The Greek Crisis and the Fourth International (3) – was there an alternative to Syriza?

Now that the two analyses – of the Greek FI section and the FI majority – have been reviewed we can compare and evaluate their arguments.

The first question asked was “has Syriza been an expression of the rise of the social movement?”

The opposition claims that “this is not exactly true’ while the FI leadership say that “we never said that Syriza was “the organization of the mass movement.”  Both appear to agree that Syriza had a limited mass membership and limited implantation in the mass organisations of the working class.  Both also agree that its main role was one of electoral representation, and both appear to agree that this role grew during the decline of the mass movement.

For the opposition, this growth was “an expression of its fatigue and deceleration.” The opposition also claims that “it has also been a reason for this deceleration”, although it does not appear to claim that the growth of Syriza was the main reason for the decline of the mass movement.

This creates a problem for believing that an alternative to Syriza could be built out of the mass movement; not just because that movement was in decline but because many inside the movement accepted the Syriza alternative.  Whatever its militancy and whatever its uncompromising opposition to austerity, many within it saw a Syriza government as an alternative; and as long as it put its trust in that party, and to the extent that it did, it may be possible to argue that it made it more difficult to develop an alternative that would be the movement itself.

What therefore came out of those mobilised against austerity was increased support for Syriza, so that the latter was an authentic expression of the movement, albeit one in decline.  There was, however, no other.

For the FI majority on the other hand, the election of a Syriza or left government was a strategic objective that would/could project the anti-austerity movement forward.  The FI leadership was “convinced of the importance of forming a government to the left of Social Democracy in the next election for workers in Greece and throughout Europe. The arrival of such a government could increase their self-confidence and contribute, under certain circumstances, to a new rise in struggles.”

This didn’t happen. The opposition did not think it would happen, and while the FI majority records its caveats and qualifications on its prescription and prognosis, at the end of the day the project of a Syriza/left government (there is an important difference but not an essential one) was its perspective, and it failed.  If nothing succeeds like success, nothing fails like failure.

However, while success also has many fathers, failure is an orphan, and the FI leadership takes no responsibility for the failure of its strategic perspective.  This would appear to be on the grounds that it was imperfectly achieved – the KKE and Antarsya were not also involved.  This however was not crucial for the viability of its perspective.

The next question asked by the opposition – “was there any strategic alternative to the proposal for a left government?

Before answering this we should ask a related question – was the betrayal of Syriza inevitable?

It is not necessary for this question to be answered in the negative for an alternative to be rejected, if such an alternative could be considered more likely to succeed.  The problem was, any proposed alternative had to come out of a mass movement in decline.  Even if the question is answered in the positive – that Syriza was bound to betray – this is really also to say that it could not be prevented because, among other things, of the decline of the mass movement, of which, according to the Greek FI, Syriza was but one expression.

But here it would be necessary to look at why the mass movement declined, why did the path it had taken result in decline in the first place?  However, this was not one of the questions posed in the debate.

An ostensible reason for the differing strategic answers provided by the opposition and FI majority is an apparent difference in their characterisation of Syriza.  I am assuming the FI majority held a differing opinion to the Greek FI section because it did not admit inevitable Syriza betrayal – and it didn’t warn of such a thing.

It did state reservations and give warnings, and it could rightly claim that ‘nothing is inevitable’, but at this level of abstraction this is to have your cake and eat it – argue for a strategic approach as one that will do most to advance the anti-austerity movement, while failing to point out its intrinsic weakness.  But we shall come to the weaknesses of the demand for a workers’ government later.

For the FI majority Syriza and the role it was playing was the way forward for everyone opposed to austerity in Europe:

“The victories of Syriza, like the advances of Podemos in the Spanish state, show the road to take in all the countries of Europe: that of building a political representation of the exploited, against the capitalist diktats.” (FI 8 July 2015)

For the opposition, the answer to the question – was Syriza something different from a reformist party? – was a clear No, and it quotes FI majority figures who claimed otherwise. The FI majority document is less categorical, and the qualifications it makes about the varied composition of Syriza is obviously true, and important for tactics in the Greek struggle.

