Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s rising star, is a radical in name only

by Jerome Roos on June 6, 2012

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For Europe, the leader of SYRIZA is a dangerous Greek populist. For Žižek he is a voice of reason. In truth, he is just an outspoken social democrat.

A Greek translation is now available here.

In recent weeks, he has been called sexy Alexithe rising star of Greek politics; a foe of austerity; a fiery orator and eloquent, skilled performer; and the champion of Greek outrage – as well as a naive radicala dangerous liara populist demagogue; and a cranky extremist. Suddenly in the limelight, the 37-year-old leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is now known as the Greek who sent global markets roiling and who makes Europe tremble.

Two months ago, no one outside of Greece had ever really heard of Tsipras or his fringe patchwork alliance of Maoists, Trotskysts, euro-communists, democratic socialists and greens. But a month after SYRIZA, running on a pledge to overthrow the Troika’s austerity memorandum, beat the center-Left PASOK to place as a surprise second in the failed elections of May 6, Tsipras is suddenly the most sought-after Greek politician in the international media.

As befits his unexpected rock star status, the new champion of the European Left quickly went on a tour to Paris and Berlin, and yesterday found himself flanked and supported by Slavoj Žižek – “the most dangerous philosopher in the West” — during a public lecture in Athens. With the last poll ahead of the June 17 elections showing his party in a 6% lead over right-wing Nea Dimokratia, things appear to be looking up for the Greek revolution. Or are they?

In truth, a SYRIZA victory will do little to revolutionize Greek society and much less to free Greece from the neoliberal shackles of the eurozone. While Tspiras’ heart undoubtedly beats on the left side of his chest, SYRIZA’s policies will do more to stabilize than to overthrow the discredited and dysfunctional system he despises so much. Indeed, for all his eloquence and good intentions, Tsipras promises little more than radical social democracy. The only reason SYRIZA is considered far-Left is because the center has moved light years to the right.

Tsipras’ Revolution to Save Capitalism

“The incumbent economic and social system has failed,” declares SYRIZA in its list of programmatic commitments, “we must overthrow it!” Pledging to break up the EU-ECB-IMF austerity memorandum, impose an immediate moratorium on all debt repayments, and negotiate a radical reduction of the remaining debt, the Coalition of the Radical Left has sent shivers up the spines of the Greek political establishment, European leaders, and financial markets alike.

But while further debt relief would undoubtedly harm creditors and spare Greece many years of austerity, the idea that debt relief as such is a “radical” departure from economic orthodoxy is itself an ideological aberration. As early as September last year, the German Economy Minister proposed the idea of an “orderly Greek default”, while a former World Bank economist involved in the restructuring of Mexican debt in the 1980s described the solution proposed by Tsipras as “both the right one and an orthodox economic textbook idea.”

Similarly, the idea that austerity has a counterproductive effect on debt reduction is hardly revolutionary. The IMF recently admitted as much when it released a report stating that “fiscal contractions are contractionary, not expansionary.” (DUH!). By declaring that European money “should go towards investments and growth,” Tsipras finds himself literally echoing the words of former World Bank Chief Economist and Wall Street homeboy Larry Summers.

The New York Times rightly observed that “Mr. Tsipras’ arguments are not so different from those of some of the leaders gathered at the Group of 8 summit at Camp David.” In an interview with the Guardian, Tsipras expressed his admiration for Keynes and the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies of Obama and the Fed. And as Tibor Scitovsky, a prominent Keynesian economist, once put it, “Keynes’ revolution was that he was trying to save capitalism.”

Euroshackles and the Structural Power of Creditors

But perhaps the most contradictory element of SYRIZA’s program is its pledge to stay inside the eurozone. “For us,” Tsipras told the neoliberal Kathimerini newspaper, “exiting the euro is not an option.” Given electoral preferences (85 percent of Greeks wants to keep the euro) this stance makes perfect sense. Yet it is completely incompatible with SYRIZA’s stated objective of pursuing growth and job creation. There are three main reasons for this.

First of all, the euro is one of the principal sources of Greece’s current predicament. If Greece had had its own currency, not only would it never have experienced such a vast inflow of foreign credit, it would also have been able to devalue its currency to regain competitiveness in foreign markets. This is what Argentina did in 2002. But bound to the shackles of the euro, Greece was left with no other policy option than a so-called internal devaluation of wages.

Secondly, the moment Greece joined the euro, it gave up its monetary policy autonomy, meaning it became dependent on the European Central Bank to set interest rates. As a notoriously orthodox monetarist institution, the ECB is not only ideologically opposed to expansionary policies, but also constitutionally forbidden to pursue them. While Tsipras has called for radical reforms of the ECB, this remains — at least in the short-term — a pipe-dream at best.

Thirdly, membership of the eurozone has left Greece “entrapped” and subjected to the structural power of its creditors. As the political economist Jonathan Kirshner has pointed out, “structural power refers not just to the manipulation of the rules of the system” in favor of the big banks, “but also to the dependence that is cultivated through the simple act of participation in a monetary system.” As Costas Lapavitas wrote in the Financial Times two weeks ago:

If Greece perseveres with current policies within the eurozone, its economy will shrink and stagnate. The country will become an impoverished, ageing and deeply unequal corner of Europe, a neo-colony in all but name … Default ought to be accompanied by exit, releasing Greece from the trap of monetary union … Exit would allow the lifting of austerity, giving Greece the breathing space it needs to restructure its economy.

Deepening Austerity — And Then What?

Yet even if Tsipras wanted to stay inside the eurozone, he couldn’t. Tsipras’ insistence that Europe won’t allow Greece to fail (for fear of the crisis spreading to Spain) is a beautiful game of chicken, but there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work. Indeed, what are the odds that the Germans — already outraged about throwing money into the “bottomless souvlaki” — will continue bailing out a Leftist government that loudly proclaims it won’t pay them back?

Consider the following (very realistic) scenario: SYRIZA wins the elections, forms an anti-austerity coalition and halts the debt repayments. Greece will almost certainly be denied the next tranche of its EU-IMF bailout. Since the country is still running a 2.4 percent primary deficit and will be completely cut off from international capital markets, SYRIZA will have to impose even deeper cuts than are currently required under the austerity memorandum.

At the same time, the moratorium on debt repayments and the cessation of ECB assistance to Greek banks will make the Greek financial sector implode. At this point, SYRIZA will be faced with a choice: either it allows its entire banking sector to collapse, literally destroying the livelihoods of millions of Greeks, or it nationalizes the banks, as it pledges to do in its election program. If it does the latter, it will need to print money to be able to raise the requisite funds.

To be able to print money, Greece will have to reintroduce the drachma. Its value would immediately plunge in relation to the euro, so the government would have to impose capital controls and withdrawal limits to prevent a run on the banks. Argentina did just that in 2002 with the infamous ’corralito‘. It unleashed mayhem. The people attacked the banks and the Presidential Palace. When that happens in Greece, where will Tsipras’ allegiances lie? As his voters turn against his banks and his ministries, whose side will he be on?

The Limits of the Parliamentary Road

There is no doubt that Alexis Tsipras is genuine in his concern for the Greek people and that, if it could, SYRIZA would save millions of Greeks from destitution and depression. Having arisen as an organizational platform for the Greek delegation to the anti-globalization protests in Genoa in 2001, there is also no doubt that SYRIZA is globally conscious, friendly to social movements, and by far the most grassroots-oriented party in the Greek political system.

In a recent article for the London Review of Books, and then again in a public lecture in Athens, Slavoj Žižek heaped praise on Tsipras. SYRIZA’s voice, he writes, “is not the voice of extreme left ‘madness’, but of reason speaking out against the madness of market ideology.” Furthermore, “in their readiness to take over,” Žižek hopefully exclaims, “they have banished the left’s fear of taking power; they have the courage to clear up the mess created by others.”

Yet the realistic scenario sketched out above shows the limits of the road to power. As Leonidas Oikonomakis recently pointed out in an important ROAR article, Tsipras risks becoming a Greek version of Argentina’s Kirchner — a populist social democrat using radical rhetoric to ride a wave of popular unrest, achieving an improvement in living standards, but demobilizing the movements and allowing the system to reproduce itself. As Benjamin Dangl summarized, “Kirchner was handing out crumbs, when what many demanded was revolution.”

It is no coincidence that the revolutionaries of Tahrir and Chiapas are publicly boycotting the upcoming Egyptian and Mexican elections. Earlier today, the EZLN simply stated: “I don’t vote; I organize from below.” Yesterday, we published a piece by our comrades in Cairo who write that “We refuse to recognize the choice of the ‘lesser of two evils’ when these evils masquerade in equal measure for the same regime. We believe there is another choice.”

Those Who Make Revolutions Halfway…

Paris. May 29, 1968. Faced with a spectacular popular insurrection and the largest wildcat strike in world history, a demoralized Charles De Gaulle, convinced that revolution is near, leaves the Élysée Palace by helicopter and flees to Germany. There, General Jacques Massu convinces him to return, upon which De Gaulle makes a last-ditch attempt to save the state: he calls elections. Smelling power, the Communist Party agrees. The rest, as they say, is history.

The revolutionary sentiment in the streets subsided. As the parties stepped up their campaigns, the workers returned to their jobs. On June 16, the police retook the Sorbonne. One piece of graffiti remained on a wall in the Latin Quarter: “Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié ne font que se creuser un tombeau.” Those who make revolutions halfway only dig their own graves. A week later, De Gaulle won the elections. The largest landslide in French history.

Athens. May 25, 2011. Hundreds of thousands occupy Syntagma Square and set up their own autonomous political spaces across the country. Building on the same principles of direct democracy that inspired the French revolutionaries of ’68 (captured in the libertarian socialist ideas of the Greek-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis), ordinary Greeks are introduced to a radically different form of social organization. Millions catch a glimpse of Utopia.

A year later, we are approaching elections. The revolutionary sentiment in the streets has subsided. As the parties step up their campaigns, the workers have returned to their jobs. On May 15, the police retook Syntagma Square after a group of activists tried to pitch up their tents. Underneath a bridge in the outskirts of Athens, one piece of graffiti remains: two clinging hands desperately reaching out for a burning euro coin. A street vendor walks past. An echo of the past whispers in the background. Those who make the revolution halfway…

