Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
Reminder: At the end of our post Grecian urns on 20 January 2015, we listed a selection of previous posts from our coverage of the last Greek general election in June 2012. We cannot stress too highly the extent to which these posts are still relevant today, virtually nothing essential having changed in the meantime. Accordingly, we would recommend readers wanting a more in-depth analysis of the issues to check out the posts in question. It seems pointless to write out the same thing again now for a second time. The elections tomorrow are essentially a re-run of the June 2012 elections. For those short of time, two of the posts we single out for particular attention: Felipe González crystallizes our doubts, from a leftwing viewpoint, about Syriza and Age: drachma 3000 years, euro 10 years sets out a case for jettisoning the euro.
Athens, 24 January 2015
Soon you’ll be able to hope again (“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”): it is with this slogan that the left-leaning Syriza party is heading, doubtless hopefully, into tomorrow’s crucial general election.
Syriza was formed in 2004 as an alliance of 13 anti-establishment groups, including democratic socialists, leftwing populists, red greens, Maoists, Trotskyists, eurocommunists, eurosceptics and disestablishment orthodox Christians. The name Syriza (“ΣΥΡΙΖΑ” in Greek capitals) is an acronym of the initial letters of its full name in Greek (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς), which means “Coalition of the Radical Left”.
Europe’s motley crew of far left, hard left, real left parties – which Antigone1984 broadly supports – are pinning massive hopes on a win for Syriza tomorrow in the expectation that the resulting momentum for the left will spin off into other countries across the continent. Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain’s radical Podemus (“We can”) party, which is the offspring of the earlier Indignados street protest movement, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras at the latter’s closing pre-election rally in Omonia Square in central Athens on Thursday.
However, if Syriza wins tomorrow, these leftist groupings now cheering on their Greek counterparts are going to be massively disappointed.
If it loses, of course, they are going to be even more disappointed.
The puzzling thing about history is that it repeats itself endlessly and yet nobody learns anything from it.
Can no one now remember the razzmatazz that surrounded Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign when he successful wowed the masses with his slogan “Yes, we can”? He had hardly gotten into office in January 2009 when it became clear that “No, he couldn’t”. As political theorist Noam Chomsky once said in a TV interview, “Obama, he’s worse than Bush.”
As former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who died this month, once said: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”
Or as a political analyst said of Harold Wilson, UK Labour Prime Minister (1964-1970 and 1974-1976) on the very day of one of his election victories. “The Labour Party will now systematically set about betraying each and every one of the pledges it made during the election campaign.” And so it came to pass.
According to the opinion polls, which published their final assessments yesterday, Syriza is the clear favourite to come out on top tomorrow as the leading party. For instance, a poll for Vergina TV put Syriza on 30.1 % of the vote as opposed to 24.6 % for New Democracy, the conservative majority party in the current government.
However, it is not at all clear that, even if it gets the most votes, Syriza will win enough seats to have an absolute majority (at least 151 seats) in Greece’s 300-seat unicameral legislature. If, as result, it decides to go into coalition with opposing parties, expect a tangible watering-down of the radicalism in its programme for government.
In any case, elections are by definition unpredictable. One should not count one’s chickens before they are hatched (not to coin a phrase).
UK readers will well remember the referendum in September 2014 giving the voters of Scotland the opportunity to end the country’s 300-year-old union with Great Britain. The meticulously organized Scottish National Party had the wind behind its sails through out the campaign. It lost the vote.
Brussels has, unsurprisingly, intervened heavy-handedly in the Greek elections, making it clear that it prefers the incumbent government to any johnny-come-lately party. The arch-reactionary President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said openly that he wants to see the “old familiar faces” voted back into power in tomorrow’s elections in Greece.
The Greek political establishment has been up to another trick. It has been clear to them for some time that the two parties which have implemented in Greece the externally imposed austerity programme – conservative New Democracy and pseudo-socialist PASOK – have been losing supporters as a result.
So what wheeze have they thought up?
