OFFICIALLY speaking, as of this week, we can speak about post-bailout Greece. For the likes of Jean-Claude Junker, this marks its return to the ranks of “normal countries” thanks to the philanthropy of the international community. However, ordinary Greeks are unlikely to notice much difference, and they have little sense of being the beneficiaries of some lavish charitable bequest: unlike the Eurozone creditors, they haven’t been “bailed out” at all.

“The crisis hit the area so hard that no-one throws out food anymore,” one bus driver told Al Jazeera, having seen his salary cut by 55%. “That’s why you don’t even see people digging in dumpsters”.

READ MORE: Greece still recovering from economic crisis despite end of bailout

On my first solidarity trip to Greece more than seven years ago, I was fascinated by the country for several reasons. As a trade unionist, I wanted to see how workers would resist the most brutal cuts in pay and conditions the continent had seen in generations.

General strikes seemed to be an almost daily occurrence; protests came in all shapes and sizes, including a few pensioner riots, complete with Zimmer frames wielded aloft. Greece, it seemed to me, was a laboratory of austerity. Whatever the international forces of austerity achieved there could be transplanted elsewhere, so every European worker needed to be conscious of its events.

As an anti-war activist, I also looked on Greece as an anti-imperial struggle. Indeed, much more than Iraq or Afghanistan, it looked like a very 21st-century form of imperialism: no tanks, no settlers, no “invasion”, but no sovereignty either, and every chance that the elected government would be replaced by an imposed cabinet of technocrats if it failed to implement brutal austerity measures. Under these conditions, who needs troops? The Troika had more effective and calculated means of inflicting pain to get their way.

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Lastly, as a socialist, Greece gave me hope. I still feel slightly terrible for saying that: it feels a little smug for us, in relative privilege, to extract a positive emotion from the misery of an impoverished nation. However, while so many European countries had responded to austerity by blaming immigrants, Greece seemed to be moving to the left. Back then, on my first visit, Syriza was only on 5% in the polls.

Still, the desire for serious social change, often with the highest and most optimistic motives, was clear even in 2011. Some had moved to the neo-fascist Golden Dawn. But many more gravitated to radical, anti-capitalist parties.

I returned to Greece, four years later, on the day that Syriza was elected as the largest party under the slogan “Hope is Coming”. Thinking about it, I still get that lump in my throat. I can’t help it. On my first visit, I’d seen Alexis Tsipras mooching about after an anti-capitalist fringe meeting; now, he was prime minister.

Soon after, it all went wrong. Horribly wrong. It started wonderfully, with Yanis Varoufakis as the world’s most chic and confrontational finance minister, and the referendum on the bailout, which was a spectacular display of popular power. But Syriza’s plan was premised on using democracy to hold the Troika morally accountable. It was always doomed to fail. And that left them with no ideas and no way out.

For many, this was proof that the radical Left was all slogans and no trousers. Faced with the consequences, it refused to act. Out on the left-wing fringes, by contrast, many see Tsipras as a latter-day Ramsay MacDonald, a sell-out to the forces of financial reaction.

In truth, Syriza had few options. Ideologically, and practically, it wasn’t prepared to leave the European system. It won the election on the promise of using moral force, democratic will and tough diplomacy to renegotiate the debt within the system. They expected the Troika to see reason, since even the most right-wing economists admitted that the terms of repayment were unworkable.

But the rulers of Europe were too frightened of setting an example for other impoverished southern European nations to follow – so they were unmovable.

Meanwhile, as Brexit has proved, even a country with comparatively sound finances and no Eurozone currency finds it tough to escape the Commission’s sabotage efforts. The technocrats are thoroughly, thoroughly determined to punish anyone who even ponders escape. Syriza knew this.

This truth doesn’t rescue the situation. Ultimately, Europe’s most important radical left force ended up as the human face of barbaric policies. We can’t allow that to happen again.

To an extent, you feel for what remains of Syriza. One group of international technocrats, Unicef, will plead with the Greek government to prioritise feeding the hungry, treating the sick and alleviating grinding poverty.

Won’t someone please think of the children? they ask, and here it’s a legitimate question. But meanwhile you’ve got another group of international technocrats, standing right in Tsipras’s face, screaming, “Every last penny! Every last penny! Every last penny for the bankers! We have ways of making you pay!”

Meanwhile, pensioners scrabble for food, lifelong trade unionists settle for year after year of pay cuts, and educated young workers drain out of the country. I literally cry when I think about it.

Europe failed Greece. Not just the morally bankrupt technocrats, either – we are all to blame. Our solidarity just wasn’t enough. We all had our own austerity to worry about, I get that. But once we let the bastards grind Greece down, there was a sad sense of inevitability about our own defeat.