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Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece

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Q. The victory of Syriza, one year ago, was an encouraging fact for the European left; was it also for the Greek left?

Mavroudeas: First you must distinguish between people who are organized and people who simply belong to the left. For most organized forces Syriza was no hope. This is related to its origins, it comes from Eurocommunism and has well-known ties with the establishment. For most people who belong to the left, however, immersed in the middle of a crisis, with poverty, with a very authoritarian government, Syriza was understood in a different way.

The possibility of relieving the austerity policies and authoritarianism at that moment seemed as a hope. However, in the moment in which Syriza breaks its promises openly and capitulates in front of EU begins to gradually lose the support of ordinary people on the left. This largely happened in the last elections in which he portrayed itself not as an anti-austerity force but as a lesser evil against PASOK and ND.

Q. Regarding the economic program of Syriza, we see that it has moved its positions against the euro and debt. Why?

Mavroudeas: To understand this we must see what Syriza is. It is not the typical party of the Left. It’s like a galaxy of small groups with their leaders and their ties with enterprises, representing private interests. For this reason he has never been able to have a coherent economic program.

It began in 2012 saying «maybe we consider to get rid of the euro», trying to seduce the left. Later, as it approached to the power, it knew that this was a red line for the Greek bourgeoisie, so he forgot the idea of breaking with the euro and spoke to stopping austerity policies within the EU and the eurozone. When he reached the power it played the card of negotiating strongly with the EU. Finally surrendering making it clear that there was no other way than to implement austerity programs, the same as said by the previous governments. So SYRIZA revamped itself to the people as a milder manager of the troika austerity policies.

Q. So, Syriza has very clear links with the capital?

Mavroudeas: Clearly. This is now evident. A year earlier it was not so. The Greek bourgeoisie is divided into various factions; however, there is a great division inside the big capital. On one hand, there are the so-called «new emerging groups» that grew in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s under the administration of Simitis’ PASOK and after New Democracy. On the other hand they are the older beneficiaries of the Andreas Papandreou PASOK administrations. The latter became the losers with the rise of new ones. These old fractions of the capital have given support to Syriza, in the beginning covertly. Once Syriza was elected, the other faction is playing a game of clash-and-negotiation with Syriza as well.

Q. Syriza is the example that capitalism today can’t be in between two waters?

Mavroudeas: Yes, it represents the failure of the idea that it is possible to democratize the European Union. The European Union is nothing more than the union of European capital of dominant countries. The euro-centre countries impose their own interests and prerogatives to the others, the weaker capitals and people, of course.

Q. In a recent article in «The Guardian» Costas Lapavitsas, a former member of Syriza’s and now having a role in the economic program LAE (Laiki Enotita), seems to be pretty indulgent with Syriza. He explains that the big problem was that didn’t know how to challenge the euro.

Mavroudeas: This is also the big problem with Costas. He should have known better from the beginning and not to promote and support Syriza as he did.

Q. He knew it?

Mavroudeas: Of course he knew it. If he was not aware of that then he should have stayed aside. If I were in his position, if I had helped the political fraud that is Syriza to gain power then, the least I could do would be to apologize and offer my self-critique, something that I haven’t seen by Costas.

Q. Speaking of him, in your work you’ve been very critical of the Keynesian and post-Keynesian proposals about solving the problems of the EU and EMU.

Mavroudeas: There was a strong debate, and it still remains today, within the spectrum of the economists of the Greek left. Firstly, there are those (me included) who, from a Marxist point of view, argue that the EU cannot be rectified and therefore the left should propose that Greece leaves the EU. Secondly, there are those who say that we must remain in the EU but leave the EMU, (as Costas). Finally there are those who argue to remain in the EU but to change its austerity policies. The last two currents joined in Syriza and both failed; even those that proposed an exit from the EMU through a consensual divorce. It is impossible to get a decent agreement of a divorce from Schauble! This can only occur in his own barbaric terms. I think that the role of the left today is quite clear: the left should fight for a complete disengagement from the EU.

Q. In between the last two trends that have participated in Syriza and those who didn’t there was a particular way of understanding the crisis?

Mavroudeas: The two currents that participated in Syriza understood the crisis as simply a crisis of debt. This was caused by either an unviable fiscal deficit or and equally unviable trade deficit. Both led to a current account deficit. Their analyses followed Keynesian, post-Keynesian or Marxo-Keynesian perspectives. On the other hand, the current that proposed leaving the EU follows the Marxist perspective. It argues that debt is a consequence and not a cause and that the crisis has deeper causes that lay in the productive sphere. These causes are then reflected in the public finances. That is, the problems of the real economy determine public finances and external debt. By contrast, the other two currents say that there are no problems in the Greek productive structure; therefore they do not touch the European Common Market.

Q. Last of how we understand the workings of capitalism there a particular way to intuit how to reorganize production to make it democratic. I do not see an excessive concern on the part of Lapavitsas when thinking about the transformative potential of an exit of the euro.

Mavroudeas: Costas has actually abandoned Marxism and moved towards post-Keynesianism. He has proposed his own plan to save the Greek economy constracted around leaving the EMU. This plan does not say anything serious or concrete about the restructuring of the productive sphere of the economy. Furthermore, he suggests many things, he even speaks about socialism. But he never shows how his plan leads to a socialist transition. In fact, when he speaks about socialism (and he rarely does so) he sees it as something in the very long-term future without any coherent link to his plan. But, as John Maynard Keynes said, in «the long term we are all dead»…

Q. And now it is the turn of Yanis Varoufakis ..Does he deserve the self-given label of an erratic Marxist?

Mavroudeas: I think Varoufakis is too erratic to be Marxist.

Q. What is his position in Greece?

Mavroudeas: He comes from Giorgos Papandreou PASOK. He was an advisor to the government that brought the Troika in Greece. Of course he left it at that time and went to Syriza. Varoufakis is Keynesian but not in clear way. He doesn’t have a theory, not even a coherent analysis. He preaches ‘radical agnosticism’ which actually means that we do not need a theory; just a conjunctural analysis. This leads him to say many things that contradict each other very easily. In Greece now he is a thing of the past.

Q. But he has promoted ‘Plan B’ in Europe.

Mavroudeas: He can be moving around abroad but in Greece he has lost all credibility.

Q. What do you think of this proposal?

Mavroudeas: There is an attempt by Jean-Luc Mélenchon [co-founder of Partie Gauche (left)], Stefano Fassina [future leader of Sinistra (Future left)], and Oskar Lafontaine [ founder of Die Linke (the left)], to create a movement in a European level that gathers the Eurosceptics on the left, let me say it like this. They are skeptical about European integration but think that it can be democratized. They do not understand that the EU is a reactionary structure that can’t be reformed but only destroyed; and this is the task of the left.

Q. Finally, what are the prospects in a short-term and which are the options for the left?

Mavroudeas: For now Syriza is crumbling rapidly; losing popular support. At the same time a coherent neoliberal bloc is being built around New Democracy. This bloc presses the capitulated Syriza to move even further to the right (in order to save its skin by accommodating with the bourgeoisie and the EU). This means that the official political spectrum is moving rapidly to the right. At the same time the society is rapidly polarizing between the rich and the poor. This leads to a huge discrepancy between political representation and social structure. This leaves room for the left, the true left. The left must venture boldly to offer to the working people a realistic pro-popular political proposal: leaving the EU completely and moving to restructure the Greek economy as a pre-condition for socialist transition.

This is a transcript of Stavros Mavroudeas’s interview with the Catalan website DIRECTA.

Stavros Mavroudeas is a Professor of Political Economy in the Economics Department of the University of Macedonia.

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