If the Greek Left Can Terrify the Eurocrats, What’s with the US Left and Obama?


Regard the Greek political landscape and how dramatically it has changed from last November. On November 2, 2011,  Greek  prime minister George Papandreou flew to Cannes before a G20 meeting and received one of the most humiliating rebuffs in European history since Pope Gregory VII left  Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV shivering in the snow. (Actually that fracas ended well for Henry, badly for Gregory, which people often forget.)

Papandreou went to Cannes to moot his referendum aimed at coercing the Greeks to back the austerity program being imposed on their country. It was a tactic, not a bad one. Sarkozy and Merkel received Papandreou with insults and derision and sent him and his referendum packing. Papandreou’s colleagues in PASOK picked up the hint, and not long thereafter Papandreou’s political career was over.

Now move forward to May. There were new elections. This time there was a left coalition, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) filling the void left by the utterly discredited PASOK. It had capable leaders like Alexis Tsipras.

In the election PASOK a party that has been in power longer than any other party in recent Greek history scored 13.20 per cent, its lowest score since 1974. New Democracy – rightist – did not manage to gain from the fall of PASOK, also had its worst electoral result (18.85 per cent) and saw the splinter ‘Independent Greeks’ party reaching more than 10 per cent. The total of all pro-austerity parties was less than 42 per cent, a clear evidence of the rejection of neoliberal policies.

Syriza was in second position with 16.78 per cent (the last time the Left had such a position was in 1958) and total percentage of the Left (Syriza, Communist Party and Anti-capitalist Left) was at almost 27 per cent, which is the largest electoral presence of the Left in modern Greek history.

Note that Tsipras and his Syriza colleagues have confined themselves to one substantive aim. They pledge to strike down the November 2011 agreement which locked Greece in banker-forged handcuffs of austerity. They don’t want to leave the Eurozone or challenge the EU. Tsipras says rather emolliently:

“Greece is a link in a chain. If it breaks it is not just the link that is broken but the whole chain. What people have to understand is that the Greek crisis concerns not just Greece but all European people so a common European solution has to be found.

“The public debt crisis is hitting the south of Europe but it will soon hit central Europe. People have to realise that their own country could be threatened.

“We are here to explain to people in Europe that we have nothing against them. We are fighting the battle in Greece not just for the Greek people but for people in France, Germany and all European countries.”

“I am not here to blackmail, I am here to mobilize,” he said.

“Greece gave humanity democracy and today the Greek people will bring democracy back to Europe.”

This is not the kind of talk a European banker likes to hear, particularly from a man who after this coming Sunday, may be negotiating a coalition in which he could be the next leader.  Already in May the arrogant tones of the bankers modulated. The mere fact of a substantive left threat affected them greatly and they saw that a pose of constructive listening to Greeks might be more productive than hammering the table.

Sunday’s elections will see whether this Left challenge to the bankers can be sustained. Syriza is playing a delicate game. Greeks don’t actually want the huge upheavals of default, leaving the Eurozone. So Syriza, assuming it has any coercive power, will have to be very artful in its efforts to maneuver the bankers to less monstrous austerities.

I’m sure CounterPunchers will have anticipated the moral of this story. Obama treats the left just as Sarkozy and Merkel treated Papandreou, with contempt. There is no reason to do otherwise. And I am not treating this as an opportunity for a last-minute rallying call for the left to muster in some electorally crucial state to menace Obama.

I took my stand on this issue in November 2010, just as George Soros had called for a candidate of the left to prepare himself for a race against the dismal Obama. I wrote:

My view is that we have a champion in the wings and one whom I am sure George Soros would be only too happy to support. In fact he’s a candidate who could rally not only Soros but the Koch brothers to his cause.

This champion of the left with sound appeal to the populist or libertarian right was felled on November 2, and he should rise again before his reputation fades. His name is Russ Feingold, currently a Democrat and the junior senator from Wisconsin.

Why would he be running? Unlike Teddy Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1979, Feingold would have a swift answer. To fight against the Republicans and the White House in defense of the causes he has publicly supported across a lifetime. He has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was the single Senate vote against the Patriot Act; his was a consistent vote against the constitutional abuses of both the Bush and Obama administrations. He opposed NAFTA and the bank bailouts. He is for economic justice and full employment. He is the implacable foe of corporate control of the electoral process. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January was aimed in part at his landmark campaign finance reform bill.

The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama’s elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge. Two more years of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”?

All we can do in our humiliating prostration, is wish the Greek left the best of luck.

Tumbril Time!

A  tumbril (n.)   a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I’d never realized, until reading Neil Schaffer’s biography, how close Sade came to being guillotined by the Committee of Public Safety.

His trial, which would also have been his death sentence followed by instant decapitation, was scheduled for July 27, 1794. But the bailiff never came for him at his prison at Picpus. There’s no clear explanation why. Bribery of the bailiff by Sade’s faithful friend Mme Quesnet may have been Sade’s salvation. That same day, July 27, spelled Robespierre’s own doom, on 9 Thermidor, in the revolutionary calendar. The next day Robespierre was executed and Sade was safe. He was freed on October 15, 1794. This was not the end of his experience in prison. By the end of 1801 Sade was in Charenton, dying there in 1814, his final liaison being with Magdeleine LeClerc, a 17-year old. He was 74 and there seems to have been affection on both sides. He recorded her visits to the prison meticulously, as was his habit. The last embrace was their 94th.

Poor Mme de Sade. She had to run around Paris looking for glass test tubes that would serve as dildoes for her husband, the Marquis, to use in auto-erotic stimulation in his prison in Vincennes. She had to order them from a glass-blowing factory, where the salesfolk would ogle respectable Renee, indicating their view that these glass flasks –– Sade wanted some of them 9.5 inches in circumference –– were intended for her own gratification. In 27 months, Sade noted, he used such flasks a total of 6,536 times, an average of eight a day.

Names Sade called his wife in one letter sent from Vincennes in the late fall of 1783 “Mohammed’s delight,” “heavenly pussy,” “fresh pork of my thoughts,” “shining paintbox of my eyes,” “mirror of beauty,” “spur of my nerves,” “violet of the Garden of Eden,” “seventeenth planet of space,” “discharge of angelic spirit,” “rose fallen from the bosom of Graces,” “my baby doll.”

Our Latest Newsletter

DEEP POVERTY IN AMERICA TODAY — 20 million with incomes below half the poverty line; Six million living only on food stamps; 46 Million Sunk in Total Desperation; Can Anything Be Done in Today’s Brutal Environment? Laura Flanders talks to Peter Edelman. Also, Jean Bricmont on the fiftieth anniversary of the US attack on Vietnam; and Israel Shamir on  conspiracist views of the left. 


Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com



Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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