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris June 6, 2012 at 12:36

Dear Jerome, greetings.
I disagree profoundly with most of your economic analysis. Time will tell if you are right but I urge you to read the blog of Greek economist http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/
He is one of those very few who in 2006 predicted the housing bubble in US, ensuing mortgage crisis and the its metastasizing to Europe, although I don’t agree with his solutions, they are logical and his economic analysis invaluable.
If Greece returns to the drachma it could not be further from what Argentina did. Argentina cut a peg to a USD, that is to say stop an inflexible exchange rate. Greece going back to drachma is completely different because it has to print it and will take a long time, has no healthy export sector like Argentina did have with raw materials, and the world is not a healthy economy like when Argentina defaulted and had big demand from China and Brazil. Not to mention how ridiculed Greece has been, who will want to invest?
Germany IS afraid of grexit as the bailouts to Greece as you called them are merely sent back to German and French banks as well as the ECB and private hedge funds which opted for no haircut. The moment Germany says it’s ok for Greece to exit be sure it has made it’s decision to reconstitute the DM, the German Mark, and has given up on the Euro.
At this moment in time Germany is merely weighing whether it’s better to federalise Europe by recycling surpluses in the form of productive investments in deficit countries or to go it’s own way by reconstituting the DM.
I agree with your view of Tsipras, in my view he is merely the easy option for the people of Greece instead a proper revolution and to work hard for direct democracy. Tsipras is the last bit of hope people have left in parliamentary democracy. I think he will show that he is just another politician within a couple of years of him being elected, just like the previous two governments.
Greetings from Greece

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Jerome Roos June 6, 2012 at 12:45

Thanks Chris, appreciate your observations, as always! This article is a proverbial molotov cocktail inside the movement, to fire up the internal debate a bit, if you will ;) I know Varoufakis and I follow his blog. The points you mention about the differences between Greece and Argentina are entirely correct. But that doesn’t do anything to disprove my analysis. All I am saying is that there is an internal contradiction in (1) SYRIZA’s commitment to stimulate the economy; (2) its commitment to stay in the eurozone. My argument is simply that (1) growth inside the euro is impossible since membership conditionality virtually outlaws expansionary monetary and fiscal policy; and (2) the planned default will logically lead to an exit from the eurozone anyway – for reason’s I described above, relating to the consequent collapse of the Greek banking sector, which still holds the larger part of the government’s bonds. We can disagree on the desirability of a ‘Grexit’, and you are right to point out that the differences with Argentina are plentiful in this respect, but the scenario I outlined above is not too controversial, I believe.

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Chris June 6, 2012 at 15:45

I probably mistakenly understood that you supported Greeks returning to the drachma whereas you are pointing out that Syriza can’t
hope to stay in the Euro once it denies the next tranche. If that is the case I apologise sincerely.

By no means is your scenario controversial. I believe however it might be unlikely.
You suggest that Syriza can’t say no to the next tranche and expect liquidity from the ECB for the Greek banks, thus forcing us back to the drachma.
This is where I think our disagreement is. I believe that in this game of chicken Germany won’t instruct the ECB to stop providing liquidity to Greek banks for fear of a Greek banking collapse and contagion. Besides the ECB has broken it’s charter repeatedly in recent months. It is pumping Trillions into european banks. Even now Spain has gone under but bailed out quietly.
If Greece is thrown out (by stopping liquidity from ECB to GR banks) then the EU is in danger because no one will want to invest in countries that might be forcibly thrown out. As i see it this game of chicken is in favor of Syriza but doesn’t guarantee Germany will reconsider federalising europe and investing it’s surpluses in deficit areas (like New York invests surpluses in Ohio). At the end of the day all these speculative arguments don’t matter because what will happen will happen and at the end of the day direct democracy is probably where the solution is.
Oh well, interesitng times right?

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 02:25

Very!

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exognomi June 6, 2012 at 13:43

Dear Jerome,

nice article.
I think it is not a “euro or drachma” choice that will solve the Greek growth or debt problem.

Greece had a debt since 1821 and has declared bankruptcy 4 times since then (1827,1843,1897,1932).

We didn’t have growth for the last 10 years and our debt is rising because of the wrong management of the Greek politics.

If you inspect the Greek Budget plan you ‘ll see that the we have to spent more than we collect. So we need to borrow…

This logic has to change… I (as most of the Greeks) doubt that Sexy Alexis will do that, but we have to hope, we have to vote for alternative.

Syriza halara then….
http://youtu.be/JY5Hmm8MyjE

Keep up the good work!

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Def June 6, 2012 at 14:34

I agree broadly with the sentiments in this article. Actually, when I used to be in one the Communist groups here, they made similar prediction regarding a possible KKE victory. Revolution in Greece alone is likely to achieve little unless radical movements take power in at least a couple of the other major european countries. What I fear is that a SYRIZA failure will hand Greece over to the Golden Dawn.

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 03:33

As it has…They kept their percentage and are now daily running around with globs throwing immigrants out of buses, running them over with bikes, etc ….
A big disappointment for Greek society, but at least now we know how many they are…

40%of the population did NOT go voting. Which is not like us, believe me…( it was supposed to send a “message”but nobody seemed to care, including Greek media) As a result a coalition of 20 % of the 60%, runs the country! AGAIN!
They win if we vote, they win if we don’t vote, they win when we die falling from the Acropolis they win when we shoot ourselves in front of the Parliament, they win when we move to Austria for a “better”life, they win when we protest, they win when we self farm, when we self distribute, when we deal in our own currencies… whatever they hell we do, they are still winning!

Poverty looves fear and hate.
It is what stops civilization.

A good example of how it stops civilization, is the mere fact that 2500 years later, nobody on this planet has any *&* idea what Democracy IS. (Aristotle, “Politics”) We have, since, allowed ourselves to be ruled (!) and call this,democracy.

On Tsipras:
“Revolution in Greece alone is likely to achieve little unless radical movements take power in at least a couple of the other major european countries. ” , Def said.

I agree. A couple indeed. Tsipras already told them.

