Marina Prentoulis explains that the struggle against neoliberalism has learned valuable lessons from Syriza and now it’s time to mobilise support for a better future for Europe.
After five months of negotiations, Sunday evening brought a moment of painful realisation: democracy has left the EU building. The proposals put forward by the German government and its allies were preposterous– a clear message that any government opposing neoliberalism and austerity should be brought to its knees at all costs.
Their agenda completely ignores the human suffering the proposals will inflict, while also disregarding the political cost of dividing the European community and the economic cost of proposing a “temporary” Grexit. An economic solution to the crisis – a crisis that was inevitable in a monetary and economic union structured to create winners and losers– was never the primary objective. Instead, the deal with Greece has been seen as an opportunity for declaring a two-speed Europe.
Despite 11th-hour attempts by France, Italy and others to keep the eurozone- and effectively the broader EU- united, the damage has already been done, and now we have to deal with the aftermath of that blow. For the Greek government the next few days are critical: it has to explain why it ever made the assumption that the neoliberal eurozone could be reasoned with. Caught between a rock and a hard place, blackmailed and threatened for months, it eventually had to accept a very painful deal and more austerity. With an impossible mandate- to stop austerity and stay within the Eurozone- the government could only go as far as the European directorate would let it. For the Greek people, the glimpses of hope to be gleaned from the prospect of some measures of debt restructuring and investment are of little comfort.
In the aftermath of this European tragedy, and after the Syriza government and the Greek people have been punished for their hubris, the European left will call for a re-evaluation of the European project. The deal has certainly vindicated those on the left who have been advocating Grexit from the start- despite their inability to articulate a viable, concrete plan that could manage this move at the current time.
And yet I remain convinced that the struggle against a neoliberal Europe has gained valuable lessons from Syriza. It is not accidental that Syriza (alongside Podemos in Spain) has been the most effective leftist anti-establishment formation of recent decades. One of the criticisms made by the traditional left has been Syriza’s lack of emphasis on “the working-class struggle”. But it was precisely by moving beyond this narrow political constituency that Syriza was able to connect with the diverse and heterogeneous anti-austerity movement of Greece in 2011, and later to express the demands of this movement in an electoral programme.
Bringing diverse groups under one banner and creating a dividing line between the people and the system has allowed Syriza to take office, and then to use its power to battle with neoliberalism at national and European level. Within Greece, Syriza succeeded not only in bringing together many different sections of the left, some of which were well past their expiry date- it also helped make them relevant for the majority of Greek people. On the European level, it has seriously challenged the dominance of the neoliberal narrative, and forged alliances across borders, inspiring an international movement of solidarity.
During the past few days of the negotiations, in spite of the current defeat, the divisions that have been seen within the European leadership have opened up new possibilities for rethinking the European project, including among politicians who previously aligned themselves with neoliberalism. The rift between social and democratic parties in Germany and France is only the most obvious example.
Despite an understandable feeling of anger, and a temptation to blame the Syriza government for this painful defeat at the hands of the Eurozone leadership, it is important to understand that the way to survive is to continue the political battle. The way we respond to defeat is a measure of our political determination and commitment. What is needed now is continuing solidarity and greater imagination.
We now know that success comes from working on both the parliamentary level and the mass movement level. Shifting the balance of power will have to entail the removal of the conservative and neoliberal governments that currently dominate European nations and hence the EU. Transnational democracy is impossible without democracy at national parliaments.
At the general election later this year, Spain will get the chance to take on the political establishment- and a Podemos electoral victory there will bring us hope again. And just as the victories of Podemos and Syriza have been based on mass social movements, a victory against neoliberal Europe will only be possible through a European movement against austerity. The task is to move on from the defeat and continue to mobilise support for a different European future.
Marina Prentoulis is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Politics at the University of East Anglia.
This post originally featured in The Guardian
Image Credit: Wikipedia