Why Greece’s “left government” failed

Submitted by SJW on 25 April, 2018 - 12:32 Author: Dora Polenta
Syriza

The Syriza election was a reflection of the hard, militant class struggle by the working class and neighbourhood community movements against the attacks of the “Black Block” Memorandum governments of the years 2010 to 2012.

Syriza gave political substance to this movement, and it carried all of this movement’s political contradictions.
The movement had only a vague idea of what it expected of the Syriza government. It expected some form of relief, to get rid of the Memorandum laws and privatisation, to restore wages and pensions and collective bargaining, to give some right to housing. These demands were concretised in the Thessaloniki Declaration.

People were hoping that the Syriza government would restore what they had pre-Memorandum. It was a defensive rather than an aggressive type of hope.

There was a distinct change in Syriza, in terms of who made decisions, between 2012 and 2015. As Syriza was moving towards government, there was a shift towards petty-bourgeois technocratic politics. In 2012, Syriza was a more left formation, talking about a European social movement, about working-class control, talking about nationalising the banks. That was all wiped out when Syriza moved into government. With Yanis Varoufakis, there was the idea that Syriza was going to outsmart the creditors.

Syriza gained power and there was initially an anaemic attempt to create a pro-government social movement, with rallies and demonstrations supporting the government implementing the Thessaloniki Declaration. But soon Syriza abandoned any attempt to relate, even in a top-down way, to any friendly forces in other countries in Europe.

A team around Alexis Tsipras took control, and they conducted negotiations with the EU in a secretive way. Democracy within Syriza was strangulated, and there was no attempt from the Syriza rank and file to control what was happening in the negotiations.

For six months, the Syriza government was like a person free-falling from a block of flats, and we were looking for the final crash.

There was a hope that gravity might be defied when Alexis Tsipras called the referendum in June 2015. Up until that time, the movement was in a sort of limbo. It was waiting – the government was waiting as well. Now there were all these people on the streets, talking about getting rid of the Memorandum at all costs.

The referendum majority was for No; but Syriza capitulated. The anti-Memorandum movement was defeated.
Syriza started adopting a language that sometimes the Labour Party adopts as well, at the council level: we need to implement the Memorandum, but in a less aggressive way than a Samaras government would.

Today, interestingly, Syriza is claiming ownership of the Memorandum. Syriza cabinet ministers are claiming that if the Memorandum didn’t exist, they would have invented it. They have adopted the language and the politics of the previous government. They have slipped from being a quasi-social-democratic formation to being a fully centre-left neoliberal formation.

The majority of the revolutionary left was part of the Syriza experiment. But this part of the left lost its autonomy, dispersed itself within Syriza. It was not distinct within Syriza, it was very slow to make a response to what had happened.
Much of the left outside Syriza was sectarian. They predicted and declared in advance the reformist nature of Syriza and the failure of any attempt by the left to engage with it.

They expected the crash to happen; they were slagging off the tendencies on the left who were trying to engage with Syriza or have an influence within Syriza. And so Antarsya has not been able to relate to the people who were betrayed by Syriza.
In terms of the splinters from Syriza, Popular Unity, formed by a split in August 2015, is a formation that believes in the Drachma road to socialism. They talk about fighting for sovereignty and reconstruction. That has been amplified now. Nationalism is building over the Macedonia issue, and tension with Turkey, and Popular Unity has adopted openly nationalistic, chauvinistic positions. They co-operate with openly nationalist, anti-working-class forces.

The most important lesson for us here and now from the Syriza experience is full democratisation of the party; it is very important to fight against a leadership clique that becomes unaccountable and detaches itself from the democratic decision-making of the party. It is important to build unity between the party and trade unions at the rank and file level.

Most importantly, we must prepare for the ferocity of the class struggle which will be unleashed by both national and international forces. We need a programme that recognises the transitory nature and fragility of formations like Syriza.

We must understand that the revolutionary left, should participate in centrist formations like Syriza, but also educate its cadre and maintain its autonomy while being a part of these movements.

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