Why SYRIZA will be more powerful without power

by Jerome Roos on June 18, 2012

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The pro-bailout right may have won the Greek elections, but as a powerful opposition force, the Left may yet be more subversive than in government.

The nightmare continues. Greece and the world will wake up tomorrow to headlines proclaiming yet another Pyrrhic victory for the Monsters. In the end, the sustained blackmail campaign of the neoliberal prophets of doom proved more effective than Tsipras’ radical message of hope. With the pro-bailout Nea Dimokratia edging in a narrow victory over the anti-bailout Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the disastrous EU/IMF-imposed austerity memorandum appears to have survived yet another major popular challenge.

Yet while I wholeheartedly sympathize with those who mourn SYRIZA’s defeat — including some of my (anarchist!) friends in Athens — I can’t help but feel that these results might actually be the best outcome for both Greece and the Left. Not because we somehow fear taking power, as Žižek falsely argued, but first and foremost because, in the context of a collapsing state, this power would have been illusory to begin with — and secondly, and most importantly, because this illusory power would have been the surest way to disarming the Left.

It is no coincidence that stern rumors have been doing the rounds in Greece over the past weeks that many in SYRIZA, including its leader, Alexis Tsipras, actually preferred for Nea Dimokratia to win and form a new government. As Krugman put it in rather simplistic and unflattering terms, “there’s a meme in Greece to the effect that Syriza didn’t really want to win, because it would rather see the current government flail some more.” The Guardian cites analysts saying that Tsipras “was exactly where he wanted to be: ‘a close second’.”

In opposition, controlling anti-austerity protests and pressure on the street, there is widespread consensus that the radical leftists are bound to pick up support. A weak government mandated to pass yet more unpopular austerity measures could ultimately collapse. Many do not exclude fresh elections by the end of the year.

“There is widespread suspicion that to come a close second was Syriza’s ultimate aim,” said Dimitris Keridis, a professor of political science at Athens’ Panteion University. “As a very strong and powerful opposition it will be able to bide time until new elections, when it could easily win an absolute majority. Tsipras is up and coming and he will use the time to mature.”

Had Syriza come first, it would have come under pressure to dilute its vehement anti-austerity rhetoric. “The only way to disarm it of its populism is to have it in power,” said Keridis.

There was a terrible lot of almost naïve enthusiasm about SYRIZA’s expected victory: just look at Costas Douzinas’ statement that “this is how revolutions occur”. Those who put their hopes on a SYRIZA win may be disappointed now, but might yet be vindicated a few months down the line as a shaky coalition of Nea Dimokratia, PASOK and the Democratic Left, despite having won marginal concessions from Angela Merkel, battles to extricate itself from a collapsing financial sector, a rapidly shrinking economy and an imploding state.

Whatever superficial pledges Samaras and his neoliberal friends may pretend to make, the odds of a Greek exit from the euro are still just as real. As I pointed out elsewhere, having SYRIZA preside over such an exit could potentially have had disastrous consequences for the Left. A euro exit will inevitably be accompanied by severe popular unrest as the government is forced to impose capital controls and bank withdrawal limits. As during Argentina’s infamous ‘corralito‘ of 2001, banks will shut down and the state will be forced to protect them as depositors scramble to withdraw their savings.

But even in the absence of a euro exit, since Greece still runs a primary budget deficit (and since SYRIZA’s economic program only forsaw a 1 percent increase in tax revenues by 2013), a SYRIZA-led government would ironically have had to preside over a deepening rather than an overthrow of austerity measures. Locked out of foreign capital markets as a result of prohibitively high borrowing costs, this means SYRIZA would either have had to magically convince the EU and IMF to continue disbursing loans despite the government’s refusal to implement their conditionality — or it would have had to cut back even further.

In the process, SYRIZA’s legitimate claim to change and its genuine intention to radically transform Greek society would have been stalled in their tracks. Taking power now, far from strengthening the cause of the Left in Greece and Europe, would have fundamentally undermined it from within. There are, of course, wider questions over whether or not taking power is a desirable revolutionary strategy to begin with — a theoretical question raised by John Holloway in his famous book, Change the World Without Taking Power, to which we can return later. For now, suffice it to say that SYRIZA, even though it suffered an electoral defeat today, might actually emerge even stronger.

