As the debate around Syriza’s internal divisions and its future (and that of the left in Greece and Europe more generally) continues, it is perhaps surprising to hear old arguments being rehashed in favour of ‘tactical’ unity around Tsipras, a leader who betrayed his electoral mandate and is unwilling to face the consequences. In a piece in Jacobin Magazine, for instance, Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch argue that:
“Those who — like ourselves — believe that leaving the eurozone will eventually be necessary must acknowledge that this cannot be done immediately. A base for leaving must be developed, and this means taking the time to prepare for exit.
The continuing support for Tsipras suggests that there is time to deal with creating the necessary transformations within the state, and the creative plans that both maintain confidence in the government and allow people to organically learn why they need to move beyond the limits of integration within a neoliberal Europe.”
The problem is that once in power, people’s representatives easily forget who they represent and talk about the future of a country as something a few dozens intellectuals can plan and implement at will, sitting around a table – “of course the masses out there will understand”, “if we can just buy a bit more time to get the real revolution going”…
Meanwhile, the real alternatives for positive change are washed away by an unprincipled betrayal of all those who supported the Syriza project in January – it is unlikely that most of them are interested in or approve of erudite Marxist tactics, especially in a situation of deep crisis where their livelihoods are at stake.
Syriza’s dissenting leaders are no doubt under a lot of pressure to make the ‘right’ decision – should they break away or not? If they decide to remain in an uncomfortable ‘tactical’ alliance with Tsipras, they will also be held accountable for this debacle. The fear of a return of the old political classes might be enough to keep Syriza together for now, but in the long-term it would be a colossal mistake. It would burn the already diminishing credibility of the new left in people’s eyes, and open the way for neo-nazis and other chauvinist movements to steal the show and act as the only mass opposition to austerity and the memoranda.
Tsipras’ high personal ratings are a sign that he has rapidly adapted to the political arena, showing in fact many of the skills of seasoned politicians. He has been able to spin a successful narrative out of a spectacular defeat, but there is no substance or vision in this move – only the well-known trademarks of a professional politician who knows how to tell a good story to get out of trouble.
When more people will wake up to the reality of what the government has signed up for, the ratings will rapidly collapse, just like old parties like New Democracy and PASOK dissolved into thin air in a matter of months. Those who are interested in a progressive alternative to austerity need to think beyond polls and short-term power politics.
Nor are these issues confined to Greece. Italy has already seen the defeat of a corrupt and colluded left. A progressive alternative to European technocracy simply has no grassroots consensus, and the anti-austerity agenda has been hijacked by right-wing xenophobes and national chauvinists. In Spain, Podemos might end up in the same trap, especially if they follow in Tsipras’ footsteps and settle for a gradualist approach.