Why did SYRIZA fail?

How has Syriza ended up this way? Here's a question that is torturing a big part of the people of the left and which all the forces that situate themselves in the left must answer.

The discussion had flared up even before the elections were announced and the electoral dilemmas make it even more imperative today. However it would be wrong to limit this discussion around elections.

The consequences for the Left that can be extracted from this discussion go way further than the horizon of the ballot box on the 20 September.

To start with, we could say that there are two (opposing) views that both start from the negation of the question: Syriza hasn't changed, it is just trying to manage a difficult conjuncture, insists Syriza's leadership. At the same time, but from the opposite side the C.P.'s (KKE) leadership, is saying that Syriza was just another bourgeois party, roughly "nothing gained nothing lost".

It is quite obvious that these approaches lose touch with reality. We will come back to the C.P.'s stance further down but lets start from what Tsipras' leadership claims.

The first undeniable element is the crisis that has erupted inside the party of the governing left. We are heading towards elections because the government has even lost the 120 minimum MP majority which is necessary in order to maintain a minority government .

The first reaction of Syriza's leadership was to denounce the MPs who disagreed as being responsible for the overthrow of the first government of the Left. After a second thought they decided to push for elections because Tsipras is. . . a real democrat and he wants a new mandate. But the electoral manoeuvres cannot undo the reality of the crisis that has burst.

Besides, the crisis is not limited to the MP group, neither to the departure of the Left Platform. Disagreements, resignations and departures spread throughout all of the party's structures, from local branch cadres to the Secretary and from the ex-"components" to the backbone of the once Synaspismos.

If anyone doubts the span and the intensity of the phenomena and thinks that they can be succumbed under the pressure of the ballot box that can operate in a rallying manner(as its leadership apparently wishes) he has but to have a look at the international turmoil inside the European left that had embraced Tsipras. The consequences can be seen in Spain or in France were Jean-Luc Melanchon is distancing himself from Tsipras. Everywhere the people of the Left are experiencing this evolution as a crisis of Syriza.

The most indicative example though does not come from Melanchon or Podemos, but from Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of Syriza's central committee who is present in Paris and London, who likened the vote in the Greek parliament for the new memorandum with the vote in the Reichstag on the War budget a hundred years ago. Back then an international movement against the war had to face the treason of social-democracy that entered the war. Today, the people who are fighting all around the world and that had looked towards Syriza with hope, must face Tsipras' capitulation to the archbishops of austerity.

Obviously all these people in an international scale, but even more intensely and urgently in Greece want answers. What went wrong? Where is the cause for the violation of its declarations to be found? What should change?

Amongst the forces to the left of Syriza there is a bewilderment about the role its reformist character played and continues to play. But without a clear analysis of Syirza's features it is difficult to find answers. The word "mutation" is being used, but this word dodges the discussion about the causes.


It's very obvious that there is great contradiction between the declarations of 2012, or even the Thessaloniki programme(which was already minimised in comparison with 2012) and the cold blooded measures signed and now implemented by Syriza as part of the new Loan Agreement (Economic Adjustment Programme). It is also clear that there has been a backwards slide during the Syriza-ANEL governing. But when did this "mutation" occur and why weren't there any warning symptoms of this sickness?

The declaration issued by Popular Unity(PU), who's core is the Left Platform that resigned from Syriza, is extremely silent on this matter. It speaks about politics and perspectives that it wants to serve, sometimes by repeating positions once defended by Syriza and sometimes by somehow differentiating, but nowhere does it try to explain the failure of the project from which it originates.

For example we read: An essential ingredient of our alternative proposal is the radical transformation of the state, of justice, and of public administration. The restoration and expansion of democratic liberties, from workplaces to the right to demonstrate, the dismantling of the MAT(riot police) and more generally handling the apparatus that serves to repress the "enemy-people", the democratisation of media, the decisive confrontation with corruption and interlacing interests, consist the most urgent measures to be taken in this field.

Comparable formulations existed in Syriza's decision and now we know that in reality we lived to see Panousis as a Minister. In a few months we went from the symbolic dismantlement of the iron barriers in front of the monument of the Unknown Soldier (in front of the parliament) to the riot police's attacks on demonstrators that were protesting against the Agreement with the "institutions".

