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

by: via

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.