The one-eyed Samaras may well find himself standing on his last legs as he and his party stumble headlong into the abyss of their own self-destruction. While the Monsters have survived yet another onslaught of popular resistance, this time through the ballot box, the scenario hasn’t changed much. The revolution, in the end, will still be made in the streets, squares and workplaces — not in government ministries. And with SYRIZA as the country’s most powerful opposition force, the institutional Left will still be able to credibly align itself with the movements when the streets explode in outrage once more.

The nightmare may continue — but so will the struggle. “We will be vindicated,” Tsipras correctly exclaimed after conceding defeat to Samaras in a phonecall. “The future does not belong to those who terrorise, but to those who hope.”

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Corrrado June 18, 2012 at 02:03

Fine article.I think he is right.We can still win,and better.

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Stacco June 18, 2012 at 02:29

Very interesting perspective, must admit I was somewhat dismayed by the election results, but your article has made me consider the outcome in a more positive light. So thanks!

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Maria June 18, 2012 at 10:15

I think you are quite right. For Syriza, taking control of a bankrupt Greece at his point, with all his neoliberal eurean enemies working against him, would be almost a lost task. Those circumstances wouldn’t the best way for the left to form, finally, government in Europe.

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 05:28

Sorry, but…Who cares about the Left? Tsipras knew that he would win, not because everybody suddenly became left or liked Syriza. But because he would be forced by the will of the people to implement some justice and provide some simple, logical rule! (His words) We were trying to get him there, to clear out the monsters. Not to promote the Left. Or save the euro. And he knows. As he knows now, that people think he’s doing shit opposition and that the people expect him to use this time to mature fast! He needs to dazzle us, now and he doesn’t…
He is now forced to actually form ideas and get a plan and have positions and have an internal agreement on those positions. During the election campaign they were changing their goals, every day. It was charmingly chaotic, they had an excuse since it was all new..
But now… Now they are replacing a monster, they need to show strength, consistency and intelligence FAST or they are gonna flank. Greeks are done with voting for the lesser evil. Either we do it right or rather go to hell. Finally

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Bandito Burrito June 18, 2012 at 11:39

What about the prospects for a military coup? There’ve been allegations from the defense minister that the army is “watching in silence”, but is “prepared to intercede in a defeaning roar, if called to action”. Is there a darker, maligned force lurking in the shadows of popular protest and struggle? Greece has had a terribly tragic history, and its people know pain and suffering like no other, but one expects in the least there will be a long road ahead for the march of progress to be able to hang its banner anywhere soundly, away from harm and interference from the forces of “New Europe” (in Bushspeak): the debt collectors, loan sharks and zombie bankers on the one hand, and the old cabal of fascist militards and their political stooges (many planted in power by the American-backed coup in 1967.

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stelios June 19, 2012 at 09:32

Please don’t be funny.

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 05:38

Well, Bandito, since we ARE the army (brothers, cousins, boyfriends), there’s no fear. Last year,before the June clashes, super traitor (PM the 3rd) actually called the army, and the General ignored him and issued an announcement the next day saying, ” If I ever came out(with the army..) , I would do so to protect the people, from you,so stop bugging me.”
Now, he has been replaced 5 times already, could be 15. Monsters randomly change all heads of army every know and then, just to make sure…
All I can say with certainty is this:
If they had come out in the June clashes, people would have been clapping..

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Chris Cook June 18, 2012 at 15:26

Good article, and exactly my reaction.

SYRIZA are well off not being in power at this point.

The next few months will see some major trauma in the markets which will necessitate everyone revisiting their policies, and indeed the assumptions whih underpin them.

The Left are as much in need of a fundamental reappraisal of their ideology as the Right whose policies are about to be discredited, in Greece, once and for all.

Because, there is such a think as Solidarity among sovereign individuals, but it is not the State: at least not the State as we know it.

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Alex June 18, 2012 at 17:09

My comments are in between dashes (————–)

The nightmare continues. Greece and the world will wake up tomorrow to headlines proclaiming yet another Pyrrhic victory for the Monsters. In the end, the sustained blackmail campaign of the neoliberal prophets of doom proved more effective than Tsipras’ radical message of hope. With the pro-bailout Nea Dimokratia edging in a narrow victory over the anti-bailout Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the disastrous EU/IMF-imposed austerity memorandum appears to have survived yet another major popular challenge.

Yet while I wholeheartedly sympathize with those who mourn SYRIZA’s defeat — including some of my (anarchist!) friends in Athens — I can’t help but feel that these results might actually be the best outcome for both Greece and the Left. Not because we somehow fear taking power, as Žižek falsely argued, but first and foremost because, in the context of a collapsing state, this power would have been illusory to begin with — and secondly, and most importantly, because this illusory power would have been the surest way to disarming the Left.

