The demise of Syriza and European left populism
While every worker in Greece should have voted for Syriza in the 25th of January elections the Greek working class found itself politically and culturally absent. In its totality the Greek working class had joined the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie, assimilating its program and various political perspectives scattering itself politically and electorally across the field of bourgeois democracy. And so it came to be that what was described as a revolutionary movement charging throughout the southern European states, its prime expression rose to power in a most unrevolutionary manner, with no revolutionary forces behind it and no revolutionary program; just an echo of past voices and slogans, a shadow of old struggles and victories. Switch off the lights, and the shadow is lost in the darkness of populism, illuminate and the truth of its unsubstantial existence becomes evident.
Populism while declaring a strong connection to the working class it, in reality, bases its political momentum and strength, upon the political impotence of the working class to present itself as an organized political force; having lost its class orientation and culture through the collapse and defeat of its traditional institutions of economic struggle (trade unions); having being disengaged from its traditional means of political presence and struggle within bourgeois parliament by becoming detached from social-democratic parties, polluted by petty bourgeois ideology and rhetoric based on borrowed slogans from its own past struggles, the working class is fed the need to unite its political struggle with that of the petty bourgeois populist manifestation by identifying with the petty bourgeois notion of class pacification and acceptance of bourgeois economic reality; consequently adhering to political and economic beggary, as the petty bourgeois way of negotiating with the rulers of the world.
While there is a direct comparison between populism and social democracy in that the later carries within petty bourgeois political manifestations, which like in populism attempt to conceal the class struggle in propagating the notion of management and reformism of capitalist reality, it nevertheless has a fundamental difference in its relationship with the working class in relation to its political condition and stage of its struggle. Social democracy unlike populism finds itself as the result of the working class moving politically and culturally as a class, pushing bourgeois democracy its limits of toleration and exhausting the bourgeoisie’s ability to withdraw from its political and economic interests. In such periods Social-democracy finds itself politically tormented by the inner contradiction of being pushed to lead the advancement of the class struggle, while at the same time trying to halt its progress and defuse its class character. Within this contradiction it is that bourgeois democracy’s and capitalism’s finite nature becomes clear, and it is in this political arena of class struggle that revolution descents from the theoretical sphere of consciousness into the list of necessities for the following day.
The characteristic of political narcissism that describes populism in general and Syriza in particular, meant that throughout the period of its political activity, in order to preserve its political image intact and unspoiled by the complexions of the reality of class division and struggle, it sought to distance itself from precisely that reality, not risking to become politically engulfed by a potential wave of industrial and political unrest. From the summer of 2013 and onwards and after it stood by while the full menace of European capitalism was been felt throughout the organised sections of the Greek working class, enrolling in order to achieve maximum damage every section Greek state’s machinery available, democratic and undemocratic, from within parliament and outside it, Syriza entrenched itself within parliament in a way more profound than before. The moment of truth came in November that year when while pushing for a vote of no confidence inside parliament, Syriza leaders tried to lead a demonstration outside parliament while the discussion and the vote was taking place. No more than five thousand gathered, displaying clearly Syriza’s political absence in the streets and demonstrating once and for all where its true power laid. It was the final act of its disassociation from the Greek working class ceiling the parliamentary doors tight behind as it descended within it; thus feeling the urge in the coming period to greedily pursuit parliamentary power and elections, consequently exploding in an electoral frenzy with its advancement in the European elections the following year.
If it wasn’t real life and events were taking place in a novel, the reader would easily be fooled into thinking that the writer was using his editorial powers to entrap the protagonist. The events surrounding Greece’s presidential elections certainly had that feeling. The opportune moment for the all desired elections had come in the shape of a constitutional loophole. The last failed vote to elect a president in the Geek parliament was met upon its completion with a standing ovation; not however by the opposition, but by the ministers of the conservative party in government, New Democracy; the political noise was not that of a collapsing building characterizing the ousting of the coalition government but of a mousetrap snapping its victim’s neck. Yet in the case of Syriza even after the fatal blow had been dealt the head continued to believe that success had been achieved. In a television interview a few days later, a parliamentary minister of the defeated New Democracy party, when asked if his party stood too much to the Right and that being the reason of the defeat, he responded by stating that after the Left dosage the Syriza-ANEL coalition will inject to the Greek people, in the end, his party will be made seen as being in the Centre.
