The electoral victory of the anti-austerity coalition of Syriza is extremely important for the future of Europe’s peoples. Here is a rundown of commentary. Please see the last contribution linking the electoral victory to the strategies adopted during the Syntagma occupations last year.
1. The Impact of the Greek Elections of May 6, 2012
“Syriza has caused an earthquake by denouncing March’s bailout. It has called for a moratorium on debt payments, an international commission to audit Greek debt, aggressive debt write-offs, deep redistribution of income and wealth, bank nationalisation, and a new industrial policy to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector. These measures are exactly what the Greek economy needs. Implementing them depends entirely on rejecting the recent bailout and stopping payments on the debt.
Syriza believes that the measures can be introduced while the country remains within the eurozone. It has been unwilling to call for Greek exit, thus increasing its appeal to voters who worry about the aftermath of exit and believe that the euro is integral to the European identity of Greeks. In my view, and that of many other economists, it would be impossible for Greece to stay in the eurozone if it went down this path. Moreover, exit would be both necessary and beneficial to the economy in the medium term, and remains the most likely outcome for Greece. If Syriza really wanted to contribute to solving the crisis, it should get itself ready for this eventuality.
Nonetheless, the pressing issue at the moment is to free the country from the stranglehold of debt and austerity. As long as Syriza is prepared to take action to achieve these aims, and the Greek people wish to give it the benefit of the doubt on the euro, its role can be positive. At the very least, it offers a chance for Greece to avoid a complete disaster that might truly lead to the rise of fascism.
The current round of domestic political negotiations is unlikely to lead to a government being formed, especially one that could continue to implement the terms of the bailout. There will probably be new elections in the near future and Syriza stands every chance of winning decisively, thus forming a coalition government of the anti-bailout forces. But for this, Syriza should realise its own limitations, and actively seek to create the broad political front that Greece needs.
It is important to seek unity at all times, avoiding both gloating and the ancient factionalism of the Greek left. Syriza will need the active co-operation of the rest of the left if it is to muster sufficient forces to deal with the storm ahead. It is equally important to improve its appeal to experienced and knowledgeable people across society, for it will need many more in its ranks.
Finally, if there is a new government led by Syriza, it will rely on the support of people across Europe to tackle the catastrophe inflicted on Greece by the eurozone crisis. The first major battle against austerity is about to begin in Greece, and all European people have an interest in winning it.”
“A winner stands out. This is Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), a previously minor party of the left. In the May 6 election, SYRIZA came in second place, tripling its share of the vote from the 2009 election. SYRIZA received 16.78 per cent of all votes, just two percentage points fewer than the conservative New Democracy party. SYRIZA “won” the elections not just because it came to be the rising force against an inept and corrupt political system, but because it managed to persuade the Greek public of two things:
1. That Greece’s problem is really a structural European problem; and
2. That the troika (the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Union) are waging a class war against workers’ rights, in Greece as well as the rest of Europe, with fiscal discipline as their main weapon.
This is extraordinary not only because of the historical significance of having a radical left party leading the conversation, but because it managed to bypass attempts to polarise the political agenda around issues such as illegal immigration, national security and social order, instead bringing to the forefront the issues of economic justice and social coherence.
Despite the apparent fragmentation of the political system of this small but symbolically important corner of Europe, the elections – considered by some European leaders to be an unacceptable luxury – have already had a cathartic effect. The elections seem likely to undo the state of emergency that the country has lived through, when every two or three months it needed to ensure the next instalment of the rescue package by imposing further austerity measures.
The elections also restore, to a certain extent, the self-confidence and pride of a people who have been repeatedly slandered in an almost racist fashion – not only by parts of the international press, but by its own government and its representatives in European and international fora.
sipras has managed to restore some dignity by turning the struggle for economic equality into a struggle for respect, justice, and democratic rule. Soon after he received the mandate to form a coalition government from Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Tsipras made the following statement:
“3,300,000 citizens abandoned the two parties of the memorandum and put an end to the plans for the elaboration of 79 new austerity measures in June, the plans for 150,000 lay-offs in the public sector and the extra measures of 11bn euro, which were supposed to be elaborated, starting next month. The Greek people decided: Neither 151 seats, nor 51 per cent, for the parties that support the memoranda.”