So what will prevent the repeat of this dolorous experience? Was there a problem with the strategy of "democratisation" of the existing state? Did the leading cadres of PU disagree with Tsipras' declaration about state continuity when he was visiting Avramopoulos in the Pentagon before the January elections, and if yes, why didn't they express themselves publicly? Can there be a "radical transformation" of the state without adopting a strategy which will have the state's anticapitalist overthrow and not its continuity as an horizon?

Elsewhere though there is an improvement of Syriza's old declarations on rupture with the EU:

The regain of monetary sovereignty, with the renationalisation of the Bank of Greece and the issuing of a national currency, will offer the necessary liquidity to the economy, without the burdensome terms of the loan contracts. It will decisively help the reinforcement of exports, the limitation and the substitution of imports and the reinforcement of the productive base of the country and of the tourist flow. It will favour the creation of jobs through public constructions, development initiatives of big public enterprises, through the backing of the social sector of the economy and the restoration of credit towards small and middle enterprises. The abrogation of burdens brought upon popular households memorandums and taxes will reinforce demand, thus giving an impetus to growth. We will present an overall special plan for Greece that will put in place a radical, progressive programme under a national currency".

This is undoubtedly a step forward from the old "no sacrifice for the euro" type of positions that left the question of the "institutions" and the EU controlling the Bank of Greece and the currency, hanging in the balance. But what remains unanswered is the strategic question: who will control the, by then, nationalised central bank and the national currency? Is a supervision of a future progressive government enough to turn this step into a tool in the service off workers interests? Will the Greek capitalist suddenly cooperate in order to create new jobs, with better wages and with respect to collective bargainings ? Should we be preparing ourselves for such a "peaceful coexistence" with capital when we break with the Euro or should we better prepare to fight against capitalists and capital flight when the devaluation, that Kostas Lapavitsas already presages in his interviews, occurs?

Syriza had and still has the negation of the revolutionary perspective of changing society, as its cornerstone. Not only because its core was constituted by the old Synaspismos which was dominated by the most right-wing reformist politics, expressed by Kyrkos, Damanaki and Kouvelis but also because even during its "radical" period of Tsipras' leadership, it always spoke scornfully of the perspective of the "Second Coming". " If we have to accept that only in the "Second Coming" of socialism there can be hope and life, then we will end up waiting for this "Second Coming".

Those who accept this "impatience" for hope and life and the fight for the overthrow of the society that deprives us of them in a disjunctive way, end up searching "realistic" alternative solutions, through compromises with the existing structure of society. This is the background of the reasoning that said " it's better to take a new loan than to put ourselves in the adventure of cancelling the debt", " better to take it from the Eurozone's institutions than put ourselves in the adventure of leaving" , " better to ask the people to suffer another memorandum than put ourselves into conflicts with those who send their capitals abroad and who are difficult to control".


Without breaking out of these fundamentals of reformist strategy , it is easy to fall into similar "realistic proposals". For example, Syriza's cadres that are now founding members of PU put their names on positions that state that" with an exit from the EMU, the country will not become less European, but it will follow a different approach from the countries that form the core of the EU, a choice that countries like Sweden and Denmark have already made". The last politician who said that Greece could be "the Denmark of the south" was George Papandreou. It would be tragic, if a movement that promises to help us escape from Syriza's abjection, was to repeat such nonsense.

There are of course people from this political space who are trying to enter the discussion about the strategy that was defeated along with Syriza. Stathis Kouvelakis locates the problem in "left Europeanism", but he insists that there are many elements that should be preserved.

"So what does remais undefeated from Syriza, to say it otherwise, what positive has this experience given to the movement of the left and to the popular movement? In a first approach I would mention four elements(...)". "First of all the proposal of a left government as the necessary and appropriate tool in order to approach the question of power, has not been defeated(...)".

Second element the transitional programme. I estimate that whatever its limits, specially the ones concerning its so called "estimation of costs" the "Thessaloniki Programme" was an unfinished but fundamentally correct approach of such a programme(...)".

"The transitional programme is also related, and this is something that we learn from the legacy of the third and fourth congress of the Commintern and the latter processings of Gramsci and Togliatti, is related organically with the objective of the united front(...)".

"The above conclusion leads me to the fourth and last point of what remains from this experience, in the relationship of the political with the social. This is, I think, exactly what has been at stake from 2012 onwards. That is to say the combination of a left government and of an acquis of the movement, which of course is never given and must be constantly re-baptised through struggles, so as to open a perspective of deep, social change."