Tsipras was saying out and loud that it is the Spanish and Italian people that he expects, will help him. He said I will ask and I will receive, for all of us. He said he had no idea how to run the country. He was doomed to do it, he said. He was doomed ,he said,to try and fix it. (He would at least jail some..That would be enough..)He pointed out that winning the election has nothing to do with gaining control. To gain control he needs a lot of support. From the Greeks first, but also from all People who demand a chance to a happy life.
His plan involved restructuring Europe. He needed people to demand the same as he was planning, all around. That’s the only way it would have ever worked. He wanted to spark the revolution,the European revolution. Somebody asked him: “What about your own party’s line? Syriza should be against EU. “and he responded “We can keep it, if it’s nice..”
He was the only one who had nothing to gain by letting all those crooks at their posts. He would have jailed half the Parliament by now. And half the public sector and more than half the publishing companies and and and and Greece is run by a bunch of hyenas, still! At least now that they are in coalition, nobody has any illusions about this country ever having Democracy, for the past 2212 years. (especially after the dictatorship, we only have these two parties exchanging power. HA! And until recently, they both were run by the son of their dad, who was also PM, like his dad was before him! King of thrones for 3 generations and we call it democracy!!)

People don’t even know what Democracy IS.

I’m not sure if Tsipras does ,either, but he wasn’t planning on running anything. He just wanted to initiate it. That, he made very clear, at least in Greece. That’s ,also, why he lost. The 40% absence turned 20%, but all new votes were equally scattered.
Enough,sadly voted especially for the hyenas ( so here we are, again).
Probably because they are one.

At least now we know, how many they are.

Oh and mesie Rooz, you are wrong about the deficit. Greece has had a surplus since February… nobody knows….ssssh! We don’t want to tell the Greeks…

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Pygmalion Karatzas June 6, 2012 at 16:07

It’s a good point that u make about “those who make revolutions halfway” but it seems to me the slogan ‘it takes two to tango’ apply here as well. And by that i mean that in order for this revolution to happen all the way both politicians and the people need to be considerably aligned. You pointed out the contradiction in the public opinion: the majority want to stay in the euro but at the same time the majority also don’t want the memorandum (which got formed some months ago, way before syriza got those high results). So my question is: how can any leader head an all-the-way revolution when the people are either afraid to hear the whole truth and/or don’t want to face the undoubtedly dire consequences that this entails?…

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 03:53

He can’t.

Nobody’s afraid.
Only the crooks are afraid. The problem is that they are also, organized.
On the contradiction in the Public opinion:

Where the people want to stay is in the EU. What happened is that ms Merkel connected keeping the euro with staying in the EU on purpose, on that famous referendum the super traitor, (Former PM) called and took back. The only think that came out of it was that the Greeks were warned that wanting to leave the Euro would mean exiting the EU, just cause they say so. Blunt blackmail. Bullying! It is not even possible by EU constitution, BUT the damage was done. Greeks like the EU. (I don’t know why). So, now you ask them for the euro, they answer for the EU. See?

On inspiring politicians, Athens BC considered professional politicians to be the worst kind of idiot (= private person). Electing representatives was loathed. It meant for them that you agreed to be an idiot( primarily running your private affairs) , who was ruled by other idiots ( primarily taking care of their private affairs)…

I wouldn’t hold my breath..

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Andrew Stergiou June 6, 2012 at 20:02

See an American leftist and scratch the surface to find a pig.

Why has America been such a backward political country?
Because it has been thoroughly infiltrated by its intelligence services which use it as cover in the “global war on terror” and there is little if any integrity in the organized American Left.

ROAR or Right Wing Boar?

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Jerome Roos June 8, 2012 at 16:55

American? What are you talking about? I’m European.

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Andrew Stergiou February 25, 2013 at 05:53

You say you are European, but how would anyone on the internet really know that? and in any case what does it matter considering the involvement of America USA in Europe and NATO? and if a European does not from the beginning understand that how can they claim to be European?

Based on the the First World capitalism controls the second underdeveloped world and the undeveloped third world through a long list of false pretenses and lies. Your distractions are part of that psychological war of propaganda imperialism waged by capitalism in the totality on which basis it wages war and personalization much like Martin Heidegger means nothing for in the end he was still a Nazi.

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Louis Proyect June 6, 2012 at 21:10

Surprised to see the EZLN still touted here as a guide to effective action.

http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2011/why-we-loved-the-zapatistas/

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Binh June 6, 2012 at 21:15

Capitalism is not on the chopping block in Greece, austerity is. They’ve had 12 general strikes since 2010, all of which failed to stop austerity.

How can we overthrow capitalist social relations when we cannot even wage a successful defensive struggle? This article is way off base and hinges on debatable speculation.

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Jerome Roos June 8, 2012 at 16:56

Informed speculation is the best we can do in a climate of uncertainty. Time will tell who was right.

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Binh June 11, 2012 at 15:41

“Time will tell who was right.”

But there is nothing inevitable about what SYRIZA will do once (or if) it manages to form a government. Assuming the worst, that it totally sells out and backs down on its commitment to reverse austerity in the face of Merkel’s threats, does not mean that SYRIZA was a flawed undertaking or that it was wrong to vote/campaign for it. That would be hindsight bias.

I don’t see what is so terrible about stabilizing the capitalist system. What we ought to be concerned with is on whose terms and what are those terms? The working class does not benefit from economic free fall and constant political chaos.