Tsipras also demanded that Greece’s two main parties (PASOK and New Democracy) withdraw their signatures from the bailout agreement before he negotiated a coalition government with them. He declared a set of five pre-conditions, among which were the cancellation of all anti-worker laws, the establishment of an audit committee to investigate the legitimacy of the Greek debt, and the cancellation of the bailout agreement.
As was expected, he failed to form a government. But he now dominates the political game in Greece, and is having an impact in the rest of Europe, too. During the two days that he held the mandate to form a leftist government, prices in stock markets fell, Fitch revised the possibility of a “Grexit” from the euro from 40 per cent to 50 per cent, and conservative European leaders felt forced to start putting pressure on newly elected French president Francois Hollande not to challenge the European stability pact.
Greeks are asking for a European Union that will not punish them for their politicians’ sins, but help them get their state together and put it back on the path of growth (one should not forget that Greece was the world’s 25th wealthiest state until a couple of years ago). SYRIZA might have a strategy to express this demand, and even achieve something for the benefit of the people.”
2. How the victory was rooted in the Syntagma Square occupations
“The multitude in the squares became a demos of resistance and disobedience. We met people from other ideologies and histories, different times and places. The people remained singularities in plurality with a common political desire, to get rid of a corrupt and incompetent poitical systemt. The post-civil war divide between victors and defeated dissolved in the populas assemblies and the clouds of teargas. On May 6, the rainbow of the squares met again in the polling stations and voted for the unity of the left. The radical left won all the big cities where the occupations took place. In places wher civil disobedience campaigns dominated the previous period, the radical left won handsomely. Direct democracy acquired its parliamentary companion.
A hegemonic strategy chooses an antagonism that transverses the social diagonally and turns it into the cetnral line of confrontation unting classes, groups and people on the popular pole. The people, the multitude, the party cannot become poitical subjects without such a hegemonic intervention. The popular pole does not pre-exist the hegemonic intervention, it must be created in its confrontation with the power system. To succeed, a hegemonic intervention must marginalise, even temporarily, regional differences and local rivalries in the popular pole and promote the cetnral antagonism. The two camps, the people and the elite, are assembled on the sides of the line of antagonism.
Three such policies were promoted in the squares and adopted by the radical left manifesto. First, an attack on the austerity measures which have led to economic collapse and the dissolution of the social fabric. This is an attack not on the debt but on the elites desire of debt and their attempt to re-arrange the social contracts using the debt as excuse. Secondly, defence of popular sovereingty and national indepedence. The IMF and the EU imposed a state of exception, suspending the legality and legitimacy of the social state. Greece was introduced to a colonial and postcolonial condition without ever being a colony. Popular sovereignty and national independence are therefore the second line of defence and antagonism. Independence can be interpreted in a radical way, as in the anti-colonial struggles, or in a reactionary xenophobic and racist way. Hegemonic intervention is necessary to prevent the exploitation of national independence by the nationalistic right but also because in times or great crisis and fear, the certainty and homeliness of national identity becomes a safe and dangerous haven.
The third line places the defence of democracy at the centre of antagonism. Neoliberal globalised capitalism has persistently and violently attacked liberal democracy. The Post-political condition, hte promotion of technocratic and expert governance in place of government has undermined democracy and turned citizens away from the machinations of elites and parties. Only a different conception of democracy can assemble popular resistance for its defence. This was the achievemnt of the squares. For the first time since the establishment of liberal democracy and its recent decay, the squares performed a direct form and inscribed its possibility in the political and institutional archive.
The hegemonic strategy that emerged in the squares changed the political discussion transfering the line of antagonism from the debt and its repayment to the re-foundation of the social bond, the protection of popular sovereignty, finally, the re-setting of institutional and constitutional parameters. These were also the three axes of the radical left: the freedom of the disobedient citizen, the equality of direct democracy and social justice, finally, the solidarity and power of the plural singularities in assembly. In the elections the multitude became a people and voted the radical left.”