Has the Leopard Really Changed its Spots?
Back in February, a brief article at the BBC remarked on the seeming transformation of Syriza from a bunch of Marxist dreamers into (shudder..) quasi-“Blairites”. To be sure, we also approved of the signs of pragmatism that emerged at the time. The party had seemingly ditched its previously implacable opposition to privatizations and didn’t even try to tax the country’s shipping magnates. The tax exemptions enjoyed by the latter strike many as unjust, but the fact is that they provide around 7% of Greek employment and their assets are out at sea. It is up to them under which flag said assets are sailing and it would be self-destructive to chase them away.
Given the stunt Mr. Tsipras just pulled (note that the Greek negotiators learned of his referendum announcement via Twitter – they were not privy to what was about to happen), we are not so sure that the leopard has really changed its spots. We are not critical of a referendum as such, on the contrary. However, the timing and the way Tsipras has gone about it, suggest that he is really trying to arrange for a “Grexit” and one cannot help getting the impression that this may have been the intention all along. As noted previously, a referendum could have been held months ago already – why wait until it is almost too late for all practical purposes?
A reminder was provided by a mail correspondent of ours in Spain, who pointed out that the parties voting in favor of Tsipras’ plan were Syriza, ANEL and Golden Dawn. As to the Stalinist KKE, he noted “[the] KKE is against everything (as usual), but I still have hope in their “No” vote, closing the circle: from the Nazis to the Communists, all united against a free Europe, in a “Molotov-Ribbentrop v2.0″.
Note that the man is by no means a supporter of centralization under a socialist European superstate (he actually supports Catalan independence from Spain). The remark merely serves to point out that radicals appear to be using the vulnerable situation of a population facing enormous economic challenges as an opportunity to take over. Is it actually fair to call Syriza “Marxist”? We have previously presented a few of the most influential figures in the party who are definitely Marxists. However, confirmation that the movement as a whole is strongly influenced by Marxism comes from the party’s former economic eminence grise John (Yannis) Milios, who said to the Guardian in 2014:
“John Milios’s phone rings a lot these days. There are hedge funds and financial institutions and investors, all curious to know what the German-trained professor thinks. As chief economist of Syriza, the far-left party that has sent markets into a tailspin as it edges ever closer to power in Greece, the academic has had a prominent role in devising the group’s financial manifesto.
He is the first to concede the program is radical. “I am a Marxist,” he says. “The majority [in Syriza] are.”
Sipping green tea in his favourite Athens cafe, he explains: “Alternative approaches to the economy and society have been excluded by the dominant narrative of neoliberalism.”
But while the 62-year-old insists his leanings are in the French Marxist tradition – “I never had any affiliation with Soviet Marxism” – he is regarded as the most hardline of Tsipras’s tight-knit circle and, as such, the man most in touch with Syriza’s radical spirit.
It is of course entirely irrelevant whether a Marxist confesses to supporting Soviet-style Marxism or asserts that what he supports is a presumably less stringent French-style Marxism. A Marxist system cannot be implemented without massive coercion and the revocation of economic freedom.
Marxist economist Yannis Milios. Incidentally, we have looked at some of his papers, as he is a prolific writer. He still defends Marxian value theory, slightly “reformulating” it. One would think that such futile tilting against windmills should by now have been abandoned in light of subjective value theory. It has been more than 150 years since Marx’ “mangled Ricardianism” (Mises) on value has been refuted!
Moreover, it can hardly be asserted that Greece is a paragon of neo-liberalism. Today a kind of state capitalism is in place nearly everywhere, but the left loves to denounce this system as being representative of the alleged evils of the free market. While a severely hampered market economy is indeed in place, it is light years away from a true laissez faire-type free market economy. What is denounced as the faults of the market are really the faults of interventionism and statism. The capitalist mode of production has produced untold wealth for billions of people in spite of the formidable obstacles it has faced throughout history. We know of no example of Marxism doing better, and no such example will ever exist.
Greek 5 year government bond yields soar from just below 16% to nearly 22% in Monday’s trading. The “hopium rally” in Greek bonds that took yields from 20% to less than 16% last week has been more than wiped out – via investing.com.
In our opinion Syriza has come to power for two reasons. For one thing, the Greek political establishment was hopelessly corrupt and had obviously badly mismanaged the economy. People in Greece no longer trusted the “old guard”, and rightly so. For another thing, Syriza made election promises it could not possibly keep, but which were certainly quite popular. Essentially, it promised that people would continue to get free goodies the government could no longer afford to give them, while Greece would be keeping the euro at the same time. The first part of this promise is impossible to fulfill regardless of what happens about the second part. However, that obviously doesn’t mean that it won’t attract votes, especially with many people fearing for their privileges and many more feeling they have nothing to lose.
It is of course true that the economic situation in Greece is a catastrophe, and that the austerity program, especially the many tax hikes it entailed, is partly to blame for the enormous delay in economic recovery. However, no Greek administration has thus far implemented the fundamental reforms Greece actually needs. The clientelism that was so popular under previous administrations is equally popular under Syriza, hence reform continues to be eschewed.
Syriza politicians were and remain correct in pointing out that the debtberg that has been heaped atop the already existing debtberg lacked sustainability from the outset. A great many mistakes have been made by Greece’s official creditors. Nevertheless, a Marxist program – even if it is “Marxism lite” – cannot possibly lead Greece to economic salvation.
Admittedly, the above includes a fair bit of speculation – we cannot be certain that Syriza really wants to purposely provoke a split from the EU, just as we cannot yet be certain what a Syriza-led government of Greece will do once it is no longer shackled by the constraints imposed by the bailout program. Maybe it will turn out that pragmatism will actually carry the day – one can always hope.
However, we are harboring significant doubts about that. We don’t believe it is beyond a Marxist organization to use deceit in order to come into a position that allows it to eventually impose the system that is closest to its heart – and that means ultimately expropriation and the State taking over the means of production. A first step in this direction would be the nationalization of the banking system under the cover of emergency, which is going to become nigh inevitable should ELA support by the ECB be canceled altogether at some point (this will likely happen at the latest once Greece defaults on Greek government bonds currently held by the ECB. Several large payments are coming due in July). We will see what happens from here on out. It is still possible that Syriza merely wants to extract a maximum of concessions from Greece’s creditors and a lot will presumably depend on the outcome of the upcoming referendum as well.
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