The Panitch-Gindin Attack on the Greek Left

by Bob Lyons
The international response to Leo Panitch’s first foray into justifying the Tsipras faction’s betrayal of the Greek people’s NO to austerity and NO to the diktats of European imperialism, was one of almost universal approbation.  And, with great justification, much derision.
To put it bluntly, the European left, from Tariq Ali to Kevin Ovenden, heaped great, steaming mounds of scorn on what Ovenden termed a piece not equal to the level of a serious debate.

With the publication of his second, even more intellectually dishonest piece (an issue which I will address momentarily) entitled “Treating Syriza Responsibly”, he not only drags his colleague Sam Gindin into the latrine.  He helps cover him with the piles of dung he has deposited there.
In a nutshell, the aim of the piece is, on the one hand, to layout a justification for what the Alexis Tsipras leadership faction has done, by demanding that readers accept the existing order of things, to accept the European Union with the DNA of neo-liberalism in its blood, as he rightly calls it; and on the other hand, to attack the Greek left for demanding a rupture with this imperialist stitch-up, in effect to acquiesce to the Margaret Thatcher dictum of TINA (There Is No Alternative).

Judging from the comments section in The Bullet, its readers aren’t buying the Panitch-Gindin argument. Most comments,

Leo Panitch (left) and Sam Ginden (right)
Leo Panitch (left) and Sam Ginden (right)

however, seem to miss the fundamental flaw in the Panitch-Gindin world view, which is that their version of “the Left” must always be constrained by the structures of imperialism, and that “the Left” has only one recourse, which is to find margins of manoeuvre within these confines. That is their argument. Not ours.