————————————-
Well it seems that the author neglects that the major percentage of SYRIZA’s voters are not any hard core leftists. In average SYRIZA would get 3-7% in every elections. Now it got 27%. Since KKE (The Communist Party of Greece) went from 8% to 4%, we can safely assume that this 4% went to SYRIZA. The rest extra percentage (~20%) of SYRIZA came from PASOK and other parties where the “left”-iness” is not their major factor. Moreover people knew that SYRIZA had to give a great battle against all odds. It was their only choice and this is why the voted it. So it is not that they would be disappointed in case of a failure, even more that they would condemn the whole Left.
————————————————

It is no coincidence that stern rumors have been doing the rounds in Greece over the past weeks that many in SYRIZA, including its leader, Alexis Tsipras, actually preferred for Nea Dimokratia to win and form a new government. As Krugmanput it in rather simplistic and unflattering terms, “there’s a meme in Greece to the effect that Syriza didn’t really want to win, because it would rather see the current government flail some more.” The Guardian cites analysts saying that Tsipras “was exactly where he wanted to be: ‘a close second’.”

In opposition, controlling anti-austerity protests and pressure on the street, there is widespread consensus that the radical leftists are bound to pick up support. A weak government mandated to pass yet more unpopular austerity measures could ultimately collapse. Many do not exclude fresh elections by the end of the year.

“There is widespread suspicion that to come a close second was Syriza’s ultimate aim,” said Dimitris Keridis, a professor of political science at Athens’ Panteion University. “As a very strong and powerful opposition it will be able to bide time until new elections, when it could easily win an absolute majority. Tsipras is up and coming and he will use the time to mature.”

Had Syriza come first, it would have come under pressure to dilute its vehement anti-austerity rhetoric. “The only way to disarm it of its populism is to have it in power,” said Keridis.

There was a terrible lot of almost naïve enthusiasm about SYRIZA’s expected victory: just look at Costas Douzinas’ statement that “this is how revolutions occur”. Those who put their hopes on a SYRIZA win may be disappointed now, but might yet be vindicated a few months down the line as a shaky coalition of Nea Dimokratia, PASOK and the Democratic Left, despite having won marginal concessions from Angela Merkel, battles to extricate itself from a collapsing financial sector, a rapidly shrinking economy and an imploding state.

—————————-
Again, I don’t think that the author understands the necessity of a left party in power now. We don’t have time for leftist manouvrisms. “A few months down the line” might mean thousands of more jobs lost, tens of people suicide, and hundreds dead from essential shortages in the hospitals.
—————————

Whatever superficial pledges Samaras and his neoliberal friends may pretend to make, the odds of a Greek exit from the euro are still just as real. As I pointed outelsewhere, having SYRIZA preside over such an exit could potentially have had disastrous consequences for the Left. A euro exit will inevitably be accompanied by severe popular unrest as the government is forced to impose capital controls and bank withdrawal limits. As during Argentina’s infamous ‘corralito‘ of 2001, banks will shut down and the state will be forced to protect them as depositors scramble to withdraw their savings.

——————————-
Their what? Savings? People who had some sort of savings have already moved that abroad (or turned it into gold!). The whole banking system in Greece is trying to survive with running expenses accounts not savings. Who is having savings surplus in Greece and if he has why should he keep it in a Greek bank??

Literally, the only thing they have to loose is their chains
——————————-

But even in the absence of a euro exit, since Greece still runs a primary budget deficit (and since SYRIZA’s economic program only forsaw a 1 percent increase in tax revenues by 2013), a SYRIZA-led government would ironically have had to preside over a deepening rather than an overthrow of austerity measures.

————————–
The author implies that there is a connection between the austerity measures and the economic program of the parties while the experience has shown that the most extreme budget cuts not only did not result in more mild measures but they brought recession and more harsh austerity measures. It is obvious that there cannot be any sense of sustainable economy with so hard measures and this is why we need SYRIZA in power. To fight the austerity rather than to apply any “favorable for the people tax policy”.
————————-

Locked out of foreign capital markets as a result of prohibitively high borrowing costs, this means SYRIZA would either have had to magically convince the EU and IMF to continue disbursing loans despite the government’s refusal to implement their conditionality — or it would have had to cut back even further.

——————–
This peace of text could belong to the German Financial Times and I am amazed to read it in a leftist website.

