Greece, left and left of left (II)

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

This note is a sequel to the previous [1], posted on this carnet on 22 July.


The events which lead to the Diktat imposed upon Greece, and the Diktat itself, constitute a pivotal moment for is called the “radical left.” In one way, the Greek crisis subjects the « radical left » to a test as severe than the one it imposes on social-democracy. If the “radical left” does not find itself today in a similar crisis than social-democracy, it still risks finding itself confronted with a first magnitude crisis in orientation. Indeed, the Europeism characterizing the « radical left » is also doomed by the Diktat imposed on Greece. The question which being asked today is of knowing whether the “radical left” will accept to become merely an auxiliary force for social-democracy or if it is capable of living with all the consequences of a program of rupture. But such a program of rupture is no longer compatible with Europeism.


Elements of definition of the « radical left »

Let’s first make clear what we understand by this term. They are the parties or political movements which constituted themselves to the left of traditional social-democracy, and more often than not in reaction against its politics and its orientaions. It does not include parties who have remained faithful to the communist identity (such as the Greek KKE or the Italian PRC) nor the parties or movements of the far-left remaining faithful to a Marxist revolutionary identity, more or less adulterated by sectarism and dogmatism (as, in France, the NPA or Lutte ouvrière). But this includes Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Front de Gauche in France and Die Linke in Germany and SEL in Italy[2]. These parties are of diverse origins which brings with it very particular political as well as ideological logics. From this point of view, the radical left appears as a current with common aspirations but which is in reality quite heterogeneous. In fact, the political culture and the history of each country are reflected in the type of party or movement. If the parties of the radical left endowed themselves with coordinating structures at the level of the European Union, there is nevertheless no European unity of this current quite simply because the political history of each country is specific.

In France as in Germany, they formed out of dissidences within social-democracy and union with what was surviving of the communist parties (the PCF in France and the PDS in Germany), and in some case were rejoined by forces from the extreme-left. In the opposite, Podemos is a relatively new movement, coming out of the « Indignés » which have been relativley strong in Spain. The case of Syriza in Greece is intermediate, for the Greek communist party had split in two at the time of the dictatorship of the colonels, with a « Party of the Inside » close to the so-called « Eurocommunist » current which gave birth to Synapismos and the « Party of the outside » of a strict Muscovite obedience. Synapismos became the kernel of Syriza rejoined by movements of the extreme-left as well as by dissidents of the local social-democracy ( PASOK), whereas the « Party of the exterior » reconstituted itself as the KKE, and lives on its sectarian existence, withdrawn upon itself. Italy is a special case. Indeed, the dissolution process of the PCI (despite the scission of the PRC) has resulted in the fusion within a vast electoral ensemble, the Democratic Party, which includes the residues of the PSI and a chunk of Christian Democracy. Italy is certainly the country where the “radical left” is weakest and this has important consequences upon the political structuration of the political space in Italy. This weakness has left the field open both to the Movimente Cinque Stelle of Beppe Grillo, which has become the second party in Italy, as to Salvini’s Northern League.


Political eclecticism and europeism

If political eclecticism, the logical consequence of the heterogeinity of the modes of formation and of the diversity of national political cultures is one of the caracteristics of the « radical left » at the European scale, we must point out some common traits when it comes to the European Union. If these diverse parties have more or less opposed themselves to the various constitutive treaties of the European Union since the beginning of the 1990s, they nevertheless are shaing what one may call a “europeist ideology.” They are broadly convinced that the European Union, even under the dominaion of the neo-liberal right, constitutes a privileged framework for political action. Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, the effects of which are still being felt, some of these parties see in the framework of the European Union a guarnatee against the return to the situation of the 1930s. It goes without saying that this acceptation of the framework of the European Union comes in a strongly critical tonality. Themes such as “changing Europe” or « another Europe » are much present in the vocabulary of these parties and movements. But this “change” on the one hand makes its own the fallacy that the EU is Europe (and not a form of institutionalisation covering some countries in Europe, in the cultural as well as geographical sense) and on the other hand, that it must largely accomplish itself within the framework of some already existing institutions, in particular, the Euro.

