Greek Eurofudge threatens to detonate a bankrupt new order
As Syriza's success in Greece shows, Marxists, of a kind, are making a comeback in Europe. Along with far-Right populists they are taking advantage of paralysis in the contemporary European project. A new and bankrupt order could now follow
Yanis Varoufakis has been replaced as finance minister of Greece by Euclid Tsakalotos. A radical Keynesian economist trained at the University of Essex has been substituted by an undoubtedly Marxist one trained at the University of Oxford. But there is progress of sorts.
Ever since Eurocrats became obsessed with the idea of the single currency as a motor for European unity, Tsakalotos has been disparaging about its ability to make divergent national economies converge in a new federal order.
When addressing a conference of Sinn Fein in March, he also described the negotiation between Greece and its creditors as part of a wider contest between left and right across the Continent.
I think Tsakalotos is correct to see it in such ideological terms. But in the light of the crushing endorsement of the Syriza government’s hastily-called referendum to demand debt relief and other favourable terms while Greece stays inside the Euro, it is unfashionable to say so.
Here in Britain, Left and Right have closed ranks to celebrate Greece’s defiance of the European behometh. David Davies, Alex Salmond, and Daniel Hannan believe that the European potentates must retrea,t but they differ on the extent of the concessions and what the desired end-point of this crisis is.
I’m increasingly convinced that the dominant tendencies in Syriza are motivated by a desire to take full control of state and society. The chances of establishing an authoritarian populist order in Greece are reinforced by unleashing turmoil elsewhere in Europe. There is also the need to promote a power-struggle not just on the streets but in universities, television studios and the wider cultural world.
Paul Mason, the economics journalist now at Channel 4 after a long stint at BBC Newsnight, has made clear the grasp of Syriza’s ambition:
"...its entire evolution as a left-wing party has been away from confrontation with the state and towards the “long march” through the institutional strategy of the New Left, as advocated by Syriza’s intellectual guru, the late Marxist intellectual Nicos Poulantzas".
Thus it has reached out to the ultra-nationalist Independent Greek party, absorbed well-placed social groups into its own patronage network, and boosted the pensions of the military at a time when the cash is running out.
It even had the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party as an ally in the drive to produce a large No vote in the referendum.
Mason has been a long-time Syriza backer who portrays its rise as the resistance of Europe’s oppressed against an unjust order. The celebrity Marxist economist from France Thomas Piketty has been more confrontational. He has created a storm by baldly insisting that German workers must pay a range of Greek entitlements because their grandparents started World War II.
Varoufakis himself, now a bigger media presence than Piketty, has also made explosive statements. At the weekend, he accused the EU creditors of terrorism. He invented new proposals and fictitious negotiations in a bid to rile the EU chiefs and underline the supposed pragmatism of Syriza.
He told the Daily Telegraph last weekend that he had come to accept the return to the drachma, the seizure of banking assets and a suspension of payments by Greece in return for IOUs.
Varoufakis is an alternatively entertaining and menacing figure who now operates on a European and world stage thanks to the way that new social media technologies can be used by highly-motivated groups with an agenda of toppling existing norms and conventions.
The Scottish referendum showed how left-wing populism could assume mighty proportions in a previously quiescent country by placing these new forms of communication at the service of agitation and protest.
The pro-Independence groups had no coherent model for a new state other than proclaiming, ‘we want out of Britain’. But Syriza is far more formidable. Not only does it wish to overturn the verdict of the 1946-49 Greek civil war, won by the political Right, but it wishes to make Europe the arena of a new ideological conflict.
Like nearly all Marxists Syriza’s chieftains are firm centralists and they wish for a tightly-controlled EU that finishes with NATO, cleans out the financial sector, compels manufacturers to dance to the state’s tune, and makes an alliance of convenience with Russia.
I’m unsure whether Nigel Farage and others in the Eurosceptic wing of British politics understand that far from being unlikely radical champions of national sovereignty, Syriza wishes to have a tightly centralized EU in which monolithic instruments of power enforce equality and popular justice.
Allies such as Podemos in Spain, in many ways a creation of the Chavez regime in Venezuela, make no bones about the kind of Marxist Napoleonic Europe which is needed for hard left ideas to prevail. The anti-system left has been engaged in a long march through the institutions since 1968 and it has got plenty of professionals who could have a go at making such a Europe work (at least for a while).
Many of the technocrats that Syriza relies on to enforce its authority over different parts of the Greek state and transmit its message to a world audience are in fact British educated. Not all went back to Greece after graduating in subjects such economics or sociology at British universities.
Syriza has a solid bloc of well-placed members in British higher education who have justified each twist and turn of the party’s position ever since it sprang from nowhere at the end of last year.
It is not surprising that the view of a uniform Greek society being ground down by the iron heel of Brussels is one that frequently shapes the BBC’s coverage, not least on the Monday the referendum results came through: the influential radio news programme, the Today programme was actually broadcast from Athens.
Its chief anchor John Humphrys has family links with Greece and in his florid coverage, he made little effort to conceal his sympathies.
Few in the BBC are prepared to hold Syriza to account and explore the methods it is using to strengthen its power. German public broadcasting, thanks to experienced EU-watchers such as ARD’s Rolf-Dieter Krause, has far more sober and analytical coverage of the Greek crisis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticised by him and others for her complacency and desire to ‘kick the can’ endlessly down the road. The scale of the dilemma facing the EU is not ducked, but the temptation to engage in cheap populist tricks at the expense of lacklustre EU decision-makers is avoided.
Right now the EU has few credible leaders with the energy and resolve to force a conclusion to the crisis and face down a hard left which is assuming substantial dimensions.
The centrist Euro elites are paralysed. They shrink from the logical step of breaking up a failed currency experiment in a controlled manner, but nor are they able to move forward to a fiscal union.
It involves huge financial transfers, loss of sovereignty, and debt write-downs which will not be tolerated in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria or most of the new accession states from the east. The paralysis of the EU ruling elite is reflected in the warnings, threats and then conciliatory noises coming from Martin Schulz, the leader of the European parliament and Jean-Claude Juncker, a disaster-in-the making as President of the European Commission.
Syriza are so fortunate in their enemies as these unhappy Euro lords lurch from one desperate Euro fudge to another. Freed from his ministerial responsibilities Varoufakis is sure to gleefully open up a second front in mainstream media outlets where he is already feted as no other politician/savant has been for a long time.
Prime minister Alexis Tsipras may get better terms from the EU, but if Brussels buys time and postpones a reckoning involving the dismantling of the single currency, it will just lead to a bigger blow up in the long-run, and the possibility of outright revolution not merely confined to Greece.
Tom Gallagher’s latest book, ‘Europe’s Path to Crisis: Disintegration Through Monetary Union’ has been published in paperback by Manchester University Press
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