Vasilis Grollios. Constellations: An International Journal of Critical & Democratic Theory. Volume 23, Issue 3, September 2016.
This article considers the question of how Syriza’s misguided approach to contemporary neoliberalism and its problematic understanding of the irrationality of the EU’s policy under capitalism can be understood from a theoretical perspective informed by early Frankfurt School Critical Theory. I will argue that while Syriza’s thinking and approach is radical by EU standards, it remains, nevertheless, confined to the nihilism of the bourgeois political establishment. Suffice to say, the reasons rehearsed here will not be attributed to political maneuvers or to the political strategy followed by the party. Doing so would only reiterate traditional theory that sidelines the way that sovereignty in our everyday living is perpetuated by ordinary citizens desiring only to obtain a decent living by following the system’s logic of competition, accumulation, and hard work.
In contrast to studies that ground their explanation on a party’s political maneuvers, my goal is to present a broader focus with a view to posing questions considering what it means to be anti‐capitalist in our times and what is required in order to turn the topsy‐turvy world back on its feet. Consequently, and with this frame of reference in mind, one must ask what is the topical character and social impact of fetishism, alienation and dialectics In this brief analysis I offer an explanation that is unconventional, even by traditional Marxist standards, for how a self‐declared leftist oriented party remains bound within the logic of an established bourgeois parliamentary system. In the end, this article will be of interest not only to students of European and Greek politics but also to radical political philosophers and sociologists who share an affinity for contemporary democratic social change as informed by the legacy of early Frankfurt School theory.
In applying concepts specific to Critical Theory as developed by the early Frankfurt School, it will be possible to reveal and unravel the very essence of the apparent social forms (such as value, money or the state) in that Critical Theory provides explanations that go far beyond descriptive accounts of Syriza’s strategy or of “the rigidity of the European Monetary System, which is governed by a number of monetarist principles organized primarily by the dominant power in the EU, Germany.” Furthermore, Critical Theory attempts to attract attention to a particular form of logic, namely the standards of affluent society where socially necessary labor, as “a rigged and a brutal game,” requires everyone’s participation—even a so‐called radical and socialist party like Syriza has adopted this logic.
In the following pages I will argue against academic and popular ideas expressed by Greece’s first and second finance ministers while also keeping in mind official documents signed by the Greek government and its European partners during their negotiations.
Yanis Varoufakis’s “Erratic Marxism”
On February 18, 2015, The Guardian published an article on its website written by the ex‐financial minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, in which he attempted to explain his “erratic Marxism.” In his article, Varoufakis confessed to holding radical political ideas, ones that were not expressed during his academic career or in his short tenure as a politician. Here I will argue against his reading of Marxism from a critical Marxist perspective.
In the article, Varoufakis confirmed he “would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.” Despite this pronouncement, he supports and endorses the view that the “implosion” of European capitalism, “despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs.” The focus of his address was “to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.” Considering he is the key person involved in formulating Syriza’s policy, I would say this is also the general goal of the party’s theory.
Despite the fact that during his academic career Varoufakis taught “the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx” and his “public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism,” he admits that “you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist” and that “Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in.” Nonetheless, he maintains that Marx “helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era,” and more specifically “the dialectically tense ‘joint production’ of debts and surpluses, of growth and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil.” Varoufakis also appreciates the accuracy of “Marx’s poignant argument that … wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production” and that “[T]he problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational,” since “the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also produces deep unhappiness and crises.” At this point I would also emphasize that, just as with Varoufakis’s pronouncements, a key idea in Syriza’s theory, reiterated many times since the crisis of 2008, is that “the crisis is systemic,” meaning that it is an inherent and unavoidable feature of the capitalist mode of production. Yet this idea was never analyzed to any great extent in terms of its consequences, nor was it connected with the logic of the EU.
In the remainder of his article, and in contrast to his statements above, Varoufakis contends he is “by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist” since “I remain terribly angry with him [Marx].” Marx’s “first error” was that
he showed no concern that his disciples … might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence.
Varoufakis does not understand that Marx, like any philosopher, should not be held responsible for how his future followers have appropriated and expressed his ideas. Varoufakis ignores the letters that Marx had exchanged with Engels in which they castigate many of those who, in their time, thought they were following their analyses and proposals.
