By James Petras
While the Right faithfully supports the policies and interests of its ruling class supporters, the Left has systematically betrayed their political platform promises and deceived its working class, salaried employees, small business and regional supporters.
Historic reversals have happened in rapid succession by Leftist leaders, including greater oligarch control over the economy, more dictatorial political domination by imperial powers (US,EU), increasing inequalities and poverty, and ‘Leftist’ support for imperial wars.
In some cases leftist leaders have gone beyond their rightist opponents by passing even more extreme reactionary policies upon assuming power.
In this essay, we will identify some of the turncoat leftists: The ‘Champions of Betrayal’.
Secondly we will review their policy reversals and the consequences for their working class and rural supporters.
Thirdly, we will present a case study of the world’s worst ‘Left’ traitor today: Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece.
In the final section, we will discuss some of the possible explanations for the trend of political reversals by left leaders.
Turncoat ‘Leftists’ of the Early 21st Century
There are numerous examples of former guerrilla movements, leftist regimes and political leaders who gained mass popular support on the promise of radical structural transformations and who turn around to embrace the interests of their oligarchical and imperial adversaries.
An entire generation of radicals from the 1960’s and ’70’s started on the left and, by the ’80’s and 90’s ended up in ‘centrist’ and rightwing regimes – even becoming collaborators with the extreme right and the CIA.
Former guerrilla fighters, who turned centrist and rightwing, became Cabinet Ministers or Presidents in Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Chile.
El Salvadoran guerrilla commander, Joaquin Villalobos, later collaborated with the CIA and provided ‘advice’ to the ‘death squad’ President of Colombia.
The list of late 20th century traitors is long and dismal. Their policy betrayals have caused great hardship for their mass supporters who suffered socio-economic losses, political repression, arrests, torture, death and a profound distrust toward ‘left’ intellectuals, political leaders and their ‘promises’.
The 21st Century: Starting on the Left and Ending on the Right
The first decade of the 21st century witnessed a revival of left regimes and political parties in Europe and Latin America.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), led by the great peasant leader Manual Marulanda, had 20,000 fighters and millions of supporters. In 1999, it had advanced to the outskirts of the Capital, Bogota. The reality today is a dramatic reversal.
In France, the Socialist Party adopted a left program and elected Francois Hollande as President in 2012. He promised to raise taxes on the rich to 75% in order to finance a massive jobs program. He promised to extend progressive labor legislation and to defend national industries. Today his credibility is near zero.
Throughout Latin America, Leftists were elected to head governments, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and El Salvador. With the possible exception of Bolivia and Ecuador, they have been ousted by their rightwing partners or opponents.
In Spain, Portugal and Greece, new radical leftist parties emerged with promises to end the brutal European Union-imposed austerity programs, and launch profound, class-based, structural transformations. Here history is repeating itself with another series of betrayals.
The Revolutionary Armed of Forces of Colombia (FARC): From Revolution to Surrender
By June 2017, the FARC leadership had disarmed its fighters, abandoning millions of peasant supporters in regions formerly under their control. The FARC’s signing of the Peace Pact with the Santos regime led to neither peace nor a real pact. Dozens of activists are already being murdered and hundreds of leftists and peasants are fleeing for their lives from death squads connected to the Santos regime. Assassinations occurred throughout the negotiation process and afterwards. Guerrilla fighters, who turned in their arms, now face kangaroo trials, while peasants who apply for agrarian reform are driven from their farms. Rank and file FARC fighters and militants are abandoned with their families in the jungle without homes, jobs and security from the death squads. US military bases and advisers remain. The entire socio-economic system is unchanged. Only the Cuba-based guerrilla ‘leaders’ are guaranteed security, two comfortable seats in Parliament– which has been denied– and the praise of the US government!
FARC leaders and chief negotiators, Ivan Marquez and Timoleon Jimenez, are clear contenders for the ‘Traitor of the Year Award’.
France’s President Hollande: An Imperial Collaborator Flushed down the Toilet
President Francois Hollande’s tenure was not far behind the FARC’s betrayal. Elected President of France in 2012 under the Socialist Party, he promised to ‘tax the rich’ by 75%, extend and deepen workers’ rights, reduce unemployment, revive bankrupt industries, prevent capitalist flight and end France’s military intervention in Third World countries.
After a brief flirtation with his campaign rhetoric, President Hollande went on a pro-business and militarist rampage against his voters:
First, he deregulated business relations with labor, making it easier and quicker to fire workers.
Second, he reduced business taxes by $40 billion Euros.