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Steven Frans June 7, 2012 at 02:43

Another (a bit more optimistic) take on the possibility of a Syriza government can be read here: http://www.leninology.com/2012/06/challenge-of-syriza.html

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Steven Frans June 10, 2012 at 13:22

Another great Gramscian approach of the same issue: http://www.thepressproject.net/detailsen.php?id=21710

Btw, keep up the good work mr. Roos, I always learn something from reading your articles here.

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Jerome Roos June 10, 2012 at 13:34

Thanks Steven, appreciate it :)

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Julian June 7, 2012 at 08:59
Tom Brookes June 7, 2012 at 13:01

Jerome,

Interesting piece. I’m compelled to raise a couple of things though.

You argue that if Greece hadn’t joined the Euro, it wouldn’t be so maxed out on foreign credit and less debt = smaller crisis. Makes sense, on the face of it – but practically every nation is reliant on international credit. In the Eurozone (and possibly the world over) it is illegal for central banks to fund their governments – they can only release money to ‘the wider economy’ i.e. retail banks, but that’s not the point. The point is that if you want to play the government game, in this system, then you have to make nice with the international bond marketeers who buy up government guilts, then pray God enough tax revenue or fiscal ingenuity comes out the treasury that you can balance your national books (of course, the books rarely do balance – but that’s an essay in itself).

I’d argue this setup is in no-one’s interest except the creditor institutions and those who speculate upon their returns. There are a host of options for the establishment of new societal and international systems – considering that this is something which must have sufficient resonance for global acceptance the options can be reduced easily enough. Nations might quit the bond markets and return to financial self-determination by setting and paying their own budgets from their central banks – also diminishing radically taxation and prices (this is my preferred short-term method, both for its reduction of the influence of money and getting past nationalist sentiment). Alternately, internationalism could go the whole hog and establish a global standard currency – either method ‘resetting’ global debt in the process and dismantling the international bond, hedge and credit markets in government finance. Crises being so recurrent and causing such multifaceted damage it seems an unavoidable conclusion that something big and structural must change. The question for me is radical reform or revolution, but I think what’s missing from the revolution suggestion is a real and mainstream alternate framework of living. Once you accept that capitalist practices are making the planet uninhabitable, socially as well as ecologically, the revolutionary question must be: what next?

I’d argue that any like-minded individual ought to be working on the details of such an alternative. Much as Syntagma and the Occupy protests were a moving display of direct democracy, tent cities aren’t viable – credibility rests in capturing the imagination of the mainstream with something other than slogans; ideas! It’s easy to criticise Tsipras’ manifesto – keeping Greece in the Euro and not paying down the debts does seem contradictory; but what’s the alternative system he can set up as soon as he wins – if he wins. That said, imagine writing a manifesto which is electable and credible in this current context. Maybe he has gone for the safer option, but isn’t this part of the problem – that in order to change ‘the system’ (shorthand) it is necessary to so dilute any true radical fervour to get to a position within governing structures as to make overarching forms of governance and organisation stagnantly self-preserving.

How then does a movement overtake a social, political and economic order which seems almost designed to curtail radicalism and yet effect radical change? Tsipras – even if he did have an alternative mapped out, wouldn’t be leading a credible revolution as it would be enacted top down, that’s a restructuring. Perhaps it’s idealism to think one man or group can, in effect, change the world. You argue he wants to save capitalism like Keynes, and perhaps so; but I worry there’s almost an unrealistic expectation among the revolutionary left and similar-minded people that capitalism will lurch into revolution by sheer force of the logical and moral impasses it faces.

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic about capitalism and the perpetuity of this social model, it’s as temporary and transient as anything human. Indeed feudalism has been around for longer, though I sometimes argue that modern capitalism is an advanced form of feudalism when looked at through a long enough lens. If anything I’m impatient for change; and submit those who think seriously about these problems ought to expand both our remit and ambitions.

Tom Brookes – @TomBrookes_86

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 04:11

I’d argue that any like-minded individual ought to be working on the details of such an alternative.

I agree. That is the only topic we should be discussing.

You have overall covered me. Nice.

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Michael Kenny June 7, 2012 at 15:19

Cruel reality comes to Roarmag! First we were told that most Greeks wanted to leave the Eurozone. Now we know that that’s not true. Then we were told that Tsipras wanted to take Greece out of the Eurozone. Now we know that that that’s not true. Then we were told that Germany wanted to kick Greece out of the Eurozone. Now we know that that’s not true. We were told that the euro was “bound” to collapse. Now we know that isn’t going to happen. So now we’re told that Greece can’t keep the euro even though political parties representing 90 – 95% of Greeks want to keep it. But now we know that the US economy is on the ropes and the whole press campaign against the euro was just to divert Americans’ attention away from that. I have previously criticised Mr Roos for his blindly American (and wholly un-European) reasoning and this article is really just a restatement of the long list of US neocon pretexts for destroying the euro. They’ve all been refuted a thousand times! By the way, the reason why the Financial Times wants to stampede Greece out of the euro is that unless the euro can be destroyed or, at very least, Greece stampeded out of it, Britain will have little choice but to start the process of adopting the euro, i.e laying down a fixed exchange rate.

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Jerome Roos June 7, 2012 at 18:03

Haha. Thanks for the daily dose of amusement Mr Kenny. I’ve been compared to a lot of things in my life, but never to an American neocon. Especially in an article in which I situate myself to the Left of Greece’s Radical Left, which is arguably the most Left-Wing in Europe (let alone the US). Keep ‘em coming!

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 04:46

He does have a point about Britain;s entanglement.

