The political bestiary of capitalism: Syriza, parliamentary democracy, the welfare state, and other creatures too frightful to mention

The less than flattering history of social-democratic, socialist and communist governments is more than ample reason  to be skeptical about the election of a “left wing” Syriza led government in greece; and if not, at least to suggest cautious restraint in the celebration of its electoral victory.  It is thus with some surprise to see so many (the surprise that motivates this reflection), not only celebrate, but proclaim the beginning of a new era!  France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon can find no more modest words to describe the election than as a “historical moment”, an occasion to “re-found” europe”.  And even less obviously social democratic voices can still speak of the election as a call for a “pan-european change.” (Roarmag 26/01/2015).  Words almost fail …

There is nothing in the Syriza program that promises anything more than a warmed over, perhaps leaner, perhaps kinder, welfare state: a state that is inevitably a hierarchical model for the political government of the economy that is presumably more responsive to the “needs” of a population, but which historically has done very little to restrain the overall expansion of global capitalism (indeed, it can be argued that it was terribly useful for that expansion, at a certain moment in its history), that has never been anything more than a privileged political form (most of the world’s peoples never really got a taste of the animal), and in fact, could never be anything else, given its promise to “humanise” economic expansion, rather than question it, that before contemporary forms of finance-debt capital, seems condemned to fatal compromises, that remains prisoner to a nationalist sentiment that can only violate any true or relevant “internationalism” (how is one supposed to read Syriza’s coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks party?), that dependent as it is on the ideal of growth, it is fatally negligent ecologically of “needs” beyond human social needs.

The recognition that Capital informs all human relations renders the old leftist distinction, “reform” or “revolution” irrelevant.  And it is not as reformist that we criticise Syriza.  Nor do we fail to recognise that such an election may bring a modest improvement in lives of disappearing middle class, and that it also may bring with it unpredictable political possibilities that may escape any government’s control.  What is rather at stake here is the fundamental question of what Syriza, or any other similar type of organisation (much will now undoubtedly be said of spain’s Podemos), has to do with the creation of autonomous, self-governing human communities constituted in and through ways of life that reject the oppression of State-Capital and Labour.  And the answer is nothing.  But the relative success of Syriza, and possibly Podemos, is now mobilised to  criticise and condemn what has recently been called “horizontal” political forms, or what formally was once referred to as anarchism, libertarianism, or self-management.  As Antonio Negri recently expressed the matter, after “2011 horizontality must be criticized and overcome, clearly and unambiguously” and that the “situation is probably ripe enough to attempt once again that most political of passages: the seizure of power.” (Roarmag 18/01/2015).  And the rise of Syriza may serve to confirm the judgement, as social protest and activism wane before the prospect of a liberator.  But perhaps to respond over succinctly, it is never we who seize power, but rather power which seizes us.  Power, as the means of shaping the behaviour of others, is not a thing that belongs exclusively to anyone; it is quite literally everywhere and thus to contest it demands a plural politics of resistance and creation.  To conceive of power as a privilege of the State, which then calls for its taking to carry through social revolution, is to be blind both to the complexity of power and the dangers of State driven reform or revolution.  And to simply imagine that governments of contemporary “post-social democratic” and “post-communist”  leftist parties will remain receptive to participation from below, is to ignore that the State,  moulds as much as it responds; creates subjects as much as it enables citizens.

If older examples fail to convince, the more recent south american examples of “21st century” socialism are equally disappointing.  In the best of scenarios, the balance between social movements and governments is somehow precariously maintained.  In the worse cases though, the promised socialism is little more than “leftist” rentier statism.

Syriza, and those on the left who celebrate the occasion of the party’s election victory, remain seductively beholden to the Leviathan of a people united in a State and the monster of State sovereignty.  Revolution however begins with the destitution of the Leviathan, its fragmentation, and the release from the sovereign.  And should Syriza fail, which would seem inevitable since it is not even revolution that it seeks, what may triumph from its tragedy is the fascist party, Golden Dawn. 