Varoufakis also points out what he believes to be Marx’s “second error,” which was “his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models.” According to Varoufakis, Marx “ended up toying around with simplistic algebraic models.” Unlike Varoufakis, however, mathematical concepts can be found only in limited portions in the second volume of Capital and so in no way should this be seen to be the focus of Marx’s logic. Varoufakis’s bachelor’s degree is in mathematics and this may perhaps account for why his attention is drawn to this point.
And finally, Varoufakis contends that had Marx accepted
that his “laws” were not immutable … [h]e would have to concede to competing voices … that his theory was indeterminate and, therefore, that his pronouncements … were permanently provisional. This determination to have the complete, closed story, or model, the final word, is something I cannot forgive Marx for. It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, authoritarianism.
The Irrational Character of the Capitalist Mode of Production According to Marx
Before I respond to the last point in the previous section, and continue with Varoufakis’s conclusions, I will first contrast my reading of Marx to his. For the early Frankfurt School, bourgeois democracy is elaborated in terms of the logic of the “topsy‐turvy world” expressed in the third volume of Capital. In brief, this “enchanted, perverted, topsy‐turvy world” can be explained in the following way: being forced to live as “personifications of economic categories,” we are dominated by inverted, distorted forms (such as the state, parliamentary representative democracy, and value as money) that express the perverted form that our activities must take in order to continually help money multiply itself. Thus, in the capitalist mode of production, the manner in which people come into contact with each other in order to satisfy their basic human needs leads not to the satisfaction of their needs via money, but to the satisfaction of the need for money to multiply itself through people’s work. Rather than individuals becoming the real subject of history, capital becomes the subject and uses people for its needs. What could be more irrational than this?
Thus, fetishism is a phenomenon that is connected to more than simply the product of our labor and extends beyond the sphere of political economy. Marx’s remarks on the inverted, topsy‐turvy world implies that fetishism should be understood as a general phenomenon that permeates the entire spectrum of our daily lives: “The objective conditions essential to the realization of labour are alienated from the worker and become manifest as fetishes endowed with a will and a soul of their own.”
In capital, as in money, certain specific social relations of production between people appear as relations of things to people, or else certain social relations appear as the natural properties of things in society.
Moreover, fetishism should be understood as a process that people themselves create each time they submit to the philosophical anthropology that sustains the capitalist mode of production where the ethics of this anthropology is expressed as “time is money.” When fetishism is viewed in this way, revolution does not take place simply and solely at the level of the state; instead it becomes a revolution in our everyday life. Similarly, the demand for democracy is not simply connected to the state or to the role of economic elites, but is examined in relation to human suffering, to the contradiction underpinning our existence in capitalism. This contradiction means that people are haunted by the logic that “time is money” and are forced to transform their concrete labor into abstract labor (that is, into money) in order to survive. In so doing, they produce and reproduce, through competition, the entire social structure and the reified forms that are necessary for the accumulation of money by money. The contradiction that we experience in our daily efforts to sustain a livelihood appears in the following forms: the state, the bourgeois form of democracy, value as money, and the trinity formula of capital, rent, and wage. It is this contradiction that is the real content of each and every one of these fetish forms.
In my reading, in the philosophical tradition that began with Marx dialectics involves neither the study of the laws of history nor the historical tendencies that have developed, but rather the study of the mediation and the intertwinement of form/appearance and essence/content. Dialectical thinking opens up the fetishized and objectified forms by revealing their origin as existing in our alienated, objectified labor. Through this it reveals their inherently negative character. No matter how closely tied together the forms/appearances or how closed and fetishized they appear to be, they cannot hide the negation that lies at the heart of their essence, the fact that the system fails us at every turn.
Only through dialectics one can challenge the view that democracy should be understood as a call for a more effective domination of the people, as another kind of power, or as a demand for the replacement of the elite that currently holds power, even by a party that claims to be socialist or Marxist. In this way individuals can challenge all calls to build a state power structure that is more favorably disposed to the masses.
