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Syriza’s Hapless and Sad Betrayal of Hope Follows Long Greek Left Tradition

The first leftist government in Greek history continues the long tradition of Greek left betrayal.

People walk by vehicles that had burned during riots that grew from anti-austerity protests in Athens, Greece, December 8, 2008. (Photo: Murplejane)

Since the end of WWII, the Greek left has been betrayed by its own leaders and other various populist/progressive politicians on more occasions than one cares to remember. But let’s review the history, anyway, as the story of surrender and betrayal by Greece’s left political leadership seems to have no end in sight, latest courtesy of Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza-led government, whose first six months in power has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster both for the Greek economy and the nation’s future prospects as it has agreed to a humiliating rescue package on a new three-year European bailout agreement.

1. Varkiza Peace Agreement. This agreement between the pro-British Greek government and the leaders of the Greek Communist Party was signed in February 1945 and sought to put an end to the bloody military conflicts that had broken out in December 1944 between the illegitimate Georgios Papandreou government and the Greek liberation forces. The Varkiza agreement has become synonymous with surrender and betrayal as it led to the disarmament of the countrywide resistance army that had defeated the Nazis and then to a period of uncontrolled violence and atrocities against supporters of the left. Worse still, when the celebrated leader of the Greek Popular Liberation Army Aris Velouhiotis opposed the Varkiza agreement and refused to surrender arms, the Stalinist leadership of the Greek Communist Party in Athens declared him a traitor, a political stigma that lead him eventually to take his own life.

2. United Democratic Left’s (EDA) reformism. After years of brutal oppression, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Greek Left party makes a strong and powerful comeback in the late 1950s, but its reformist leadership aims toward a point of convergence at the center ground, although the Greek Communist Party still remains outlawed and operates as an underground organization.

This reformist and opportunistic standing on the part of EDA leadership stemmed from its inability or unwillingness to come to terms with the underlying political developments taking place, essentially seeking to undermine future democratic prospects to halt the growth of the forces of the left.

Ironically enough, EDA’s leaders were engaging in symbolic gestures such as releasing white doves in demonstrations as a sign of peace while Greek army colonels were preparing to launch a military coup. Accordingly, on April 21, 1967, the leaders of the Greek Left were caught with their proverbial pants down (most of them were arrested at the crack of dawn and ended up in prison and concentration camps along with many thousands of leftist supporters), and the country’s left movement suffered yet another severe blow.

3. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) fiasco 1. Hope returned again to Greece in the early 1980s with the rise of the newly created Panhellenic Socialist Movement, founded by Andreas Papandreou, a charismatic American-trained economist and son of imperialist lackey Georgios Papandreou.

Acting as an independent Marxist inspired by the struggles of Third World peoples, Andreas Papandreou preached to the Greek masses what they wanted to hear after having experienced for many years the “benefits” of military dictatorship, conservative rule and US involvement in Greece’s political affairs: national independence, popular sovereignty, social liberation and socialist ideals.

His political platform called for Greece’s exit from NATO and the European Community (EC) and shutting down US military bases in Greece. He advocated participatory democracy, accountability and a constant fight against corruption. What happened however was the exact opposite: Greece remained both in NATO and the EC (1); US military bases never shut down; and Andreas Papandreou’s three terms as prime minister of Greece (1981-1989 and 1993-1996) were marked by authoritarianism and unbridled corruption, crony capitalism and reckless spending to sustain clientelistic practices.

4. Pasok fiasco 2. In October 2009, and with the global financial crisis having already reached Europe’s shores, a third-generation scion of the family, whose name is synonymous with derailing the dreams and aspirations of the Greek left, came to power, the pretentiously progressive and American-born George Papandreou, leader of Pasok and president of the Socialist International. He won the general elections that year with an impressive 44 percent of the popular vote by telling voters “there was money around” and making promises to turn Greece into the “Denmark of the South.”

Instead, he ended up signing a bailout agreement with the troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank for the sum of 110 billion euros when the Greek debt crisis came to the surface. The bailout plan was designed to rescue German and French banks, which were exposed to hundreds of billions of euros to Greek debt. The rescue plan worked for the bailout of foreign banks (a second bailout deal was agreed on June 2012 for an additional 130 billion euros), but the troika’s policies sank Greece’s economy, with the GDP shrinking by more than 20 percent in four years, while unemployment rates reached stratospheric levels (over 25 percent) and put the country into a “legal” state of permanent debt peonage.

