Bhaskar Sunkara: Greek Lessons

Painting by Nicos Engonopoulos Painting by Nicos Engonopoulos
Bhaskar Sunkara

The American left is no stranger to looking abroad for inspiration. Well, more than inspiration — romanticizing the more advanced struggles elsewhere in the world has often been an excuse to avoid the hard and unglamorous work of organizing workers from within the heart of capital. 

Socialists here will not be building an “American Syriza” in the foreseeable future. We have neither the objective conditions for that nor the deep social roots that the Greek left drew from in that project. Our work is simply to offer solidarity to our international comrades and continue to slowly build an opposition movement that can one day in the future contend for power.

But, still, the sense of excitement at Syriza’s victory among socialists in the United States is palpable. Things aren’t great here, but the climate is more favorable to the Left than it has been in a generation. We’ve made strides organizing in the public sector and elsewhere and even have a few victories to show for it, like the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike. The emergence of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and more recently the upsurge against police brutality show that young people in this country are militant and looking for someone to blame for the exploitation and oppression they experience on a daily basis.

Many of them are open to engaging with new ideas. It’s up to us to make the connection between seemingly isolated injustices and capitalism as a system and offer an alternative that seems both realizable and fundamentally different. 

Syriza offers a powerful symbol to point to, a sign that we can use as we agitate and organize: a left government is possible, state power, rather than escape into the politics of lifestylism, is a terrain where we must do battle. The experience in Greece shows that the slow work of building movements can yield more than ever noble defeat.

If there is a Greek lesson, it’s something that A. Philip Randolph was fond of reminding his audiences, “At the banquet table of nature there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything; and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”

Bhaskar Sunkara is the editor of "Jacobin" magazin.

  • Translated by: Iraklis Oikonomou
  • The original text was first published on: "Εnthemata" of the newspaper "I Avgi"