For Critical Theorists, democracy is theorized in terms of negative dialectics. Negative dialectics attempts to make us aware of the human content that lies hidden inside fetish forms such as the state, bourgeois democracy, value as money, and the trinity formula (that is, capital, rent, and wages.) Critical Theory of democracy poses the question of how it is possible for people, on the one hand, to be subjects of history, and, on the other, to be ultimately dominated by the aforementioned forms over which they have no control. Why does human doing—that is to say, the ways that we come into contact with each other and with nature to fulfill our basic needs—take forms that we cannot control, that do not express our real needs and that ultimately dominate us? How does this content take these forms? Different parties occupy states all the time, yet the logic according to which we are supposed to live remains the same. To what extent is the irrational rationality of capitalism—which evaluates everything in terms of multiplication of money— produced by ordinary people attempting only to maintain a decent livelihood? Could one say that we ourselves build the bars of our prison? Are we the victims of capital or we should be proud for being the agents of its crisis? What is it that dominates us: the state and the politicians, along with the big corporations and banks, or a deeper dynamic that we ourselves create? Such questions point to the complexity of the concerns of Critical Theory. In its attempts to reveal and unravel the very essence of the apparent fetish forms, Critical Theory poses much deeper questions than those posed by traditional bourgeois theory.
Liberal bourgeois theory is identity thinking since it identifies a phenomenon by considering its present appearance, its form. It sees only the fetishized form in its appearance. It cannot reveal the fact that it is a form historically created according to how people came into contact with each other and with nature in order to satisfy their most basic needs.
Thus by thinking in non‐identity terms we think in terms of a dialectic between form and essence, of a dialectic between how the fetishized form appears and what it really is when we see its historical creation and development. When we do this we demystify that fetishized form, we defetishize it. By defetishizing the form we realize that if we change the essence—which is the most important relation in society, namely our relations with each other and with nature in order to satisfy our most basic needs—then we will no longer produce under privately owned means of production in order to accumulate wealth. Consequently, form will then also change. State, value as money, and the representative system of bourgeois democracy are the forms that correspond to a specific content essence, that of capital. Thus, defetishization entails a struggle between two different theories of time: time is money, and time is for living in peace and solidarity. If defetishization is a historical process, it is open and uncertain in its results. Marx had no intention to set out a “closed story” or a “model,” as Varoufakis holds.
Capital is a social relation, a process formulated by each and every one of us to the extent that we submit ourselves, in our daily activities, before the logic that “time is money,” of the perpetual accumulation of wealth. However, this is not how capital is understood by Syriza. In interviews and public discussions, the prominent members of this party present us with the idea that capital is identified with capitalists and takes place on another plane separated from people’s every day life. According to Syriza’s theorizing, capital is accumulated wealth. This is, however, the liberal understanding of capital, one affiliated with the classical political economy that Marx once criticized.
The Crime of the Intellectuals and the Nihilism of Bourgeois Culture
Given the above, I maintain that Varoufakis and Syriza repeat the same “crime” that Horkheimer accused intellectuals of committing during his time:
The crime of modern intellectuals against society lies … in their sacrifice of contradictions and complexities of thought to the exigencies of so‐called common sense.
From my perspective, their “crime” derives from the non‐dialectical nature of their philosophies. Thus, they do not aim to penetrate the plane of appearance to uncover the hidden basis and thus reveal the concrete contradiction within the form: the fact that alienated labor, whose only aim is to accumulate wealth, is the real content of every fetishized form. Instead, modern intellectuals fully equate the concept with its object, whereby the form is transformed into a fetish, thus making any and every prospect of overthrowing the capitalist mode of production unthinkable. Since this approach has already accepted the logic of the system that produces the fetishized forms—that is, the values that support accumulation for accumulation’s sake—such philosophy is apologetic in character rather than truly radical.
In the same way, Horkheimer also recognizes “the irrationality of the world” in which “men must submit to conditions they themselves create as to something alien and overwhelmingly powerful.” These conditions determine how the “topsy‐turvy world” appears—in the inverted, distorted forms previously mentioned. Horkheimer goes so far as to call for a “Marxist clarification of the concept of freedom.”
Traditional theory, the mainstay of modern philosophy, does not succeed in penetrating the level of appearance but instead “contents itself with ordering and classifying supposedly pure data.” If it had penetrated the level of fetishism, of appearance, traditional theory would have revealed the fact that the prevailing mode of production nullifies the apparent autonomy of the aforementioned fetish forms. Modern philosophical systems and political theories were built on the illusion that the Spirit or Reason is fundamentally divorced from the irrational. In these systems, the analysis of contradiction did not include the class interests that unavoidably come into conflict with each other. Class conflict remained outside value judgments in traditional theory, which exhausted the future content of the fetishized form to the current one. Therefore, facts, forms, and objects have nothing more to reveal than their present form of appearance.