The question of the Euro offers a concentrate of the contradictions of the « radical left.” In a wide measure, it is not put into question. And we have just seen the tragic consequences which this absence of questioning has had on the behavior of Syriza during these past days. Tsipras has taken the political decision to refuse requisitioning the Central Bank of Greece and mutting into circulation IOUs because he thought, and here one cannot say that he was wrong, that this bring about the exit of Greece from the Euro. In so doing, he has nevertheless put his own head on the block in face of the intransigeance of the Eurogroup. Especially, he has not understood that the management of the Euro was not a matter of economy, with cost-advantage calculations, but that it was a political matter. The options represented by Syriza were politically unacceptable to the Eurogroup. To-morrow, we risk seeing the story repeat itself with Podemos which too is intent on situating its demands for another economic policy within the Eurozone.

Thi refusal to put the Euro into question has several origins. One can see in it the leftovers of an old dogmatic Marxism which considers that, in the end, currency is of no importance. Only the “productive forces” count, according to a logic which owes more to Jean-Baptiste Say (« products are exhanged for products, money is a veil ») than to Marx. This logic can also be expressed in a mode of « progress ». Granted, the Euro, a product of bourgeois power, has a lot of defects, but it constitutes a “progress” leading to the unification of productive spaces, and once the “popular masses” will have taken power, they will be able to use this “instrument” stripped of its bourgeois vestments. In fact, it is a return, probably unconscious, to what Bukharin explained in 1915-1916 about the evolution of the « capitalistic state trusts” which were to lead to socialism in having their political direction changed [3]. Finally, some recognize that the Euro has a lot of defects, but explain that a break-up of the Eurozone would bring Europe back to the situation of the thirties. This seems to be Tsipras’ position [4]. This Europeism, infecting a large part of the « radical left » is a great risk therefore of becoming its Nemesis. One can well make out today that no economic program that would be radically different of the austeritarian consensus dominating in Europe is possible so long as one persists in adhering to Europeism. This is the lesson which must be drawn from Tsipras’ capitulation in face of the Eurogroup[5]. The great Birtish historian Perry Anderson is wtriting thus : « Tsipras and his colleagues repeated to everyone within earshot that it was out of the question to abandon the Euro. In so doing, they gave up any serious hope of negotiating with the real Europe – and not the Europe they were fantasising »[6]. This descibes accurately the trap of Europeim in which Tsipras caught himself, and which is presently threatening to engulf the « radical left. »


The EU, a semi-colonial system?

One must here understand something important: sovereignty has for a long time been the blind spot of the « radical left. » Yte, the “radical left” has defended the notion of food sovereignty. But it has never, until now, taken the step to align itself with the claim for political sovereignty. The only currents who did so, such as chevènementism in France, have been isolated and made incapable of expanding their influenc onto the « radical left,” even if Jean-Pierre Chevènement’s legacy now extends beyond the left/right cleavage.

Yet, there exists a marxist tradition, ancient indeed, which indicated that the struggles for the transformation of society could only be waged within the framework of a sovereign State [7]. But this tradition seems to have been swept away in big process of putting into question the Soviet experiment which imposed itself with the end of the USSR in 1991. Yet, an anlysis of the Soviet system understood as State capitalism would have allowed to understand quite a few things, and particularly the caracteristic of an alternative trajectory within the framework of a “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” country. In fact, the whole debate over the « nature of the USSR » went down the drain [8], despite all it could have brought for the comprehension of the modes of existence of capitalim, but also of possible alternatives of economic strategies [9]. One may well think that part of the problems which we are encountering in contemporary debate is coming from the effect of amnesia about the knowledg accumulated from the sixties to the eighties of the past century, an amnesia effect which originates both in the emergence of a new generation of political militants, and of the new context of struggle, a context which seemed to call for new understanding.

Indeed, it is the concept of a « semi-colonial » State which brings the most light to bear on the present situation of the European countries. One can consider the EU to be a colonial system, but one the « metropolis » of which cannot be clearly idenfied. To this extent this « colonialism » or more exactly « semi-colonialism » cannot be entirely reduced to the situation at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. If Germany does appear as the country which profits most from the structures of the EU, this does not imply that the EU is the colonial system of Germany. The EU allows for the deployment of financial structures assuring control and domination, and these structure cannot be reduced to German capitalism. This is more a « semi-colonialism » than a simple colonialism, in this that the EU countries are preserving, in various degrees, margins of autonomy. Some of these countries can constitute themselves into a neo-colonial power towards the countries of the “South,” even if the logic of their action is subjected, in fine, to approval by the neo-colonial system itself. The case of Greece is specific in that, under the joke of the various memorandums, the country has gone from a semi-colonial status to one that is more and more directly colonial.