In addition to our earlier comments on the greek election, we share below a series of short reflections posted on …

Syriza at the gates – Spyros Dapergolas

October 18, 1981 was a symbolic day for post-war Greece. Not even 7 years after the return of Greek leftists from the exile and the tortures following the fall of the military junta, a left party suddenly managed, after participating in three elections, to multiply its percentage and take power. Its political program terrified the right-wing forces of the Greek society (the winners of the Greek civil war) as well as parts of the over class. The program included the exit of Greece from the European Community, its disengagement from NATO and the US sphere of influence, a mass socialization of enterprises and social control in factories, a dissolution/disintegration of the military parastate, an attack on the orthodox, far-right cancer/church, freedoms that are self-evident today and so on. The PanHellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) was a real left-wing party that propagated for a peaceful (with guns at their disposal if needed) socialist transformation. It was a radical party even for the 1980s.

The parallels with SYRIZA are obvious.

What is SYRIZA?
SYRIZA starts as a peculiar gathering. It is the evolution of a detestably vulgar and reformist historical Euro-communist current, in which leftist groupings that cover the entire spectrum of Leninists heretics coexist with grassroots movements and other activists. SYRIZA, just like PASOK, “becomes everything out of nowhere”. But, compared to PASOK, SYRIZA transforms faster, its political program is not even close to PASOK’s radical ideas of the 1980s, and it consists of only some thousands members.

In 2008 Tsipras’ taking over of SYRIZA’s leadership- as the chosen one from the party’s former leader- signified the abandonment of Euro-communism and the creation of a new political identity. This new identity aimed to support social struggles and demands through a rhetoric that flirted with the libertarian tradition [translators note: as in anarchist, not libertarian], an obsession with political rights and a militant presence in the streets. After all, the leftist parties brought along their experiences in street struggles as well as a, certainly reduced, number of militant members that the aforementioned new political identity was necessary for some kind of unity to be established.

At the same time, Tsipras attempted to reinforce SYRIZA’s influence within the trade unions primarily in the public sector as well as among organized university students.

Additionally, SYRIZA, which did not exceed 4% of the voters back then, continuously called for the unity of the whole left spectrum in Greece, in both general and emotional terms, although that had been openly rejected by both the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other, that is to say outside SYRIZA, leftist forces.

Moreover, the 4% SYRIZA was the scapegoat for the whole far-right and fascist forces: SYRIZA’s pro-immigration positions, relative secular ideas, polemics against social discriminations and anti-nationalism were under constant and sometimes even hysterical attacks.

This old SYRIZA attracted a huge voting dynamic that SYRIZA’s political executives could never predict or plan. From an oppositional party that struggled to exceed the 3% barrier to enter the parliament, SYRIZA managed to overthrow the percentages of KKE and took the symbolic hegemony within the left, flirting with taking over power.

Some words about the political climate
Workers in Greece lived the end of the dream of prosperity and witnessed the lie behind the systemic promise made by both the EU and Greece. They found themselves either unemployed or with a lot lower wages, having to pay for their medicine, losing benefits.

For the elderly the situation is even worse since they not only lose their pensions but also experience a degraded healthcare system. Everything that constituted the “welfare state” shrank, became more expensive, and worse. The general corruption was divided. Within that framework the corruption that could be found among members of the social basis became an alibi for a mass cutback in social benefits. On the contrary, when it came to bourgeois or state corruption the members of the over class remained untouched.
The two former major parliamentary parties (PASOK and New Democracy) have been severely devaluated. Since they can no longer “buy” votes through simple “exchanges” (such as hiring people in the public sector, tax reductions and so on) and, at the same time, attempt to take back as much as they have given away through their political clientelism, they are but shadows of their past.

The right-wing New Democracy (ND) managed to survive because it was lucky enough to pass the bomb of the economic breakdown to the PASOK government back in 2009. ND has been in government since 2012 gathering a heterogeneous dynamic of far-right, conservative, liberals, bourgeois, oligarchs, political professionals, scared petit-bourgeois and elderly voters who reckon that they have few years of life in order to jeopardize their pensions and peace with a leftist government. Even so, it only gathers half of its previous parliamentary strength at this moment.

The other pole of the two-party system and member of the governmental coalition, PASOK, shrank to 4%, facing the risk of not even entering the next parliament especially after its disintegration a couple of weeks ago [translators note: Papandreou, the former prime minister and leader of Pasok, started a new party]
The two parties that will benefit from those voters that have decided to no longer vote for ND and PASOK are the fascists of Golden Dawn and SYRIZA. In a few days, on January 25, these dynamics will be depicted in the election results.

