Syriza and Sanders: "Just Say 'No'" to Neo-liberalism

Rectenwald, Michael
Date Written:  2015-07-16
Publisher:  Insurgent Notes
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX17877

Hopes for Syriza's negotiations with the banking troika in the EU simmered and even boiled over among elements of the left, especially after the vaunted "No" referendum vote suggested that the Greeks would not succumb to another wave of austerity measures but would instead stand firm, even if this meant potentially leaving the EU. We have seen these hopes dashed by the subsequent "negotiations," in which Tsipras seemed to have negotiated backwards, arriving at an agreement that was worse than the one rejected by the Greek voters in the referendum vote.



the fact of the matter is that Syriza neither represents anti-capitalism, nor the working class. This is not to belittle the registration of an anti-austerity position among the Greek majority. But it is to suggest that misplaced confidence is currently a penchant among those desperate to see in contemporary events a real and effective opposition to “neo-liberalism,” which is figured by so many on the left as a mere matter of policy rather than as primarily a function of the crisis of degenerate capitalism, a capitalism that must take a “principled” stance against its opposition, lest it give away the store.

The Greek economic minister, Yanis Varoufakis, seemed to have lost his putative Marxist bearings when he, like Paul Krugman, continually insisted that the European Central Bank need not enact austerity, that its best interests actually lay with largesse towards its debtors. Many among the international left were buoyed by this insistence, and accepted its premises implicitly. The Greek people, meanwhile, had little choice but to hope for the best.

However, many ultra-leftists and left communists, and even those of other communist tendencies, fully anticipated Syriza’s failure. This prediction was usually based on a criticism of Syriza’s political character. Syriza is a capitalist party, so the story goes. Thus it did not negotiate in good faith, or failed to have the correct principles in mind. This is only a partial explanation for the outcome. Less often, the prediction was based on an understanding of the systemic impossibility of winning major concessions from capitalism under existing conditions.

Here’s how this latter explanation reads: The capitalist system faces a crisis of confidence based on a crisis of profit; its ministers cannot see their way clear to lending vast sums of money—because they do not expect acceptable returns—without extracting those returns out of existing value and the means of social reproduction itself. That is, they cannot undertake lending without enacting a barbarous austerity that extracts value from out of the mouths of the Greek population.

Today, in terms of prediction, those employing such shorthand Marxist economic analyses continually outperform neo-Keynesians and Marxists of more sanguine disposition, whatever the latter’s sophistication.

This is so because Keynesian nostrums are the only “remedies” on offer from the left. Yet no possibility exists for moving from a minimum program to a maximum program, because no minimum program can be achieved. The iron laws of capital have apparently reached a limit in flexion, as limited as that flexion was to begin with. They now form the jowls of a mechanical predator that must feed on human carcasses, much as in Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Capitalism’s predation is on full display, its self- and other-immolating character owing to its decrepit condition. The Greeks, along with the rest of the world’s population, represent hostages to a system that staggers in its attempts to yield profit as it generates value. Thus the relative paucity of value production and the need for blood sucking measures.

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