Monday, 13 July 2015

A Shared Guilt: The Defeat of Syriza

The defeat of Greece in Brussels has turned out even worse than anticipated. Europe has not seen a government more convincingly denuded of its ambitions since the early days of the Mitterand administration in France. The most radical political project in Europe for at least a generation has been utterly beaten.

The Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras was of course grossly naive. It hardly took the collective punditry of the international left to point this out. Europe told them so repeatedly. There could be no democracy when it came to the European treaties, Juncker told them.

Still, we leftists are all in a way a little guilty. We were all complicit in the Tsipras fantasy. Even those of us who have spent many hours, in a range of contexts, wrapping our heads around the destructiveness of the single currency; even those of us who denounced at length the anti-democratic structures of European integration, are also guilty. Because when it came to a government of the radical left, within the very context we had so sharply and lengthily critiqued, we decided it was possible an opening had been made. We sacrificed our critical intelligence at the exact moment when we needed it most.

Syriza's platform called idealistically for international support from European peoples. They knew the structural depth of the EU's restriction of popular sovereignty. They had not counted on the brute erosion of solidarity between societies caused by the constant crisis of the past eight years. The people of Europe are as far apart as ever. In such a poisonous environment of suspicion and recrimination, large scale support from the people of different countries was always unlikely. The notion of a vibrant popular solidarity bristling beneath the dead forms of official integration was just a twist on typical neo-functionalist delusions.

We in the rest of Europe should have been honest enough to tell Syriza: we can't help you. We lack the institutional levers and, more crucially, the necessary level of popular political consciousness. The larger part of Europe has been supine during this crisis, with only rare and trifling exceptions. This is especially true on the international front. We should have known that Greece's only chance was a course of national-popular rupture with the creditors.

The thought of a return to national sovereignty is hard for an internationalist left to stomach. But there is no internationalism of substance, of real popular weight, in Europe today. So we held our noses and said, "Maybe, just maybe..."

Our behaviour followed exactly the pattern Slavoj Zizek, after Jacques Lacan, calls "fetishistic disavowal", wherein we know full well that the EU is a vast apparatus built to neutralise manifestations of the popular will, but decided that nevertheless it could be critically engaged with, even reasoned with, from a democratic perspective and using pro-democratic arguments. 

We have read and unconsciously bought into too much Tony Judt, too much Habermas, and too much steaming social-democratic horseshit about the cosmopolitan reason of the postwar "European project". We could not follow our own arguments to their logical conclusions, but rather hid behind the shield of our critique in order never fully to make the decisive break. In this we were dancing to the exact same tune as the Syriza leadership.

For the people of Greece it may be too late now for the lessons learned to make any difference. It is quite clear that, however fetishistic the attachment of Syriza to the euro, it is also existential. They did not confront the dead end of their own strategy because they intellectually could not. It turns out ex- finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was at least prepared to initiate aggressive manoeuvres against the creditors when the ECB capped liquidity and forced the closure of the banks, a position which appears to have cost him his job,

The result of this ideological dead end - both of Syriza and of the European left - is that, despite Tsipras betraying Greece's historic referendum and practically selling off the people's full fiscal sovereignty, the vast majority of Greeks will still say, "Better any deal than leaving the euro." This is patently untrue - but we have all failed miserably to construct a basis from which the enunciation of an alternative - the truth - might be possible.

Once agin then: welcome back, austerity. Welcome back, the full "fiscal water boarding" of the people of Greece in service to European responsibility.

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