The narrative of realpolitik that every radical force creates every time it confronts power has been told many times before. SYRIZA is not there yet. SYRIZA’s current realpolitik is to please everyone. It propagates its dedication to democratic institutions at the same time as it promotes its relations to grass-roots movements. It is unreserved in supporting the scenario that Greece remains in the EU, only if the latter becomes an EU of equality, fraternity and justice. SYRIZA praises grass-roots struggles, but wants to see their dynamics reflected in voters’ numbers. It condemns violence and ruptures with the legal system during different kind of struggles, but does it with kid gloves. It condemns imperialism and all kinds of interventions, while remains silent about Greece’s position within NATO. It flirts with Russia, China and the US… It spreads rumours that it has made agreements with parts of the over class. At the same time, it supports anarchist squats, when they face repression, and hunger-strikers.

SYRIZA’s main concern is to keep everyone satisfied. How could it do otherwise, anyway, since it’s only interested in winning the elections?

We need to keep one thing in mind: when we talk about SYRIZA we refer to a political force whose election and social dynamics are mismatched. Whoever, either in Greece or in Europe, believes that SYRIZA is going to introduce important socialist changes, is flogging a dead horse.

The necessary conditions that would allow for radicalisms simply don’t exist: trade-unionism within the private sector is an unimportant movement controlled by the Stalinists of KKE (the Greek Communist Party). The student movement is loud and decisive but rather small, seasonal and linked to leftism. There are a few local struggles but SYRIZA is seriously challenged there by anarchists and the revolutionary left. Even in the cases of social rights, solidarity with prisoners and anti-fascism, SYRIZA desperately attempts to share a bit of the publicity and the political capital produced by anarchists in the streets.

The Greek society, the workers, the social basis, went through 5 tough years during which they tried out all the means of struggle that correspond to previous concepts of social conflicts and ways of fighting. And it was a total failure. With few exceptions that remain active (and these will hardly support SYRIZA in the elections), workers are isolated in their houses. Many of them waiting for SYRIZA with a faint hope.

Is it possible, in such a globalized environment, major ruptures to be put forth without a general social/class support? Are changes for the masses without the masses possible? No, it is not, and those who are active within SYRIZA know it very well.

No doubt, there are honest executives in the party (and for the Greek systemic customs this is rare). There are in SYRIZA experienced leftist militants that have never sold themselves to PASOK, even though they could, radicals from neighborhoods and working environments, good-willed activists. These people fight and will fight within the party for the eternal left illusion, a free socialist state-guardian of the working-class.

For sure, it is amusing to watch a surprising disgust on the faces of far-rights for the forthcoming “victory of the national-nihilist Bolsheviks”. It is positive that more people oppose the repressive agenda of fascism.
All this, however, is temporary.

A part of PASOK’s previous “senior” members has already moved to SYRIZA and, along with the remaining of the Euro-communism tendency, gains power within the party, since the closer this gets to authority/power the less space it allows for the “crazy leftists”. Indicative of this tendency is the fact that they backslide on their determination concerning the impending conflict with Germany and the EU about the Greek debt and the austerity measures.

Additionally, we need to take into consideration that SYRIZA will have to govern in a state where the bureaucratic mechanism consists of former members of PASOK, and the repressive mechanism, that is to say, the deep state (army, police, and justice system) consists of right-wing and fascists. If we take for granted that SYRIZA will not attempt to establish a junta, how will it control the state if not through exchanges and negotiations with these actors?

The old radical SYRIZA of the 4% still dreams of overthrows. They wanted, but they could not!

Compromise is the only option left for SYRIZA. It is the only end that the governmental way can have for a left party that does not aspire to rise to power by means of violence, let alone a party that does not even have organized masses of loyal voters.

The governmental SYRIZA of the 30% dreams of surviving in power. Not only they cannot, but, what is worse, they do not even aspire overthrows any longer.

What is going to happen after the elections?
The first two years after 1981, PASOK that consisted of at least 400.000 fanatic members who promoted the party line, realized some parts of its program. They raised wages, established union rights, and socialized (hypocritically and from top-down) a few enterprises that were up to shut down. After 5 years in power, PASOK focused only on massively hiring leftists, who had been banned for 40 years, in the public sector, and on canceling middle-age and civil war laws, regulations and bans. Next, it became social-democratic, and, then, liberal. PASOK dived into corruption and finally, some years ago, opened the door to EU’s economic supervision and imposed austerity on Greece.