At the level of their attack on the Greek Left, and this includes not just the Left outside SYRIZA, but the Left platform within SYRIZA as well, this is a dishonest article. Its very title reeks of it. Its plea is really to treat the Tsipras faction, the political co-thinkers of Panitch and Gindin “responsibly”. Both Panitch and Gindin, who are presently in Greece, know very well that there is no homogeneous political entity called SYRIZA. Its very name means The Coalition of the Radical Left, a coalition within which openly revolutionary currents like those of the DEA (International Workers’ Left) and the KOE (Communist Organization of Greece) are just as much a part of SYRIZA as the Synaspismos faction which Tsipras represents.
The Panich-Gindin attack on the Left inside SYRIZA, and their dismissal of the Left Platform’s demand for a rupture with the Euro, plays of course into the hands of the European imperialists who for months have been demanding that Tsipras purge them.
The most breathtakingly dishonest part of the piece is the political thought which underlays the writings of this duo on Greece. It is a political conception that describes the confines of the EU and its institutions in a way which any semi-observant person could see, but then accepts that this is the terrain within which the Left is to be contained. There is no other option, according to these two. Let me quote directly from the piece:
“Syriza’s unique capacity on the international left to build the type of party capable of both mobilizing against neoliberalism and entering the state to try to actually do something about this has always hinged on the way it sought to find room for manoeuvre within a European Union which has neoliberalism in its DNA, going back all the way to the Treaty of Rome let alone the Economic and Monetary Union thirty years later. Anyone who at all seriously followed developments in Greece over the past five years should have known that the leadership of the party would only go as far as the Europeans would let it, and that the balance of power inside the party made the Left Platform faction’s strategy for Grexit an effective non-starter. Those on the revolutionary left who hoped that after Syriza’s election this leadership would get swept away by a massive popular upsurge for Grexit in face of the limits and contradictions of a Syriza government were, as usual, dreaming in technicolor. “
A wonderfully written thesis — wonderfully wrong.
Falsehoods One and Two
SYRIZA’s capacity for party building had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with its finding room to manoeuvre within either the EU or the Greek bourgeois state.
Rather, the growth of SYRIZA is directly linked to two inter-related phenomena: the massive rise of the class struggle inside Greece and the role of SYRIZA activists within the class battles themselves; and the ability of those activists, many in the revolutionary left organizations of the governing coalition, to win the intra-party battles around program and tactics against the dominant SYN faction.
Panich and Gindin try to overlay their own political conceptions on a history which will not allow it.  They depend upon an ignorance of the real history of SYRIZA to get away with it. Reality stands in the way of schema, however.
In my previous article on this site, I described the political thinking of Panitch and Gindin, and those of a certain academic strain, as being neo-Kautskyite: that is, a modern version of the early 20th century theoretician of the German Social Democratic Party, Karl Kautsky, who put forward the argument that the state is a neutral beast, and the Left could very well enter into it and win “battles of position” (a scandalous bastardization of the ideas of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci).
If you need any further convincing on this score, the above passage should suffice. Look at what these two say. That the Left needs to find ways to maneuver within the confines of the imperialist structures. That the Left needs to “enter the state to actually do something”…
This not just analysis. The laudatory fashion with which this is written, and the ensuing attack on the Left, leaves no room for doubt that this indeed is the political program of these two icons of a certain academic and bureaucratic Left.
But it is just as well that they are as poor political scientists as they are good academicians. (Their tome on “The Making of Global Capitalism” is a great work, ranking with Guido and Day’s “Witnesses to Permanent Revolution”, and the scholarly work of John Riddell in resurrecting the true history of the first four congresses of the Third International).
The final sentence of the above quoted paragraph, written after the mass mobilizations in favour of the NO, mobilizationsantarsya which showed not the sagacity of the Tsipras’ leadership faction, but the strength of the Left in its ability to command the streets, showed that the Greek population as a whole, despite the immense pro-YES propaganda, was right to resist and to vote NO — a NO which left Tsipras despondent.
Whilst the Panitch-Gindin duo rush to defend the Tsipras faction, the mass movement against austerity is certainly not just going to disappear. The general strike called for Wednesday, 15 July, is another step in the effort to construct a government that will sweep aside the weak-kneed Tsipras faction, and replace it with a political force led by someone like the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis who placed before the government the only realistic option: to break with the Eurozone, to renounce the foreign debt, to place the banks, including the Central bank under government control, and to deliver its own response to the Europe of the imperialists.
So I guess the balance of forces wasn’t the reason after all, as Panitich and Gindin contend. It was a conscious choice by their political twin Tsipras to knuckle under.
The mass movement in Greece has not yet been defeated. The coming political defeat is the destruction of SYRIZA, as Tsipras purges the left, the most active militants of its coalition, and blocks with the capitalist parties in a “government of national salvation”. While Panitch and Gindin will no doubt express a bit of sympathy for the departed leftists, they will no doubt fall back on their Thatcherite mantra that “there was no alternative”.
If there are any lessons to be learned from Panitich and Gindin from these events, it is that the Canadian left should look upon their political writings with a most critical eye. They have revealed that their political project is one of building a reformist organization which can maneuver within the confines of North American imperialism, and which can “enter the state to do something”.
The Canadian left has no need for such an organization, it has the New Democratic Party to undertake this kind of political operation. No, the Canadian left needs to build a revolutionary organization whose aim is not to accept the limits of imperialism, but to destroy it. It is the kind of organization which the Panitch-Gindin crowd hate, a Leninist combat party which won’t buckle at the first threats out of the mouths of the ruling class. At the political level Panitch and Gindin can serve as examples, bad ones.
To finish, while Panitch and Gindin denigrate the activities of the Greek left, dismissing it as “dreaming in Technicolor”, that same Left is now busy on the streets, in the neighbourhoods, in the workplaces, and in the unions, and within SYRIZA.  It is arguing, debating, and organizing for a most massive repudiation of the sell-out Tsipras faction. We shall see, soon enough, the power of the Left and, most importantly, the power of the Greek working class and popular sectors to give reality to those dreams, and to dump the delusions of Panitch and Gindin.