Monday, February 23, 2015

Syriza, Podemos and Occupy Wall Street

Podemos, a leftist coalition, seems to be on its way to repeat Syriza's victory, this time in Spain. A couple of days ago I found an opportunity to listen to one of the leaders of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias. He could be the possible winner in the next Spanish election.

I listened to a presentation that was organized by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. This video can provide a glimpse to the leftist politics in Spain and the big challenges they are facing. For me watching the video was not devoid of pain. Seeing the usual leftist phrase mongering and on the top of it aimless moaning and groaning of Pablo Iglesias was not pleasant. But if you would like to follow the developments in Europe, particularly the leftist surge in Spain then this video is a firsthand account and could be a première into it.

Here is my one paragraph summary of it: Pablo Iglesias says he is a Marxist. What does this mean, other than his rhetoric against capital, is hard to decipher. According to Marx he is a "petty bourgeois dilettante". To me he sounds like a confused radical who understands the minimum requirement of political sanity, that a radical change in Spain is not possible. Probably this grain of sanity is the pivot of his coalition and the content of their leftism is something to be seen later. If Podemos wins the election, Iglesias is looking for "reforms". It is very clear that he does not have any idea what his party can do. Do not expect to come away with a full understanding of what Podemos wants to accomplish. Iglesias first agenda item after victory is to stop the evictions of the people who have defaulted on their mortgages. That does not seem to be a very fundamental policy direction. He could have added that he would also organize a national soup kitchen! With people having housing and food it seems Podemos has solved the problem of Spain! Well, I guess we have to wait and see, if Pablo Iglesias gets elected, and in case of victory how he would seriously engage with the rest of Europe.

Meanwhile squeezed by the economic turmoil, electoral victory by Syriza has raised the hopes of Greeks. They expect that their vote for Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, would be a popular mandate. A mandate that somehow would force the EU to ease the austerity measures imposed on them. On the surface this popular mandate has little weight, that is a mandate of 11 million Greeks versus the 80 million mandate of Angela Merkel of Germany – populations of each country respectively. This new mandate nevertheless has set up a scene for a confrontation between the Syriza led government and the EU's other leaders. The negotiations among these leaders, Tsipras included, are continuing. At the moment most of the attentions are focused on whether EU will buckle under the demands put forward by the Greeks. It seems that little attention is being paid to the fact that euphoria of the Syriza victory could wane very quickly if Tsipras could not deliver soon. It is unlikely that he could. My suspicion is that the forces that are waiting to gain in this situation are the nationalist and rightist forces in Greece. A segment of this rightist forces are already in the present Greek government. Syriza did not win an absolute majority in the elections and in order to form a government it was forced into an alliance with a little known rightist party, Anel.

Could this leftist victory in Greece be a prelude to a rightist resurgence? I should not be surprised. This is the role that the leftists have played since the 1917 victory of the Bolshevik coup in Russia. In every social turmoil one can see this pattern, an aimless leftist adventurism followed by a brutal rightist turn. Bolshevik coup ended in the brutal Stalin's rule, in Spain and Germany leftist adventurism led to Franco and Hitler. The U.S. was not immune from it and was affected in a complicated way. Even Islamic rule in Iran fundamentally was paved by the Iranian leftists. But does this pattern have to repeat itself? Maybe not.

While Syriza has won and Podemos might be on its way toward an electoral victory, in the U.S. a similar drive fizzled out. These days the Occupy Wall Street which lifted the leftists spirit in the U.S. is not heard much from. Today, OWS is yesterday's memory. One can say it simply failed. What is the difference? The United States has a single monetary, fiscal and central banking system which could and did implement policies to mitigate the harshness of the financial crisis. In this sense the main challenge to the EU is not really Syriza or Podemos but the challenge is whether the EU could extend its integration in other spheres of financial and fiscal systems. The task of growing out of the financial crisis should not be the burden of individual states alone. Can Europe become innovative and shake off the last vestiges of its provincialism? Usually processes end up to be more complicated than the obvious.

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