There is a chance that this kind of party-political evolution will be repeated by SYRIZA, but a lot faster and not in such a large-scale.

A possible successful negotiation about the debt, an essential relief from austerity, and whatever positive Tsipras can guarantee to the Greek society, will be presented as a victory against the international loan sharks, will strengthen SYRIZA in power and demolish the old political personnel.

This old political personnel would be extremely amusing to observe now, if one didn’t have to endure them: they are scared, parasitical, corrupted, religiously obsessed and with civil-war complexes, an amazing combination of nationalists and quisling. If the contrast between the current government and SYRIZA is huge, it is because this government is repulsive.

Therefore, SYRIZA will win the elections despite the fact that they are obviously unclear. If SYRIZA succeeds with anything, even minor, this will, politically, last for long time. If it fails, that is to say, if Germany, from its ruling within the EU position, seeks to break with Greece, then the development of events will undoubtedly be totally unpredictable.

There is nothing that can indicate what the reaction of the Greek society will be in such a scenario. Not even if the society will turn towards an emancipatory or reactionary direction.

What should happen?
If the issue is a sound management of both the Greek debt crisis and the madness of austerity, then, yes, SYRIZA is a solution. That would be a progressively systemic and reassuring solution for the shrinking “middle class”, as well as for the petit bourgeois parts of the Greek society that have the illusion that all this is temporary.

For those who want more, for those who are interested in their class, for those that self-organization and participation is a demand, for the people of all kinds of struggle, SYRIZA constitutes an illusion. It is not SYRIZA’s fault that the exploited society is silent. And it is not SYRIZA’s fault if the new generation falls for parliamentarism and the bunkum of left governance.

It is a long way and it requires a lot of work on the grassroots level: the workers’ involvement with the commons through a new militant and horizontal syndicalism, through self-organization in neighborhoods and a radical political engagement in libertarian/anarchist ideas and practices.

Those few forces in Greece involved with class syndicalism, local social movements and the anarchist movement comprise a subversive political capital, which is small, but not so small.

Social change does not allow for indirect courses and the road of power is the ultimate dead-end. It may seem that there is time, but it might as well not be so: moments of crisis, moments when the ears of the workers are open, moments that demand taking risks appear not only through conscious preparation but, often, also “during the night, like thieves”. In any case, only if a social movement is dedicated to grassroots work, only if a social movement has created channels of communication and political fermentation, only if a social movement has assured its validity and has proved its consistency can become the spark to enable the masses to explode.

Everything else is a recipe for failure, disappointment, loss of time, and, of course, political and individual corruption, i.e. what power and state always create.

As before with PASOK, once again with SYRIZA…



The election results

The Greek election results have come in and it seems far-left party SYRIZA has won a significant victory on an anti-austerity platform.

The results of the snap elections are almost complete.

Results with 86% of vote counted:

SYRIZA: 36% 149MPs
New Democracy:27% 76MPs
Golden Dawn:6.3% 17MPs
Potami:6% 17MPs
KKE(Communist Party of Greece):5.4% 15MPs
Independent Greeks:4.7% 13MPs
PASOK:4.7% 13MPs



Seven parties appear to have won enough votes to get MPs into the 300 seat parliament with SYRIZA out in front as the clear winner. We need to await the full results to see whether SYRIZA has managed to win an absolute majority or if another coalition government is needed. Should a coalition be necessary, any government at some point in the future has to get 180MPs to elect a new president, the most likely candidate seems to be the nationalist right Independent Greeks. Despite nine of their current MPs being in jail, fascist Golden Dawn have managed to retain their third place.

The first thing to note about the election result is that Greece now has its fifth different PM in a little over five years. In that time governments have been from the centre-left, centre-right, technocratic unity, right-wing led coalition and now a government of the left. A number of parties have risen and then disappeared. It seems former coalition partners DIMAR(Democratic Left) will not enter parliament just as far-right LAOS lost out in 2012. Though these elections were billed as the most critical in the state’s recent history it is notable that the abstention rate is around 36%. Just as many people didn’t vote as voted for SYRIZA. Should SYRIZA fail to gain a majority it will be the second consecutive government to do so. These elections then are another sign of the polarization and fragmentation of parliamentary politics in Greece.

