Polishing the Turd: Leo Panitch and the defense of Tsipras’ betrayal.

(caption above reads: Tsipras – the people voted No!)

By Bob Lyons

I will readily admit that the “polishing the turd” concept is a direct theft from union activist David Bush, as it is a bon mot particularly apt in describing a section of the social democratic left who have leapt to the defense of the Tsipras Eurocommunist factions betrayal of the Greek working class and popular sector historic NO in the referendum of 7 July.

Tsipras concedes to almost all the IMF bailout demands

Panitch’s “analysis” of the meaning of the capitulation is almost child-like in its naïveté, and it is so wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin to dissect this dog’s breakfast of incorrect facts, and the half-baked political theories underlying it.

Let us first of all understand what SYRIZA is, and is not. It is not a homogeneous political party, in the sense that a party like the German Social Democratic Party or the British Labour party are tied together at the top with the consensual understanding that to challenge capitalism in any fundamental way is not part of its political raison d’etre.

Rather , SYRIZA is an amalgam of different tendencies in the workers’ movement including the Maoist KOE, whose four MP’s actively abstained on the parliamentary vote authorizing the Tsipras capitulation, the DEA (International Workers’ Left, co-thinkers of the American International Socialist Organization), whose two MPs voted NO; the various groups gathered around the Left Platform headed by the Minister of Energy and Telecommunications, which could be called “left eurocommunist” for want of a better description, the Eurocommunist faction headed by Tsipras, and a post –PASOK grouping which while not a major force at the SYRIZA party level, is over-represented at the parliamentary level, and which is pro-Europe and pro-deal at any cost.

Panitch’s thesis that SYRIZA has a brilliant strategic conception of which the capitulation was just a part therefore flies in the face of the reality of SYRIZA. Just four short weeks ago, the Tsipras faction barely got approval for a continuation of the negotiations, beating back a motion of the Left Platform to prepare a rupture with the Eurozone, and to walk away from the debt and the creditors, and to increase the building of European solidarity amongst those in struggle against austerity.

Far from having a strategy of defeating austerity, and removing Greece from under its pile of illegal, immoral and odious debt, the Tsipras faction zigzagged erratically from one position to another, buffeted as much by the contending political and class forces expressed inside SYRIZA, as the strategic aims of the European imperialists and their political sock puppets inside the alphabet soup of Euro-state institutions.

The European imperialists have been much more straight forward in their aims: to break resistance to austerity by any means necessary, and if able, to destroy the Greek left and by implication, SYRIZA. Not only have they been quite open about, the German foreign minister Schaueble offered to pay Greece’s way out of the Eurozone, as a way, and an economical one from their point of view, of containing the anti-austerity contagion.

Leo Panitch

So, Panitch is dead wrong on his thesis in regard to Tsipras’ strategy. He had none. The ultimate proof if this is his having no Plan B. Now, its an old bush pilot’s axiom that you don’t go aviating without a back door, the alternative route that you will take when there is a need for a diversion, for whatever reason. Tsipras gave up his back door the minute he and his faction that exit from the Europe of the capitalists was off the table. Not only did he expose to the world that he had no alternative plan, he also gave up his biggest bargaining chip.

Secondly, Panitch is wrong in his arrogant and dismissive attitude towards the Greek anti-capitalist left. He tries to lump those in what he calls the Western left who have rushed to judgement (in Panitch’s blinkered eyes), with the members of ANTARSYA and the Left Platform and I presume, the Redproject as well. Yet it were precisely those forces who have all along warned that the Tsipras faction’s slavish devotion to the Eurozone and the EU, would lead the Greek people down a dead end street. It was these forces who have provided the organizational backbone for the mobilizations against the forms which austerity has taken in the workplaces and on the streets. It is these forces which have provided the back bone to the development of a mass ant-fascist movement in Greece, a movement which forced the previous government to put the leaders of the fascists on trial.

For Panitch to dismiss these forces, forces who even now are organizing to overturn the Tsipras betrayal, as representing one per cent of the population is both an outright lie, and is the height of academic arrogance.

The 15,000 people on the street last night, called together at a moment’s notice to protest the betrayal of the people’s will by those forces Panitch so arrogantly dismisses, will soon make hash of his support for the Tsipras group.

Members of ANTARSYA march on
Members of ANTARSYA protest the betrayal of the people’s will by the Tsipras group.

What is the motivation for Panitch’s covering for the betrayal by the Tsipras group? I suggest it is rooted in his political philosophy, a viewpoint which is best described as neo-Kautskyite, that is, un updated version of the theories of the post-1917 German theoretician Karl Kautsky, who argued that the state was a neutral entity and which could be wielded by the workers’ party or parties for the good of the social revolution.

This neo-Kautskyism is the underlying theoretical framework for a whole host of academic Marxists, that group of Marxist thinkers who like to see themselves above the fray of the real class struggle. It is expressed in various guises, from Poulantzas in Greece (theoretician of Greek Eurocommunism) and Focault in France, to the Marta Harnaker and Michael Leibowitz in Chile, and Venezuela.

This group is tied together with a string of anti’s. They are all anti-Leninist (thus Panitch’s jibes about Lenin’s tomb); they are all apologists for bourgeois democracy and are opposed to a social revolution and a workers’ government who will repress and contain the not so discrete charms of the bourgeois; they all have various notions, based on a false reading of Gramsci, that the bourgeois state has openings able to undertake “wars of position”, that is left bureaucrats vs. right bureaucrats, the kind of fights academic Marxists like to engage in academia, and as their political outlook makes them safe enough for sections of bourgeois society, they abhor the revolutionary left groups. This is from whence springs Panitch’s tone of panic in this piece.

His attack on the revolutionary left, while aimed ostensibly at some notion of arm chair revolutionaries ensconced in secure sinecures far from the scene of battle (he may have been looking in the mirror at this point), is actually an attack on the Greek revolutionary left.

His attack on those who advocate and organize for a break from the institutions of European imperialism, starting with the EU itself, is a defense not just of the Tsipras faction, but a defense of those bourgeois institutions themselves.

Those of us with ties to the Greek revolutionary left organizations, as those of us in the Canadian far left for the most part have (in my case the OKDE-Spartakus), know well the Panitch type. They were found in PASOK. Now they find a home in a safe Eurocommunism.

But, to paraphrase a former Greek finance minister: “We wear the scorn of the reformists proudly on our chests”. What Leo can’t see, because he doesn’t want to see, is that in Greece the cock has yet to crow.