This is identity thinking, the most important characteristic of traditional liberal theory. The bourgeois form of democracy or, for example, the state, was not regarded as an expression of something deeper, of a hidden essence, of the topsy‐turvy world, of the irrational fact that in a system where the means of production are privately owned, the multitude is excluded from the processes under which the production of necessities, the means of its own self‐production, takes place. Profit through competition is the predetermined goal of the capitalist system.
Political philosophy should have an inherently negative character since its role should not merely consist of classifying or “juggl[ing] concepts, arranging and rearranging them as neatly as possible like a stamp collection” in order to describe the things, the fetish forms. Rather, its purpose should be to reveal the concealed content of concepts and forms:
In the concrete expression of a living world of ideas, as exemplified by law, the state, nature, and philosophy as a whole, the object itself must be studied in its development; arbitrary divisions must not be introduced, the rational character of the object itself must develop as something imbued with contradictions in itself.
Consequently, the goal of dialectics is not to help us fit into a world that inexorably insults our dignity but to safeguard difference from suffocation by bourgeois culture. The purpose of philosophy is, therefore, inherently negative and, as such, it is non‐systemic, anti‐capitalist, “the force of resistance.”
For social democratic parties like Syriza, whose aim is to domesticate and tame neoliberalism and organize a “capitalism with a human face,” contradictions remain outside the above‐mentioned forms; they have been rigidified and naturalized. Simply stated, capitalism can be transformed from above. In their speeches at the general assembly of the Greek industries association in May 2015, Tsipras and Varoufakis emphasized their faith in “growth with a human face” and the values that sustain the irrationality of the perpetual accumulation of profit inherent in capitalism including competition, hard work, and accumulation of wealth. Varoufakis’s speech emphasized that Greeks “must be more competitive, effective, and closer to the competitiveness of northern Europe.” Tsipras indicated “we need a growth that will be based on the respect of workers’ rights and on the economical support of wage labour.” In the same context, a few days later at his speech to the general committee of his party, he reiterated that he was in favor
not just of growth, but of a kind of growth that will serve the interests of the majority without undermining them and submitting them to the interests of the economical and political elite. This is what is at stake for the first left government in Greece.
The ideas expressed by Tsipras and Varoufakis are similar to radical liberals like John Stuart Mill and John Rawls who advocate a transformed capitalism that can better serve workers’ interests; these thinkers, of course, stand in sharp contrast to the logic of Marx’s critique of political economy discussed in Capital.
Contradiction, as used here above, is also evident in the statement Syriza published on September 15, 2015 on its webpage just 5 days prior to the snap elections on September 20, 2015:
in a certain moment in time … one has to make a tactical and temporary compromise so as to be in a position to keep fighting [and] preserving the possibility and opportunity of prevailing.
They hoped that, following this compromise, “Greece should play a protagonist role in aiming to sharpen EU’s and Eurozone’s contradictions, mobilizing political and social forces to resist, question and transform European institutions.” The fight for socialism, and democracy, and the sharpening of the contradictions is being postponed for the long term future. For the moment the party encourages us to succumb to the enchanted, perverted logic of capitalism and to continue to experience its contradictions with patience while keeping only an uncertain hope for the future.
The fact that Syriza’s theory is far from anti‐capitalist is also apparent in Tsipras’s article, appearing in Le Monde on May 31, 2015 during the most crucial stage of the negotiations. After describing the reforms the Greek government agreed to make, Tsipras argued that the distance that still existed between the institutions and its government should be attributed to
the obsessions of the representatives of the institutions who insist on unreasonable solutions and so they show to be indifferent to the democratic result of the recent elections in Greece.
This obsession leads to
the formation of states of two speeds in the zone of Euro, where the central core will impose strict rules of austerity and adjustment to the states who are outside the core.
Additionally, this central core will also “impose a super minister of finance” who “will have the immense power to refuse the national state budgets that will not conform to the doctrine of extreme neoliberalism.” For Tsipras this is the way European policy is currently formed, with Greece as its first victim. As should by now be evident, the origins of the current policy are not attributed to capitalist expropriation of social wealth, to the inherent tendency of capital to multiply wealth to the maximum possible extent at the expense of people’s needs, but to the ideological prejudice of the dignitaries.