Many people are labelling SYRIZA’s win as historic. In the context of the history of the Greek state they are correct. For whatever happens next SYRIZA has broken the rule of the two previously dominant parties New Democracy(centre-right) and PASOK(centre-left). These two parties shared power between them for forty years. They took over when the military Junta fell in 1974 and have ruled since. This period, known as the metapolitifsi(change of regime), has perhaps now come to an end. It must be noted that many of the key and founding figures of New Democracy and PASOK were active politicians before the Junta took power in 1967. As such they represented a continuation of the post-civil war politics of the 1950s and 60s. Their downfall is rightly being celebrated.

It can also be said that SYRIZA is further to the left than any previous Greek government. In a state which has a long history of repression aimed against the left and radical movements this is not without significance. In the election campaign a number of government figures alluded to the civil war between the left and the right of the 1940s in order to try and play on these historical divisions. Whilst the Centre Union and PASOK election victories in 1965 and 1981 were hailed as the victory of the left neither started out from SYRIZA’s position.

The results are also significant for Europe. Aside from the obvious clash over debt and austerity that is to come, it is of significance that a long standing two party system appears to have broken. For perhaps one of the only times in Western European politics the political centre has crumbled. This may have implications for upcoming elections in Europe, notably Spain, where the political centre is weakening. Clearly these results are a huge vote against austerity and neoliberalism. Samaras, the leader of ND, was much loved by Europe’s rulers with his coalition being seen as the best party to represent the interests of the EU and the IMF in Greece. They have now been resoundingly beaten. If nothing else the results are a clear indication of anti-austerity feeling.

None of this means that we should get carried away with this election, it is after all just another election. Outside of left intellectual circles, SYRIZA generates relatively little enthusiasm and patience with them may be short lived. Clearly SYRIZA’s programme is to fix the Greek state and better manage the crisis. It is a role they have played well since their rise to prominence after the 2012 elections. Having become the main opposition during a time of increasing radical action they did their best to divert energy from the streets back into parliamentary politics. Their strategy of waiting and playing games in parliament meant two and a half years of standing around and waiting for a government to fall. After all that, much of the enthusiasm for SYRIZA which the media is reporting is overstated. More than catching people’s imagination, SYRIZA has won because it is at least a different group of people.

The danger is of course that a left government will attempt to recuperate the revolt on the streets and give a humanitarian covering to further austerity. This danger aside, the anarchist movement could benefit from the changed situation. A more sympathetic government may have implications for the newly created high security Type C prisons and the immigrant detention camps. The movement of occupations and squats which suffered a number of losses under the previous government may be able to get some ground back. The possibility of police reform may also change things on the ground. So perhaps a government of the left may provide a bit of breathing room for the movement.

SYRIZA’s honeymoon is likely to be short. Within the next few weeks a Greek government needs to carry on negotiations with the EU and IMF over the continuation, or not, of the bailout programme. Already they have toned down their radical rhetoric and aim instead to make a new deal with the EU. There is still a good chance that a major clash with the EU and IMF is on the way. SYRIZA’s ability to manage the crisis and store up the Greek state will be quickly tested.



Andrew Flood on the Greek Elections …

After the election of Syriza in Greece – power is not in parliament

Today, across Europe, the left is excited by the likelihood of Syriza topping the polls in the Greek election. Some on the left have gone so far as to suggest the election itself will mark the end of austerity policies, in the terminology of the Anglo left, an end to the idea that There Is No Alternative (TINA). Another indication that something of significance is happening is that ahead of the election a new wave of capital flight has started from Greece with an estimated 8 billion transferred out of the country over the last few weeks.

From an anarchist, non electoralist perspective we might hope that Syriza’s election represents the high water mark of the swing to electoralism that came out of the defeat of mass resistance to the imposition of the crisis. That won’t be today or tomorrow, it will take a period of weeks for Syriza to have been in power long enough to demonstrate that the problem with the old electoral left was not reducible to corrupt social democrats and lying politicians. Rather it is in the nature of the electoral system, a system that takes in young idealist transformers and spits out older, corrupt defenders of the status quo. A process we have seen recently in Ireland with both the previous Green Party and current Labour Party governments.