Third, he imposed and then extended a draconian state of emergency following a terrorist incident. This included the banning of strikes by workers protesting his anti-labor legislation and the double-digit unemployment rate.
Fourth, Hollande launched or promoted a series of imperial wars in the Middle East and North and Central Africa.
France under Francois Hollande initiated the NATO bombing of Libya, the murder of President Gadhafi, the total destruction of that nation and the uprooting of millions of Libyans and sub-Saharan African workers. This led to a massive flood of terrified refugees across the Mediterranean and into Europe with tens of thousands drowning in the process.
President Holland’s neo-colonial project oversaw the expansion of French troops into Mali (destabilized by the destruction of Libya) and the Central African Republic.
A clear promoter of genocide, Hollande sold arms and sent ‘advisers’ to support Saudi Arabia’s grotesque war against impoverished Yemen.
President Hollande joined the US mercenary invasion of Syria, allowing some of France’s finest nascent jihadis to join in the slaughter. His colonial ambitions have resulted in the flight of millions of refugees into Europe and other regions.
By the end of his term of office in 2017, Holland’s popularity had declined to 4%, the lowest level of electoral approval of any President in French history! The only rational move he undertook in his entire regime was to not seek re-election.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras: ‘Traitor of the Year’
Despite the stiff competition from other infamous leftist traitors around the world, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wins the ‘Global Traitor of the Year’ award.
Tsipras deserves the label of ‘Global Traitor’ because:
1) He made the quickest and most brutal turn from left to right than any of his venal competitors.
2) He supported Greece’s subjugation to the dictates of the Brussels oligarchs privatization demands, agreeing to sell its entire national patrimony, including its infrastructure, islands, mines, beaches, museums, ports and transports etc.
3) He decreed the sharpest reduction of pensions, salaries and minimum wages in European history, while drastically increasing the cost of health care, hospitalization and drugs. He increased VAT, (consumer taxes) and tax on island imports and farm income while ‘looking the other way’ with rich tax evaders.
4) Tsipras is the only elected leader to convoke a referendum on harsh EU conditions, receive a massive mandate to reject the EU plan and then turn around and betray the Greek voters in less than a week. He even accepted more severe conditions than the original EU demands!
5) Tsipras reversed his promises to oppose EU sanctions against Russia and withdrew Greece’s historic support for the Palestinians. He signed a billion-dollar oil and gas deal with Israel which grabbed oil fields off the Gaza and Lebanon coast. Tsipras refused to oppose the US -EU bombing of Syria, and Libya – both former allies of Greece.
Tsipras, as the leader of the supposedly ‘radical left’ SYRIZA Party, leaped from left to right in the wink of an eye.
The first and most revealing indication of his turn to the right was Tsipras’ support for Greece’s continued membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO during the formation of SYRIZA (2004).
SYRIZA’s ‘left’ mouthed the usual platitudes accompanying EU membership, raising vacuous ‘questions’ and ‘challenges’ while talking of ’struggles’. None of these ‘half pregnant’ phrases made sense to any observer who understood the power of the German-led oligarchs in Brussels and their strict adherence to ruling-class imposed austerity.
Secondly, SYRIZA had played a minor role, a best, in the numerous trade union general strikes and worker and student led direct action in the run-up to its electoral victory in 2015.
SYRIZA is an electoral party of the lower middle and middle class, led by upwardly mobile politicos who had few if any ties to shop-floor factory and agrarian struggles. Their biggest struggles seemed to revolve around internal factional wars over seats in Parliament!
SYRIZA was a loose collection of squabbling groups and factions, including, ‘ecology movements’, Marxist sects and traditional politicos who had floated over from the moribund, and corrupt PanHellenic Socialist Party (PASOK). SYRIZA expanded as a party at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis when the Greek economy collapsed. From 2004 to 2007 SYRIZA increased its presence in Parliament from 3.5% to only 5%. Its lack of participation in the mass struggles and its internal squabbles led to a decline in the 2009 legislative elections to 4.6% of seats.
Tsipras ensured that SYRIZA would remain in the EU, even as its self-styled ‘left wing’, the Left Platform, led by ‘Marxist academic’ Panagiotis Lafazanis, promised to “keep an open door to leaving the EU”. Alexis Tsipras was first elected to the Athens city council, where he publicly attacked corrupt and demagogic rightwing colleagues while taking private lessons in power from the oligarchy.
In 2010, the rightwing PASOK and far right New Democracy agreed to an EU dictated debt bail-out leading to massive job losses and the slashing of wages and pensions. SYRIZA, while outside of power, denounced the austerity program and gave lip-service to the massive protests. This posturing allowed SYRIZA to quadruple its representation in parliament to 16% in the 2012 election.
