Greece's Anticapitalist Turn

Δημοσιεύτηκε στην Wall Street Journal, 21/1/2013. 

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece's Syriza party—the Alliance of the Radical Left—is currently visiting the United States. It will be an interesting experience for both sides.  Syriza is a political party committed to overthrowing capitalism. It says so in its most recent policy document, a declaration approved last month by a congress of 3,000 party delegates. This declaration invites the Greek people to fight against an immensely powerful enemy, "globalized large capital," which supposedly drives peoples to total destitution both in Europe and the developing world.

 "Capital" is also seeking to destroy the welfare state, drag labor rights back to the 19th century, bring wages to third-world levels and maximize unemployment.

But why are the peoples of Europe not resisting the appalling march of capital? They would be, except parliamentary institutions are a sham, not real democracy, per Syriza's declaration. So the party is promising a "radical transformation of society" toward socialism. It clearly and unequivocally rejects any attempt at improving capitalism with what it calls "cosmetic changes."

Syriza vows that its view of socialism is not "the replication of other models, which sought to rely on the same ideas, but misinterpreted them, failed to remain faithful to them and finally, for many complex reasons, self-destructed." Syriza hopes to succeed where other socialist experiments failed. The declaration says that "we ought . . . to learn as much as we can and as fully as we can from this great venture and this great historical experience, with its novel achievements and its transforming failures."

This account of mass murder and mass imprisonment as a "great venture" or a "great historical experience" is shocking, but it shouldn't be. Mr. Tsipras joined the hard-line Greek Communist party in 1989, as the rest of the world was discovering the secrets of the East German police. Mr. Tsipras moved to Syriza a few years later. He is surrounded by like-minded stalwarts.

 
Syriza came from nowhere to win second place in the Greek elections of May and June 2012. Its message of anti-establishment resistance found sympathetic ears both at home and abroad. Alone among almost all European politicians, Mr. Tsipras argued that Greece did not need another EU-IMF bailout. He wanted Greece to withdraw from the bailout program, reverse the austerity measures and nationalize banks and large businesses. He also argued that Greece could secure a bigger bailout if it threatened to destroy the euro zone.

It was a hopeless plan. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders had gone along with Syriza's tactics, they would have invited other indebted states in the euro zone to make similar demands, which ultimately the euro zone can not pay for. Fortunately, last June, the Greek people voted to stay in the EU-IMF bailout program, thereby averting a catastrophic default and Greek exit from the euro zone.

But what explains the rise of this once-marginal anti-capitalist alliance of Communists and former Communists? Syriza's plan was indeed irresponsible, but was supported by an excellent argument, which explains the party's popularity. Syriza correctly connected the Greek crisis to the injustice and inept design of the world's financial system.

It is intolerable that ordinary Greek (or Irish, or Portuguese, or Spanish) people should alone shoulder the burden of all the errors committed by their own leaders, the managers of incompetent commercial banks, the various regulators and the early designers of the euro. The flaws in the design of the monetary union have vastly magnified the consequences of Greece's own mistakes. So the plan to seek more help from the EU was not just a threat. It was also an attempt to correct the injustice of saving the bosses and punishing the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, Syriza is not pursuing this line of thinking any longer, for implicit in such an argument was the endorsement of a market economy. Syriza has now turned away from offering a serious analysis of the debt crisis or indeed contributing to a European debate. It is committed instead to class war, socialist revolution and crushing "capital." Its rise and current positions are a missed opportunity, both for Greece and the West.

For all his appearance of control, Mr. Tsipras is a weak leader. He tells his audiences whatever they long to hear. Abroad, he speaks in favor of Europe, but at home he advocates ultra-nationalist protectionism. He promises to work with business, while he condemns capitalism and the very idea of profit. He rails against tax evasion but seeks to prevent audits of small businesses.

Europe desperately needs voices that will highlight the world's injustices. But it is a grave error to respond to these injustices by speaking a language of hatred or class warfare that dismisses parliamentary democracy and weakens commitment to rule of law.

Recent polls show that Greece is not turning to communism or to extreme nationalism. But a significant part of the electorate is attracted by these moribund ideas, which shows how far some have lost their way. Greek public debate is still choked by hatred and despair. However insignificant it may be in the long run, Syriza's defense of totalitarianism is another sign of the confusion and misery that the Greek people are going through.

Mr. Eleftheriadis is a fellow in Law at Mansfield College, Oxford.

 

 

Φωτογραφία: 

English: Bust to Vladimir Lenin in Minsk. Inscription: You fulfilled the great honor with arms in hand, to defend the saints ideas. VI. Lenin
Русский: Бюст Владимира Ленина в Минске. Надпись: Вам выпола великая честь с оружием в руках, защищать святые идеи. В.И. Ленин
Date 7 June 2011
   
Author R&HGG