How did #Syriza ‘stood up to the money men’? @guardian

Again, from an online discussion, I post here a comment that would be insultingly long for FB. A friend asked my stand on this article… here it goes.

I agree with the introduction (the obviousness of Iglesias’ statement and the description of the role of politicians in an economy-driven system). But I also think she misses big points.

Related to her main premise (that it’s eminently possible to build a successful transformative movement) I have a relative agreement. It is possible, but she leaves important issues out. In the specific cases of Podemos and Syriza, she forgets to mention the huge role of the context (deep economic crisis, widespread corruption in the main political parties, austerity impact, world social convulsion) in the achieving of the current position.

podemos ppsoe

Image source: click here.

It’s not like they began struggling because of that context; it simply gave them a better scenario. It did the same for extreme right-wing, but they had lesser possibilities and capabilities of exploiting that… thankfully. Indeed, the continue of extreme-right’s recent uplift depends on the real (palpable) capacity of governments (left or ‘moderate’) of providing alternatives to the current problems (many of which are not direct effects of the crisis but of the measures undertaken to combat the crisis).

For defending her premise, I’d rather cite Colombia’s Peace Communities, for example, or some aspects (schools) of the MST movement of Brasil. I believe the issue around Podemos and Syriza is not the answer to the question ‘is it possible to build a successful transformative movement?’, but how they did it and why it is important right now; for the former question there are many positive responses in history.

So how did they do it in this case? Well, first (besides the indispensable context mentioned), they had behind them previous processes. Syriza is a coalition of left-wing parties, and it was formed following the model of Izquierda Unida (IU) –which it has called its brother party in Spain– a left coalition party with decades of experience, but which is now dwarfed by Podemos’ accomplishments. Podemos emerges from the 15M movement, that began in 2011, fuelled by discontempt and organized thanks to the experience of militants (mostly college educated) from all around Spain (and foreign residents) who had been working around direct democracy for years.

Podemos came to be as the ‘politically viable form of 15M’, to avoid the slow processes and other problems inherent to social-movement struggle; Syriza came to be as a solution to the traditional fights inside the left and the subsequent electoral failure. Anyhow, in both cases there were experienced people ready when the appropriate context arose. So it’s not just will, or context; it’s those, plus preparation and organization. And that’s step one.

But again the article simplifies the ‘how’, she claims that the “last thing you want to do when your hands are tied is to describe a situation – low wages for instance, high housing costs, unliveable lives – that demands action” and that Syriza simply stopped expecting the ECB’s patience. Both are only partially true.

Syriza’s governing action has been little (in time and terrain governed), and Podemos hasn’t had any (they have representation in the European parliament). The actions they could claim where those of their preceding struggles, not that much. What differentiated them from PASOK and PSOE, the ‘socialist’ majority parties, was a better description, which derives from a better analysis, of reality; and a proposal in accordance to that described reality. That and the fact that they weren’t stained with corruption all over, as were the ‘left’ and ‘moderate right’ majority parties.

And the claim that Syriza, or Podemos, “will not take [the BCE’s] terms at any price” is not true. It is true that this sort of claims got them some visibility in the political debate, but, when the real possibility of getting elected arose, both immediately changed the statement to ‘renegotiating the terms of payment and the conditions imposed on the country’, or asking for patience. And this move is an important part of the ‘how’, as it places both parties in the reach of voters who demand change but don’t want their country to go ‘rogue’.

I believe the main fault of the article is that it pictures an idealized situation of parties coming out of nowhere and rising to challenge the ECB, as if it were a matter of being a monolithic crowd unwilling to negotiate until we get what we want. And the fact is that the process is not like that.

Part of the success of social movements and alternative political parties comes from not negotiating (their principles). But another very important part comes from being able to put forward proposals not only coherent with their ideology and discourse, but that respond to specific needs and that are viable. These last two usually demand negotiation and generation of new proposals, because people’s specific needs are not ideologically determined, and because viability usually requires more elements than our ideology had foreseen.

Not Tsipras nor Iglesias propose (nowadays) not paying; they argue that to pay the enormous debt (way bigger in Greece), with the actual interest rates, and with the ridiculously-low growth allowed by austerity/anti-inflation policies, would take decades of misery for the countries. That austerity policies have shown to do more evil than good and that, to better assure payment, the countries should be placed under a neo-Keynesian set of policies, focused on increasing consumption and social well-being, which would drive economy up and allow payments without collapsing well-being.


Imagine it with Greece and Spain. Image source: click here.

These claims are not based on two ‘adolescent’ countries who rebel and “no longer thinks of the ECB as its dad”. They are based on the rigorous defence of human rights; on an analysis based on critical economic and politic theories; on the fact that similar things have been done and have gone well-enough; on the findings and proposals of lots of professional analysts that are outside the neoclassiscal (neoliberal) view of mainstream economics (and politics).

They are based on the fact that the fast growth of Asian countries was healthcare and education first, economic growth after, not vice-versa, as the German-ECB austerity policies want southern  European countries to do. And that there is a crescent amount of social science backing this up. Also that Keynesian economics did the job after the WWII, and austerity doesn’t seem to be doing it now (just to be clear, austerity policies are highly based on Hayekian economics, the, then, opposition to Keynes).

The article has a very important point in that the left has a long-needed rearrangement, because it’s clearly not being as effective as it hoped; but she leaves aside one of the main points of that debate: that we don’t solve that by being more stubborn, we do it by by being more clever; by taking research and facts into our hands, by organizing to produce our own analyses of reality, by inviting right-wingers to share a comment, by building alternatives that fit not only the left, but the people… and that, the article seems to ignore.

The key of Syriza’s claims is not that they’re fully radical, but the opposite: that they open a way for left alternatives inside the EU, without (seriously) menacing its structure or existence and, furthermore, that try to consolidate a different European project, but an European project nonetheless.

What all this will mean is yet to be seen (obviously). Spain and Greece have many differences (I don’t have knowledge about British politics) as to say Greece is a Spanish forecast, but what happens in Greece will certainly have an impact on Spanish politics, with general elections this November; remember Spain’s right-wing govering PP has formally supported Nea Democratia, Greece’s ‘moderate’ right, and salient government party. If this ‘new’ left project emerges with qualitative solutions in two countries, Europe’s political landscape and political-debate, may suffer interesting changes. But there are many issues on the board as to adventure a (probably accurate) prediction. For instance: the widely mentioned 2% weight of Greece in the European economy may be what allows the country to be relegated, or it may be what convinces Europe to let them experiment, due to the ‘low risk’.

I find unlikely that there will be a mass flee of capitals, as most capital already fled with the deep crisis, and I believe the investors remaining in Greece will not just throw that away because of Tsipras; they’ll wait, see, and negotiate with him (and put him under huge pressures), as will the ECB.

Finally I applaud the intention of the author in trying to bring forward the long-needed debate in the left, but I believe that to effectively do that we need to force ourselves into going beyond our most immediate ideology, into a debate that proposes. Or, put in other words, lets take our ideology as part of the premise, not as the only possible conclusion. Go deeper.

Because “the necessary precondition for credible leftism” is not (only) “a rejection of the bodies, mostly central banks and attendant forecasting agencies, currently in charge”, but the capability of showing society that instead of contradiction, competition and rejection, we can build a great society on cooperation, reason and collective, humanistic solutions. And, for that, we need fact-based analysis, not just left-feeling expression.


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