According to the media, the triumph of the Syriza coalition1 has made the big capitalist powers very nervous. This “nervousness” is apparently linked to the manoeuvres around the negotiations over Greece’s debt. But Syriza is on the same side as these powers, because it shares with them the defence of the nation, the banner behind which every national capital defends its interests against the proletariat and against its imperialist rivals.
At its last meeting, just before winning the election, Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, summarised very well what his party represents: “Beginning Monday, we will be finished with the national humiliation and with orders coming from abroad”. This programme is antagonistic to that of the proletariat, whose objective is the formation of the world human community and whose driving force is internationalism.
The triumph of Syriza is not that of the “people”, but of Greek capital whose needs it serves. Its policies will only bring new attacks against the whole working class.
The catastrophic situation of the Greek economy is an expression of the world crisis of capitalism
The data about the Greek economy are terrifying. We will mention just two figures: national income has fallen by 25% in 7 years, and exports, despite huge wage reductions, are now 12% lower than in 2007. The ruinous state of the Olympic installations built at vast and wasteful expense for the 2004 Olympics are an eloquent symbol of all this.
However, the crisis Greece is suffering is not a local crisis resulting from the poor management of successive governments, but the expression of the historic impasse facing the capitalist mode of production, which has been in open crisis since 1967 – almost half a century. A crisis in which the ‘sub-primes’ of 2007 marked a new step, followed by the big financial panic of 2008 and the recession of 2009, which has been called “the Great Recession”.
The measures taken by the big capitalist countries have succeeded in limiting the most dangerous effects of these events, but have not overcome the underlying problem: the generalised overproduction which has plagued capitalism for nearly a century. The “solution” that they came up with – a massive dose of debt taken in hand by states directly – has only aggravated the situation despite patching over the puncture for the moment.
One of the consequences is that “It was now entire states which were confronted with the increasingly crushing weight of debt, ‘sovereign debt’, which affects their capacity to intervene in order to revive their respective national economies through budget deficits”2. This situation has become unbearable for “those countries of the Eurozone whose economies are the most fragile or the most dependent on the illusory palliatives put in motion during the previous period – the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain)”3
In Greece, the public debt has reached 180% of GNP; the public deficit was 12.7% in 2013. This burden is trapping the economy in a vicious circle: just to pay back the interest in the debt, it has to contract new debts and, in exchange, to impose draconian austerity measures which themselves hamstring the economy, demanding even stronger doses of debt and worse austerity measures.
The vicious circle facing in which the Greek economy is trapped is symbolic of the wider vicious circle in which the whole of world capital is turning. But “this does not mean however that we are going back to a situation similar to that of 1929 and the 1930s. 70 years ago, the world bourgeoisie was taken completely aback faced with the collapse of its economy, and the policies it applied, with each country turning in on itself, only succeeded in exacerbating the consequences of the crisis. The evolution of the economic situation over the last four decades has proved that, even if it’s clearly incapable of preventing capitalism from sinking deeper and deeper into the crisis, the ruling class has the ability to slow down this descent and to avoid a situation of generalised panic like on ‘Black Thursday’ on October 24th 1929. There is another reason why we are not going to relive a situation similar to that of the 1930s. At this time, the shock wave of the crisis began from the world’s leading power, the USA, and then spread to the second world power, Germany”4.
Today, unlike those times, the bourgeoisie – thanks to the systematic strengthening of state capitalism – has managed to “organise” the world economy in such a way that the effects of the crisis fall most heavily on the weakest countries and spares the strongest as much as possible. Germany and the US, which in 1929 were at the epicentre of the crisis, are today the countries which are coping the best and have succeeded in improving their position vis-a-vis their rivals.
Managing the crisis means dividing the working class
The policies described above are allowing capitalism as a whole to resist further plunges into the crisis by concentrating on the defence of its nerve centres. They are also a means of dividing the proletariat, since “one of the major components of the evolution of the crisis escapes from a strict economic determinism and moves onto the social level, to the rapport de forces between the two major classes in society, bourgeoisie and proletariat”5. The economy is not just a blind machine functioning by itself, and the needs of the class struggle do have an influence on it. By displacing the worst effects of the crisis onto the weakest countries, the bourgeoisie gives itself the means to divide the proletariat.
