Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Greek tragedy — I


Slavery, as Marxists will argue, was an institution, not an individual's choice, which relied on social power to determine who would be a slave

Dr Saulat Nagi

Dr Saulat Nagi August 04, 2015

Beyond doubt the pillows of illusion were out in full force but, for once, the dream was fulfilled or at least it appeared to be. Society, Oscar Wilde says, “Never forgives the dreamers.” True to its tradition, no exception precluded its execution. With contempt and impunity yet again the most cheerful dream was bartered with a nightmare. It was through a referendum that the Greek masses were offered a choice between a honourable death and permanent subjugation — a choice between two evils. The day was won but lost in the same evening since the ruling minority found the mass verdict incommensurate with its class interests. Despite the aura of democratic freedom, the mistress of un-freedom did not take long to undress itself in public. The Orwellian democracy of the west left the wretched of Greece bewildered.

Despite commanding an impressive majority in the referendum, why did Tsipras and his associates meekly cave in to international capitalism? For the majority this remains an unresolved mystery. If humiliating surrender was the premeditated decision, why was it considered imperative to stage the drama of the referendum? Why insult the intellect of the people by flagrantly flouting their verdict once the ‘apparent’ objective was achieved? Was this a real objective or merely a means to serve some other end? At one stage, rumours of revoking the idea of the referendum gave credence to the hypothesis that an outright victory of ‘no’ was likely to undermine the designs of the ruling class. The latter was probably looking for a split mandate to seek legitimacy for its surrender to the financial ‘terrorists’. Indecisive, scared and semi-conscious masses could have provided a sufficient excuse for Tsipras to be hailed as a hero who went down fighting against external pressure. This could have helped prove another point: for the Euro-obsessed people of Greece, the time for rational persuasion was still not ripe. But, to his dismay, it was not to be. The consciousness of the people caught him off guard and this turned him into an archetype of Hamlet, “an absolute entity and equally futile” (Horkheimer). If Tsipras was merely appealing to the moral conscience of the troika, he should have heeded Rob Urie, according to whom: “For the uninitiated, compassion is ‘inefficient’ in capitalist theory”, especially when “ideology and class interests become reified in the practice, in the institution (of troika) itself” (Costa Lapavitsas).

For Marxists the referendum remains invariably a Bonapartist tactic. No such farce can enhance the cause of the working class. The reason for the outrage that Tsipras is the target of, has to be found in both objective and subjective conditions. Syriza in power meant the defeat of the working class. It clearly indicated the inclination of the balance of forces, which had already tilted in favour of the bourgeoisie; the latter decided to bring a populist leadership into power. In this regard, one should not forget Gramsci’s Caesarist phenomenon.

“The idea of a charismatic, authoritarian leader is already performed in the liberalist celebrations of the gifted economic leader, the born executive”(Herbert Marcuse). The individual was neither a reason nor a cause of this catastrophe. He was a mere consequence of the manipulating powers surrounding him, which he himself was unable to control. Blaming Tsipras for betrayal will neither help nor provide a dialectical analysis of the turbulent situation prevailing in Europe today.

Neo-liberalism does not offer choices to the individual since both the individual and his tormentor are not separate entities but mere aggregations. Due to control of the means of production/distribution, finance capital wields the stick. The stick in this case is the Euro, which Greece does not control. Slavery, as Marxists will argue, was an institution, not an individual’s choice, which relied on social power to determine who would be a slave. Despite the altered nature of slavery, even today this stands true. Who were the real culprits? Who gave and took loans and how? The people of Greece or a handful of oligarchs and the banks who made these deals behind the back of the people? Was it not Lloyd Blankfein, the current CEO of Goldman Sachs, who in 2001 engineered a hideous, off-the-books ‘sexy’ deal that helped the government conceal the actual extent of debt (initially worth 2.8 billion Euros) that later was nearly doubled? As Robert Reich states, it was a “cross-currency swap”, a complicated transaction in which Greece’s foreign currency debt was converted into a domestic currency obligation using a fictitious market exchange rate. For its services, Goldman received a whopping 600 million Euros ($ 793 million). If this is the reality, why is the ordinary Greek being forced to pay for the crimes of a corrupt state that tells them less than half the truth? “Distortion of truth,” says Freud, “is not unlike a murder.” Here the whole nation is facing the guillotine in the name of austerity.

Syriza was never a revolutionary organisation. Under the given conditions revolution had already become a near impossibility of all possibilities since there was no revolutionary moment. Why else was Syriza in power? The only possible revolution could be a ‘passive’ one, unless the working class of industrialised countries in general and of Europe in particular came out in droves to materialise this possibility. To be realised, the dream needed the frenzy of the French Revolution, which was found wanting in this case.

What people won in the referendum ended in a pyrrhic victory but no one can deny the very existence of this referendum, the verdict of the people or the enhanced level of their consciousness. Contrary to Lenin’s thesis of ‘one step forward, two steps back’, the historical dimension of this event can transform itself into a complete paradigm shift. The outcome may lead to a gigantic leap of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ or regression into an abyss of ‘one step forward and several back’. The possibility of leaning towards the left is as possible as it is towards the extreme right. German fascism was the birth of similar failures on the part of the communists who found their feet frozen.

(To be continued)

The writer is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at

The Greek tragedy — I