5. Syriza’s failure and capitulation. After five-and-a-half months since coming to power, for what was rightly hailed to be an historic victory for the Greek Left, the Syriza-led government surrendered unconditionally to Greece’s creditors by agreeing to a new, three-year bailout program that is far more ruthless than the austerity proposal that Alexis Tsipras had asked voters to reject in Greece’s July 5 sham referendum.

Syriza’s capitulation is hardly a surprising development. Writing in these pages a month before Syriza’s election victory, I was openly questioning Syriza’s “ability and willingness to confront directly the policy challenges posed by a neoliberal Europe and carry out a radical economic program once it comes to power.” Syriza’s core leadership, which I have described as representing the right-wing platform of the party, to distinguish the ideological and political proclivities of its members from those who are associated with the left platform, often enough described by its opponents as the “loony left” because it uses political rhetoric that is far removed from contemporary Greek reality, consists mostly of pro-euro left reformists who share an outdated social democratic political orientation and a defunct Keynesian economic perspective. Syriza’s electoral support comes mainly from public sector employees and disenchanted Pasok voters, but it is also true that during the last general election campaign, Syriza’s leaders also courted the support of the industrial and financial classes.

Syriza’s plan for exiting the crisis had three components: (a) a moderate government intervention in the domestic economy via traditional Keynesian measures; (b) securing a debt write-off and an end to austerity from Greece’s official creditors by engaging in an international campaign that would highlight the damage caused to the Greek economy by the bailout programs and the pain and injustices inflicted upon Greek people by the troika’s respective policies while using Grexit as a threat to extract concessions; and (c) seeking strategic alliances with non-EU state actors (principally Russia and China).

Now, the extent to which Syriza’s leadership fully realized that goal (a) was unattainable, given that Greece was bankrupt and had to rely for its financial survival on external financing or simply used it as a pre-election sweetener is hard to say. But we do know that Syriza’s leadership actually believed that it can realize goal (b), as it had no idea of how the euro system worked, as some senior level government officials are now openly admitting, thus making the tragic mistake, drunk as it was from its historic victory in the January 25 elections and totally inexperienced in diplomatic battles, of overestimating its own political power and underestimating that of its “enemies.” It is also more likely than not that it felt that it could realign Greece’s strategic alliances, given the growing global reach of China and Russia’s need for European allies, but it underestimated, again, the logic that drives foreign policy decisions and seemed to be oblivious to geopolitical constraints.

Be that as it may, the Syriza-led government knew that, in order for its plan to work, it had to have wide domestic support across party lines. Hence, it reverted to strong nationalist rhetoric and toyed with people’s emotions and national pride. Accordingly, it employed “diplomacy as warfare” vis-à-vis Greece’s powerful creditors and opted to play one long game of chicken with them.

The person who was selected for this task was none other than the flamboyant and narcissistic “game theorist” Yanis Varoufakis, former adviser of George Papandreou and a staunch supporter of the European project, who thought the Greek problem was a European problem and that it had to be addressed above all as such. In other words, Varoufakis had no idea what to do about restructuring the Greek economy, and all that he had to propose were reforms for the eurozone regime and the implementation of a New Deal, an idea that was embraced by defunct Keynesians on both sides of the Atlantic, showing how little they understood the nature and dynamics of neoliberal European integration.

Tsipras’ selection of Varoufakis as Greek minister of finance and head of the country’s negotiation team with the creditors is a decision that will haunt the current Greek prime minister for a long time. The latter’s self-absorbed and irritant personality, in combination with the complete lack of diplomatic/negotiation skills on his part (Alexis Tsipras stated recently, in a direct reference to Varoufakis, that brilliance and economic expertise does not make one a good politician), created a near catastrophe for Greece as it unleashed the fury of the euromasters all the while his incompetence as a real-life economist caused inestimable damage to the Greek economy itself.

Of course, the decision made by Alexis Tsipras to name Varoufakis as minister of finance and put him in charge of the Greek negotiation team was consistent with his chosen strategy to internationalize the Greek debt problem while relying on tactics to stir up, at the same time, strong nationalist feelings inside Greece. Varoufakis had already attained international prominence for himself, was outspoken, and had received more votes as an MP candidate on Syriza’s ballot than any other Syriza candidate even though he was not a member of the Syriza party!

Tsipras and Varoufakis relied on the Grexit scenario as a threat to eurozone’s financial stability, but the plan all along was to keep Greece in the euro regime under any possible cost while hoping, in the meantime, to find ways, with the assistance of Greece’s euro partners, to manage the debt crisis in the least destructive way possible and to maintain Greece in the capitalist orbit of its own unique design.