This political management of the crisis means that this dramatic situation is seen by the Greek workers not so much as the expression of the impasse of world capitalism, but as the consequence of the “well being” of its class brothers and sisters in Germany. And, by the same token, the apparent prosperity in Germany makes it difficult for the workers of this country to grasp the gravity of the situation, making them vulnerable to the “explanation” that the threat to their “privileged” position comes from the “laziness and irresponsibility” of their Greek brothers and sisters and, in general, the waves of immigration lapping at their doors.
This political management of the crisis reinforces a deformed vision among the proletarians of each country: seeing the problems as something specific to “their” country, and thus having national solutions, when really the problem is world-wide and can only be solved at the world level. In Greece, unemployment has reached the intolerable level of 27% and public employees, who generally have had jobs for life, have been reduced from 900,000 to 656,000; a third of the population lives below the poverty threshold; around 40,000 people have abandoned the cities and have headed to the countryside in a desperate search to live by subsistence farming in the most precarious conditions. The minimum wage in Greece has gone down by 200 euros over the last 5 years; pensions by 5% a year….all this is the extreme expression of a situation which is developing to varying degrees in all countries, but appears to be a phenomenon strictly limited to Greece and caused by Greek problems. This helps the bourgeoisie to create a thick smokescreen which makes it hard to understand the prevailing general tendencies in world capitalism.
The extreme nationalism of Syriza
Syriza is a product of the evolution of the political apparatus of the Greek state and, in turn, of general tendencies appearing in the central countries of capitalism. As marxism has explained many times, the state is the executive organ of capital and a means of exclusion: it is always, however democratic its forms, the expression of the dictatorship of the ruling class over the whole of society and more particularly over the proletariat. In the decadence of capitalism, the state becomes totalitarian and this is expressed in a tendency towards a single party. But in the most democratic countries which have a sophisticated electoral game at their disposal, this tendency is expressed by what can be called “bi-partyism” - a two party system, with one inclined towards the right, the other leaning to the left, alternating their role in the exercising of power. This schema has functioned perfectly since the Second World War in Europe, America, etc.
However, with the unrelenting acceleration of the crisis and the weight of decomposition, this schema has suffered from a lot of wear and tear. On the one hand, the rival-partner parties have been more and more forced to manage the crisis, which has irredeemably discredited them; each time they occupy the seat of government, they have taken austerity measures which give the lie to the promises they made when they were in opposition; in the opposition, they say things they’ll never actually do and when they are in government, they do things they never said they would.
Furthermore, the decomposition of the capitalist system has caused a growing dislocation in the ranks of the major parties and an increasingly obvious irresponsibility, the most spectacular expression of this being record-breaking corruption, which is always outdoing itself in cynicism, dishonesty and indecency.
The two main traditional parties in Greece – New Democracy on the right and PASOK on the left – illustrate this to the point of caricature. For a start – and this is a mark of the archaic nature of Greek capital – they are led by two dynasties which have been at the head of these two parties for over 70 years, the Karamanlis family on the right and the Papandreou clan on the left. The funds coming in from Europe have resulted in a “perpendicular corruption”: with stupefying cheek, the two parties have been dividing up the goodies among themselves.
So where does Syriza come from? This is a coalition that became a party in 20126, and which picked up factions coming from Stalinism and social democracy, ingredients to which it added, to give itself a spicier flavour, Trotskyist, Maoist and ecologist groups. The founding nucleus of an important split from the Stalinist KKE party, following the collapse of the USSR in 1989, changed the formula of “really living socialism” to a more democratic version, more adapted to a liberal form of state capitalism. Tsipras himself made a career in this clique of rats who were abandoning the sinking ship of Stalinism.
This is why Syriza resembles, like two drops of water, other attempts to renew the bi-party political schema which have emerged in other countries like Italy for example, where the old model (based on Christian Democracy which, with the support of the social democrats, acted almost like a single party for 40 years) was replaced by another, on the right, the irrepressible Berlesconi and, on the other hand, the chaotic coalition whose spinal column is the former Communist Party converted into a “democratic” party. It is highly significant that Syriza has associated to its government Anel, a party of the far right.
Syriza’s partner, Anel, has a policy towards immigrants very similar to that of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. This xenophobic policy, which presents the immigrants as invaders stealing jobs and social benefits from Greeks, has two aims.