Unfortunately if all these elements of Syriza's strategy are to be preserved, then the whole effort of breaking with its failure is being annulled.

Reformism subordinates the political perspective of the workers movement to the mediation of a parliamentary designation of the left in government. The whole dynamic of the relationship between the political and the social is being completely fragmented on the altar of an effort to manage, that can only lead to dead ends.

To speak more precisely, Lenin's revolutionary outlook on the character and nature of the mechanisms that a government of the left can possibly have to manage-based on the analysis of "State and Revolution"- actually escaped the impasse of such managements by proposing the realisation of the political goals with the forces of the movement itself.

He didn't propose to the soldiers who were fighting to end the war to put hope in the peace initiatives of a progressive government, but to take control of the units by rebelling against the generals. To the farmers who wanted land reform he did not propose waiting for a relevant law to be voted by a left majority, but to occupy the land by throwing out the landlords. To workers who demanded an eight hour working day and faced the employers lockouts he did not propose the emergence of a revolutionary as Minister of Labour, but the imposition of workers' control by the workers themselves in each factory and in the whole economy.

With this strategy the Bolsheviks came to enter the ministries only "on the ruins of the bourgeois state", as Rosa said. If we start searching how this strategy was improved by... Togliatti, then we are making a backwards step. Togliatti was the leader of the Italian Communist Party who advised that the movement of the Resistance during the fascist occupation should come to terms with the Christian Democrats. He was the architect of the Italian "Lebanon", a sell-out that ended up in a "Varkiza" type of defeat without any fight.

It is through such a reasoning that Popular Unity still sees the program of Thessaloniki as a 'transitional', while in fact it was Tsipras' intermediate step towards the compromises that followed.

The logic of the "government of the left" was the one that led the leadership of SYRIZA to a systematic shift towards "moderation" on the basis of the electoral needs and at the expense of workers' struggles after 2012. A teachers strike during the exam period does not win votes, said this logic. Instead, the "rounding" of its programmatic declarations wins "moderate voters." The parliamentary path develops its own dynamics, and even there the popular masses' turn to the left at the ballot box is not interpreted as a political advancement which allows bolder initiatives, but rather as an encouragement for greater adaptation to the requirements of electoral tactics.

Just because it has not developed any criticism about all these aspects, on the contrary it continues to beautify them as a supposedly modern processings of a radical strategy, the Left Platform / Popular Unity has remained silent throughout the period of SYRIZA's adjustment to the right, from 2012 until the January 2015 elections. The fear of being accused of endangering the electoral victory was dominant. It more often criticised Antarsya than Tsipras' leadership. .

And of course it accepted to participate in ministry positions, handing promises of an uncompromising attitude at the same time that the ANEL-SYRIZA government was going from one compromise to another. What dominated was the illusions that a leftist minister controls his ministry, while in reality he cannot even control the choices of his "comrade-ministers", and even less the capitalists and the bureaucracy that serves them.

These criticisms do not signify a return to a naive movementism which considers politics dirty and in practice accepts the labour division of "politics to the politicians and social struggles to the movementists". We have the experience of how whole sections of Autonomy and Anarchy surrendered without a fight to the charm of SYRIZA. As Alex Callinicos states "the problem is not that politics pollute the purity of social movements -politics are always inherent in social struggles- but what kind of policy finally prevails". (translation from the Greek text)

Before going on to consider what is the alternative policy that should and must confront the bankrupt reformist policy that ended up supporting a memorandum, we also need to see the bankruptcy of SYRIZA's organizational model.

For a long time, all of Syriza's wings were presenting their coexistence under the same roof, as a model of party democracy. "Unity in diversity" was the slogan that justified the compromises of components that declared themselves from radical to revolutionary with the leading group dominated by cadres like Papadimoulis, Stathakis and Dragasaki under the "youthful" presidency of Tsipras.

Even more, the left groups that participated in Syriza led the attacks of being sectarian against ANTARSYA because it maintained its independent presence. They said that their presence inside SYRIZA was the most effective way for the leftist voices to be heard and to have influence. Until recently still, these illusions claimed that "the government can not ignore the Syriza-party." Instead, on our side we warned that this model of "peaceful coexistence" was being led to failure.9

Now we know how this "experiment" ended. The same groups that never questioned Tsipras' leadership, not even by exercising the democratic right of proposing an alternative candidate for the presidency of SYRIZA at the conference, are now being forced to denounce him as a "putchist ."