Two new parties without any history or any distinctive policies – in fact, clones of New Democracy and PASOK, have suddenly been magicked up out of nothing in the hope that they will suck up non-left voters disenchanted with the two older parties.
One party is the Movement of Democratic Socialists led by George Papandreou, Greek Prime Minister from 2009 to 2011, who left PASOK to form the new grouping as recently as the beginning of this month.
The other goes by the ridiculous name of The River (Το Ποτάμι). It was formed in February 2014 by TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis. Said to be inspired by social democracy and liberalism (yes, both of them!!), it hopes to hoover up the votes of disgruntled centre-right voters.
New Democracy – highly unpopular as representing the face of the austerity that has brought Greeks to their knees – has also been throwing the book at Syriza.
This is what the International New York Times says in its weekend edition today:
“Newspapers and television stations, under the control of Greece’s oligarchs, have fed people a diet of frightening stories about what would happen should Mr Tsipras prevail; he leads in the polls right now.
“His victory would mark the first time that a Eurozone country would be led by a noncentrist government, and columnists warn on a regular basis that his ideas and inexperience could have dire consequences for Greece…
“Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s latest television commercial resembles a wartime newsreel, predicting that a Tsipras victory will bring mobs to the streets by April, bank closings and medicine shortages by May. On Thursday, Sofia Voultepsi, a candidate for Mr Samaras’s center-right party, New Democracy, suggested on a morning talk show that Greeks should stock up on toilet paper.”
According to the newspaper, a New Democracy candidate, upping the ante, told a well-heeled audience of supporters at an upscale hotel recently that the country’s fate was in the balance and that “the choice they made would determine whether Greece stayed in the European Union or was taken over by ‘communists’.”
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
As it happens, we observed an impressive rally by the increasingly ignored Greek Communist Party (known as the KKE from its Greek initials) in city-centre Syntagma Square on Thursday. By talking to participants, we found the answer to a question that had been puzzling us since the last Greek general election in June 2012: given that it would be hard to visualize a party more to the right than New Democracy, why was the KKE refusing to ally itself with Syriza?
The answer confirmed the doubts we had had about Syriza when we wrote about it two and half years ago in our blog post Felipe González mentioned above.
“We Communists want to get out of the capitalist system, Syriza wants to work within it,” they said.
Antigone1984 finds this explanation the key to understanding much that appears puzzling about what Syriza represents, particularly if you buy the line, widely swallowed by leftwing groups outside Greece, that it is an “anti-capitalist” party.
One puzzle is why Syriza has not opted to leave the German-policed eurozone and resume control of its own currency by reverting to the drachma. See Age: drachma 300 years, euro 10 years also mentioned above. It is claimed that the Greek people do not want to give up the euro. But how independent are the polls that provide evidence for this? See our post Smelling a rat .
Come to that, one might also ask why Syriza will not go the whole hog and leave the European Union as well. Does Greece want to stay trampled for ever under the jackboots of Merkel and Juncker, Draghi and Lagarde?
The European Union is a centralized market-subservient economic organization with some add-on environmental and social policies, which in any case are being rapidly watered down as the tightening strait jacket of “ever closer union” removes the need to pay lip-service to non-market interests. Witness the ongoing negotiations, backed by all 28 EU governments despite widespread popular opposition, to forge a free trade agreement – the notorious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – between the EU and the USA (the instigator of the talks, the dominant partner and the likely chief beneficiary). The aim is to tip the balance away from democratic regulation of markets by sovereign governments and towards a giant intercontinental economy dominated not by small firms (the key business model in Greece) but by giant global mega-corporations. Disputes between democratically elected governments and corporate behemoths would be decided by special supranational business courts biased towards the unregulated private market.
If Syriza were a genuinely party of the far left, would it not leap at the chance to throw down the gauntlet once and for all to the privateering European establishment and, in doing so, set an example for other similar parties the length and breadth of the continent?
