Some thoughts on Syriza and the question of power

Trying some more to get through writing block.

This article – ‘The End of TINA‘ – by Peter Bratsis in Jacobin is well worth reading. It provides strong reasons to support Syriza and a pretty powerful critique of Syriza’s (ultra) left critics. Neverthless, I don’t (or don’t think I) agree with the underpinning idea that Syriza ‘is not as radical as we would want’ and that supporting it is a necessary sort of trimming of our political sails under current conditions.

In his fantastic book, Socialist Reasoning, the late Andrew Collier argues (drawing on the radically anti-utopian elements of Marx’s thought) that the purpose of socialists should not be conceived as the ‘establishment of socialism’ – that is a utopian mode of thinking that focuses on the inadequacy of existing society when measured against a transcendent and external standard. Rather the purpose should be to implement practical measures designed to improve conditions, concretely in the here and now, for the oppressed. Thus the primary focus of a “workers’ government” should be on the provision of jobs, decent housing and so on not the ‘realisation of socialism’ or the establishment of ‘another world’. In this sense Eduard Bernstein was right that ‘the goal is nothing [and it is literally nothing – a vision is nothing], the movement is everything’ – it is just that (what Bernstein didn’t see) any major and determined attempt to achieve these short-term improvements will tend to run up against the logic of capitalism and must push beyond it.

For me it’s precisely the ‘modesty’ of Syriza’s demands – the fact that they correspond to immediate needs of Greeks (an end to austerity, provision of free electricity, subsidised food and rents) – that makes Syriza’s programme radical in a real sense. I’ve no time for (abstract, hand-waving, never spelt out) demands (on whom?) for SOCIALISM NOW! It’s clear that the determined and consistent implementation of these ‘common sense’ policies (which are eminently sensible, modest demands for basic human dignity) will bring the reform process into progressively sharper conflict with the economic order in a way that the most abstractly ‘radical’ of programmes never could – because these latter programmes are mostly hot air – castles in the sky – with no significant political purchase.

  1. #1 by Guy on January 18, 2015 - 2:44 pm

    A further purpose of a worker’s government might be to introduce elements of democratic decision-making to parts of the state, which certainly seems plausible with a Syriza government (at least at a local level).

    This election and its aftermath seem to me one of the most important events in a generation.

  2. #2 by PW on December 21, 2015 - 7:31 pm

    What makes SYRIZA’s program radical (and arguably Marxist) is not simply the fact that it strives to address the immediate needs of the population but that it attractive active, mass support from the masses that SYRIZA strives to lead and to serve. Mao called this dynamic process “the mass line” and it’s something Marx himself practiced in the First International and in drafting the French Workers’ Party program of 1880. It is this activation of working people to stand up and fight on their own interests is what makes the clash with “the economic order” i.e. the class struggle so fierce and so sharp. And it was precisely this failure to practice the mass line method that led Popular Unity and the left MPs who split from SYRIZA to be crushed at the polls where they failed to win even a single seat in parliament despite enormous dissatisfaction with Tsipras’ horrendous deal with the Troika.

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