Syriza’s Economic Brain

As Euclid Tsakalotos emerges as Greece’s new finance minister, we reflect on the continuing relevance of his book, co-authored with Christos Laskos, Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economic Crisis.

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One of the most pernicious aspects of the democratic deficit in European politics is the undue focus it places upon individual political actors – their habits, their motives, their ‘style’. The case of the outgoing Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, illustrates this perfectly: the story ought to have been Mr. Varoufakis as conduit for the resurgent energies of the Greek people, a principle economic actor in a radical democratic party which came to power with a mandate to seek change in Europe. Yet, to follow the coverage across almost the entire spectrum of mainstream media outlets in the last few months, you could be forgiven for thinking that the real story was a maverick motorcycle riding economist with a penchant for leather jackets and a bad boy attitude.

But now Mr. Varoufakis has quite literally ‘rode off into the sunset’ and his ‘less flamboyant’ replacement, Euclid Tsakalotos, seemingly raises the grim spectre of serious political discussion. Described as ‘mild-mannered’, ‘moderate’, ‘professorial’ and even ‘gentlemanly’, the choice of adjectives suggest journalists who are now only delaying the inevitable – a renewed focus on substance. Unless Mr. Tsakalotos starts arriving in Brussels by speedboat or dating supermodels, we may at last hear more of the mandate for change in Europe.

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In pursuing this mandate, Mr. Tsakalotos already has form. While he may not have been so firmly in the public eye, he has played a crucial role as a lead negotiator in the ongoing talks with Greece’s European partners. A Guardian profile dubbed him ‘Greece’s secret weapon’, a view shared by many within his own party – as one of his Syriza comrades noted: ‘He speaks [the creditors] language better than they do. At times it’s been quite amusing to watch.’

Like the outgoing Mr. Varoufakis, Tsakalotos is a radical intellectual with a commitment to heterodox economic theory, a proud European with a vision for a more equitable Eurozone, and a pragmatic progressive who wants to see an end to the neoliberal status quo but not at any cost. Unlike Mr. Varoufakis he has the practical political experience which may allow him to better pursue these goals – a member of the Greek parliament since 2012 and a dedicated Syriza party member for the better part of a decade.

It was during this period of preparation for power and tireless party work that Pluto first began working with Euclid. The result was a book (co-written with fellow Syriza member Christos Laskos), Crucible of Resistance. As the book’s editor David Shulman recalls:

Crucible was exactly the book that we were looking for — a radical analysis of the crisis that was already well underway in Greece, put into its wider political-economic context in the Eurozone and the global system as a whole. Covering the democratic grassroots as well as the elite machinations of the Troika, the book is written with remarkable clarity and passion. It has only grown more relevant and timely since it was first published, and it remains a perfect primer on the events that are continuing to unfold so dramatically in Europe today. Euclid has always been hugely impressive to me as an analyst, author, and public figure, and I’m completely unsurprised that he has assumed such a prominent role in Syriza following the election earlier this year.

We were very fortunate when Euclid visited London to take part in a number of public events. Whether speaking to a few dozen people in a pub, or to hundreds at the debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared (arguing, against Antony Beevor, that ‘Angela Merkel is Destroying Europe’), Euclid was in complete control of the room.’

In many respects, Crucible of Resistance is a unique perspective on the intellectual foundations of the current Greek government. Interviewing him for Channel 4 shortly before the most recent Greek election, Paul Mason described Tsakalotos as Syriza’s ‘economic brain’, reflecting the importance of his contribution to the party’s policy making. The central message of the book is well summarised by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras:

‘This is a clear account of how Greece and the Eurozone got into such a mess. It shows that the crisis is not only economic, but also one of growing regional and social inequalities and the retreat of democracy. The authors bring to the fore what the emerging radical left in Greece and elsewhere can do to get us out of the crisis.’

This practical dimension to the book, explored in its final chapter ‘Out of the Mire’, is what sets it apart from many other analyses of the crisis in Europe and what makes it such a vital resource for understanding the actual strategy which Syriza has pursued with such success. At bottom, it is a book written not just to analyse but to inspire action and written by two individuals who were themselves intending to put its conclusions into practice.

As the crisis in Europe deepens and Syriza’s struggle for reform continues it is to be hoped that observers, particularly in the mainstream media, will turn attention away from the superficiality of habits, motives and style and towards urgent political questions – reading and digesting books like Crucible of Resistance seems an obvious way to achieve this.

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Crucible of Resistance: Greece, The Eurozone and the World Economic Crisis is available to buy from Pluto Press here. You can also read a preview on our Issuu page.

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