The Strange Marxism of Syriza
By Evel Economakis*
In the eyes of Angela Merkel and the Troika, the pre-election promises Syriza made to the Greek people are “socialist”, even “extremist”: renounce the usurious debt, kick out the Troika bailiffs, and put an end to austerity that has plagued the country for the last five years. So too are some of the statements the new government has made since it won the elections on January 25th, including Finance Minister Giannis Varoufakis’ plan to halt the privatization of two ports in Greece and increase the minimum wage and rehire some public sector workers.
None of these things however make Syriza socialist. And let us not forget that its junior partner in government, ANEL, or the Party of Independent Greeks, includes extreme right-wingers. Indeed, this mix is reflected endymatologically in the way the members of the government dress. While many refuse to wear ties, and some don’t even tuck in their shirts, others don three-piece suits.
Had Minister Varoufakis not traveled to Berlin and Brussels and other “heavy” European capitals with hands cupped looking for money, who could say anything about his untucked shirt and tie-less attire? By contrast, the Cuban revolutionaries wore combat fatigues, and that was fine because they told all their creditors to buzz off. That made sense; this does not.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras does not say he is a Marxist, yet his Finance Minister, Yannis Varoufakis, calls himself as a “libertarian Marxist”. The Syriza government’s demands are actually quite modest. All it has put on the European table is the request not to spend more than it takes in but rather to spend less on interest and more on things like health care and aid to the destitute. If this is socialism, then Obama’s Democrats are socialists, too.
Yannis Varoufakis equates Marxism with a “return to humanism and reason”. Whose humanism and whose reason? For the past three years he has spoken to diverse audiences ranging from anti-austerity demonstrators in Athens’ Syntagma Square, staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Green Parliamentarians in the European Parliament, Bloomberg analysts in London and New York, the House of Commons in London, and hedge funds in Manhattan and London’s City. The one group he has not spoken to are simple workers. This, to say the least, is odd for a self-proclaimed Marxist.
He has also adopted Merkelist propaganda when he said in a recent interview addressed to the German people that they “paid so much money to Greece”. Quite the contrary, no money came to the Greek people; instead it went to usurers and the bankocracy, and the average Greek, whose monthly income is well below that of most Europeans, was – and still is – compelled to pay interest rates needed to service loans that save no one but German, French, US, Chinese, and, yes, Greek bankers.
Even stranger are Minister Varoufakis’s declarations that he does not want to replace capitalism with socialism. Rather, by his own admission, he is embarking upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism in order to avoid the ascendency of right-wing Golden Dawn racist fanatics. He says he is adamantly against the disintegration of the Eurozone because he refuses to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s. Is this a modern-day form of appeasement? Not surprisingly, real Marxists have accused him of being “defeatist” and a “latter-day Menshevik” striving to save the current European socio-economic system. What he does not consider – strange for a self-avowed Marxist, even an erratic one – is that the Eurozone’s demise could be followed by its rebirth as a USSE, a United Socialist States of Europe, a concept a number of prominent Marxists have mused about in the past.
The cornerstone of Varoufakis’ campaign is founded on the assumption that the Left in Greece is dead. How true is this? The KKE, or Communist Party of Greece, a staunch opponent of Syriza, for instance, has battalions of class-conscious workers, an army that will go to war the second it is given the order to do so. Indeed, the KKE has many more organized fighters than does Golden Dawn.
Minister Varoufakis worries about the future of European civilization. What civilization? He says the capitalists are atavistically choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and dispossessed in order to plug the gaping black holes of their bankrupted bankers, refusing to come to terms with the impossibility of the task. Yet he does not resist in the name of “fire-breathing” labor as any self-respecting, self-proclaimed Marxist might do. Rather, he believes the European Left must admit it is simply not ready to plug the chasm that a collapsing European capitalism will open up with a functioning socialist system, one that is capable of generating shared prosperity for the masses.
Greece’s Minister of Finance is on the record as having said he wants alliances “even with right-wingers”. He describes as “genuinely radical” his pursuit of a “modest agenda for stabilizing a system that I despise”. He says he runs the risk of surreptitiously “lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging a feeling of having become 'agreeable' to the circles of 'polite society'.” Is that it? Is this that drives him--the sense of self-satisfaction from being feted by the high and mighty, by his own people?
Where are the workers in his equation? He does not explain how the rich have suffered in this crisis. Haven’t they become wealthier? He omits any mention of the mega-capitalists backing Syriza, people like George Angelopoulos and Spiros Latsis. Instead, he refers only to second-tier capitalists, hedgefund managers and the like. Are these the proletarians in his dialectical super scheme?
Is anyone surprised that in the last week more and more voices from major Greek capitalists have expressed sympathy for Tsipras’s new government?
Fascism is born of capitalism in crisis. You cannot save capitalism from the fascists because fascists are not anti-capitalists and pose no threat to capitalism. By the same token, you can get rid of the current crisis and it will subside, but the fascists will only return during the next big financial downturn (presuming, of course, this one does not develop into the proverbial “final confrontation”).
Varoufakis wants to save capitalism for “strategic purposes”, from itself. Nowhere does he mention what he, Tsipras, and Syriza intend to do once they have “saved” capitalism. How sweet this must all sound to big businessmen and bankers in Athens, Berlin, Paris, Madrid and New York!
Will the new government in Athens move dynamically forward against Berlin and Brussels? Strange as it may sound, if Syriza has the guts to do so, it will have the support of the ultra-nationalist biggots. This in turn will blunt the Nazis and sharpen the Left. If Tsipras’ government does not, the Nazis will return with a vengeance once it falls.
Let us not forget that a socialist is he or she who not only helps the weaker layers of society, but also, and more importantly, goes after the rich.
Paul Mattick, the German-American council communist once suggested that Marxism was the last refuge of certain elements of the bourgeoisie.
Most Greek leftists genuinely hope this epithet does not apply to Varoufakis and the leaders of Syriza. The new government in Greece has the opportunity to make good history for the little guy. But it is unlikely to do so.
* With kind thanks to the author, for sending me his article.
* With kind thanks to the author, for sending me his article.