But this is beside the point:  the FI majority gloss over the reformist character of Syriza by making it, not so much less than the sum of its parts, as treating it simply as a collection of its separate parts, as if no overall characterisation mattered.

The reason it does so is in order to fit Syriza into the mould of one of the “broad parties” that the FI wishes to construct generally.  Admitting that Syriza was a reformist party, albeit with a left opposition inside, would open the whole “broad party” perspective to rebuttal, for it would be to admit that it is not the ‘anti-capitalist’ politics of these ‘broad’ parties that matters, or that they are somehow to the left of social democracy, but that they can be fundamentally social democratic and it would still be necessary to orient to them if they have the support of broad sections of the working class.  And therefore, it is the latter that is decisive. Not only does the FI majority not advance this view, but it is also not argued by the opposition.

This all leads to the key question debated in the texts – was there an alternative to the Syriza in government project?

Since the Greek section of the FI thought that Syriza would not take the necessary steps to oppose austerity it believed that this perspective was fatally flawed:

“ever since 2011, SYRIZA has been declaring that the mass movement has shown its limit, and it is time to give a “political” (that is, electoral) solution. But no government can save the people . . .”

Its alternative is described in this way:

“The calls of OKDE-Spartakos and other anticapitalist groups for generalized self-organization was confronted with skepticism or sarcasm by the majority of the left, who argued that it would be invented and utopian to speak of councils or Soviets in a situation where such things simply don’t exist. . . . “

“However, it was not true that self-organization structures did not exist. The Syntagma square hosted a daily people’s assembly for nearly two months. The assembly formed sub-committees charged with various tasks. A self-organized radio station was installed on the square. Several every-day popular assemblies were created in different neighborhoods of Athens and in almost all relatively big cities of the country.”

“It was possible to build an alternative proposal based on those, limited but actual and important, experiences of self-organization. It was possible to call for assemblies in workplaces as well. It was possible to propose that local assemblies elect their revocable representatives and turn the Syntagma Square into a national assembly. It was possible to explain that this assembly represents working people much better than the parliament and the government, and should thus claim power for itself. It was possible, even if very hard, to put forward a concrete revolutionary perspective. But SYRIZA could only fiercely oppose this perspective, and the Communist Party as well. The anticapitalist left did try, but it was still weak and not well prepared.”

The FI majority make a telling response:

“Faced with a major social and political crisis, requiring the implementation of transitional demands, Manos persists in saying that the answer could only be the call for generalized self-organization. Although real self-organizing experiences existed in Greece in 2012, they were largely limited and marginal. The call for their generalization and, above all, for them to play a central political role, an alternative to the parliamentary system, could not be the answer of the day. If a demand of workers’ government could only, according to the comrades be propagandist, then what can we say about a slogan equivalent to “all power to the soviets“?”

The overall weakness of the Greek section perspective is revealed in their own words.  So ”It was possible to build an alternative proposal’, “it was possible to call for assemblies . . .”; “it was possible to propose that local assemblies . . “; and “it was possible to explain that this assembly . . .”  In summary “It was possible, even if very hard, to put forward a concrete revolutionary perspective.”

In other words, it was possible to propose self-organisation but it was not possible to propose to this already existent “limited” self-organisation to take political power because this self-organisation was very undeveloped. There was nothing like dual power and no contest over state authority.  The only forces arguing for such a perspective were, in the Greek comrades own words, “still weak and not well prepared.”  The comrades say that they did try, and there is no doubt that they did, but it obviously failed because the Greek working class was itself “still weak and not well prepared.”

The reliance on Syriza was fundamentally a symptom of this and not its cause, and the debate should have focused on why this was the case and what could be done about it.  But as I have argued, the FI majority starts from the needs of what it calls the radical left and the opposition starts from the need to implement a revolutionary programme, understood as a more or less short term seizure of power.  Both are obviously different but both clearly also have major similarities in failing to commence from the correct starting point – the consciousness and organisation of the working class, and not party constructs, be they based on party types or party programmes.

In the next post I will look some more at the FI majority strategic perspective.

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

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