This short essay is a study of the politics of the Greek crisis. Greece is a society facing both the politics of crisis and the legacy of crisis. Greece has a major economic, political, and social crisis today. This crisis has completely reshaped modern Greece. The crisis in Greece is still shaping Greece. The crisis in Greece is a crisis which refuses to go away. In this short essay I wish to give a short historical and political account of the Greek crisis — in the context of Greek history and Greek politics.
Greece has been in crisis since 2008 and 2009. Greek society continues to be shaped by the reality of this crisis, even a decade since its beginning in 2009. The SYRIZA government in Greece, which has been in power since 2015, has attempted to solve the crisis.1 SYRIZA, as a Left government, for better and for worse, has attempted to solve the crisis of Greece. SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, has attempted to face the Greek crisis. The crisis in Greece emerged because of the development of Greek Capitalism after the Second World War. Specifically, the crisis in Greece was the result of how Greece developed as part of European Capitalism and the European Union. Greece itself has always been a weak part of European Capitalism and the European Union. Ever since the political development of the Cold War, and the history of Greece since the military dictatorship of the 1960s and 1970s, Greece has always been the weakest link in the development of European Capitalism. The great crisis of Greece, since the 2000s, is the result of a longer political history — specifically the flaws of Greek Capitalism and the flaws of the European Union. The crisis in Greece is part of a much wider crisis — the crisis of Europe and the crisis of Capitalism. Since 2015 the SYRIZA government, a Left government, has attempted to balance itself and its politics within this much wider crisis. In many ways Greece, its governments, and its people, have become scapegoats for the much wider crisis of European Capitalism and International Capitalism. Greece is in crisis because it became the victim of international Capitalism. Any analysis of Greece’s current problems and the current problems of the SYRIZA government, under Tsipras, is impossible without acknowledging this reality. Greece has been made to be a scapegoat for a wider crisis — and Greece has been made to pay the cost of that crisis. The crisis of Greece emerged in 2009, but it had its deeper roots in the crisis of 2007/2008. The Capitalist crisis of 2007/2008 was the basis of the Greek crisis. So long as the Capitalist crisis continues, in its various forms, the Greek crisis will also continue. Greece, like many places, is ultimately the victim of this Capitalist crisis.
Greece has historical problems and political problems. The root of the crisis in Greece was the crisis of Capitalism and the crisis of Greek Capitalism. The crisis had its origins in the nature of Greek politics and Greek Capitalism since 1945, specifically in the nature of Greek politics and Greek Capitalism since the end of the Greek Civil War and the development of Greek Capitalism after the 1970s and 1980s. SYRIZA, in all its bad luck, came to power when that crisis was only maturing. SYRIZA inherited this crisis from the nature of the politics and history of Greek Capitalism. This, in itself, makes solving Greece’s problems all the more difficult. Problems with historical origins take a great deal of time to solve. The current SYRIZA government, as of 2018-2019, might have run out of the time and the ability to solve those historical problems. As a result, the Greek Left must turn to the Left — to more radical solutions. Politics in Greece, since the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, has shown the results of a society which has lacked a social revolution for decades.2 In many ways Greece still feels the legacy of its politics from the 20th century, especially since the Greek Civil War of 1944-1949, the military junta of 1967-1974, the fall of the monarchy in 1973, and the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. Greek politics has also been badly affected by the politics of Neo-Liberalism and the rise of the European Union. Greek politics, between the Right and the Centre-Left, has also been a failure — with New Democracy and PASOK undermining any real social development or political development in Greece since the 1970s. Greece is an example of a state and a society which has felt the full force of Neo-Liberalism. Greece is an example of a state and a society which has entered the modern period with all the results which Neo-Liberalism also produces. Greece, today, is a society of crisis and a society of despair. Since 2009 the crisis of Greece has only intensified. Eventually that crisis exploded — not simply in the crisis of Greece since 2009 but in the crisis of Greece since the end of the Second World War. This crisis brought down the old order in Greece — but it has not yet managed to produce a new order for Greece. For Greece and the Greek people this crisis of Greece and Greek society was a possible opportunity for something else and for something better — perhaps even Socialism and Socialist Revolution. The rise of SYRIZA was one example of the crisis of Greece possibly leading towards a better politics and a better society for Greece. SYRIZA was a great hope — not just for the Left but for Greece.
