The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left
by Helena Sheehan
(Monthly Review Press, £20.25)
ONE of the best books published on the recent fortunes of the Greek left, Helena Sheehan’s blend of the personal and political draws on her visits to Greece before and after Syriza’s dramatic rise to power.
Her discussions with a wide variety of people from the left and on the street feature prominently as do her attendance at demonstrations, meetings and conferences in what is a lively, detailed and memorable account.
Very much a coalition, Syriza had managed to bring together people from disparate political backgrounds, with all the strengths and weaknesses that this might well bring to bear.
Its rise from a small and marginal political party to winning national elections and forming a government was breathtakingly dramatic, capturing the imagination of the left internationally and often becoming the focus of hopes and dreams across a continent all too bereft of good news.
Hence, it was even more shocking that the party that many had so much faith in capitulated to the dictates of the EU and the bankers.
Prior to forming a government, concerns had been raised that the project might unravel and that Syriza could well turn out to be another Pasok but, as Sheehan makes clear, the formerly socialist party had actually effected some substantive gains and its own degeneration took place over decades rather than, as in Syriza’s case, weeks. When the Establishment’s unsurprisingly hostile response came there really didn’t appear to be a Plan B.
People quickly began to leave its ranks, Syriza politicians were often afraid to appear in public and those who did remain seemed more interested in engaging in sophistry with academic clowns such as Slavoj Zizek. Critics abroad were nothing short of delirious that a group that had initially been seen to be such a threat turned out to be a willing partner in the whole neoliberal project.
Sheehan is convinced that the Greek people will continue to resist but is unsure about how this will be expressed politically.
She’s keen that 21st-century socialism should be democratic, participatory and inclusive and is insistent that it should be closely wedded to Marxism and class struggle, viewing the so-called new citizen populism as directionless and naive.
It’s disappointing that there is little discussion about the role of the Greek Communist Party. Often derided for being short-sighted and sectarian in “refusing” to ally with Syriza against both the EU and the likes of Golden Dawn, Sheehan characterises the KKE as a “Stalinist” body that is inflexible and dogmatic.
At the same time, there is a clear admiration for its consistency and the organisational abilities of the party-led Pame, the militant workers’ front.
That criticism aside, this is a remarkable read about a remarkable period.