Alexis Tsipras’ Anti-Politics

In proclaiming that there is no alternative, the Syriza leadership has rejected politics itself.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaking before parliament last week. AFP

By voting for a new memorandum, the government and the majority of Syriza’s parliamentary caucus have not just said farewell to left politics but to politics altogether. By making this choice, they have not only disposed of Syriza’s program, or the commitments the government made to the Greek people.

They have trampled on the “no” vote of the Greek people, who just two weeks ago strongly rejected the Juncker austerity package, which was a much milder version of austerity than the one imposed by the shameful agreement of July 12. They have additionally ignored the opposition of the majority of their own party’s central committee, the only collective body elected by the party congress and accountable to its members’ collective will.

However, there’s something more than the aforementioned aspects and that at the same time transcends them: in going down this road, the government and its parliamentary majority have negated the very idea of politics, which is based on the idea of taking the responsibility of a choice, i.e. sticking by a political decision.

Recently, we have seen developments that are unprecedented not just by Greek but also by international standards. The new finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, for instance, declared in parliament the day after signing the agreement that it was the worst day of his life, and that while he “doesn’t know” if it was the “right thing,” they “didn’t have any other options.”

He “doesn’t know” if he did the “right thing” but he nevertheless did it. Not only did he accept the agreement, but he called on his colleagues and comrades to do the same! All this in the name of not having any other options — in other words, “There Is No Alternative,” a motto which not only embodies the denial of every left-wing idea, but is also tantamount to the dissolution of the notion of politics altogether, a notion entirely reliant on the fact that there are always alternatives and possible choices.

It is, however, the prime minister himself who offered the clearest example in this operation of self-denial of responsibility. Alexis Tsipras told the public broadcaster ERT that he “disagrees” with the agreement and doesn’t “believe” in it. And he also justified his actions by invoking the absence of any other option.

However, not even once did he ask the question: how, after five and a half months of being in office and with 62 percent of the people backing him in an anti-austerity referendum, was he left with no other option than submitting to another austerity package that was even worse than the previous one?

Despite disapproving of the agreement, Tsipras asked his Syriza’s members of parliament to collude in this blatant violation of the popular mandate and of national sovereignty, threatening to resign should he not receive their unanimous support. Something he, of course, ultimately refused to do despite having to face the resounding refusal of thirty-nine of them.

But with the statement he issued on July 16, he embarked on a further step in this direction. If no one questions that he was indeed subjected to a vicious blackmail, Tsipras claims, then not supporting him equals a refusal to share responsibility. And this “comes into conflict with the principles of comradeship and solidarity, while inflicting an open wound within our ranks.”

In other words, because Tsipras succumbed to an unquestionably real blackmail, he called on his party’s MPs to follow him in this catastrophic move. As if the reality of the blackmail automatically equals the absence of options other than the one chosen by him.

The underlying assumption here is again TINA, but expressed in terms of individual psychology and emotion, as the injunction to support someone that “has endured so much in the past six months” and who like the rest of comrades is plagued by a “dilemma of consciousness towards our common principles, values, positions, and ideological references.”

Nevertheless, in politics and in social activity in general, it is not inner dilemmas and intentions (noble and otherwise), eventual guilt, and latent thoughts that matter, but actual deeds and their content. It is not by accident that the words “memorandum” or “agreement” are absent from the Tsipras’s statement. The purpose of this media spin is not to defend a political decision, but to trigger an emotional identification with a leader enduring hard trials.

But this is also a means to the essential end, which is the stigmatization of party “rebels” as people undermining “the country’s first government of the Left.” Again, political essence, namely the disagreement with a choice, is obscured. It not about submitting to or rejecting austerity, remaining faithful or not to the popular mandate of January 25 and July 5, or upholding or violating the program and the commitments of the government and of Syriza — it is simply about the decision whether to provide emotional support to the leader.

This abolition of the very substance of political discourse is a confession of profound weakness. The legitimacy of this third bailout agreement — that is, to another draconian austerity package — isn’t only far weaker than the previous two. It is simply nonexistent.

Unlike in 2010 and 2012, in 2015 the ruling political force’s only raison d’être and justification for being in office is the overthrow of those policies to which it has now subjected itself. Therefore, the only real threat for “the country’s first government of the Left” — and for Syriza as such — is not some “enemy from within” but the the suicidal submission to austerity and the perpetuation troika rule.

The recent Greek experience shows that the neoliberal shock therapy that comes with the “bailout agreements” doesn’t merely devour governments and prime ministers but the parties that enforce it. The reshuffling of the government, with the removal of all four Left Platform ministries, and the resignation of two other members of the cabinet, provides a good illustration of the rift that has now opened inside Syriza.

The mainstream media, which have now become the main channel through which the spin of the government is communicated to the public, openly talk of a forthcoming “purge.” Its first victim might well be the charismatic president of the parliament, Zoe Kostantopoulou, who voted “no” on the agreement and openly supports unilateral default on the debt and a total break with troika rule.

Meanwhile, Tsipras, who is also president of Syriza, still refuses to convene the central committee of the party, even though a majority of its members have requested it in a joint statement that also rejects the agreement. The violation of the most elementary rules of party functioning is certainly a very worrying sign of what is to come.

Syriza is now at the crossroads, and its future will be decided in the next few weeks.