A Brief Reflection on the Relationship Between Syriza and Bernie Sanders


by Danny Haiphong

From Black Agenda Report

“The left within the US and the West gave almost uncritical support to Syriza and paid little attention to its shortcomings.”

The Greek Syriza party and Bernie Sanders’ US president campaign have something in common: neither has any intention to challenge the global capitalist system. “Syriza began and remains a social democratic party committed to the maintenance of the Wall Street-controlled European order,” and “Bernie Sanders is a ruling class tool.”

Each day as a social service worker, I am confronted with the oppressive conditions imposed on poor and working people by the world capitalist system. And everyday, social workers in similar positions are coerced to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that the institutions that hire them have the capacity to improve the lives of the millions who come seeking assistance. While this may be true on a case-by-case basis, it is NEVER true on a mass basis. There is nothing of material benefit that the world capitalist system can offer to its exploited subjects, especially under the current conditions of the neo-liberal end game of 21st century imperialism. So just as social workers are built to align themselves professionally with the operations of imperialism, Bernie-mania and the debacle in Greece have illuminated the depths the system must go to manipulate opposition into political alignment with the ruling system.

Imperialism is ruled by the 1 Percent, which is better termed the ruling class. Profits and power are the primary objectives of this class. The ruling class enriches itself by exploiting labor and trading looted assets via Wall Street and global finance. To keep the profits flowing, imperialism has turned on itself through ruthless global austerity and privatization. Imperialism maintains order through its Mass Black Incarceration State, which comprises 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and a repressive apparatus with over 1000 military bases and mass surveillance capabilities. Meanwhile, three billion people around the world live on less than $2.50 per day and more than half of the planet’s wealth resides in the hands of around 80 super-rich capitalists.

Such an order of extreme inequality couldn’t survive without coercion and suppression. The state is responsible for imposing physical force on the exploited to give space to the psychological coercion of politicians, corporate media pundits, and the miseducation narratives of the school system. Bernie Sanders and Syriza are primary examples of the complex character of imperialist psychological manipulation in the realm of the state. Each case represents the crisis of the “left” in the Western world, albeit in different contexts.

“There is nothing of material benefit that the world capitalist system can offer to its exploited subjects.”

In the case of Bernie, much of what passes as the left in the US is being corralled into his brand of electoral “socialism.” Despite voting for the invasion of Afghanistan during his time in the Senate and supporting Israeli war crimes in Palestine, Bernie is being paraded as the “progressive” option in the 2016 election. On the one hand, Bernie’s socialist rhetoric shows how the US imperialist system has been forced to adjust its rhetoric to appease the interests of poor and working people. On the other, Bernie’s brand of economism represents the shrewdest form of deception that rivals the current Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Bernie has promised labor unions (which have fully backed Sanders) and workers generally that his administration would put an end to the “rigged” US economy through “political revolution.” What he has not explained is how he will do that by supporting the trillion dollar US war enterprise and actively campaigning for Hilary Clinton’s almost certain victory in the primaries.

As for Syriza, the acceptance of a bail out deal has taken the winds out of the sails of a political party that actively campaigned against the ruthless austerity agenda of the oligarchic “troika” alliance of the EU, ECB and IMF. Syriza’s original program is, as of this writing, completely undermined by the terms of the 86 billion dollar Eurozone deal that requires Greece to implement harsh austerity measures within forty-eight hours of passage. Intense debate has ensued around how to think about Syriza among various leftists. Most of the debate has occurred withinin imperialist countries like the US. Some argue that Syriza was a liberal social democratic party from the start and thus was bound to align itself with the financial ruling class. Others stand firm in their defense of Syriza, claiming that what the EU, ECB, and IMF are forcing upon Greece amounts to a financial coup.

However, while both positions contain truth, neither provides a clear analysis of the contradictions that preceded Syriza’s capitulation. Syriza’s mass support came from the party’s anti-austerity platform and not necessarily its popular character. From the beginning, Syriza made clear it wanted to remain in the EU orbit. This was inherently antithetical to a genuine struggle against austerity in the same way that Bernie Sanders support for Israel is clearly divergent from changing a “rigged” economy based on imperial plunder. As John Pilger notes, Syriza began and remains a social democratic party committed to the maintenance of the Wall Street controlled European order. It showed its commitment by never moving forward on an exit plan from the Euro-dominated grips of the EU. Even still, the left within the US and the West gave almost uncritical support to Syriza and paid little attention to its shortcomings.

“Bernie’s brand of economism represents the shrewdest form of deception.”

Let this be a lesson that shows how Imperialism’s relationship to Syriza and Bernie Sanders are similar despite the different contexts from which they emerged. Syriza’s popularity and power stems from the unrest and struggle of the Greek working class. At the same time, Syriza’s alignment with the EU is indicative of its privileged class character and the immense weight of pressure imposed by the “troika” of imperialism. These contradictions are in constant motion, but have been largely stripped of the global context that pits world imperialism against the majority of humanity. Bernie Sanders is a ruling class tool whose purpose is to mobilize as many progressive forces as possible back to the Democratic Party. Despite their differences, both Bernie and Syriza guarantee service to only one political objective: that the rule of imperialism will go unchallenged under their leadership.

Inevitably, critiques of Bernie Sanders or Syriza bring us to the question: what is the alternative? For Greece, that is up to the workers and oppressed there to decide. If Syriza is determined as the only party at the moment capable of holding off the fascist Golden Dawn and giving radical forces space to organize Greece out of the Eurozone, then support should be lent critically as alternative forms of organization and internal as well as external struggle develops. However, Syriza’s recent policy decisions have showed that this may lead to more stabilized, but no less exploitative, capitalism. As for Bernie, there is no scenario that would make him into a force worthy of even the most critical of support. He is a representative of the American Empire, and an enemy to all who want an end to the suffering it has wrought. What is most urgent at the moment are for the ideas and practices of people like Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and many others to take hold in this period. Radical and revolutionary cannot be mentioned as mere catch phrases or ideas. These terms must stand the test of practice and be evaluated within the context of history. Only then can the significance of the developments in Greece be held to an internationalist standard of global solidarity against the common enemy of imperialism.

“If neither Syriza nor Bernie currently represent the interests of the working class and oppressed, we have to seek out and organize a system that does.”

Some on the left, especially in the US, will take offense to a Bernie Sanders and Syriza comparison. The point of this article was not to claim that Syriza and Bernie are cut from the same cloth in totality. However, each case shows the necessity of a people’s upsurge, one led by the oppressed toward revolutionary ends. In the end, no amount of maneuvering can change what has been proven to this point. If neither Syriza nor Bernie currently represent the interests of the working class and oppressed, we have to seek out and organize a system that does. It is certain that imperialism will continue to force Greece into financial and political subservience and ensure that alternative institutions like BRICS lose opportunities to detach the world from the system’s exploitative grip. There also should be zero doubt that Bernie Sanders will work day and night to keep the US empire dominant in the world in the unlikely scenario that he were to win the presidential nomination. The lesson here is to realize that no matter how progressive the rhetoric may be, politicians and parties that come to power within a capitalist state will inevitably reinforce the system’s manipulation of the leftist and progressive sentiments. And whether it falls on Greek PM Tsipras or US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, their role in aligning the left to the imperialist system must be called out.