Capitalists crashed the car but Socialists can't drive
The Left may know how to diagnose the problem, but it won't be trusted until it offers a credible cure
Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30
Sneering at the Greeks seems to be the order of the day in certain circles right now. Naive young pups, thinking they could come along and shake up European politics. That's not the way things are done round here, chaps. Now toddle off, take your good looks and game theory with you, and learn some manners.
The barely concealed glee as the leftist dream implodes in Athens, with all the attendant consequences for socialists in other EU states, is understandable. Established centrist parties have felt those hounds snapping at their heels for a while now, and can be forgiven some satisfaction at seeing them tamed.
But gloating should be resisted, because much of what Syriza has to say about the European project is entirely correct. We ought to know that better than anyone, having had the same thing done to us, as unsustainable bank debt was foisted on to people who did nothing wrong in order to repay those who did.
Unsustainable may be the wrong word, because it's all about the terms of repayment. There's no such thing as a loan that's too big. But there's no question that the Greek people have been subjected to a cruel social experiment by a cadre of elected and unelected panjandrums who are making this stuff up as they go along. They don't know if it will work, but they'll give it a go anyway, even going so far as to exact regime change in Greece, if that's what it takes, as they seek to out-manoeuvre Syriza out of office altogether.
Democracy clearly means nothing in Brussels or Frankfurt. They are the new gods. Its enemies dub this capitalism, red in tooth and claw, though it bears no relation to anything which could reasonably be called capitalism in the classic liberal sense. It's more like dystopian geopolitical engineering on a continent wide scale, all done in the name of a bloated, undemocratic, autocratic European superstate which looks increasingly like madness and which may even still implode under the weight of its own contradictions.
The project can only work with full fiscal and political union, but, in the present circumstances, that simply looks like a new form of madness, giving up even more autonomy in return for a bigger nightmare, taking decisions further away from those most directly affected by them.
So why don't we all just veer sharply to the Left then?
Because, despite describing the problem, the Left still offers no credible solution for it. The socialists are the political equivalent of GPs. You might go to them for a diagnosis, but, having sent you for tests and finding a serious problem, you'd want a specialist to take over. The Left remains amateurish at best, and totally out of its depth at worst. It hoped that Greece would pave the way. If even they fail, what's left?
Literally, what's Left?
It's hard to believe the Left could pick itself up from failure in Greece, if that's what it turns out to be, and still pretend that the capitalist behemoth can be taken down by following Syriza's model. Certainly not in Ireland, though that doesn't stop them pretending the game is still on.
There was an example of this on RTE radio midweek, as Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy floundered as he struggled to explain why anyone should lend money to those on the Left who don't believe they should have to pay it back anyway.
Of course, struggling countries should get a writedown on their debts; that's basic business sense, allowing confidence to flourish and people to spend money again and recovery to happen. But if those to whom the money is owed simply say no, what then?
Similarly, if democracy in Greece must be respected, then surely it must be respected when other voters appoint pro-status quo regimes too? Is Germany just meant to ignore the will of its own people?
Murphy complained about the Troika, the EU, the media, but the truth is that there is nothing stopping the Greeks from acting on their democratic wishes. Syriza seemed to think it could simultaneously say No to austerity and Yes to the benefits of being in the euroclub. That is the analysis that has been found wanting. The rules were harsh and capricious, but if everyone else is willing to play by them, the only option is to go it alone.
What events in Greece have proved is not that there is no alternative - there's always another way - but that there is no alternative inside the present system; and to be fair to them, Irish socialists such as Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett have never shied away from the anti-EU implications of their desire to change the political paradigm, unlike Sinn Fein which is still wedded to Syriza's fantasy of ending austerity and remaining inside the EU temple.
As it happens, splendid isolation is a fantasy too. Irish people are never going to vote in a referendum to leave the European Union. Even if there's a paradise waiting outside, we wouldn't take the risk.
That's the eternal problem for the Left. Give them an endless supply of money and they'd, no doubt, have wonderful ideas about how to spend it, on hospitals and schools and Arts Council grants, but they'll never get the chance until they convince us that they know how to create those billions in the first place. Their only plan is an old one, which is to take the money from those who already have it. In the short term, all's well. Then the money runs out. So how do you ensure that growth is sustainable in order to keep funding social protection, housing, health, because the only time there's ever enough money to do those things is when capitalism is working.
Until the Left gives a credible answer to that question, it will remain a movement of opposition not power and we won't trust them to hold the reins of our economic destiny.
It's not that people in Greece or Ireland or anywhere love these new masters of the universe, who move billions around at the touch of a button, and can dictate their will to governments and populations - it's that we don't see an alternative. Yes, these people wrecked the economy, but they were also the ones who built it up in the first place. They allowed it to over-stimulate, but at least it was on a path of stimulation. The Left still only seems to offer the path of stagnation.
Is entrusting the repair of an economy to people who wrecked it really any more absurd than trusting it to those who show no sign of knowing how to put one together at all?
The system failed, we can all agree on that; but the Left has failed too. Its one job was to provide a plausible, dependable alternative, and instead they just carried on being the messers they always were.
Capitalism may have crashed the car, but socialism still gives the impression of not even knowing how to drive.