But no. They are going to remain within the EU, they are going to remain within the eurozone, and they are going to negotiate “firmly but politely” with whoever will talk to them in the Eurocrat establishment – but not with the hated triad (euphemistically called the “troika) of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that imposed the hated austerity “memorandum” on Greece. They do not seem to realize that the European Commission and the European Central Bank are part of the European establishment and even the managing director of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is a French politician.
Negotiations with the Eurocrats? They will smother you with open arms. These guys are the past masters of negotiations. They could negotiate the hind legs off a donkey. It will be like wading through treacle. As members of new party from a peripheral country with no experience of government, Syriza’s negotiators will be like minnows in a pond of piranhas. At best they will dance circles round you, at worst they will tear you to pieces. Good luck!
Timing is also crucial. If elected with a working majority, Syriza will be up against it straight away. Its supporters will be expecting the earth from it. Immediately and with no excuses. If it is not seen to have offered the Greek people concrete benefits within, we would say, three months at most, then support will evaporate in a trice like morning dew on a summer lawn. Syriza’s interlocutors in the various negotiations will be aware of this and so may well arrange to string things out.
In a current article on Syriza, Wikipedia quotes Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza Member of the European Parliament and one of its vice-presidents, as saying that Greece should “be a respectable member of the European Union and the eurozone” and that “there is absolutely no case for a Grexit [a Greek exit from the eurozone]”. It would not be the first time that a radical became euro-lobotomised after hitching a ride on the European gravy train.
Now let’s try take a look at Syriza’s programme for government.
The principal plank of the programme appears to be to negotiate a write-off of up to half of Greek public debt plus a rescheduling of the remaining loans and interest payments.
Paradoxically, the party also proposes to terminate the social austerity policies that Greece’s creditors have imposed on the country in recent years in exchange for bailing it out. For example, food stamps and free or subsidized electricity are to be provided lickety-split for the poorest Greeks.
However, some aspects of Syriza’s programme are so anodyne that any political party of any persuasion could agree to them, such as ending tax evasion, stamping out corruption and money laundering, ending cronyism in the jobs market, cutting red tape and helping small businesses.
Some policies are genuinely progressive but only to an extent that would be acceptable to any half-decent social democratic party, e.g. reforming the tax system so that the rich pay more than the poor, raising unemployment benefit, freezing wage reductions, halting pension cuts and reversing cuts in the minimum wage.
It seems abundantly clear to us, then, that the KKE is right.
Syriza is not an anti-capitalist party but a moderate pro-EU pro-Euro social democratic party.
That is why it is misguided of the European Left to have become so worked up about the outcome of this election.
In recent years European economies and governments have moved steadily towards the right – and that includes the pseudo-socialist governments, such as that of François Hollande in France and Matteo Renzi in Italy. It is understandable, therefore, that the genuine European left should snatch eagerly at any crumbs of comfort that fall their way. Hence, the rosy spectacles trained on Syriza.
Antigone1984, for its part, is very much opposed to political optimism for which there is no basis in fact. One gets a whiff of this in the recourse of the Italian Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) to “optimism of the will” when faced with “pessimism of the intellect”. The sainted British Labour Party leftwinger Tony Benn (1925-2014) was another notorious exponent of culpable optimism. We remember him telling a meeting in Brussels during the catastrophic 1984-1985 UK mineworkers’ strike that “we [the left] have won” when it was already blindingly obvious that we had lost big-time. Think also of the legendary prediction by Spanish Communist leader Dolores Ibárruri (1895-1989) at the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939): “¡No pasarán! [They shall not get through!] she said of the advancing forces of the rightist insurgent Francisco Franco. To which the subsequently victorious Franco is said to have retorted: ¡Ya hemos pasado! [We have already got through!].
At Antigone1984 we prefer to call a spade a spade, not a shovel.
However, shovels or spades, they have their uses. Which is why, despite our reservations, we are wholeheartedly in favour of a Syriza victory tomorrow. After all, half a loaf is better than no bread. The long-suffering Greek people need some slack. Let’s hope they get it.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
- Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
- Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
- The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
- Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
- A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
- Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.