The Two Faces Of SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras

SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras is playing a high stakes double game

I’ve written on the economic and political crisis unfolding in Greece many times over the last few years. There’s a very good reason for this. Naturally, the lives and living standards of eleven million Greeks are very significant and important in of themselves. But every European country is walking down the same road as Greece – slashing austerity as demanded by bankers, which is followed by a recession, which is followed by more of the same poisonous ‘medicine’. Horrible though it is to think of it this way, the Greek experience is being used as a testing ground for the financial aristocracy, and therefore it must also be seen as a testing ground for working class resistance strategies.

Somewhere down this spiral, the ‘centrist’ (actually right wing) political consensus inevitably fractures and falls away, to be replaced by an increasing political polarisation. In Greece, this has meant the rise of the thuggish Golden Dawn to the fascist right, counterposing a wide variety of ‘extreme left’ groupings. Chief amongst them is SYRIZA, which won the second highest amount of votes (17%) in the May election, and according to the last official opinion polls before next week’s re-vote, was on course to become the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament.

Not surprisingly, this news has sent flutters of anticipation through an international ‘left’ which is desperate for good news stories. Richard Seymour of the Lenin’s Tomb blog neatly summarised the confusion with his post ‘The Challenge of SYRIZA’:

“Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being ‘proved’ repeatedly. There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) Syriza are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe – the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following Syriza’s election. In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20. There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses.  Perhaps so, but thus far Syriza have not withdrawn from their fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures. They did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now.”

Perhaps the most obvious explanation for Seymour’s bet-hedging is that his own Socialist Workers’ Party are also – like SYRIZA – left-sounding reformists tied to the reactionary trade union bureaucracy. Though the SWP’s Greek affiliates are part of ANTARSYA – SYRIZA’s rival ‘extreme left’ electoral block – there are few differences in principle between the groupings. In fact – as with the opportunist left everywhere (Italy and Germany come to mind) – it is difficult to see what ‘principles’ they wouldn’t sell out for a shot at political power.

There can be no doubt that Tsipras is presenting a programme to the suffering Greek working class which – if implemented in full – would be enormously beneficial to the majority. He pledged to terminate the loan agreements with the so-called “Troika” of banker organisations, and reverse the social cuts imposed on Greek workers over the last few years. This would be paid for by a wealth tax. There would be no further privatisations, and some would be reversed.

If these were the ‘transitional demands’ of a horizontally-organised, grassroots-based mass working class movement, then they could be achieved, as the workers put their own hands on the levers of power in workplaces and neighbourhoods. But Tsipras and his cohorts are not such an organisation; they form a group of politicians from relatively well-heeled backgrounds, who only make an appeal to the working class to the extent they want their votes. And the programme cannot be put into practice without the working class taking economic and political power for themselves.

SYRIZA’s official programme would certainly cut across the interests of the military brass, so you can be sure he’s been making very different noises in the meetings he has held with them. After three hours of such talks at the end of May, he emerged pledging to protect and even enhance the fighting capabilities of the armed forces: “Defending the country’s territorial integrity and national independence is a non-negotiable priority for SYRIZA”, he told reporters.

Tsipras made these comments at a time when the right wing Greek press is openly talking of the military – which has held power in the nation as recently as the 1970s – playing a decisive role in the post-election period. Kathimerini has speculated that should the military decide to withdraw Greece from the euro:

“Over the two days, leaders would have to calm civil unrest while managing a potential sovereign default, planning a new currency, recapitalizing the banks, stemming the outflow of capital and seeking a way to pay bills once the bailout lifeline is cut[…]the country may deploy its military as soon as early morning Saturday and close its borders, preparing to stamp euros as drachma as an interim solution once a public announcement has been made.”

In all so-called liberal democracies, the military always has the option of stepping in to protect its own interests, and this often happens in times of crisis. Far from warning workers of this possibility, Tsipras and SYRIZA are touring the offices of the Greek and international rich and powerful, invoking America’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their offer to save Greek capital from itself. In the aftermath of a SYRIZA victory and a market meltdown, a sell-out would shortly be forthcoming.