Similarly, the former Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece and later Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos admitted that his analysis of the Greek crisis was also based on traditional liberal economic theories:
[O]n Minsky’s work on financial crises … and in particular his insight that financial markets are particularly susceptible to too much competition, leading to excessive risk taking … The hope engendered is always that “this time will be different.”
This type of thinking fetishizes the state in so far as, for Tsakalotos, the challenge is “how to democratize [the state,] how to link it to forms of direct democracy.” The crisis is not attributed to the irrationality of the incessant multiplication of money, to an unavoidable characteristic of an enchanted and perverted world turned upside‐down. Nevertheless, Tsakalotos and also Christos Laskos, a member of the central party committee and a candidate member of parliament for Syriza during the previous election, are both certainly correct as far as identity thinking is concerned in that both support the view that “It is not that the state is not an indispensable instrument for economic development.” In capitalism, the state as a mystified fetish appears as an irrational form, where “time is money” is indispensable for economic growth—the main goal of a world turned on its head.
The main instrument of policy for the implementation of “growth with a human face” cannot be other than a new policy on taxes. While imprisoned in identity‐classificatory thinking, Syriza can expect to face very serious obstacles in implementing even this elementary social democratic policy whose aim is to strengthen the welfare state. The party has taken back most of what its candidate members of parliament said in their pre‐election campaign. The main promises were to abolish, with one law, all the laws that were voted on because of the memorandum, to also abolish the ongoing process of privatization, to immediately raise the minimum wage in the private sector to the level before the memorandum with the troika was signed (€751), and to fight austerity. Everyone in the party reiterated that it would be impossible to fully repay Greece’s outstanding debt because it is unsustainable. Party members seemed certain that one of the results of the negotiations with the EU, the IMF, and the European Central Bank would be a mutual agreement to seriously reduce the debt. Since the arguments in favor of doing so were believed to be based on sound logic, Syriza members were sure that the representatives of each of the three institutions with which it was negotiating would display reason and show an understanding of the Greek crisis, and would then agree to debt reduction, thereby lessening the extent of the imposed austerity measures.
That hope has by now been proven completely false. The president of the party and current Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, shared a detailed program at the international fair in Thessaloniki 5 months prior to the elections. The cost of the program was estimated at €11.3 billion. When queried where he would find the money he responded that more than half would be found from the fight against tax evasion. Thus, the main goal of curtailing tax evasion would involve what no other government within the last decades has succeeded in doing, despite promises to the contrary.
Some will no doubt believe it is too early to criticize Syriza. Yet one cannot but note that the government has rescinded the measures that were supposed to be implemented immediately after gaining power. For example, at the start of the negotiations, raising the current minimum wage was designed to take place in two coordinated phases, the first in 2015 and the second in 2016. Additionally, the ongoing process of privatization has not abated. Following the signing of the agreement of the Euro Summit Statement of July 12, 2015 each of these policies, among others, has proved to be a pipe dream. The added property tax for 2014 which, prior to the elections, Tsipras encouraged people not to pay, must now be paid in full. Even before signing the agreement, in a TV interview Varoufakis had said that “there is continuity in state policy. We are being obliged to that [to collect this tax] by the signature of the previous government.”
In my view, the most important feature, in accordance with the agreement, concerns the point of no reduction of the Greek debt until the first stage of the agreement has been implemented. The institutions demanded that Greece pay exactly what was agreed when the bonds were issued and the loans provided. Varoufakis claimed there was “creative vagueness” in regard to what had been agreed to by the first three Eurogroups and that therefore the government had room to maneuver. Yet, despite the “creative vagueness,” the fact remains that a massive amount must be paid from the pockets of Greek citizens and from the newly arranged loans.
Bearing all this in mind, I dare say that, while it is still too early to tell for certain, the new government will scarcely fulfill even a small percentage of its initial targets. In my view, Syriza remains seriously deluded with respect to the structure and form of contemporary capitalism and the structural and cultural characteristics that make up the EU. Varoufakis’s mistaken assumptions about the democratic character of the EU have been dispelled to a large extent but what remains is that these delusions have yet to be attributed to the inherent logic that underpins contemporary capitalism and its relationship to the EU.