Both those governments came to power after the politicians who comprised them had been house trained. This is certainly not the case with Syriza, a party that like Podemos in the Spanish state are defined by their youthful idealism and determination to smash the mold of pragmatic politics and business as usual. But corruption and pragmatism are the symptoms of failure to win fundamental change and not the cause. Along with the belief that the change that was not possible now, will be possible in the future, if only power can be retained. The cost of relearning that lesson, so soon forgotten after Allende and Mitterrand may be paid in blood in Greece depending on how the conflict between Syrzia in power and the rest of the Greek state develops.

Why so glum?
But lets take a step back and explain our pessimistic outlook. First off the quick simple explanation. Power does not lie solely or even principally in parliament and never has. Rather the decisions that parliamentarians can make are tightly constrained by two forces. The first ‘soft’ force is the invisible hand of the market. Governments that make or even look likely to make decisions ‘the market’ won’t like will face huge amounts of funds leaving the country, a capital strike that removes the ability to pay for reforms. The second ‘hard’ force is that of the military and secret state. The state is never simply controlled by the elected executive in any country. In Greece in particular there is resistance both from the civil service and from the military. In addition the secret state in the form of large sections of the police will resist the democratic will expressed in the election today just as it has battered and gassed the movement on the streets again and again over the last years.

In 1981 the first of these, the ‘soft’ force of the market was enough over two years to erode and reverse the policies of the left government elected under Mitterrand in France. This despite the inclusion of four Communist Party ministers in the Cabinet. In Chile in 1973 the second ‘hard’ force was deployed when the, the military and secret state overthrew the Allende government in a coup, murdered the president and thousands of other leftists and instituted years of military dictatorship.

The faith of Syriza in power will be one of those paths, either soft market terrorism forcing the abandonment of election promises or, if that fails, a coup removing Syriza from office. This is inevitable unless Syrzia transforms the politics it intends to implement into something more acceptable to the EU, the military and the secret state. Syrzia itself seems to think it can win a game of chicken with the ECB, but this doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by many outside the parties ranks although its impossible to rule out altogether some face saving compromise being stitched up. I don’t intend to discuss beyond this the details of what sort of deals with the Trokia may or may not be possible, the internet is awash with opinions on that question.

If that were to happen Syriza will ends up looking more like PASOK (the older socialist party that was in government) but without, for now, the corruption that came to define it. In that case Syriza becomes the shepherd for capitalism that carefully herds the explosion of street and workplace level social organisations that has emerged into the safe field of a renegotiated austerity. This will almost certainly look reasonable as a protection against the soft and hard wolves at the gate.

Indeed if that is the path taken the same leftists who are now uncritically proclaiming the Syriza election is in itself the end of TINA will in a couple of months be defending Syriza’s action on the grounds that given the forces arrayed against them There Is No Alternative.

Some necessary expansions & explanations
The summary above assumes a fair bit of knowledge, if you know what is referred to it the examples make sense, if not it’s a string of assertions. So below I break down those brief references into longer explanations.

This is probably particularly relevant for readers in Ireland where the southern state has mostly tried rule though consent and populism. Here the failure to implement promises is generally read simply as an indication that politicians are lying. The connections of the 1% with politicians to make their wealth possible is seen as a product of corruption. Most successfully – in state terms – most police are unarmed and seen as primarily concerned with criminality rather than political control. That’s unusual in Europe where many demonstrations are accompanied by if not broken up by obviously political riot police.

Because this is not how the Garda are generally viewed in the Irish republic this has meant the use of widespread police action against communities has arrived as a considerable shock for most of the population. The level of that shock is demonstrated by the widespread belief that simply reminding the Garda of the oath they take will be enough to correct their behaviour. So when we look to these international examples it’s perhaps easier to understand the forces at work beneath the surface.

Capital flight
When the left talks about capital it primarily means stocks, shares and bonds. Modern capitalism has developed so that technology on the one hand and the rules laid down by global institutions like the World Trade Organisation on the other, make the transfer of funds for the super rich (the top 0.01%) from country to country possible at a keystroke. When the government of Cyprus tried to pay for its banking crisis through seizing funds, the super rich largely managed to transfer its wealth out leaving the small saver carrying the costs.

It’s somewhat more complex for the rest of the 1% but even so its not that complicated or long a process to liquidate investments in one country and transfer them to another. The start of a financial crisis is often when that top 1% panics and starts to transfer its wealth out of a country.

