Syriza: Problem or Solution?

In the euphoria following Syriza’s electoral win on 25 January 2015, little has been said about the implications of their rise to prominence within the Greek political system. Is it the best that can happen for the Greek people? Or is it rather a continuation of the historical pattern of the last century’s struggle to abolish capitalism; a pattern that sees opposition rise and then be absorbed and co-opted by the capitalists’ power structure, ultimately furthering the concentration of wealth in few hands?
As people around the world are pushed into poverty by the increasing wealth inequality inherent in late-stage capitalism, movements are building everywhere that aim to bring relief to the people. Most begin as single-issue struggles: student rebellions, protests against environmental damage from extraction processes, or anti-war demonstrations for example. But as long as movements struggle to gain power within the paradigm of government, a government built and bolstered by and for capitalists, the best we can hope for is limited respite or temporary relief. For in every historical instance where a leftist or progressive political party has taken the reins of power, the leaders find themselves shackled by the system itself, and while small reforms may be instituted, as soon as the progressive party loses its power in a subsequent election, the backlash is swift and severe, and any gains immediately wiped out.
Worse, much of the strength of the movement that brought the progressive party their initial electoral victory dissipates as the protestors assume they have won a great victory, and that their party will right all wrongs and end the need for struggle. We saw in Brazil the gutting of the land reform campaign Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST) when Lula came to power in 2002. The necessities of governance prevented Lula from enacting the very land reforms he campaigned upon and promised to provide; despite any desire to fundamentally change the system, the system’s defenses held fast and Lula became just another politician, rather than a radical in government. The MST has virtually evaporated; Brazilians are worse off today in terms of any real political movement or party that addresses the needs of the majority of its citizens, thanks to this usurping of the will of the people by capital and its enforcers.
Syriza rose to prominence with its promises to end austerity, to dismantle the most brutal of police units, to leave NATO and to leave the Euro. Yet to win the election, it softened its stances on these issues, offering instead to merely renogiate the national debts, to only disarm police in direct contact with demonstrators, to remain in NATO but not cooperate with foreign assaults, and to remain in the Euro just under new tranches of debt. Seen from the perspective of someone who feels the capitalist system needs to be abolished and replaced, these compromises only ensure that Syriza will abide by the rules of the game. Of course capitalists are happy to have such a new partner on board with the program; those citizens unwilling to take direct action are placated, thinking that their problems will be solved, and those citizens willing to act can be even further divided, marginalized, and easily apprehended or silenced. Upon entering the halls of power, even radicals turn their backs on the movement that won them entry and commit to perpetuating the very authoritarian institutions they claim to abhor in the name of retaining what power they think they now have. Syriza will deliver far less than they have promised; and capitalists don’t need to stage a coup to perpetuate their system of oppression. In the end, no political party can work within a democracy, real or imagined, and still manage to end the problems created by capital and state. Just being part of the political process, defined by capital to meet its needs not those of the people, re-invigorates the system itself.
It is perhaps inevitable that as a party grows large enough to have any impact on an election that it begins to model the very power structures it hopes to eliminate. It is difficult to maintain a process of consensus when a group contains many dozens of participants. Transparency falls by the side of the road as there is a perceived need to hide strategies and tactics from the powerful eyes of the police state. These adjustments to beliefs are rationalized as being pragmatic or the result of scaling up. Representational government by definition is not horizontal; and when we need a charismatic leader like Lula or Tsipras or Iglesias or Chavez, we acquiesce to hierarchy without considering its consequences. Depending upon donations or grants in order to fund the work leaves movements vulnerable to fulfilling the wishes of their donors, not themselves. And acquiring the trappings of the capitalist economy, like salaries and pensions, ensures that no one wants to work themselves out of a job. Under these conditions, it should be easy to see why progressive movements that hope to merely reform the structures of capitalism are doomed to fail.
Because we are quick to forget, we seem to focus on today’s issues and fail to see what is happening as just another step in an ongoing cycle of protest and assimilation. When protests don’t bring relief, we turn to the latest leader who says the right words and we give him or her the sceptre of power and hope for the best. But in each case, what seems pragmatic today inevitably leads to more and deeper oppression tomorrow, as long as capital and its minions remain alive and we work within the system they contrive. And as long as the majority of protestors get on with their life following an electoral win like Syriza has managed in Greece, those of us still fighting for real, radical change, and a dismantling of capitalism at its roots, will be left more isolated and exposed than ever before. This can hardly end well, at least as long as the majority of humans remain disenfranchised and disillusioned, and overwhelmed with feelings of powerlessness. This is our challenge then: to wake people up and show them the power we hold together. We can only work to ensure that the failure of a political victory like Syriza’s does not open the door to a fascist backlash that pushes us even farther from the world we know is possible.

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