SYRIZA’s inept efforts to modernize

SYRIZA’s inept efforts to modernize

I left Greece many years ago and thus my understanding of its politics might not be as thorough as that of my fellow Greeks who live in the country. It is possible then that the current developments in the SYRIZA party might not be clear to me. I am though a Russian/Soviet historian by training and given the fact that SYRIZA has its roots in the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) I can give some insights on current SYRIZA events.

Just like KKE and the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union, SYRIZA has internal institutions such as the Secretariat, the Central Committee etc, which have been taking collective decisions. Such decisions are the purview of a relatively few members of long standing. Members who have been operating in an intellectual “bubble” – an “echo chamber,” where left-wing views are debated, but outside opinions are neither allowed nor tolerated.

Just like the Communist Party of the USSR, SYRIZA wanted decision-making by the few but also the appearance of broad support and participation in its proceedings. It was for that reason that the party organs decided to allow broad participation in the recent election for party president. The idea was, like in the “good old days” of the Soviet Union, that the party organs would make their selections and then the people would select a candidate from a pre-approved list of like-minded (or near like-minded) individuals of long standing within the party. Just like the days of the USSR, the people at large would be called to confirm choices already made by the few.

But the root of the problem is not to be found in Kasselakis’ many shortcomings; it is based on the nature of SYRIZA.

As it turned out events did not develop as desired by the party apparatchiks. A new and unknown individual, Stefanos Kasselakis, appeared out of nowhere. Not a member of the party but clearly supported/guided by some of its members, he announced his candidacy. Using modern (often labeled “American”) methods of direct communication with the voters via the internet, Kasselakis attracted thousands of new voters to the process. The result was that he prevailed over a number of well-established SYRIZA members. Some of the losers are individuals rooted in the party’s Marxist ideology who have spent time in internal processes, who served as ministers in the SYRIZA government and were considered the future of the party.

Kasselakis’ ineptitude, political naivete, and personal immaturity, together with a resume which sounds too good to be true and has not been vetted, are major issues which contribute to the current turmoil in the party. But the root of the problem is not to be found in his many shortcomings; it is based on the nature of SYRIZA.

SYRIZA, being the descendant of a Stalinist party and way of thinking, was not interested in popular participation in its inner-party procedures; the insiders wanted popular participation which would give the appearance of the party being modern and open; the popular elections in New Democracy and PASOK made such a move necessary, but they never expected substantive voting.

I am sure that party insiders will counter that “the people were disoriented by a newcomer” or that “foreign and domestic dark interests intervened” etc, but the truth is rather simple: SYRIZA was attempting to appeal to voters closer to the center of the political spectrum, but the party is not prepared to renounce its Marxist roots, methods, and ways of thinking.


* John Mazis is professor of history at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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