I feel inclined to provide some Greek intel,since you are all so in to it….
We voted for the father of the super traitor (former PM), 20 years ago, because he promised to keep us out of the EU and NATO. He had signed us in, in 6 months. We were also forced into the eurozone. We know now that P.M.Simitis (the one who made the Goldman sucks deal), won by falsifying the election results. His second day as a P.M. there was the Imia incident, and he was thanking the Americans. 6 months later , he signed us in the euro. One year later, he made the G.S. derivatives deal. (Which Italy and Belgium had also done..). We voted him out and ended up with a guy that passed fewer laws than the last decade combined and who’s government has more scandals than days in governance. (they are the ruling party in the coalition, now..) Seriously. And to get rid of them, we revoted for the previous ones, only not with Simitis as head of the party but with George Papandreou the 3rd. ( aka “super traitor”).
Now, He promised that ” There is money! it’s all good!” and he won and 20 days later he was on CNN saying: CRISIIIIIIIS! THERE IS A CRISIIIIIIIIS. You know the rest..
Meanwhile his brother was Buying the Greek CDS , that would protect us, in case there really WAS a crisis.. He was buying them from the Post Bank which is a state company. He was advising the investment company that (illegally) bought all OUR OWN CDSs (on our side, they did a super trick/disregarded a bunch of laws/but nobody is looking..) Of American interests the investment company.
Can you grasp it? The same period when the PM was saying all over the place there’s no money, he was selling off all our insurance, with/to his brother…
Now both his party and his useless opposition are in a coalition. The new head of New democracy party, is the new head of government. That;s Samaras. Now, he…When he was still an opposition to Papandreou, he deleted the members of his party that voted Yes in the first Memorandum vote, cause he was saying No, then he deleted the members that voted No, in the second Memorandum, cause he was saying Yes, then They joined the other deleted members and made their own party (the nos with the yess..) then Samaras promised all of them ministries to come join him in order to stop Syriza. And they agreed! HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAH
And they won………..

That’s Greek politics. It’s a mafia voting itself.
We are under seize. Help us!

P.S. did I mention that Samaras and Papandreou the 3rd were college roommates..? in the states…?studying finance…?
God! Are you aware that we actually had a PM with an american citizenship? And you ask who started this, how and why? Look closer!

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joanna October 30, 2012 at 16:18

Δαναη δεν παίζεσαι, σκέτη απόλαυση να “σε διαβασω”. πολύ γέλιο :) And for those who are still reading this and don’t know Greek, Danai’s summation on What’s What and Who’s Who in Greece was perfect. I laughed when she laughed .. really :)

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soryps June 8, 2012 at 14:37

This article hasnt gone down as well as the others has it?
Time to reflect on the whining tone, me thinks.

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Jerome Roos June 8, 2012 at 16:47

To be frank, I don’t care much about the reception of the pieces. ROAR is not a popularity contest, it’s about speaking truth to power. What I care most about is looking back 2-3 years from now and knowing that I said what I needed to say — even if some of the things I said were unpopular at the time. Besides, to only be critical of the right — and not of the left — would be hypocritical and ultimately self-defeating. We have a responsibility to point out our own inconsistencies and shortcomings. It’s easy to preach to the converted; it’s a lot harder to take a stance against one’s own sacred cows.

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soryps June 8, 2012 at 17:56

Common now… If you didnt care about the feedback you would have deactivated the comments or at least wouldn’t bother reading them. We’ve all been there :)

I would agree with you on many of your points in this and other stories; however I often find the tone whingy and arrogant. Surely you could have responded by saying you are simply ‘speaking your mind’ as opposed to ‘speaking the truth’.

And of course we need to be critical of both left and right. But becoming critical of anything that becomes mainstream, regardless of the values it represents, just for the sake of it… just so that we always sound more radical and cooler is exactly what you argue against: popularity contest.

PS. Whole paragraphs and arguments from this article could have easily been copied and pasted from a Samaras speech. Not joking. Intact.

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Jerome Roos June 8, 2012 at 18:42

Haha, of course not! I activate the comments because this blog, like any other, is part of the public sphere. I want to stimulate debate and actually prefer negative feedback to positive feedback: it shows that people care enough to enter into a discussion about an important topic and it allows me to further explain myself when people disagree or misunderstand some of my arguments. I read most of the comments because every single one needs to be individually approved (spam filter doesn’t work as well as I would like). There you go :)

‘Speaking truth to power’ is a common expression used in the English language going back to the Quaker movement against fascism. I don’t see why it would be a sign of arrogance (unless you would want to read it into it, which you are free to do!). The idea is not to be critical of anything in the mainstream; the idea is to weigh the internal consistency of the arguments and actions of those who have (or aspire to have) power. In this respect, I am firmly convinced that future Prime Minister Tsipras deserves the same scrutiny as former Prime Minister Papandreou did.

Also, I don’t really care if what I say on some points corresponds to what Samaras says. You have to read this piece in its proper context, and if you are honest you know very well that I am arguing the polar opposite of everything Samaras stands for, even if you could lift an individual paragraph out of its context and frame it to mean whatever you want it to.

Finally, I don’t think there’s anything cool about this article. In fact, as you noted, distancing myself from the hottest politician in Europe at the moment is probably the uncoolest thing I could have written at this stage. I care about the debate that followed the publication of this article because I consider the debate itself to be important — not because I received more critical replies than usual (which, again, is a good sign as it shows a capacity for internal debate within the movement).

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Ed June 14, 2012 at 16:21

Jerome, I appreciate the fact that you’ve written a thoughtful article about Tspiras and SYRIZA, and haven’t just been swept up in the excitement of their recent surge. But I can’t agree with your analysis.