Greece has serious economic problems, political problems, and social problems. SYRIZA was elected in 2015 to solve the problem of the Greek crisis. SYRIZA confronted European Capitalism and the European Union, but it was pushed into compromise by European Capitalism and by the European Union. SYRIZA today has been a mixed bag for Greece — both as a government and as a radical Left force. SYRIZA still deserves sympathy and support from the Left, but it has also been a disappointment, a brutal disappointment — especially for those who had hoped that SYRIZA could have broken the reality of the crisis in Greece and put Greece on a path towards the Left. The problems of SYRIZA and the problems of Greek society continue because there has been no Left turn or Socialist turn in Greece. No Left force or Left politics, in Greece or elsewhere, can succeed without a Socialist force or a Socialist politics. SYRIZA, so far, has failed to pursue a policy of Socialist politics or Socialist transformation in Greece. This is why Greece continues to suffer and why Greece continues to languish in crisis. This is also the reason why SYRIZA has run into political problems with the Greek people — it was elected to solve the crisis, it was elected to push a Left turn in Greece, and yet SYRIZA has failed to do so. SYRIZA, if it wishes to survive as a political force must become a serious political force — by adopting a Socialist politics for Greece. This will be difficult, perhaps even impossible now, but it must be attempted — both for the sake of SYRIZA, the Greek Left, Greece itself, and for the sake of the Greek people. The crisis in Greece must be confronted. SYRIZA needs to actually confront that crisis head-on — with Left politics and Socialist politics. SYRIZA has succeeded in staving off the current crisis of Greece. In many ways, SYRIZA might be responsible for any positive development to have emerged in Greece since the beginning of the crisis. SYRIZA, however, has failed to shift Greece’s economy or Greece’s politics. SYRIZA has failed to shift Greece to the Left. 3 The current reality of the crisis in Greece, as a crisis of Capitalism, has not been confronted by SYRIZA.4 As a result it is likely that SYRIZA will lose government at the next Greek election. This result is due to the fact that SYRIZA, despite its name, was not radical enough. SYRIZA should have broken with Europe after the Referendum of 2015. SYRIZA should have followed its own policies and its own politics. The Left, both in Greece and internationally, should still support SYRIZA — but SYRIZA needs to move to the Left and towards Left politics.
The crisis in Greece is central to the crisis of Europe. The crisis in Greece has always interested the Left. The Left has always looked at the crisis in Greece both as an opportunity and as a threat. The opportunity in Greece, for a Socialist Greece, might be declining today — given the problems of SYRIZA — but the threat in Greece remains. This is because the crisis of Greece has the potential to completely undermine Greek society and to plunge it into a deeper crisis — one which would serve the forces of reaction. The threat of Golden Dawn, the Fascist Party in Greece, is a serious threat. The crisis in Greece cannot be allowed to shift Greece to the Right. Greek history, since the 1930s, since the Second World War, since the Civil War, and since the military dictatorship, shows the danger of Fascism and reaction in Greece. In Greece, today, the struggle is simple — between a good society and a bad society, between humanity and barbarism, between Socialism and Fascism. SYRIZA and the Greek Left cannot afford to let Greece fall into the hands of reaction and Fascism.
The crisis in Greece will remain part of Greece as long as the crisis of Greek Capitalism and European Capitalism continues. The crisis of Greece is now part of Greek history. 5 The most likely result, at the next election, is the return of a Right government — a New Democracy government. Such a government will not solve the crisis — and will likely plunge Greece further into its political problems and economic problems. The Greek Left, including SYRIZA, must engage with the reality of the Greek crisis — and fight for both Left politics and for Socialist politics.
1. S. Kouvelakis, Borderland, (2018)
2. J. Petras, The Contradictions of Greek Socialism, (1987)
3. S. Kouvelakis, Borderland, (2018)
4. S. Kouvelakis, Syriza’s Rise and Fall, (2016)
5. A. Clapp, The Twin Faces of Athens, (2018)
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This post was written by R.G. Williams