This is exactly the terrorism that was forced to the greeks in this elections: Don’t vote for SYRIZA because it will not be able to do these two things: (1) “refuse to follow austerity measures” and (2) borrow from foreign capital markets in order to be able to pay for pensions and public expenses. This is why greeks should have voted for SYRIZA! To revert the terrorism: We will not apply austerity measure and let both Greek and EU face the consequences. For sure would be devastating for Greeks, but not as harsh as the endless austerity measures.
——————–

In the process, SYRIZA’s legitimate claim to change and its genuine intention to radically transform Greek society would have been stalled in their tracks. Taking power now, far from strengthening the cause of the Left in Greece and Europe, would have fundamentally undermined it from within. There are, of course, wider questions over whether or not taking power is a desirable revolutionary strategy to begin with — a theoretical question raised by John Holloway in his famous book, Change the World Without Taking Power, to which we can return later. For now, suffice it to say that SYRIZA, even though it suffered an electoral defeat today, might actually emerge even stronger.

The one-eyed Samaras may well find himself standing on his last legs as he and his party stumble headlong into the abyss of their own self-destruction. While the Monsters have survived yet another onslaught of popular resistance, this time through the ballot box, the scenario hasn’t changed much. The revolution, in the end, will still be made in the streets, squares and workplaces — not in government ministries.

—————————-
In the contrary, this time, through the ballot box the scenario has changed a lot. People realized that forming an anti-austerity government is practically possible. SYRIZA’s defeat was caused by minor practical details (and SYRIZA’s errors of course). This realization will radicalize and strengthen the people more because they know now that there is viable alternative scenario.

There is a very popular “neo-leftist” belief that in the ministries or through elections, we cannot have real revolutionary changes. This belief alienates people from the processes that are happening there, and drive the no-participation percentages of the elections even higher.
—————————–

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clio June 18, 2012 at 17:33

Agreed Alex. We mourn also the defeat of Syriza.

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Mitchell Blanco June 18, 2012 at 18:37

I give up!!! The Greek people are stupid! I thought they had a brain. Now they deserve what Germany and the European Union will do to the Greeks and the Greek lands. The Greeks will now become Germany’s bitches.

They should have all voted OUT of the Euro! They should have done the same thing as Iceland did to the Euro. Now look at Iceland!!! Even the UK wants to buy geothermal electricity from Iceland and they are already making progress to put the cables under the water for the UK. That all means that Iceland is doing a strong comeback WITHOUT the EU.

Greece will turn into another third world country with slave labor in no time!

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Jerome Roos June 18, 2012 at 18:44

Iceland was never in the euro, nor the EU. Also, when counted by popular vote, the majority of Greeks actually opposes the EU bailout. The Greeks are not stupid. The system is smart.

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stelios June 19, 2012 at 10:02

Can you please try to be more civilized and careful with your comments?
Some of the readers may be offended.
Also could you identify yourself and I would be very pleased to inform you when and where you, your family and your compatriots have been stupid and who’s bitch you had been. Greeks through the centuries suffered a lot  but they always came back. Thanks to Greeks and their heroism Germany lost time and attacked Russia later than intended, so now you are free and can send your stupid comments. Please leave them alone, they don’t need you, your compassion, your worries and your dirty mouth.

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Maria S. June 19, 2012 at 03:38

Thanks for helping me (a grumpy pessimist) look on the bright side! I believe you are correct.

I had read an article in Counterpunch that said that Germany and others were hoping for a SYRIZA victory in order to provide an excuse to kick Greece out of the euro. If that is true, I am sure Germany and the others will have no trouble coming up with a new excuse to kick Greece out now that SYRIZA did not win, like that Samaras did not bow deeply enough.

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Michael Kenny June 19, 2012 at 17:35

From long years of reading Counterpunch and similar American sites, I would be very waring of lending too much credence to what appears there. Greece is generating a boom in Germany. Why on earth would they want Greece out of the euro? The only country that would benefit from Greece leaving the euro is Britain. If Britain had already adopted the euro, it would be enjoying the same boom as Germany, but the low value of the euro is a disaster inasmuch as it makes eurozone goods cheap in Britain and British goods dear in the eurozone, Britain’s principal market, and on world markets.Unless the value of the euro can be raised (i.e. by a Greek exit) Britain will have to adopt the euro. That’s what has the American internet all in a tizzy.

