Book Review from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Defiance: Greece and Europe’, by Roger Silverman. Zero Books. 2016. £15.99
Yet another book by a leftist on Greece, this time by veteran Trotskyist Roger Silverman.
The first 6 of the 15 chapters are a potted history of Greek politics since a Greek state was set up in 1821. Although there were elections before, often rigged, Greece cannot be said to have become a capitalist political democracy till after the overthrow of the Colonels’ military dictatorship in 1973. Up till then the coercive parts of the state machine – the armed forces and the police – were not controlled by the elected parliamentarians but were a law unto themselves, intervening from time to time to overthrow any government which acted or threatened to act in a way they disliked.
Greece had had radical leftwing governments before Syriza was elected in January last year. In the 1980s it was Pasok. Like reformist governments everywhere, and in the 1980s like Mitterrand in France, Pasok failed to make capitalism work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and ended up imposing austerity on them. It failed again in the 1990s and in 2009. So Syriza’s failure was nothing new.
Although he thinks the Syriza government could have acted otherwise than it did (by, for instance, nationalising the banks) he is under no illusion that there was a way-out – a way of avoiding austerity – within capitalism. Recognising that there was no immediate prospect of capitalism being ended (which would have had to be worldwide), Silverman is not as harsh on the Syriza Prime Minister Tsipras as some of his other critics. He virtually concedes that, given capitalism and isolated in Greece, the Syriza government didn’t really have any other choice than to impose austerity itself. He quotes a letter he received from a Cypriot Trotskyist:
‘The present battle in Greece has been lost. That the capitulation of Tsipras is the defining act of this loss cannot be questioned, but in all probability this battle would be lost a little further down the road. Tsipras could see this and he chose to throw in the towel rather than take further punishment.’
Silverman is critical of the leftwing breakaway from Syriza, Popular Unity, in which SOAS professor and former Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas is prominent, with its call to leave the euro and restore the drachma, a move which, in Silverman’s view, would probably make things worse (hyperinflation). In fact, he can even see a positive side to the euro:
‘A currency union represents a positive attempt partially to overcome the reactionary effects of the survival of the nation state, an obsolete relic of a bygone era.’
He employs the same language as us, writing that there is no solution to the problems facing Greek workers either within capitalism or within Greece alone, and that the only way out is to get rid of capitalism on a world scale. But of course he doesn’t mean the same. He envisages (wait for it) this being led by ‘a single party of the working class’ leading to a regime similar to what the Bolsheviks established in Russia after 1917. Trotskyists are so predictable.