead of demanding that new members learn the catechism on controversial questions going back to the 1920s, they instead would be required to defend a class orientation in their respective arenas, like the trade union movement or the student movement, etc. That would make us a lot stronger than we are today. We need millions united in struggle, especially since the death rattle coming out of capitalism’s throat grows louder day by day.

June 1, 2012

Urgent… today…. NOW: Send revolutionary reporting team to Greece

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

http://kasamaproject.org/2012/06/01/urgent-today-help-now-send-revolutionary-reporting-team-to-greece/

May 30, 2012

Syriza’s program

Filed under: Greece — louisproyect @ 3:32 pm

http://www.greanvillepost.com/2012/05/27/the-european-situation-syrizas-program/

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