First of all, on a minor point, but relevant nonetheless: while it’s true in general to say that most people hadn’t heard of Tsiparas or SYRIZA until a few weeks ago, those of us with an interest in left-wing politics would have known for a long time that Greece had one of the more powerful radical-lefts in Europe; that there was a historic division in the Greek communist movement going back to 1968 and a split over the Prague Spring; that the old KKE (exterior) was one of the only unreconstructed Stalinist parties in Europe, while the successor to the old KKE (interior) was one of the few Eurocommunist parties that had remained well to the left of social democracy (unlike the Italians, for example); and that SYNASPISMOS had formed a coalition with other radical-left groups in the last few years called SYRIZA.

And I say this as someone who makes no claim to be an authority on Greece: I can’t speak Greek, I’ve only visited the country for a couple of weeks, I have an awful lot to learn—I know from experience that there’s a huge gap between what you can learn from whatever material gets translated into English from a country, and actually being there, knowing the different groups and personalities involved. But my point is, not everyone who is excited about the possibility of a SYRIZA victory on Sunday is being swept up in a short-term media hype; those of us who don’t rely exclusively on the mainstream media already have a pool of knowledge about the Greek left to draw upon.

Secondly, while all the economic problems that you predict on the morrow of a SYRIZA win are very real, they would be every bit as real in the event of a successful mass insurrection that by-passed the parliamentary system; in fact, they would be posed even more sharply in that case. I agree that SYRIZA will probably have to make a choice very soon between bowing to the Troika or leaving the euro altogether. I think it is wiser, however, for them to place the burden of that choice on the Troika; polls show the majority of Greeks want both an end to austerity and continued membership of the euro; tactically, it seems best to bring them along by showing that Merkel and the ECB are making it impossible to have both. My impression from afar is that Tsiparas and his comrades are playing a very good game tactically; we will have to see if they win the election whether their strategic thinking is equally good.

You draw a parallel with Kirchner, which is understandable, as everyone has been drawing economic parallels between Argentina and Greece. But I would see a closer analogy in Evo Morales and the MAS in Bolivia. Kirchner was not embedded in the social movements, whereas Morales had been a trade-union activist, and the initial backbone of his party came from the coca growers’ union; when he first won the presidency, it was against a backdrop of repeated mass mobilisations against the status quo, which would resemble the context if SYRIZA was to win on Sunday.

Now, Bolivia today remains a capitalist society, and I would certainly not want to overlook the failings and limitations of the MAS programme. There has been some interesting debate about these questions in English:

http://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/two-views-on-evo-morales-and-class-struggles-in-bolivia/

http://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/progress-in-bolivia-a-reply-to-jeff-webber/

http://www.alborada.net/fuentes-webber-book-review-bolivia

But I think that the victory of Morales and the MAS in a sense moved the struggle onto a new level; instead of confronting a reactionary government that was drifting towards authoritarian rule, the social movement now had to relate to a radical-reformist government that was carrying out significant changes that benefited the workers, campesinos and indigenous people of Bolivia. I don’t think the forces to the left of the Morales government have yet worked out the correct strategy for dealing with this situation. But I do think they are much better off than if someone like Sanchez de Lozado was in power (or most likely, at this stage, an army officer, with or without a civilian façade covering military rule).

The question is, what could the alternative be? You appear to be in favour of a Zapatista-style strategy:

‘It is no coincidence that the revolutionaries of Tahrir and Chiapas are publicly boycotting the upcoming Egyptian and Mexican elections. Earlier today, the EZLN simply stated: “I don’t vote; I organize from below.” Yesterday, we published a piece by our comrades in Cairo who write that “We refuse to recognize the choice of the ‘lesser of two evils’ when these evils masquerade in equal measure for the same regime. We believe there is another choice.”’

Now, in the Egyptian case, there are very sound reasons for the Tahrir radicals to boycott the election: it will be a choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and an old Mubarak crony; the constitution still hasn’t been written, so the powers of the president haven’t even been defined, and the military still retains its power. It would be absurd to suggest that the choice between SYRIZA and New Democracy is comparable to the choice between the Brotherhood and the ancien regime candidate.

In the Mexican case, though, the EZLN has a firm principled position of abstaining from elections, and from any strategy geared towards seizing power at a federal level. I can appreciate why so many people around the world admired the Zapatistas: there is much about them that I find attractive too. But nearly two decades after the insurgency in Chiapas began, we have to subject them to the same critical standards we would apply to Morales or Hugo Chavez. What have they achieved? How far have they gone towards transforming Chiapas, or Mexico as a whole? Not nearly far enough, I would say.

When I was in Mexico last year, I asked a guy I was talking to about politics what he thought of Marcos. Bear in mind, this was someone who was fiercely anti-Yanqui, hated the Mexican elite, raged about the inequality of wealth, considered Mexico to be a colony of the US—exactly the sort of person the EZLN would want as a sympathiser. Yet he was contemptuous of Marcos; he called him a clown; said that he and his friends had been very enthusiastic about the Zapatistas but they hadn’t done anything in years to threaten the establishment (he even suggested that Marcos had been paid off to keep things quiet, which I don’t believe for a moment, but it was interesting that somebody would even think that).

