Syriza In Power by Costas Douzinas

The Blurb On The Back:

Amid the turmoil of economic crisis, Greece has become the first European experiment of left rule in a sea of neoliberalism. What happens when a government of the Left, committed to social justice and the reversal of austerity, is blackmailed into following policies it has fought against and strongly opposed? What can the experience of the Syriza government tell us about the prospects for the Left in the twenty-first century?

In this engaging and provocative book, Costas Douzinas uses his position as an ‘accidental politician’, unexpectedly propelled from academia into the world of Greek politics as a Syriza MP, to answer these urgent questions.  He examines the challenges facing Syriza since its ascent to power in 2015 and draws out the theoretical and political lessons from one of the boldest and most difficult experiments in governing from the Left in an age of neoliberalism and austerity.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law at Birkbeck, University of London who in 2015 found himself as a Greek MP when he stood for Syriza and unexpectedly won in a tidal wave of support for the left wing party and in this interesting but highly partisan and at times unnecessarily academic book he examines Syriza’s performance since taking office, the lessons that need to be learnt and what it means for left wing parties in other countries.

The strongest sections of the book are where Douzinas focuses on the rise of Syriza and how it managed to unify a number of different left-wing factions, coupled with the local activism that helped make them resonate with the Greek population and the battles over the party’s attempts to reform the media sector.  This is mainly because he writes in an accessible, at times almost gossipy way, that made it easy to follow and because he offers insights into what was going on in the country and the political scene.  However I got quite irritated with the more academic sections where he tries to put Syriza’s rise in the context of political philosophy because I found it a bit waffly and difficult to keep track of (although those with more of a grounding in the subject may find it easier to read and more enjoyable).

As someone who’s wholly ignorant of Greek politics or its recent history, I was shocked to learn of how left-wing supporters were once discriminated against in the labour market and elsewhere and this discrimination helps to explain why Douzinas is so against right wing parties and the wealthy elite.  However, I was a little irritated at how when he discusses Syriza’s failures or compromises he pitches it as the right and the elite conspiring against Syriza who he constantly pitches as being “naïve” or too trusting or unprepared because the victimhood was wearying, especially given that some of the “traps” they fell into were eminently foreseeable by anyone with a foot in reality.

This conspiracy point re-emerges in the sections looking at Syriza’s handling of the debt renegotiations with the EU and international banking community.  While I have a lot of sympathy for how Greece was treated and Douzinas starkly paints the disastrous impact that the austerity measures forced on Syriza caused to the Greek economy, Douzinas doesn’t really articulate how Syriza would have recovered the economy in its stead other than taxation on the rich elite.

Douzinas does try to draw parallels between the Greek rejection of the financing deal and the British Brexit vote, but I wasn’t wholly convinced – mainly because the political landscapes are much different and while he couches it in terms of people “rediscovering their dignity” I think this ignores the decades of anti-EU sentiment in the UK conservative press. I also think he’s searching for conspiracy when he says the political elite will seek to reverse the Brexit result when UK political sentiments to date has been to push through the result regardless of cost.

Ultimately, if you’re interested in what’s happening in Greece and the rise of left-wing politics then I think that this book is worth a look but Douzinas is so entrenched in his party’s view that I think you have to take some of his insights and assertions with a pinch of salt.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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