In a country which is in the process of being subjected, or already subjected to, a neo-colonial system, the question of sovereignty becomes crucial. It concentrates the whole struggle for economic and social change. In a sense, one could have thought that Syriza had understood this when it allied itself with ANEL following the elections of January 25th. But Europeism remained too powerful within the party.


The « radical left » and the question of the break-up

The fundamental question which is now openly asked from the various movements of the « radivcal left » is the one of the degree of the semi-colonial framework within which they be called to struggle, and therefore of the all(important primordial caracter of the struggle for the reovery of sovereignty. This implies a rupture break-up with Europeism, and the with the religion of the Euro. But it doesn’t imply only this. From the taking into account of this situation derives in realitynot only a political strategy, how to reconstruct soreignty and through which mediations, but also tactics, in other words, which will be the alliances most able to carry this political project.

It goes without saying that these questions will concentrate as a priority onto the relationship with the Euro, for the latter is now the institution which concentrates to a large extent the semi-colonial content of the EU. From this point of view, we must point out that some of the counsellors advisors of Yanis Varoufakis have changed their position on the Euro and are now pronouncing themselves in favour of a frank break-up with the single currency [10]. As for Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Parti de Gauche he is writing on his blog : « any attempt to change Europe from the inside is doomed to impotence if those who are taking it on are not ready to draw instantaneously their lesson from a failure, through breaking the framework. In other words, no plan A stands a chance without a plan B. And when time comes for plan B one’s hand must not be shaking. »[11]. If this text has the interest of showing determination in case of failure to apply a politics of rupture, which is a progress in relation of the TV show of July 2012 which we had done, Mélenchon and I, in which he evoked this famous « plan B » only as a means to realize « plan A », it goes to show that Mélenchon has not yet drawn ALL the lessons from the Diktat imposed on Greece. In reality there is no change of the EU from the inside that is possible. The “radical left” must have as a first goal a break-up, at least with those institutions the semi-colonial content of which is biggest, that is, the Euro, and it must conceive its political aliances strating from there. For the radical left, the hour of choice has struck; it must make the break, or condemn itself to perish.

[1] Sapir J., « La Grèce, la gôche, la gauche (I) », note publiée sur RussEurope le 22 juillet 2015,

[2] See Marlière P., « La gauche radicale en Europe : esquisse de portrait », in Jean-Numa Ducange, Philippe Marlière and Louis Weber, La gauche radicale en Europe, éditions du Croquant, Paris, collection « Enjeux et débats d’Espaces Marx », Paris, 2014.

[3] Boukharine N., L’Économie mondiale et l’impérialisme 1915. translation. Paris, Anthropos, 1977. See also, Christian Salmon, Le Rêve mathématique de Nicolaï Boukharine, Paris, Le Sycomore, 1980.

[4] Kouvelakis S., interview with Sebastian Budgen, « Greece: The Struggle Continues » in Jacobin, 15 juillet 2015,

[5] Gianni A., « Il problema non è Tsipras ma questa Europa » in MicroMega, 22 July 2015,

[6] Anderson P., « La débacle grecque », 22 juillet 2015,

[7] See Georges Haupt, Michael Lowy and Claude Weill, Les Marxistes et la question nationale, 1848-1914, Editions Maspéro, Paris, 1974.

[8] Sapir J., “Le débat sur la nature de l’URSS: lecture rétrospective d’un débat qui ne fut pas sans conséquences”, in R. Motamed-Nejad, (ed.), URSS et Russie – Rupture historique et continuité économique , PUF, Paris, 1997, pp. 81-115.

[9] Sapir J., L’économie mobilisée. Essai sur les économies de type soviétique, La Découverte, Paris, January 1990; (published in Germany, in version translated and augmented in 1992, Logik der Sowjetischen Ökonomie – Oder die Permanente Kriegswirtschaft, LIT Verlag, Munster and Hamburg

[10] Munevar D., « Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit », in SocialEurope, 23 July 2015,

[11] Mélenchon J-L, 23 July 2015,

Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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