On the one hand, to drag the workers and the “popular” strata into this degrading policy of seeking a scapegoat personified in the blacks, the Arabs, the Slavs, etc – in sum, all those not born Hellenes. But on top of this, it obeys a political and economic calculation: to get the highest price for playing the role of gendarme which the European Union has assigned to those countries (Greece, Italy and Spain) who constitute the gate of entry of all those desperate masses of people fleeing from the most extreme poverty and from interminable wars. In the gangster struggle between the different thieves of the EU, the new Greek government knows quite well that having a hard policy towards immigrants is a trump-card in any negotiations.
The defence of the nation is the common patrimony of all parties of capital whatever political colours they adopt. One of the most sinister arguments that Syriza and Anel share with Golden Dawn is the idea of “Greece for the Greeks”, the fanatical pretension of closing yourself up in a supposed “national community” in which you can have a decent life. This is a reactionary utopia, but it is above all a frontal attack on the consciousness and solidarity of the workers, whose greatest force is precisely that it constitutes a community in which all nationalities, races and religions can be fused.
Nationalism and the defence of the interests of Greek capital is the real programme of Syriza. The programme of structural reforms is a show for the gallery, whose outlines have become more and more fluid and whose content has attenuated the closer Syriza approached government. We find in it the old worn-out recipes typical of the left of capital. Renationalising the banks, this or that privatisation put into question, a plan for guaranteed employment, some emergency measures to deal with extreme poverty, and a few other bits of patchwork.
These measures have been used thousands of times in capitalism and they have never succeeded in improving the workers’ living conditions. Capitalism, even its most right wing factions, is happy to “socialise the banks” whenever they are in danger. De Gaulle, Hitler, Franco and other champions of the right set up public banks. Former US president Bush, during the crisis of 2007-8, passed measures for the state to take hold of the banks – to the point where the Venezuelan president Chavez called him a comrade and deliriously compared him to Lenin.
Regarding the promise for a “plan to guarantee employment”, which got smaller in scope the nearer Syriza got to power (from creating 300,000 new jobs the promise went down to 15,000), we can see how serious this is when we consider the new government’s attitude towards the civil servants: the evaluation programme established by the previous government, which included a drop in wages, downgrading to lower positions or even going on to a “manpower reserve”, which is nothing less than a cover for lay-offs and unemployment, has not been abrogated: it will simply be “applied in a fairer manner” according to the new minister, who also announced that wages in the public sector will be frozen.
As for the payment of the gigantic Greek debt, Syriza is approaching this like a real poker player. To win over the electors, the party began with ultra-radical proposals. But even during the election campaign, it began moderating its discourse. As soon as its victory looked plausible, new figures appeared. Now, installed in government, it has watered down its wine to the point of making it completely colourless. For example, it has gone from refusing to pay the debt to a staggering of the debt after a partial payment and, finally, it proposed to exchange debt for perpetual bonds and other instruments of financial engineering. This now looks a lot like the Brady plan which, during the 1980s, was set up by the American government to deal with Argentine’s debt, a plan that is well known for involving grave attacks against the living conditions of the working class.
The difficulties of the proletariat
The proletariat today has to a large extent lost its sense of class identity and its self-confidence. This situation of profound weakness can’t simply be overcome through a wave of struggles. It has given rise, within the political apparatus of capital, to a series of “left wing” populisms coming along to complete the work of the “right wing” populisms. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, the Front de Gauche in France, etc, are taking advantage of the difficulties of our class to put forward their slogans about “the people” and “citizenship” in order to defend the nation defined as the community of all those who live on the same territory.
With this kind of propaganda, these forces are not only, like real con-men, taking take advantage of the difficulties of the proletariat, but they are rubbing salt into the wound by creating barriers which make the recovery of class identity and self-confidence even more difficult for the workers. This is why we propose to denounce the lies of this new anti-proletarian apparatus and counter them with real class positions.
1 In Greek Syriza stands for Coalition of the Radical Left
2 ‘Resolution on the international situation from the 20th ICC Congress’, International Review 152.
6 Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain present themselves as the heralds of a “new kind of politics”, which will be honest, devoted to the “citizens”, and far removed from the sordid manoeuvres we have come to expect from the two-party elite. One proof of the fact that these “good intentions” are a fraud is provided by Syriza which registered as a party in 2012 in order to gain the right to the gift of the 50 extra deputies which Greek law grants to the party winning the election, a gain which it will not grant if it’s a coalition which wins the majority. Here is an eloquent sign of the moral character of the gentlemen of Syriza.