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Michael Kenny June 19, 2012 at 17:29

Amusing sour grapes: “we didn’t really want to win anyway”! And, needless to say, the euro is still going to collapse! As for Syriza, I have always believed that they wanted to come a good second, which indeed they have done, essentially, because they are shrewd politicians. Only irrelevant extremists want to strut up and down thumping their chests. For Syriza, the name of the game is to take Pasok’s place as the principal party left of the centre in Greece. They now have a few years to consoildate their position before the next election and, by that time, the US economy will have gone under and the supposed “euro crisis” will have disappeared. Thus, Syriza has in fact “won” the election and the losers are the foreign manipulators (essentially Americans and their European satraps) who thought that Greeks were some sort of primitive and backward people who were so stupid that they could be manipulated into destroying the euro.

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Andrew Stergiou June 19, 2012 at 21:50

Hate your article its endless speculations of the reactionary, the unsure, the unknown, the ignorant, the half-thought, the half-said, the western bourgeois corporate influences of nihilism, the Narodnik folly of mental exercises in futile metaphysics of travesty that at once on one hand celebrates the French electoral political events and and the Greek electoral failures.

This logic that I piss on is the logic that Noam Chomsky well explained in the film The Manufacture of consent where western bourgeois corporate America elements blare out the travesties of Pol Pot because it suits them while in the self same like circumstances in East Timor they hush up events as western inspired.

I have one response to everything that can be considered what is part of the lawful establishment and often includes the opposition that it burn in hell and die along with all those who intentionally or unintentionally support it.

So fuck you who liked the article, as there is no reality in the thought of winning by losing, as if in saying you live in dying, succeed in failure, communicating in dumb muted tones of ignorance, building by destroying, what is the typical twisted anarcho trash which comes with the lack of responsibility of being in poower.

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Jerome Roos June 19, 2012 at 22:39

Very constructive reflections indeed, comrade.

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Andrew Stergiou June 20, 2012 at 06:39

I am unsure about being constructive in a world where language and thoughts are so often twisted, where the over whelming nature of rhetoric in answer is most often a one line answer to complex issues. Where I myself confess guilt in use of the figurative and the literal at once as they are irreconcilable paradoxes in thoughts and material existence, in individuality and collective society. Where bottom line is a form of capitalism that in an ongoing basis violates its own laws and principles from which one can observe that last but a moment in ion after ion of slavery, in what only means more slavery. Where what I have heard reminds one of some futile lesson Zen of one hand clapping, where in Tao we do by not doing, but is not said as such to be so. In Paraphrases of liberty and justices within which the cold dead bodies of the murdered victims can not rest. For there is a spectre haunting Europe of Metternick spies, German Princes, Turkish Sultans, and American involvement in foreign intrigue where by its involvement it sells its soul.

Where others blame the Prots the Catholics, Masons, the Jews, the Arabs, the whites, blacks and Chinese etc et al, in what some label in this instance the lazy Greeks. Where some object to others logic, emotions, and laziness but never mention their own.

In essence what the world argued in regard to the Euro the Greeks proved because without control of their own currency they have no control of their own country and economy, and are merely as all the victims who also do not control their own economies as did Iceland, which distinguished itself simply because it did control in some sense its currency while Greece does not.

Where intelligent economists state that they should repudiate the state debts of corrupt economies and crooked politicians who if they had integrity would not join the government which supports the blood letting for the benefit of the bankers of the G8 the troika and especially America as the whole of the economic crisis was caused by American corporate inspired neo-liberal conservatives, liberals, and libertarians.

Arrest the bankers under R.I.C.O.

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Danai Mermiga July 21, 2012 at 05:51
manit akis June 20, 2012 at 15:08

Pretty much a spot-on article. However, the system will have the time to adapt to the SYRIZA ‘threat’ and develop its counter-strategies (including 80/90′s Latin America tactics already unfolding e.g. well-funded Nazi thugs roaming around). Greek economy will be kept ‘alive’ for a while allowing for the utter carve-up of ANYTHING in the country which is profitable by corporations , for petty sums. Then, if SYRIZA takes over, they will have no country to run, no society to protect. We, Greeks lost an opportunity to take ‘them’ by storm, nevertheless, the odd-coalition of three parties is very, very vulnerable as the society cannot take any more austerity, and there is much more coming its way. Watch this space.

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Louis Proyect June 20, 2012 at 15:20

a theoretical question raised by John Holloway in his famous book, Change the World Without Taking Power, to which we can return later.

That explains everything, I’m afraid.

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