What Europe means for SYRIZA

Watching last week’s Eurogroup meeting has been fascinating. With SYRIZA replacing the servile ND/PASOK governments, which consented to every measure without debate, the fundamental character of the EU was revealed: it is an organization controlled by the German capitalist classes, steeped in an ideology of racism and nationalist contempt, and aimed purely and solely at maintaining the short-term profits of those classes at the expense of everyone and everything else.

(To be 100% clear: these are not the interests of German working people, or of the “German taxpayer” the German leadership so frequently invokes. They are the very opposite.)

As I wrote in my previous post, there is no need to have any illusions about SYRIZA: it is not a socialist party, not dedicated to dismantling capitalism. It is simply a younger, more vital Keynesian capitalist party, offering Europe a chance to revitalize its economy a little, stave off catastrophe by redirecting some funds towards growth and social stability. The big question the Eurogroup meetings were posing was this: can European capitalism still act in its own long-term self-interest?

The answer was a resounding no.

And that, it would seem, is where SYRIZA is running face-first into the limitations of its programme and ideology. The EU is not, as SYRIZA’s leadership fervently believes, a bulwark of cosmopolitanism, rationality and good government. It does not represent some kind of European ideal.

In the press conference after the last meeting, the journalist Paul Mason asked Dijsselbloem: “What do you say to the Greek people, whose democracy you’ve just trashed?” And that is a very fair assessment of what happened. The European Union does not care what people voted for. It is an organization with next to no transparency or accountability which is fundamentally opposed to the very concept of democracy. All the peoples of Europe are to be allowed is to choose the faces of the people who implement the EU’s predetermined policies.

The open contempt displayed by the Eurogroup leadership, the stoking of racism in Germany, the utter inflexibility even within the capitalist framework, all point to one fact: the EU cannot be reformed. It must be overcome.

The irony of all the pre-election propaganda is that SYRIZA is constitutionally incapable of doing so. It cannot even imagine itself outside of the EU, outside the fantasy of liberal capitalist cosmopolitanism.

The question that remains, then, is: what can SYRIZA still accomplish? Since we’ve reached the point where Germany claims an occupier’s right of determining which policies a Greek government can or can’t implement, what changes will they allow? And are any such changes still conductive towards the goals of a socialist movement? At this point, I’d say it’s still unclear. On the one hand, if SYRIZA can take advantage of wriggle room in the agreement, they can maintain some of their momentum and make some meaningful changes. Even relatively minor improvements could make a big difference in establishing the idea that change is possible, while – perhaps more importantly – there might be a certain degree to which optimizing capitalism in Greece by dismantling some of its more extreme clientelism and bureaucracy might actually make it more feasible to build a genuine socialist movement.

On the other hand, SYRIZA’s failures could well lead to a total disenchantment with the Left and to the renewed rise of the far right. (Paul Krugman described German policy as objectively pro-Golden Dawn.) If they cannot break with the memorandum in the slightest, then their inability to understand or accept what the EU really is will lend credence to the most extreme nationalist forces and undermine the Left for years to come. If they cannot take the necessary radical measures to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Greece (because Germany forbids them, or because they choose to appease Germany), they will be forced to employ tactics that will make them extremely unpopular and will probably break up the party from within.

That’s certainly what social-democratic parties have done in the past.

In the long term, parties like SYRIZA cannot deal with the fundamental contradictions at the heart of capitalism. These contradictions have produced a state of economic and cultural decay that SYRIZA is now coming up against in its attempt at becoming a renewing force of the kind that have previously lifted capitalism out of crises. But it would be a mistake to think of capitalism as cyclical – these crises are never really overcome, merely displaced. Germany’s rigidity is the rigidity of a corpse, the rigor mortis of capitalism.

Can SYRIZA buy us some time to organize before the zombies come to feast? Stay tuned for next week’s episode.