Neoliberalism is so deeply embedded in the EU’s policy that even a reference to the humanitarian crisis in the Eurogroup causes “a stroke.” In an interview on Greek TV Varoufakis admitted that
one of the first things that they told me [at the Eurogroup meetings] in Brussels is that elections do not change anything. They underlined that Syriza should follow the policy that was agreed upon by the previous government.
He also said,
[W]hen I told them [the participants at the Eurogroup] that we would renegotiate the debt, they had a stroke, when I spoke about the humanitarian crisis they had a second stroke, and when I told them that the new government questions the logic of the program they had a third.
However, what struck me about Varoufakis’s interview was the matter of “politicization.” According to him, “when I mentioned the phrase ‘humanitarian crisis’ for the first time at the Eurogroup meeting, everybody accused me of politicizing the discussion.”
So far “depoliticization” continues to be used wisely by political scientists in their description and assessment of EU politics. “[D]epoliticization as a governing strategy is the process of placing at one remove the political character of decision‐making.” This happens
in order to off‐load responsibility for the consequences of unpopular government policies; establish credibility with financial markets and alter expectations; and reassert the ‘operational autonomy’ of the political executive…. Recent trends include: … The acceptance of binding ‘rules (constrained discretion) limiting government room for manoeuvre.
Depoliticization enables “the government to “externalize” the imposition of financial discipline on labour and capital.” Indeed, the main argument of the former Greek governments from 2009 to 2015 was that they were forced by the EU and the markets to implement certain policies, and so the Greek people had to accept this pressure under the threat of Greece being forced to exit the EU.
Syriza promised it could prevent Greece from being forced to exit the EU while following a completely different policy from the one dictated by the memorandum signed with the troika. This is why it won the elections of 2015. Needless to say, this proved to be a utopian promise, even before the agreement of the Euro Summit Statementon July 12, 2015. The main goal of serious reduction of the debt, as reiterated by Syriza during the pre‐election campaign, has now been totally abandoned and the government has openly accepted responsibility to fulfill the conditions of the debt it had previously condemned as “unsustainable.” In a letter submitted on March 15, 2015 to Angela Merkel, Alexis Tsipras wrote that “The Greek government remains steadfast in its commitment to fulfill its obligations to its partners within the framework of the … February 20th Eurogroup decision.” The same commitment by the Greek government was also reflected in a statement by the Eurogroup on May 11, 2015: “The Eurogroup reiterated that its statement of 20 February remains the valid framework for the discussions.” The Eurogroup had issued a previous statement signed by all its members. It stated: “The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.”
In his televised interview on February 27, 2015, Varoufakis stated that, for the moment, he cannot insist on a debt reduction while also requesting a new loan for the immediate future. He promised, however, that negotiations on anti‐austerity measures would continue to take place. Even the less ambitious goal—also reiterated during the pre‐election campaign—over debt repayment in proportion to economic growth rather than according to the originally agreed on conditions was ultimately abandoned.
In my view, defaulting on debt repayment is not a possibility for the Greek government because doing so would risk banishment from the Eurozone. The fact that it must run the state under looming threats of removal from the Eurozone creates uncertainties that, at the very least, spell doom for investments, which Syriza welcomes and requires in order for economic growth to take place. This is another unresolved contradiction within capitalism that Syriza did not expect, given its disregard of the true character of capitalist logic. On the one hand, Syriza is forced to stand firm against a harsh neoliberal policy in order to protect human dignity but, on the other hand, this fight is bad for business and for economic productivity. At the Euro Summit agreement it was stated that “labour policies should be … compatible with the goals of promoting sustainable and inclusive growth” and that Greek assets will be privatized in order to allow for the recapitalization of banks, to the sum of €25 billion. Thus in order for the main pillar of the capitalist system—the banking system—to sustain itself, state assets must be sold. One can only surmise whether these assets might include Greek islands, ancient Greek sculptures, or perhaps even the Parthenon. All speculation aside, what is certain is that sacrifices on the altar of money accumulation and growth will have to be made.