Instead of Syriza’s election to government becoming a source of power through which its program could be propagated and implemented, carrying the weight of the Greek working class and with it society as a whole, its newly achieved position of power became a source of dissociation from society, political isolation and weakness. Having pursued power to satisfy the individualistic characteristics of the Greek middle class, posing as being the ones that will better negotiate between their needs and the European financial oligarchy, Syriza accepted as a result the political and economic parameters through which Greek society was been strangled. Always fearful of the Greek working class being the spotlight that would illuminate its political emptiness, Syriza’s propagation of an electoral solution to the Greek society’s social and economic condition, has as consequence saved the Greek establishment from furthering the policies of austerity and attacks to the Greek working class; thus in the first instance defusing even more the Greek working class and then in the aftermath of political exposure throwing Greek society back into the arms of the bourgeoisie. Instead of the Greek working class becoming politically mobile in the wake of further austerity launched by the Right wing led coalition, it was the Right that took to the streets and flooded Syntagma square in front of parliament with New Democracy ministers portraying in front of the TV cameras as the Centre solution to the ‘extremism’ the left and Syriza had brought to the country. It is in this manner that Syriza’s adventurism stole the opportunity of the Greek working class to regroup its forces and prepare for a renewed struggle. The capitulation of the trade union bureaucracies would have forced the working class to recalibrate its means of industrial action, breaking past alliances with Greek bourgeois democracy and the State forcing its political reengagement and consequently sweeping through populism and sectarianism.
From the perspective of the European bourgeoisie, it was not enough to achieve economic victory over Syriza. After all such a victory had already been achieved as early as the 20th of February. By that point Syriza had already backtracked on a number of its pre-election promises and had agreed in the general economic parameters set by the troika. What was needed was the political humiliation of the most successful section of the populist left that has surged the south; in its own way the European bourgeoisie was sending a clear message to the working class of Southern Europe. Populism is not enough. Petty bourgeois opportunism and left wing sectarianism will not do. You need to act as a class and lead. While the Greek working class itself is been pushed itself to isolation and is politically consumed by Syriza’s narcissistic need to preserve its social image, such a message as loud and as clear as it is will linger at the back of the Greek workers’ mind as any profound historical message does coming from the depths of their past struggles. And so it is ironically the bourgeoisie that is pointing the path towards political awakening.
What was evident from the start was that the main issue the Greek working class would face would be the aftermath of Syriza’s adventure in power and the condition it will find itself to act against the renewed onslaught. An onslaught that the expressers of the financial oligarchy will practice with renewed enthusiasm hidden under patriotic slogans, of sacrifice and necessity for the preservation of the capitalist way of life.
In the aftermath of the collapse of the negotiations with troika and having successfully given a voice back to the Right allowing them to take to the streets promoting themselves as champions of social stability and normality, the government decided that a referendum was the only way to continue the preservation of its political existence and image, as them being the champions of social stability and normality. The referendum became the only avenue of connecting to a social base and renewing Syriza’s political agreement with society and the Greek working class on the basis of petty bourgeois ideals. As a result moving towards further isolation, this time via the bypassing of parliament and its own parliamentary group and party base. Throughout the past period the voices of dissent from within the party kept growing every time the government was taking another step away from its initial program. Even if the European bourgeoisie had accepted the government’s last proposal, its submission to parliament would have had initiated a political implosion within Syriza that would had eventually ripped it back to the political pieces it originated from. Such is the fate of populism in its effort to conceal the existence of the class struggle. Such is the fate of left wing sectarianism in its effort to use left populism to satisfy its own petty political needs of opportunism and adventurism, in an effort to bypass class struggle and in order to put their meaningless existence on the political map.
The political manner the referendum addresses the Greek working class and society as a whole is not dissimilar to the manner the January elections were addressing Greek workers; a similarity that lays in the sustained request of the workers to continue to be politically expressed through petty bourgeois individualism and its social outlook of political and economic beggary towards the financial oligarchy. Once again populism plays its reactionary role in defusing the working class by providing a populist illusion of democracy and choice. The reality of the period past the referendum will be the same regardless of the outcome, since the Greek working class is asked to give a blank check to the European financial oligarchy to renew its onslaught in the case of yes, and in the case of no, if that was to lead Greece outside Europe would mean giving a blank check to the Greek oligarchs’ efforts to capture the void European capital will temporarily leave behind. The Greek working class regardless of the outcome will have to respond to the same message. Petty bourgeois opportunism and left wing sectarianism will not do. If you want to claim your homes, your neighborhoods, your society and Europe itself then you need to act as a class and lead.