Skip to content

The Prague moment of the European Left

2015/07/17

Cross-posted from European Tribune.

Prominent heterodox economist James Galbraith, who enjoyed an inside view of the last five months of Greek negotiations as an advisor to Yanis Varoufakis, writes the following for a mainstream American audience: Greece, Europe, and the United States (Harper’s, July 16, 2015)

What will become of Europe? Clearly the hopes of the pro-European, reformist left are now over. That will leave the future in the hands of the anti-European parties, including UKIP, the National Front in France, and Golden Dawn in Greece. These are ugly, racist, xenophobic groups; Golden Dawn has proposed concentration camps for immigrants in its platform. The only counter, now, is for progressive and democratic forces to regroup behind the banner of national democratic restoration. Which means that the left in Europe will also now swing against the euro.

The parallel between the Greek crisis and the Prague Spring, with a ruthless mainstream left crushing the hopes of an idealist left in defence of a system, is illustrated with poetic irony by the following tweet by a Social-Democrat finance minister from the former Czechoslovakia:

Meanwhile, in an interview with Jacobin Magazine which we have already been discussing in previous threads on European Tribune, Left Platform Syriza MP Stathis Kouvelakis says the following about the ideology of “left-Europeanism”: Greece: The Struggle Continues (Jacobin, July 14, 2015)

I think that in this case we can clearly see what the ideology at work here is. Although you don’t positively sign up to the project and you have serious doubts about the neoliberal orientation and top-down structure of European institutions, nevertheless you move within its coordinates and can’t imagine anything better outside of its framework.

I imagine that you could have written the same of Communist parties in the 1960s and their support for the Soviet Union. Out of the disappointment of the Prague Spring (on top of the invasion of Hungary a decade earlier) was born the Eurocommunist strand of the 1970s.

More Galbraith:

Comparisons have been drawn to the Treaty of Versailles, which set Europe on the path to Nazism after the end of World War I. But the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which ended a small country’s brave experiment in policy independence, is almost as good an analogy. In crushing Czechoslovakia, the invasion also destroyed the Soviet Union’s reputation, shattering the illusions that many sympathetic observers still harbored. It thus set the stage for the final collapse of Communism, first among the parties of Western Europe and then in the USSR itself.

SYRIZA was not some Greek fluke; it was a direct consequence of European policy failure. A coalition of ex-Communists, unionists, Greens, and college professors does not rise to power anywhere except in desperate times. That SYRIZA did rise, overshadowing the Greek Nazis in the Golden Dawn party, was, in its way, a democratic miracle. SYRIZA’s destruction will now lead to a reassessment, everywhere on the continent, of the “European project.” A progressive Europe—the Europe of sustainable growth and social cohesion—would be one thing. The gridlocked, reactionary, petty, and vicious Europe that actually exists is another. It cannot and should not last for very long.

More Kouvelakis:

And then you have the other approach, that of Tsipras, which was indeed rooted in the ideology of left-Europeanism. I think the best illustration of that is Euclid Tsakalotos, a person who considers himself a staunch Marxist, someone who comes from the Eurocommunist tradition, we were in the same organization for years. The most typical statement from him which captures both his ideology and the outlook given to the government by the presence of all those academics is what he said in an interview to the French website Mediapart in April.

From this it is quite clear that these people were expecting the confrontation with the EU to happen along the lines of an academic conference when you go with a nice paper and you expect a kind of nice counter-paper to be presented.

I think this is telling about what the Left is about today. The Left is filled with lots of people who are well-meaning, but who are totally impotent on the field of real politics. But it’s also telling about the kind of mental devastation wrought by the almost religious belief in Europeanism. This meant that, until the very end, those people believed that they could get something from the troika, they thought that between “partners” they would find some sort of compromise, that they shared some core values like respect for the democratic mandate, or the possibility of a rational discussion based on economic arguments.

When Mason asked him about the euro, Tsakalotos said that exit would be an absolute catastrophe and that Europe would relive the 1930s with the return of competition between national currencies and the rise of various nationalisms and fascism.

So for these people the choice is between two things: either being “European” and accepting the existing framework, which somehow objectively represents a step forward compared the old reality of nation-states, or being “anti-European” which is equated with a falling back into nationalism, a reactionary, regressive move.

This is a weak way in which the European Union is legitimated — it might not be ideal but it’s better than anything else on the table.

Advertisements
One Comment
  1. Operation “mutation of the Left” has started!

    http://bit.ly/1MepvGB

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: