Crucible of Resistance

The Crucible of Resistance, by Christos Laskos, a lecturer of economics and member of SYRIZA and Euclid Tsakalotos, an economist and Greece’s new finance minister, replacing outgoing Yanis Varoufakis in July 2015, provides some interesting clues which help us understand what drove the political behaviour and method of the SYRIZA establishment through an analysis and description of the impact of austerity on Greece since 2008.

The book was written in 2013 and its general argument is that

“for first time in many generations the Left has a convincing interpretation of the present crisis, and this can become a materialistic force breaking old social alliances and forming new ones in favour of a strategy that begins the transcendence of capitalism itself.” (12)

It further makes “four interrelated arguments” ,

  • Non-Exceptionality. – It is a world crisis, Greece is not a special case;
  • It is a Crisis of Neoliberalism and Capitalism. – Rather than locating the causes of the crisis within Greece itself, Laskos and Tsakalotos identify problems in the global economy and the unevenness within the European Union. They highlight a number of “proximate causes of the crisis  – the financial system, social inequalities and macroeconomic imbalances  –  all”, they argue, “integrally connected to the neoliberal settlement”;
  • The Lack of Plasticity in the Post-2008 Political Order. – Austerity has not solved the economic crisis in Greece. Instead, a vicious circle of austerity-recession-more austerity commenced, undermining further Greece’s productive capacities. 

The question is, “why did the crisis of 2008 not present itself as an opportunity for social democracy to reassess its commitment to neoliberalism?” “Cognitive locking was clearly a factor” they claim: “after so many years of neoliberal hegemony they were unable to step out of the groove and see the world from a different perspective.”

The authors’ premise that “Thirty years of neoliberal economics [in Greece] seems to have dimmed peoples’ memories about how large recessions play out”, is questionable, as later in the book they claim “…. that Greece is in fact a small closed, and not open economy ……” (108)

  • No Turning Back. – “… to the period of neoliberalism as experienced in the period before 2008.” That suggests “that the most likely resolution to the crisis will be either in the direction of a far more authoritarian capitalist settlement, or moves to transcendent capitalism, in some important dimensions.” (1-10)

This is a book about ideas and alternatives. The ideas matter and they are “particularly important in moments of uncertainty when established institutions do not seem to be working”, the authors claim. In the Acknowledgements’ page they say that the ideas presented in the book

“have been tested over the five years” [over the consolidation of SYRIZA] in “countless meetings, conferences, student gatherings and other fora where literally thousands of people have expressed a remarkable interest in discussing the causes of current crisis and the nature of left wing alternatives or what Erik Olin Wright has labelled Real Utopias.”

If that means that the idea was to use the crisis and the struggle to shape the pathways of social empowerment, test the limits of possibilities and try to create new institutions that would neutralise some of the most harmful effects of capitalism, is not very clear.

The SYRIZA – ANEL government was elected in January based on its promise to try to bargain a better deal than the “severe neoliberal austerity” imposed through the memoranda signed by previous governments.  In its first five months of governance, the SYRIZA-led coalition has continually tested the limits of the country and the European Union.  After months of ferocious “negotiations” the SYRIZA-led coalition realised that they weren’t really negotiating. Faced with the country’s economic and financial disaster, the government was forced to make very serious concessions, testing the limits of SYRIZA’s own identity. Perhaps things would have been different if other persons have been placed in critical positions.  I guess, we will never know, we can only speculate.