If you have an alternative left policy, you need a separate left organization. Otherwise, you merely serve the all-inclusive tactics of a leadership that is heading elsewhere.


This is a conclusion that concerns not only the past of SYRIZA, but also the future of the Popular Unity. Alas if, in the name of the pressures of a sudden election campaign, the political debate succumbs once again to the charm of "unity in diversity". This risk is more than real, as the leading group of the Popular Unity repeats not only many of SYRIZA's political formulas but also its organizational recipe. The comrades of Aran and Aras who choose to leave ANTARSYA and join Popular Unity are shutting their eyes to these problems.

But does the persistence of ANTARSYA to lay the political and organizational issues result in a sectarian attitude just as the Communist Party's?

It's a fact that the leadership of the Communist Party has surpassed itself in this area. The withdrawal of the Left Platform of SYRIZA releases thousands of activists and fighters who had supported Tsipras' party during the previous period. It is the natural continuation of the massive shift to the left which was recorded in the referendum with the victory of the NO and which Tsipras pompously ignored. The Communist Party's leadership kept equal distances between the YES and the NO, by choosing abstention or invalid vote. By this choice, it found itself in an unfavourable position against the world that gave the NO fight. Now it is trying to recover by denouncing Popular Unity's leadership and Panagiotis Lafazanis personally.

But the people who support the Communist Party and who widely ignored the line of invalid vote and abstention in the referendum, are wondering why the leadership holds a different position today than the one it held when DIKKI and D. Tsovolas broke from PASOK. Was PASOK a more leftwing party than SYRIZA? Did Tsovolas have a more leftwards course to boast about than Lafazanis? The answer is obviously No. Yet back then, the Communist Party had welcomed that progress as a left split from PASOK and emerged strengthened from that period. In the European elections of 1999 it had reached 8.67% even though DIKKI had taken a 6.85 percent and Synaspismos 5.16 percent. The ballot had confirmed that there was a current to the left. The issue was how do the leaderships of the Left exploit it. We all know what followed.

Today again the issue remains. The crisis and the splitting of SYRIZA is the fruit of the leftward dynamic created within the working class and the youth when encountering the impasse of a reformist force that became government and compromised. Is there an attitude which avoids both the errors of repeating SYRIZA's strategy or of sectarian denunciation?

This is the challenge which the forces of ANTARSYA are trying to confront. To succeed, we must utilise the historical experience and the experience of thousands of fighters from the struggles of the modern period.

Historically, it is useful to recall what happened after the capitulation of Social Democracy with the warmongers, 100 years ago. That great compromise caused splits in the Socialist parties of the Second International to the left and a regrouping of the Left with the formation of the Communist parties of the Third International.

That redeployment did not come automatically. It took the revolutionary left to adopt the tactics of the United Front to win sections that were oscillating between reformism and revolutionary strategy, while making clarifying its stance against the sectarian trends that were developing back then. You can read in other pages of this issue of "Socialism from Below" what this approach meant in Germany where the USPD had left en masse from the SPD to the left, but also in Italy with the Gramsci's reckoning with Bordiga's sectarianism. Mass revolutionary parties were built by utilising the left breaks with reformism, by holding a unifying attitude but at the same time acting independently without succumbing to a practise of wiseacre denunciations.

Is there a basis for such efforts today?

The answer is definitely Yes. Not only because capitalism is in its most lengthy crisis since the 1930s and Greek capitalism in its worst. Not only because the massive turn to the left of the working class is at its highest point since decades. But also because there is an experienced force of pioneering fighters, women and men, who carries the experience of revolts against the betrayals of PASOK and against the limits of traditional leaderships of the Left.

The crisis in SYRIZA is not a shock to fighters with such experiences, who not only have participated in the general strikes, the occupations of the squares and the antifascist rallies in recent years, but who also remember the previous course of the Communist Party's leadership and of Synaspismos.

An important part of this politicization is in ANTARSYA. Rallying around ANTARSYA not only for the struggle of the elections on September 20 but for the major battles that follow may be the starting point for the recast of a left worthy of the high expectations of our class and of the great visions of its revolutionary tradition.

Panos Garganas
Socialism from Below 112
September-October 2015