Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Cat in the Box: Quantum Social Democracy and the Uncertainty Principle

Richard Seymour, VIB, wrote on SIP Louis Proyect's chat-list:

No formal count was taken at this meeting, but according to Stathis Kouvelakis, 30 MPs were out of the room when the vote was taken and 40 abstained or voted against.  If this is right, then a third of those present voted against.  He recounts that most speakers - some 80 MPs - criticised the deal, in an emotional and turbulent meeting that went on for 12 hours.

Tsipras would be smart not to bring this to a parliamentary vote.  The centrist opposition want it to be voted on because they want to split Syriza and pass the deal.  The KKE want it to be voted on because they want to split Syriza and take their place as the dominant left party.

It was shrewd and characteristic of Tsipras’s leadership style to take an informal vote on this.  Because he could have just forced it through and gone ahead with a parliamentary vote without listening to anyone, which would possibly have split Syriza in a big way.  But the scale of dissent, the difficulties it creates for the agreement, and the clear rejection of the ‘famous victory’ line that Tsipras peddled, has saved Syriza’s honour.  The Left Platform have been shown to be wholly correct in their approach, while the cheerleaders and the told-you-so sectarians now look a bit silly.

I am not one to ever say "I told you so," and as I have demonstrated earlier, I'm not nearly important enough to be an irrelevant sectarian.  But since I specifically and repeatedly advocate forcing a vote of confidence in the Syriza government on the floor of the parliament, I wonder if I'm now one the "silly lookers"?

I'm not sure, and not being sure means being uncertain, and being uncertain calls to mind Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, and that evokes quantum mechanics, playing dice with the universe, thought experiments and whether the cat in the box is dead or alive.

I have to wonder what's "wholly correct" about the approach of the "The Left Platform" if it provides an indication to Tsipras that he should by-pass parliament and simply impose the reform package, because that "would possibly have split Syriza in a big way"?  Unless it is to keep Syriza in power.

Well, we have the answer now to the earlier question about a vote of confidence.  Seymour is definitely voting his confidence in the Syriza government by rejecting a vote of confidence.  The cat in the box may be dead, but Seymour doesn't want anyone to open the box and find out.

So I propose a thought experiment for our supporters of Syriza, supporters of the Syriza "Left Platform," supporters of a government of, by, and for Syriza:  It goes like this:

Supposed the relative strengths in the Syriza-ANEL coalition were reversed; suppose Syriza was the junior partner and ANEL was the senior partner.  Suppose ANEL had "co-opted" Syriza into its government.  Suppose Syriza had agreed to the coalition and a ministry based on the shared opposition to the 2012 MFFA and the reforms associated with it. With Syriza, ANELforms a government based on maintaining the combined parliamentary majority.

Now suppose ANEL, the major partner, did what Syriza has just done: reverse its opposition to an extension of the bailout; agree to maintaining the conditions of the MFFA; submitting the same package of reforms to the Eurogroup.

What would the response be of our quantum social-democrats, our VIBs, our SIPs, our quasi-Marxists?  Would anyone on the left argue that the government's actions actually represent a "victory" for Greece?  That the ANEL government had won the all-important concession of time for Greece?

Would our never-close-to-being Marxists excuse, or rationalize, the ANEL actions with "the bosses are too strong?"

Would anyone on the "left"-- would any one member or supporter of "The Left Platform" argue that Syriza should stay in the coalition and not expose the ANEL-Syriza government to a vote of "no-confidence"?

Would anyone suggest that it was important of ANEL to conduct a "straw poll" and based on the reluctance of some parliament members, by-pass bringing the package to a vote in the parliament in order to keep the government in power?

Would anyone suggest that a "straw-poll" meaning less than nothing was an act of valor, saving the "honor" of the government?

Well, end of thought experiment.

So what's the difference between the hypothetical ANEL-Syriza government doing what the actual Syriza-ANEL government has already done?  Syriza includes socialists?  Syriza is more secular?  If socialism or secularism are the determining characteristics of Syriza, then those determining characteristics should preclude an alliance with ANEL in any way shape or form.

Clearly, socialism and secularism are not those critical components. It is, and is solely, Syriza's supposed opposition to the MFFA and the so-called reforms. 

Which brings us to the interesting possibility, where the cat in the box is half dead and half alive-- where, while the "Left Platform" may falter in fear before the prospect of splitting Syriza, ANEL will not, and ANEL holds the balance of power; ANEL can force a vote of confidence.

I don't know if ANEL is venal enough to be bought off by Tsipras in order to avoid ANEL's defection, but if ANEL does decide to walk, all the "honor-saving" by the "Left Platform" stands exposed as the meaningless action we know it to be.  ANEL gets to claim that it alone represents the aspirations of the Greek people for the end of the bailout and to the package of "reforms."

And if ANEL doesn't walk, and as the dissent within Syriza threatens to burst the boundaries of straw polls, ANEL's importance to Tsipras increases, and the "new type of socialist mass non-vanguard democratic popular party" becomes more and more dependent on a right-wing, nationalist, racist party of the old type.

The "Left Platform," and its supporters, with their limited valor, have put themselves and the cat, not in the box, but in the trick bag.  And there's no getting out without destroying the bag.  That much is certain. The cat's dead.  The cat's alive.  It doesn't matter.

February 28, 2015


  1. I have a stupid question that I beg your patience for. I've seen you say elsewhere that socialism has never existed. Have there been any near moments at all, in your opinion? The few months when the Soviets had real power in 1917? The Paris Commune?

    1. I don't recall ever saying exactly those words, but if socialism is to mean an industrial mode of production without classes, without the alienation of labor, then indeed it has never existed.

      Moments of proletarian power, of proletarian revolution have indeed existed-- the Commune being one, the soviets holding power being another-- and in various, and fragment areas and moments in Germany during the 1920, etc.

  2. Thank you. As an Irishman, I feel duty bound to mention the 12 days of glory from 1919 in my country:

    1. Indeed, thank you for the link. From Wolfe Tone to Connolly and beyond, Long Live the Irish Rebellion.

    2. Nice sentiment, although sadly Engels' observation has been proved devastatingly accurate over the years:

      "The worst about the Irish is that they become corruptible as soon as they stop being peasants and turn bourgeois. True, this is the case with most peasant nations. But in Ireland it is particularly bad. That is also why the press is so lousy."

      Oh, this may be of interest: a new work on the Ancient Israeli economy that is being compared to De Ste Croix's work on Greece and Rome. Don't be put off by the blog title:-)