Often that’s ahead of the fear of a banking collapse. Indeed the huge transfers of wealth generated by the fear of collapse can then ensure the collapse, the threat of that panicked the Irish government into the bank guarantee. But capital flight can also occur because of a concern that the election of a new government will be less favourable to the rich; It will certainly occur if – horror of horrors – a new government intends to attempt a wealth transfer from the rich to the rest of society. Capital flight removes the wealth that might have made such transfers possible as well of forcing a reversal of such policies. Established political parties know this – it’s an unstated limit on what policies can be passed that, because it’s unstated, it’s often invisible to the general public. But lets look at an example.

1981 Mitterrand government
In 1981 for the 1st time in the 5th Republic a socialist, François Mitterrand because the president of France. He was elected on a radical left program with the Communist Party as coalition partners. This wasn’t hot air, policies and initial achievements included a 15% raise in the minimum wage, a minimum of 5 weeks holidays, a maximum 39 hour week and increased social welfare including a 64-81% increase in state pensions and a 44-81% increase in childrens’ allowance. This was to be paid for through a tax on wealth and to involve nationalisations of key industries. A lot of repressive legislation was also abolished, including the death penalty and limits were placed on police powers to stop and search.

The 1% responded by transferring wealth out of France, a process that in 1981 was much slower and more complex but which within two years brought Mitterand to heel. By March of 1983 Mitterand was forced to announce an ‘austerity turn’ and reverse some of what had been given. Despite this he was re-elected but during that second term the gap between rich and poor increased and unemployment and poverty rose as the economy went into recession. By the time he left power he was seen by many as yet another corrupt lying politician in a long line.

The Greek military and secret state
As recently as 1974 Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship, one that was only overthrown due to mass struggle. In April 1967 a military coup saw tanks in the centre of Athens while military units arrested left organisers, activists and politicians, some 10,000 were arrested in all. Much of this was the work of the Military police, whose director later said “Within twenty minutes every politician, every man, every anarchist who was listed could be rounded up…It was a simple, diabolical plan” In the years that followed an estimated 3,500 people were tortured.

Militant resistance, including rioting, is relatively acceptable with a large segment of the Greek population because of the memory of those times and the struggle that brought an end to the dictatorship. The military was never really purged or reduced so that today in terms of population and GNP it remains one of the best funded militaries in Europe. Alongside this, there is a considerable ‘secret state’, one aspect of which, that has come to light in the last couple of years is the very considerable overlap between membership of the neo fascist Golden Dawn party and the police. The extent to which either the military or the police forces would follow instructions from a radical left government is questionable at best. The 1967 Greek coup showed the possible human costs of a coup, so to did the coup in Chile in 1973.

Chile and Allende
In November 1970 the radical Marxist Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile, another country with an overblown military and substantial secret state. In power he started to implement what was called The Chilean Path to Socialism. Because of the relative poverty of Chile it was in some respects was more modest than Mittarands 1981 program in France but did involve large scale nationalisations, poverty relief, social welfare programs and other measures. The impact is shown by the 28% increase in purchasing power that occurred for most people in the first 9 months in power.

The rules of global finance and the technology available meant that although capital flight happened it did not have the power it had a decade later in France. And the nature of Chilean capital meant that some of it could not be easily transferred. It is not possible, for instance, to move a copper mine to another country and copper mining was a huge part of the economy. Copper still provides 20% of GDP and 60% of exports. All the same capital flight and the other methods of economic terrorism of the ruling elite pushed the economy into recession and saw foreign reserves decline. Despite this Allende’s government pushed on with its reforms.

June 1973 saw the first failed coup attempt. Allende felt unable to use the Carabineros (national police) as the influence of the secret state meant he suspected they were not loyal to his government. The modern revolutionary left sometimes presents the story as if the Chilean left foolishly wandered into the coup that was coming but in fact they were aware of the dangers and sections of the left were arming themselves in preparation.

On the 11th September 1973 Augusto Pinochet, the head of the armed forces launched a coup that was backed and at least in part organised by the CIA. Jet fighters attacked the palace, a level of force lightly armed workers militia’s have no answer to then or indeed now.

Allende went on radio one last time to say “Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!” Allende died shortly afterwards holding the AK47 Fidel Castro had given him, either at his own hands or at those of the military.