Alexis Tsipras had called for a referendum on July 5 over the rejection or acceptance of the last proposal given to him by the institutions on June 26, with an ultimatum of no later than June 30, the debt default deadline for paying an installment to the IMF. Tsipras confessed that signing the proposal would lead to a dead‐end, similar to what happened with the previous agreements made by former Greek governments, since it would not include any reduction in the non‐sustainable debt. The European Central Bank ultimately decided to stop providing money to the Greek banks despite the government’s request for an extension for another week. As a result, capital control was imposed.
An optimistic future bver the survival of Syriza would require institutions to accept a cut or a deep restructuring of the debt and for Syriza to follow an austerity policy that was more less harsh than that which was agreed upon at the Euro Summit agreement on July 12, 2015. However, even this will not turn the “topsy‐turvy world” back on its head; it will not prevent Greek people from experiencing the irrationality of having to live as “personifications of economic categories” in order to promote money accumulation. The members of parliament who belong to Syriza’s left wing, the so called “left platform,” did not accept the memorandum that is planned to be imposed and have also voted against many law proposals. The net result of these actions was Alexis Tsipras’s call for an election on September 20, 2015.
That Varoufakis remains mired in bourgeois identity thinking is evident in his refusal to regard this crisis as a product of the inherent contradictions in capitalism. For him the “deeper cause of the crisis [is]: the lack of a surplus recycling mechanism at the heart of the Eurozone.” As for remedies, he has proposed that
the ECB [European Central Bank] make the continuation of … the assistance of its generous assistance to the banks conditional on having the banks write off a significant portion of the deficit countries debts to them.
Step two would be for the member states to “continue to service their debts, but, at least for the Maastricht‐compliant part of the debt, they pay the lower interest rates secured by the ECB bond issue.” And finally, the European Investment Bank would “borrow, with the ECB’s assistance, surpluses from European and non‐European surplus countries and invest them in Europe’s deficit regions.” No doubt, fetish forms will continue to survive, hiding alienated labor in their content. Only the relationship between them will change and a different classification will evolve.
The last paragraphs of Varoufakis’s comments in The Guardian accurately reflect, I believe, the view of the dominant wing inside Syriza:
A Greek … exit from the Eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism. …Who do you think would benefit from this development? … the golden Dawn Nazis [and] the assorted neofascists. …If … it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. …[T]he left must admit that we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapse of European capitalism would open up with a functioning socialist system. …I am happy to defend … the pursuit of a modest agenda for stabilizing a system that I criticize.
He finished his musings by encouraging the forging of alliances with reactionary forces in order to stabilize Europe today and avoid “revolutionary maximalism.” In contrast, Horkheimer would probably suggest that we should not wait for the conditions to be ripe before beginning the struggle against capital:
Critical theory … confronts history with that possibility which is always concretely visible within it. …Mankind was not betrayed by the untimely attempts of the revolutionaries but by the timely attempts of the realists.
We cannot predict beforehand what form the contradiction, the negative that currently exists within the fetishized form, will take. If people learn through their experience, this potential will be formed during the class struggle. The result of the analysis that stems from negative dialectics is that traditional theory’s rationale for the maintenance of the state is in direct opposition to this non‐identity and open understanding of the fetishized forms of the state. Defetishization will not come at some point in the future but it comes here and now, since it is a historical process that takes place every time we refuse to follow capitalism’s logic.
One may argue, against my analysis, that I have placed too much emphasis on Varoufakis’s thinking, especially bearing in mind the fact that he is no longer a member of the government or of Parliament. I would respond that his idea of Greece staying in the Eurozone no matter the consequences and his hope that the Eurozone might become democratic while remaining embedded in the strictures of capitalism was, and still is, the main platform on which Syriza’s policy rests. Varoufakis left politics not because of philosophical differences with the party over capitalism, liberty, and democracy but because he, unlike others, did not accept the compromise with the troika. In the end, a split between Varoufakis and Syriza does not pose a challenge to my analysis, at least not in terms of its political philosophy.
Despite the fact that Syriza won the snap elections on September 20, 2015 and will thus continue to govern under the previous coalition, it continues to remain embedded within the inherent and systemic contradictions of capitalism, including the delusion that unmitigated growth can continue while at the same time containing and preventing economic crises or other phenomena leading to social disintegration. Syriza won the election in January 2015 and again in the snap election in September 2015, only because it has, and will continue to accept, the “nihilism of bourgeois life, this becoming‐a‐commodity, becoming alienated from the entire world.”