Saturday, January 24, 2015

Syriza and the French Left

Greece votes this weekend, and all signs are that Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party will lead the pack and perhaps even win an absolute majority of deputies. The prospect has kindled a mild euphoria in the left of the Left in other European countries, including France. Je dis bien "a mild euphoria"--milder, indeed, than the euphoria that greeted the election of François Hollande so many eons just over two and a half years ago. That comparison alone should already give one pause.

It's hard to remember now, but back then it was Hollande who was going to lead the beleaguered states of the south in an anti-austerity coalition. Now it is Tsipras--admittedly a more charismatic fellow than Hollande, but the would-be leader of a tiny state with a gigantic debt, whose banks are at the mercy of the ECB's liquidity spigot and whose public profligacy and consequent debt were always misleading symptoms as to the true nature of the European crisis. France was better suited to this role but failed to play it. Greece, on the other hand, is not suited at all. Tsipras is un jeune ingénu, not un premier rôle.

I will not attempt to handicap Syriza's chances. While electoral success seems likely, success in governing and in negotiating with the Troika may prove more difficult. A compromise is possible, but will the heterogeneous coalition of partners who make up Syriza stand for it? After reading an 18,000-word interview with Sttatis Kouvelakis in Jacobin, I'm even more dubious than I was before. But I don't know Greek politics, so I'll refrain from further comment.

I do know a bit about French politics, though, so I read an article like this one with a quite skeptical eye. Yes, indeed, Cécile Duflot, who is supposed to represent the Greens, is looking for a dance partner, and so is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is supposed to represent the far left. But in fact both Duflot and Mélenchon represent not actual political parties but fractious and amorphous segments of public opinion. For them, Tsipras is an ink blot onto which they project fond fantasies of what a better tomorrow might look like. "Another policy" is possible, headlines Le Monde, but what that other policy would look like remains a will-o'-the-wisp.

Meanwhile, even Marine Le Pen is applauding the likely Syriza victory. Of course, for her, Tsipras in power is expected to lead to precisely what Tsipras says he does not want to happen, namely, a Greek exit from the euro and perhaps from the EU. This prospect is butter on Le Pen's spinach: she hopes it will prove that exit from the EU is not equivalent to economic disaster. But more likely it will end in disaster for Greece if Grexit does occur, and Le Pen's wish, when fulfilled, will only invalidate the instinct from which it derives.

I would be the last person to deny the role of dreams and fantasies in politics, but this infatuation with Greek radicalism strikes me as an infantile disorder in the French left, no matter how comprehensible Tsipras's emergence is as a response to Europe's incorrigibly obtuse treatment of the exceptional Greek case.


PF said...

What's the best reporting you've read on which factions or figures within the PS -- if any -- would tacitly welcome the possible pressure a Syriza win would place on the eurozone policy status quo? No one, I'm fairly sure, would outwardly congratulate or express sympathy with Syriza, but I wonder who within the PS dreads the outcome vs. who sees it as opening new negotiating possibilities at the European level from rhetorical postures of pragmatic realism, not "radicalism."

FrédéricLN said...

Once again, congratulations for this post. Xerfi's Olivier Passet summarized Syriza's agenda as common sense measures the former ruling parties just can't take, plus lack of imagination re. the future.

(Quite the opposite of what Hollande's former and disappointed supporters from the left, might figure out).

Video+text on / disclaimer : I worked a bit for or with Xerfi, and Olivier Passet was a classmate forty year ago ;-)

Unknown said...

Here's what I wrote in response to a comment on Facebook: "My point, which I should have expressed more clearly in the post, is that Greece cannot be an example for the rest of the EU because it is an exceptional case. Syriza can succeed if it is treated as an exception. But the slightest hint that any concessions made to Greece will become general for the Union, the more difficult it becomes to negotiate a deal. Other countries would do Greece if a favor if they allowed Syriza to try to negotiate a bargain under the most favorable conditions. That said, I have serious doubts that the Syriza coalition can survive the tough bargaining ahead. The intraparty consensus is weak, and Tsipras's partners are waiting for the first sign that he is prepared to take a line they don't want (read the Jacobin interview for illumination on this). So I'm not optimistic. But I may be allowing a general gloom to affect my judgment more than I should."

FrédéricLN said...

"Syriza can succeed if it is treated as an exception" = a very good point imho. And Syriza's victory gives a chance for Greece to be treated as an exception, because the party is not connected to any other ruling party in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Art and FredericLN, you may both be interested in Daniel Davies' comments at Crooked Timber regarding the probability of Greece being treated as an exception now, rather than several years ago:


dairy queen

DavidinParis said...

From what I have read, Tsipras wants to make the Greek banks part of a stronger central bank system. This would, in effect, create a system of banking that is closer to a central bank system found in the USA, as odd as that sounds! In my mind, this has been the fundamental weakness of the Euro since it began: namely, a German run bank which only leans on its weaker European members when they have trouble. Despite being 'left', they soundly reject any semblance of being in league with Russia which is about time. How tiring it has been to see European left parties that still have their mindset in the 1940's. So, I am optimistic that this change in Greek politics will result in something good. But, as you state, I am not expert on Greek politics and the situation is perhaps far more nuanced than my hopeful thinking.