In a rather odd way, Syriza’s strategy and vision for Greece did not differ from that of Andreas Papandreou’s back in the 1980s. The idea of a transition to a post-capitalist social order has long ago been removed from Syriza’s political radar. The hope of its leadership was to maintain the old ways of doing things by using the highly bureaucratized and incompetent public sector as a vehicle for the continuation of clientelist practices. Indeed, the only actions the Syriza-led government has taken in the last five-and-a-half months revolve exclusively around the public sector and include the following: the reopening of public broadcaster ERT (which tends to operate mostly as a propaganda arm of the government, although it draws only a tiny percentage of viewers but is costing Greek taxpayers millions of euros a year), the rehiring of cleaners for the Ministry of Finance and the offering of public sector jobs to family members of government officials!

In the meantime, the economy reverted to a recession; private businesses began a new round of layoffs; and liquidity reached critical levels, leading eventually to an unofficial bank run and the closing of Greek banks. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a contemporary government that has caused so much havoc in such a short period of time.

The most critical mistake the Syriza-led government made in its five-and-a-half months of negotiations with Greece’s official creditors was to hold a national referendum on a muddled and problematic question. Its wish to reject austerity while the country is financially bankrupt but wishing nonetheless to keep on the euro straightjacket has to qualify as the most contradictory political stance of all time. But this is consistent with the general sentiment expressed by the majority of Greek people since the eruption of the Greek debt crisis – hence why Tsipras refused the proposal of the Greek Communist Party that the referendum also includes a “no” or “yes” vote on the euro. He knew that the result would have been the exact opposite – a resounding “yes.”

Clearly, Tsipras used the referendum as a Machiavellian plot to avoid the collapse of his government (this was openly admitted in a TV interview by the current finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos), but did so only after the official bailout program had expired and while the government had already defaulted on an IMF payment. Moreover, if he thought that a “no” vote would have enhanced his negotiation stance vis-à-vis the creditors, he was engaging in a flight of pure fantasy

Thus, with Greek banks closed and desperate for external financing, Alexis Tsipras ended up a week after the referendum accepting a humiliating agreement by Greece’s sadistic euro partners as he knew he had no other choice: His Grexit scenario had completely backfired, and it was now the creditors who were threatening to force Greece out of the eurozone.

In a sense, then, Tsipras found himself trapped by the tragic mistakes of Varoufakis’ negotiation tactics and the Greek people’s ongoing commitment to the euro. As a result, and with no alternative plan in the works, Tsipras was forced to accept a new bailout deal with abhorrent economic, social and national policies. The new bailout program contains recessionary measures that will ensure that the Greek economy remains in intensive care; enforces additional anti-social measures that will keep sinking Greek living standards; makes a mockery of democracy as it seeks to delegitimize a democratically elected left government; and treats an independent nation as a German colony.

While the measures of the new bailout agreement were approved by the Greek parliament, thanks to the support provided by the pro-euro political parties, 39 Syriza MPs spoke against the measures, and more than half of Syriza’s central committee sided against the agreement, describing it as a coup against Greece.

To be sure, although a number of ministers and other party hacks have tried to suggest that the new bailout package is not as bad as it seems, even Tsipras himself has said that this is not an agreement he believes in but must enforce nonetheless to avoid the county’s complete collapse. Of course, how he is going to do that remains to be seen.

A huge demonstration in Athens on the same day that the Greek parliament voted on the bailout measures suggests that the Syriza-led government won’t find it easy at all to implement measures that convert Greece into a neoliberal nightmare and a German colony. It is also certain that Tsipras will reshuffle his cabinet very soon. He is expected to remove those ministers of his that voted “no” and replace them with pro-euro, pro-capitalist elements, thus breaking the link with the radical left and completing the conversion of Syriza into a broad social democratic party.

The Che Guevara T-shirt-wearing, iPod-carrying post-leftists will soon be replaced by authentic pseudo-progressives who preach Keynesian economics to neoliberal Europe and seek to recycle unemployment schemes to contain the deepening of the Greek capitalist crisis.

Greece will remain in the spotlight for a long time to come. But the message so far is clear: The first Greek leftist government in the history of Greece, unprepared as it was for an alternative solution, has surrendered totally to neoliberal Europe by adopting the neoconservative claim that “There is no alternative.” In so doing, it continues – either consciously or not – the long tradition of Greek left betrayal.

1. While in opposition, Andreas Papandreou’s Pasok party also voted in support of the Maastricht Treaty (1992), which marked the end of “social Europe” and consolidated the project of European-embedded neoliberalism. Interestingly enough, Synaspismos, which stood as the main representative of the Greek non-communist radical left and was one of the main forces that eventually came to comprise Syriza, had also voted in support of the infamous neoliberal Maastricht Treaty.

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