The military rounded up tens of thousands of union and community activists and members of left organisations, tortured many and murdered at least 3000. Thousands fled into exile and for 17 years a military junta ruled the country. Over this time the military continued to arrest, torture and in many cases disappear activists, some being murdered by being thrown from helicopters into the ocean so their bodies would never be found.

Back to Greece
The Greek economy has already been destroyed by the years of austerity, the impact has been compared to the Great Depression of the 1930s.. There is 60% youth unemployment and there has been a 30% drop in real incomes. Ahead of the election there has already been significant capital flight, but in any case the Greek banks are already depended on ECB funds in order to remain open. Even a modest move by Syriza to implement its program after the election with be read by the ECB as a breach of the conditions under which this support is given and if it is withdrawn a widespread banking collapse is likely, indeed perhaps inevitable.

A coup seems almost unthinkable to the population of the EU but if it comes to that it probably won’t be as crude as the Allende coup in Chile. Rather we are likely to see the neo-fascist Golden Dawn used to bring chaos to the Greek streets, the police simply standing by and then as the killings and destruction mount, the army stepping in to restore stability and ‘save democracy’. Which will of course start with a period under a caretaker government acceptable to the 1% before fresh elections. We can be sure that in terms of the EU secret state the plans for such an eventuality are already in place.

But lets be clear. We are not saying Syrzia are unaware of these dangers. The older members after all, would include those who fought the previous military dictatorships. Many of the younger members coming from the anti-austerity protests of 2009 will have experienced the secret state, in the form of the riot police, first hand. Others will have already encountered Golden Dawn and all cannot help but be aware of the links between Golden Dawn and the police. Even Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Spanish equivalent, Podemos covered many of the themes we have touched on here, including Chile, is his Winning Elections does not Mean Winning Power speech as a Syriza rally early this month.

Times are desperate and we can presume that the Syriza strategy is in part based on desperate measure for desperate times, in part on hoping to give some space for the social movements at the base of Greek society to further grow and solidify and unfortunately in part on illusions in EU democracy and the ability of the left in the EU to come to the rescue.

In any case the vote is underway, by tomorrow the result will be known and the die will be cast.

Why write?
Our purpose here is not to convince those on the ground in Greece of anything – apart from the foolish self importance of such a goal, we don’t have that many Greek readers, and the hour has passed. Rather we want to prepare our readers in Ireland and elsewhere for what is to come.

Let us again be clear; We are not electoralists but we are willing to mobilise to defend the right of a Syriza government to deliver on the promises that have brought it to power. In the soft form that will mean protesting against the attempts by the ECB (and the 1%) to force Syriza to roll back on its policies through soft economic terrorism. And in the hard form it may mean being willing to mobilise against any form of coup by the Greek secret state and the military.

It is not necessary to believe Syriza has taken the best road in order for us to take this stance. It is clear that what will be key is what happens on the streets and in the workplaces in Greece. There is a fear that so much effort has gone into the election that the social movements have in effect been partially demobilised. But after the elections they will be needed to demand the implementation of what has been promised and to mobilise not only against the financial and military threats but also to demand solidarity from elsewhere in Europe.

What it will mean
In making these predictions if it turns out that Syriza takes the other route and fails to implement the policies it is coming to power under we hope you will understand that corruption and lying politicians will only be a partial answer. Syriza is both a young party in the sense it has only existed for a few years and in the sense that many of its activists are young, or at least only recently politicised. If those who make up its ranks wanted power above all else they would surely have joined another party years ago, probably PASOK.

The rise of Syriza is so recent that there can be very few who are in the leadership simply out of a desire for power. Which will make the real reasons for any retreat from their promises very clear, the nature of the electoralist system itself and how it connects and is controlled by the interests of the 1%. The discovery, when faced with the threat of capital flight on the one hand and military coup on the other, is that within the rules of the electoralist game There Is No Alternative after all.

From tomorrow one of those two stories will start to be told. One might be the discipline of the market bringing Syrzia into line, the second less likely one, ( only less likely because capital flight and ECB action will be enough) may be the build up to a coup. It probably will not be clear for some time which of them it is. Either way our solidarity goes to the Greek movement in the streets, to those fighting austerity and especially to those also fighting racism and the rise of the far right. We intend to watch, mobilise and learn because in your fight we see our fight.

The only thing that seems certain is that after tomorrow we will need to see you in the streets.


This entry was posted in Commentary, News blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.