Tsipras welcomed corrupt ex-PASOK members and financial advisers into SYRIZA, including Yanis Varoufakis, who spent more time motorcycling to upscale bars then supporting the unemployed workers in the streets.
EU ‘memorandums’ dictated the privatization of the economy, as well as deeper cuts in education and health. These measures were implemented in shock waves from 2010 through 2013. As an opposition party, SYRIZA increased its seats 27% in 2013 … a scant 3% behind the ruling rightwing New Democracy. In September 2014, SYRIZA approved the Thessalonika Program promising to reverse austerity, rebuild and extend the welfare state, restart the economy, defend public enterprises, promote tax justice, uphold democracy (direct democracy no less!) and implement a ‘national plan’ to increase employment.
The entire debate and all the resolutions turned out to be a theatrical farce! Once in power, Tsipras never implemented a single reform promised in the Program. To consolidate his power as head of SYRIZA, Tsipras dissolved all factions and tendencies in the name of a ‘unified party’ – hardly a step toward greater democracy!
Under ‘Dear Uncle Alexis’ control, SYRIZA became an authoritarian electoral machine despite its left posturing. Tsipras insisted that Greece would remain within the EU and approved a ‘balanced budget’ contradicting all his phony campaign promises of public investments to ‘extend the welfare state’!
A new EU bailout was followed by a jump in unemployment to over 50% among youth and 30% of the entire labor force. SYRIZA won the January 25, 2015 parliamentary elections with 36.3% of the electorate. Lacking a single vote to secure a majority in parliament, SYRIZA formed an alliance with the far-right ANEL party, to which Tsipras gave the Defense Ministry.
Immediately upon taking office, Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras announced his plans to renegotiate Greece’s bailout and ‘austerity program’ with the EU oligarchy and the IMF. This phony posturing could not hide his impotence: Since SYRIZA was committed to staying in the EU, austerity would continue and another onerous ‘bailout’ would follow. During ‘internal meetings’, members of SYRIZA’s ‘Left Platform’ in the Cabinet called for leaving the EU, reneging the debt and forging closer ties with Russia. Despite being totally ignored and isolated, they stayed on as impotent ‘token leftist’ Cabinet Ministers.
With Tsipras now free to impose neo-liberal market policies, billions of Euros flowed out of Greece and its own banks and businesses remained in crisis. Both Tsipras and the ‘Left Platform’ refused to mobilize SYRIZA’s mass base, which had voted for action and demanded an end to austerity. The media’s gadfly, Finance Minister Varoufakis, put on a sideshow with grand theatrical gestures of disapproval. These were openly dismissed by the EU-IMF oligarchy as the antics of an impotent Mediterranean clown.
Superficial as ever, the Canadian, US, European left-wing academics were largely unaware of SYRIZA’s political history, its opportunist composition, electoral demagogy and total absence from real class struggle. They continued to blather about SYRIZA as Greece’s ‘radical left’ government and attended its PR functions. When SYRIZA flagrantly embraced the EU’s most savage cutbacks against Greek workers and their living standards affecting everyday life, the highly paid, distinguished professors finally spoke of SYRIZA’s ‘mistakes’ and ladled the ‘radical left’ from this stew of opportunists! Their grand speaking tours to Greece were over and they flitted off to support other ’struggles’.
As the summer of 2015 approached, Prime Minister Tsipras moved ever closer to the entire EU austerity agenda. ‘Dear Alexis’ dumped Finance Minister Varoufakis, whose histrionics had irked Germany’s Finance Minister. Euclid Tsakalotos , another ‘radical’ leftist, took over as Finance Minister, but turned out to be a malleable lieutenant for Tsipras, willing to implement any and all EU-imposed austerity measures without the antics.
By July 2015, Tsipras and SYRIZA accepted a harsh austerity program dictated by the EU. This rejected SYRIZA’s entire Thessalonika Program proclaimed a year earlier. The entire population, and SYRIZA’s rank and file members grew angrier, demanding an end to austerity. While approving a ‘belt tightening’ austerity program for his electoral mass base throughout the summer of 2015, Tsipras and his family lived in luxury in a villa generously loaned by a Greek plutocrat, far from the soup lines and hovels of the unemployed and destitute.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras implemented policies earning him the ‘Traitor of the Year Award’. His was a duplicitous strategy: On July 5, 2015, he convoked a referendum on whether to accept the EU’s bailout conditions. Thinking his ‘pro-EU’ supporters would vote ‘Yes’, he intended to use the referendum as a mandate to impose new austerity measures. Tsipras misjudged the people: Their vote was an overwhelming repudiation of the harsh austerity program dictated by the oligarchs in Brussels.
