Greece: A new “Marshall Plan” or a new and difficult road to socialism? By Panagiotis Sotiris

16 March 2013 — Lasting Future

In a recent speech in London Alexis Tsipras insisted on the need to put an end to the politics of austerity in the Eurozone. More specifically he suggested that it is necessary to have a new “Marshall Plan” in Europe and he proposed a big debt relief such as the one agreed upon for Germany in the 1953 London Conference.

Naturally, there is nothing wrong per se with using historical analogies to suggest that there have been times when bourgeois governments were ready to accept redistributive aid or debt relief as necessary policy measures. The problem is to forget under what terms and in what historical circumstances these measures were taken.
The Marshall plan aimed at the restoration of capitalist power in a post-war Europe marked by the rise of the communist Left and the existence of soviet bloc. It did not aim at social justice but at implementing bourgeois rule and a fordist regime of accumulation, in terms of full employment but also of unchallenged capitalist rule in the workplace. That’s why it was accompanied by the anti-union and anti-communist campaigns of the early 1950s and all the Cold-War security arrangements. At the same time, the 1953 London Conference on the German debt, however important it is as an historical example, cannot make us forget that the rationale was to make sure that West Germany, the most critical west-European country in terms of Cold War antagonisms, would avoid any kind of economic and social turbulence and become an export economy. Official anti-communism, reduced ability for militant trade union action and an anti-inflation obsession was the price paid for this kind of agreement.
The question that can be raised is simple: is this a strategy for the Left? Do we really believe, in the current conjuncture, that we can devise solutions that would at the same time accommodate the immediate demands of the subaltern classes and the long-term stability of international capitalism? Can the Left be the leading force for the emergence of a new social democratic developmental paradigm to replace the failures of neoliberalism?
I do not deny that dealing with the leading capitalist countries, Greece’s creditors, and international capitalist organizations such as the European Union and International Monetary Fund, sometimes it is necessary to use a rhetoric that might suggest that radical solutions might be to the benefit of international stability and growth, or to suggest to working people in other countries that they have every right to demand a different strategy from their respective governments. But at the same time is obvious that any attempt to avoid the social disaster inscribed in the current form of the neoliberal project, is in reality a process of rupture.
The problem with this kind of arguments from the part of SYRIZA is that they are the only logical conclusion one might draw if we accept as inescapable premises Greece’s participation to the Eurozone and the need to remain, in one form or the other, within the international money markets. Greek society, under such terms, can only survive through some form of good-will from the part of the EU and the IMF. The question is: is it possible for the EU and the IMF to actually change course so dramatically? Everything points to the opposite direction. The EU and the IMF attempt to impose an even more aggressive neoliberal strategy and new forms of reduced sovereignty, in a desperate attempt to deal with a structural capitalist crisis in the absence of an alternative strategy.
Consequently it is much better to use different starting points. The only way to avoid social disaster is to think in terms of radical ruptures with existing policies. Breaking away from the monetary and financial architecture of the Eurozone, is the central aspect of a transition program that apart from regaining monetary sovereignty and an immediate stoppage of debt payments, must also include nationalization of banks and strategic enterprises, income redistribution in favor of labour, introduction of forms of workers’ control and self-management. With unemployment almost sure to reach 30% in 2013, a total contraction of the Greek economy exceeding 20%, and a 20%-40% loss of income for households, thinking in terms of radical ruptures is more than justified.
There has been a strong debate in the Greek and international Left regarding such a radical program. Most of the criticism has centred upon the supposed danger of nationalism of such proposals or on the impossibility of implementing a radical anti-capitalist program only in one country. Regarding the question of nationalism, I think that I do not consider it nationalist to fight for the exit of a country from what can only be described as an “iron cage” of extreme neoliberal social engineering. Regarding the question of “isolation” I think that despite the problems posed by the current international environment, social and political movements do not have the luxury to wait for the potential Pan-European uprising.
But I think that the central node of this debate, whether we admit it or not, is elsewhere. Do we think that in the current conjuncture, in the current unstable balance of forces in countries such as Greece, it is possible to have ruptures and radical reforms that could initiate the social and political sequence of a new and necessarily contradictory transition to socialism, or do we insist that “times are not ripe and people are not ready” and instead try to experiment with some form of progressive left wing governance until people realize the need and get ready for socialism?
I am not downplaying the difficulties nor am I denying the weight of the historical strategic crisis of the Left in all its variants, but I think that we must again start thinking in terms of the actuality of socialism. This will enable us to engage in the collective process to rethink social transformation, to incorporate the knowledge and experience coming from struggles into political projects, to articulate different ways to organize production, distribution, governance in order to think of these demands and these specific policy choices that will guaranty the survival of a country and at the same time open processes of transformation. I am not referring to empty anti-capitalist verbalism or the simple reproduction of catch-phrases such as worker’s control, but to the collective elaboration, sector by sector, of changes that starting today would put an end to the “death spiral” of austerity, unemployment and recession and at the same time prove that it is possible to have a better life without the constraints of the market. It will take time; it would require new forms of power “from below”; it will necessarily lead to hard struggles; it would require radical transformation of state apparatuses. But at least it is better than betting on the possibility of benevolence from the part of international capitalist organizations. It would also enable a much more extensive involvement of social movements and people’s initiatives and help create not an electoral alliance but a new historical bloc, a collective process of transformation and experimentation.
Historical conditions are never “ripe”, one can only hope for narrow “windows of opportunity” when the combination of social crisis and collective struggle and the changes these bring to how people define themselves and their “self-narratives”, open up the possibility for radical change.
On the contrary, if we insist on the situation being not ripe enough, then there is no other option than thinking in terms of a more humane and just Eurozone. It is not that the solutions proposed are irrational or unviable. It is that they do not understand the aggressiveness of “actually existing neoliberalism” and the political logic of confrontation that the forces of capital are opting for, preferring the disciplinary aspects of austerity and unemployment to the economic benefits of an earlier exit from austerity. That is why the EU and the IMF will be fully aggressive against even the mildest version of left-wing governance and use every means at their disposal to enforce their agenda.
And here is the danger: a left wing government trying to renegotiate austerity with the EU and the IMF, only to find itself entrapped in its own commitment to the Eurozone and to the need for bail-out funds. A potential failure to bring change under such conditions will only open the way to even more reactionary solutions. With the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the Greek Right is becoming the laboratory for a new hybrid of economic neoliberalism, social conservatism, racism and authoritarianism.
In the past years Greek society has gone through a cathartic experience. Nothing seems the same any more. In many forms, people have shown that they are ready to accept radical change as an option against an evolving disaster and embrace a collective project of transformation. There has been a tremendous display of hope, collectivity and demand for an alternative narrative for Greek society. At the same time the harsh realities of the everyday struggle to survive induce despair, individualism and even cynicism. Which tendency will prevail depends exactly on the ability of the Left to offer not pragmatism and realism but a radical alternative, a roadmap of collective mobilization and experimentation, a new hegemonic project for the Socialism of the 21st century.

[1] Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social theory and social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology of the University of the Aegean. He can be reached at

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