It’s all very well for the EZLN to say ‘we don’t vote, we organise from below’. Sure, they organise from below—but to what end? With what results? The Mexican ruling class is still secure in its power. The campesinos in Chiapas are still poor, still at the bottom rung of Mexican society (even if the communities where the EZLN is strong have gone through a very positive, empowering experience since 1994, which I don’t doubt). I just can’t see how the autonomist strategy of ‘changing the world without taking power’ will create the conditions for a revolution: you may not want to take power, but power will take you unless you confront it directly. Whereas in Bolivia there have been real changes, and the possibility is still there for more radical changes to come, if the social movements remain mobilised and don’t sit back waiting for Morales to act on their behalf.

I also disagree with your interpretation of May ’68 in France. In that case, it wasn’t elections per se that were the problem: it was the fact that the PCF allowed de Gaulle to remain in power and hold the elections from a position of strength, on his own terms. It was argued at the time by people like Lucio Magri and Daniel Singer that there was another option available: for the left-wing parties and the trade unions to demand de Gaulle’s resignation and the appointment of an emergency government that would supervise elections, and stiffen the general strike until he gave way (it would simply have been a case of paying de Gaulle back in his own coin: he took power in 1958 after a coup by the army and the Algerian settlers; it wasn’t until he was already president and a new political system had been drawn up that de Gaulle put himself before the voters to win approval). Going into elections as the winner of the general strike would have put the French Left in a commanding position and left the conservative bloc leaderless and in disarray.

I think somebody has already posted a link to Richard Seymour’s article on SYRIZA; I think his concluding paragraph on Sunday’s vote is spot-on:

“Relatively speaking, the crisis of a Syriza government would be a benevolent crisis. This is Syriza’s challenge: the good crisis, or the bad crisis? The first radical left government in Europe for a generation, in a situation more serious than any radical movement has faced since the Carnation Revolution, the further exacerbation of divisions in the European bourgeoisie, a step forward for the Greek and all European workers’ movements, and possibly a new and uncertain terrain? Or, terra firma, in permanent opposition and division, with our weaknesses and hesitancy constantly making up for those of the bourgeoisie?”

Of course, if SYRIZA were to win, take office and refuse to abandon its programme, that would raise a whole new set of questions, about the difficulties radicals face when they are nominally put in charge of a state which remains part of the system they are trying to dismantle. The danger of a Chilean outcome would be very real, if the Greek Left did not handle the situation correctly. Ralph Miliband’s article a few weeks after the coup against Allende is still worth reading (certainly you’ll learn more from it than from a hundred speeches by his two sons):

“Allende believed in conciliation because he feared the result of a confrontation. But because he believed that the Left was bound to be defeated in any such confrontation, he had to pursue with ever-greater desperation his policy of conciliation; but the more he pursued that policy, the greater grew the assurance and boldness of his opponents. Moreover, and crucially, a policy of conciliation of the regime’s opponents held the grave risk of discouraging and demobilizing its supporters. “Conciliation” signifies a tendency, an impulse, a direction, and it finds practical expression on many terrains, whether intended or not. Thus, in October 1972, the Government had got the National Assembly to enact a “law on the control of arms” which gave to the military wide powers to make searches for arms caches. In practice, and given the army’s bias and inclinations, this soon turned into an excuse for military raids on factories known as left-wing strongholds, for the clear purpose of intimidating and demoralizing left-wing activists– all quite “legal”, or at least “legal” enough.

“The really extraordinary thing about this experience is that the policy of “conciliation”, so steadfastly and disastrously pursued, did not cause greater and earlier demoralization on the Left. Even as late as the end of June 1973, when the abortive military coup was launched, popular willingness to mobilize against would-be putschists was by all accounts higher than at any time since Allende’s assumption of the presidency. This was probably the last moment at which a change of course might have been possible – and it was also, in a sense, the moment of truth for the regime: a choice then had to be made. A choice was made, namely that the President would continue to try to conciliate; and he did go on to make concession after concession to the military’s demands.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/miliband/1973/10/chile.htm

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ego June 16, 2012 at 06:48

Very interesting reading although nothing new. You would be entirely correct in your linear thought if the world was linear and the unpredictable conomy worked the same in recessions as in booms. But it doesn’t. So it is very difficult to predict what will happen in the coming weeks as uncertainty is very high and decisions will be made on the spot. Scenarios will change dramatically if I would predict one thing.

Enjoy the ride

ego

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Stavros Hadjiyiannis June 16, 2012 at 11:52

In my view, Tsipras’ gamble, is that he is banking on two assumptions. One, that the major European powers will not take the risk of ejecting Greece from the Eurozone in fear of panicky markets and ripple effects from a fully blown Greek default. The second, is that the European populace will in the next few months or years turn against austerity measures, and that even governments will fall in Europe due to the spreading pain of the persistent recession.

On the other hand, from the point of view of capitalism, I think that the best option may actually be to bite the bullet, and throw Greece out of the Eurozone, withdraw all lending and then place all the little obstacles in order to impoverish the country to an extreme degree. This may serve to act as potent warning to all those who wish to go against neo-liberal rule. The serious risk here, is that this policy may have unintended consequences for the rest of the European economy and spread panic, plunging stock markets and rising yields across the Eurozone. We are really entering uncharted territory here.

Also, a point that I would like to make regarding the above article, is that the radical element of the SYRIZA proposition, is not in its being any kind of revolutionary Marxist/Communist suggestion, but exactly that it is in a way rationally faithful to the capitalist post-war model, more or less. The novelty with the current state of global capitalism, is exactly that it has a hard time being rational regarding its own interests. It is the capitalists themselves that fear rational capitalist policies. Neo-liberal dogma has been so thoroughly embedded in the past few decades, that even a relatively modest change in rhetoric and policies can cause hysteria among the capitalist elites.

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