Over 61% of the Greek people voted ‘no’ while merely 38%voted in favor of the bailout conditions. This was not limited to Athens: A majority in every region of the country rejected the EU dictates – an unprecedented outcome! Over 3.56 million Greeks demanded an end to austerity. Tsipras was ‘admittedly surprised’ . . . and disappointed! He secretly and stupidly thought the referendum would give him a free hand to impose austerity. He put on his usual grin as the voting results were announced.
Less than a week later, on July 13, Tsipras renounced the results of his own referendum and announced his government’s support for the EU bailout. Perhaps to punish the Greek voters, Tsipras backed an even harsher austerity scheme than the one rejected in his referendum! He drastically slashed public pensions, imposed massive regressive tax hikes and cut public services by $12 billion euros. Tsipras agreed to the infamous ‘Judas memorandum’ of July 2015, which increased the regressive general consumer tax (VAT) to 23%, a 13% food tax, a sharp increase in medical and pharmaceutical costs and tuition fees, and postponed the retirement age by five years to 67.
Tsipras continued on his ‘historic’ rampage over the suffering Greek people throughout 2016 and 2017. His regime privatized over 71,500 public properties, including the historic patrimony. Only the Acropolis was spared the auction block…. for now! The resulting unemployment drove over 300,000 skilled and educated Greeks to migrate. Pensions slashed to 400 Euros led to malnutrition and a three-fold rise in suicides.
Despite these grotesque social consequences the German bankers and the regime of Angela Merkel refused to reduce the debt payments. Prime Minister Tsipras’ groveling had no effect.
Sharp tax hikes on farm fuels and transport to tourist islands led to constant marches and strikes in cities, factories, fields and highways.
By January 2017 Tsipras had lost half of his electorate. He responded with repression: gassing and beating elderly Greeks protesting their poverty pensions. Three-dozen trade unionists, already acquitted by the courts, were re-tried by Tsipras’ prosecutors in a vicious ’show trial’. Tsipras supported the US-NATO attacks on Syria, the sanctions against Russia and the billion-dollar energy and military agreements with Israel.
Short of the Nazi occupation (1941-44) and Anglo-Greek civil war of (1945-49), the Greek people had not experienced such a precipitous decline of their living standards since the Ottomans. This catastrophe occurred under the Tsipras regime, vassal to the Brussels oligarchy.
European, Canadian and US leftist academic tourists had ‘advised’ SYRIZA to remain in the EU. When the disastrous consequences of their ‘policy advice’ became clear… they merely turned to advising other ’struggles’ with their phony ’socialist forums’.
The betrayals by ‘Leftist’ and ‘radical leftist’ leaders are partly due to their common practices as politicians making pragmatic deals in parliament. In other cases, former extra-parliamentary and guerrilla leaders were faced with isolation and pressure from neighboring ‘left’ regimes to submit to imperial ‘peace accords’, as in the case of the FARC. Confronting the massive build-up of the US supplied and advised armies of the oligarchs, they folded and betrayed their mass supporters.
The electoral framework within the EU encouraged leftist collaboration with class enemies – especially German bankers, NATO powers, the US military and the IMF.
From its origins SYRIZA refused to break with the EU and its authoritarian structure. From its first day of government, it accepted even the most demonstrably illegal private and public debts accumulated by the corrupt right-wing PASOK and New Democracy regimes. As a result SYRIZA was reduced to begging.
Early on SYRIZA could have declared its independence, saved its public resources, rejected its predecessors’ illegal debts, invested its savings in new jobs programs, redefined its trade relations, established a national currency and devalued the drachma to make Greece more flexible and competitive. In order to break the chains of vassalage and foreign oligarch imposed austerity, Greece would need to exit the EU, renounce its debt and launch a productive socialist economy based on self-managed co-operatives.
Despite his electoral mandate, the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras followed the destructive path of Soviet leader Michel Gorbachev, betraying his people in order to continue down the blind ally of submission and decay.
While several leaders offer stiff competition for the ‘Traitor of the Year Award’, Alexis Tsipras’ betrayal has been longer, more profound and continues to this day. He broke more promises and reversed more popular mandates (elections and referendums) more quickly than any other traitor. Moreover nothing short of a generation will allow the Greeks to recover left politics. The left has been devastated by the monstrous lies and complicity of Tsipras’ former ‘left critics’.
Greece’s accumulated debt obligations will require at least a century to play out – if the country can even survive. Without question, Alexis Tsipras is the ‘Traitor of the Year’ by unanimous vote!