From the Russian Revolution until the demise of Soviet and Eastern European socialism, one dominant, uncompromising and persistent theme has obsessed ruling elites in the capitalist world and their allies: Anything but Communism (ABC). The ABC doctrine has led to the seemingly contradictory consequence of “champions” of democracy and human rights embracing anti-Communist despots and torturers. It has led the same celebrated values to be compromised in capitalist countries by the violent repression of Communists, leftists, and workers. The doctrine has placed arbitrary limits on the rights of self-determination for any emerging nation daring to flirt with a non-capitalist path. And when Communism threatens to breach the barriers constructed by the capitalist class, that class resorts to the most extreme form of Anything but Communism: fascism.
For the left, ABC has often appeared to be an insurmountable hurdle to the goal of peoples’ power and socialism. Too often the task of overcoming ABC overwhelms the advocates of socialism, leading to compromise, concession and ideological dilution. Certainly, many of the formerly powerful Communist Parties of Western Europe succumbed to this lure. The self-described Euro-Communists, especially, hoped to convince their opponents that they were reliable and docile contestants unworthy of the class hatred embodied in ABC. They thought that by demonstrating their fealty to bourgeois standards of political conduct and by donning the trappings of civil parliamentarians, they would win the respect of their class foes. But the illusion of acceptance through “historical compromise” and electoral coalition proved to be just that—an illusion. Today, these parties have thoroughly demonstrated their “trustworthiness” by totally abandoning Communism for tepid class-neutral reformism.
ABC and Syriza
In the wake of the twenty-first-century crisis of capitalism, the need for a revolutionary movement of peoples’ power and socialism becomes both more apparent and more urgent with every passing day. The material conditions of most poor and working people have sunk to a level demanding far more radical solutions than those offered by the traditional bourgeois parties. Their failure to correct, or even address, the harsh deterioration of mass living standards over the last five years confirms their political irrelevance.
Nor are the romantic and spontaneous movements of the recent past of any use in the face of the ravages of a capitalist economic, social, and political crisis. Subcommandante Marcos or the leader-eschewing leaders of the Occupy movement are incapable of combating the ravages of a wounded capitalism despite the enthusiasm and encouragement of much of the US and European left.
Indeed, the objective conditions call for an organized movement determined to overthrow capitalism and replace it with peoples’ rule and the construction of socialism.
Yet the US left and much of the European left are still captured by the mentality of Anything but Communism. They subjectively hope to manage capitalism and yearn to return to the pre-crisis world of life-style advocacy, promotion of social harmony and tolerance, and incremental social welfare; they imagine class struggle without class conflict; and they share the make-believe hope of class justice without class domination.
This hope is found in the most recent celebrity of the Greek party, Syriza, and its attractive and agreeable leader, Alexis Tsipras. Syriza embodies the delusions of the US and European soft-left in the post-Soviet era: it advocates a noisy but vacuous anti-capitalist posture attached to a program of “enlightened” management of capitalism. Like its forebears in Social Democracy and Euro-Communism, it offers to appease the bourgeoisie while promising a distant goal with no more clarity than that of William Blake’s poetic Jerusalem.
Tsipras reveals the timidity and conservatism of the Syriza program in two recent documents: an interview with Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal published as a glowing opinion piece (The Conscience of a Radical) on January 28, 2013 and an article authored by Tsipras in Le Monde Diplomatique (The Greek Revival Plan, February 16, 2013).
The WSJ interview occurred when Tsipras visited New York to “meet with think-tank scholars, journalists and International Monetary Fund officials, and to be dined at the State Department,” to quote Stephens. It is hard to envision anyone frightening capitalism while maintaining this itinerary. As the friendly Stephens noted: “It definitely amused me to meet him in the breakfast room at his hotel, the Helmsley Park Lane on Central Park South. Not exactly the cafeteria of the proletariat.”
The trusted spokesperson for monopoly capital, Stephens, found much to like in the spokesperson for Syriza. He concludes that: “If the radical in Syriza means a party capable of thinking for itself and posing the right questions, maybe the right answers won’t be far behind.”
Apart from this ringing endorsement, what answers does Tsipras offer to the growing devastation of Greece and the capitalist crisis?
Tsipras assures Stephens that he advocates neither a default on Greek debt nor an exit from the euro zone.
Instead, Syriza is committed to a “conference” with the European Union to discuss negotiating a restructuring of Greece’s debt (Tsipras writes of the “public debt” though he also calls for the recapitalization of Greek banks, presumably mainly private banks). The model for this maneuver is the 1953 conference called to renegotiate the debt of the Federal Republic of Germany (Tsipras fails to acknowledge that there were two Germanys in 1953!) where 21 countries agreed to reduce the FRG debt and invoke less onerous terms. Unsaid in his proposal is the Cold War context of the 1953 conference. Conferees remembered well the consequences for the world of the heavy reparations and debt imposed on Germany after World War I. They were equally anxious to draw the FRG into the Cold War (the FRG joined NATO IN 1955) and in need of the FRG’s growing industrial might. Nothing remotely like these considerations weighs on the other EU members in deciding Greece’s fate today.
But how would Syriza secure such a conference today? By moral suasion? By calling on historical parallels? Neither would move EU leaders or their Central Bankers to participate in a plan that they would perceive as disordering financial markets. To believe so is to vastly misunderstand the logic of contemporary capitalism. There is something remarkably naïve in believing that the Greek crisis can be solved by merely calling a conference of EU leaders.
Tsipras, in both his interview and article, blames Greece’s sorry state on corruption. He does not place the capitalist system, the capitalist crisis, inequality, or any other systemic element or process in Syriza’s sights; rather, he sees Greece declining because of corruption and cronyism. Surely the leader of a “radical left” party must recognize that capitalism breeds corruption just as surely as it generates crisis. Corruption is an inevitable byproduct of capitalism and will reappear and expand as long as capitalism exists. To attack it, one must attack capitalism.
But there is no attack on capitalism in Tsipras’ or Syriza’s plans. Instead, there is “…breaking with the past… working for social justice, equal rights, political and fiscal transparency—in other words, democracy.”
Fine. But these broad slogans are not socialist. They are not even anti-capitalist. In fact, they could be embraced easily by Social Democrats in Europe or even Democrats in the US.
For those who were quick to condemn the Greek Communists (KKE) for not joining with Syriza in an electoral coalition, Tsipras’ and Syriza’s program should cause pause to reconsider. Like previous appeasers of Anything but Communism, Syriza trades on its differences with Communists. It offers a pledge of fidelity to the bourgeois rules of the game. Like other appeasers, it sacrifices principled advocacy of socialism to political expediency, a sacrifice that gets us no closer to peoples’ power or to socialism. Once Syriza is compelled to come forth with a program, it is impossible to locate a common ground with revolutionary Communists.
Tackling global capitalism—essential to reversing the continuing devastation of this deep and profound crisis—requires more than a conference and a series of slogans. Real solutions are not to be found with those promising to guide capitalism out of an inhuman crisis of its own making.