Tag Archives: Greek Elections

The significance of the election of Syriza in Greece

Chris Marsden
January 27, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

SyrizaSyriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras were able to exploit the mass discontent produced by the brutal austerity measures imposed since 2010 on the Greek population. But Syriza’s election victory does not express a political development, a step forward, progress or anything of the kind by or for the working class.

In its origin, social composition and politics, Syriza is a bourgeois party—one of many, including the Democrats under US President Barack Obama—that come to power making promises of “hope” and “change” and then impose policies of austerity and war. It will inevitably betray, sooner rather than later, the aspirations for an end to social hardship and suffering that it has cynically exploited.

Nothing better illustrates the real political character of Syriza than its choice of coalition partner. The Independent Greeks are a right-wing nationalist party formed in 2012 by Panos Kammenos, a former deputy shipping minister and member of the conservative New Democracy party who was honoured by France’s Gaullist President Nicolas Sarkozy, along with ten other New Democracy MPs.

The Independent Greeks agitate against immigration and multiculturalism, while advocating a Christian Orthodox education system and the formation of a patriotic “Democratic Front.” Kammenos rails against “money lenders from abroad” and recently claimed that Greek Jews paid less in taxes than others and were given preferential treatment.

The media is portraying Tsipras’s choice of the Independent Greeks as a “surprise” pairing, but the Syriza leader ran his election campaign with precisely this coalition in mind. His final election rally was dominated by calls for “a new social and patriotic alliance” and an end to “national humiliation,” along with appeals to anti-German chauvinist sentiment. Among his first public acts following the election was Tsipras’s reception, at his own request, by the archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Ieronymos II.

Tsipras and Syriza have other notable friends on the far right. Their victory was hailed by Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, as a “monstrous democratic slap” given by “the Greek people” to the European Union.

The New York Times all but endorsed Syriza’s victory as the only way of saving Greek capitalism and the European Union. In an editorial posted Monday on its web site, the Times noted favourably that Tsipras “has signaled to Europeans that he is ready to moderate his ambitions once in office.”

The newspaper called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to renegotiate Greek debts and work with Syriza, writing: “Greece needs some breathing room, not only to give Mr. Tsipras a chance to turn the country around, but also for the sake of the rest of Europe.” It proceeded to give the new prime minister his marching orders, declaring, “Of course, Mr. Tsipras must use his popular mandate to push through the fundamental domestic reforms that his predecessor, Antonis Samaras, had begun.”

All of this will be dismissed as irrelevant by Syriza’s numerous apologists among the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left groups. They have hailed Syriza as “left,” or “socialist,” or even (according to Left Unity in the UK) the head of a “workers’ government,” which (in the words of the International Socialist Organisation in the US) “needs the support of workers and social movements across Europe.”

Syriza itself makes no such claims. Tsipras declared prior to the election: “Syriza does not want the collapse but the rescue of the euro… And saving the euro is impossible for the member states when public debt is out of control.” His then-shadow development minister, George Stathakis, told the Financial Times, “We want to make life easier for businesspeople, to help remove problems with bureaucracy that they complain about.”

If Syriza is socialist, this has certainly escaped the attention of the financial oligarchy. On the day of its election, the euro recovered from an 11-year low against the US dollar and all of the world’s main share markets rose in value. Global investors clearly believe that Tsipras is, as Margaret Thatcher once said of Mikhail Gorbachev, someone they can do business with.

Syriza has come to power based upon a programme that articulates the interests of a powerful section of the Greek bourgeoisie and more privileged sections of the upper-middle class. It makes its appeal to yet more powerful forces: the imperialists of Europe and the United States.

The austerity measures demanded above all by Germany have not resolved the economic crisis that erupted in 2008, but exacerbated it. The destruction of workers’ living standards, coupled with the hoarding of money by the major banks and global investors, threatens to plunge Europe, and with it the world economy, into a deflationary spiral and still deeper depression.

Earlier this month, the New York Times warned that Europe’s economy had reached a “psychological inflection point” with its descent into negative inflation for the first time since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009. The Times warned that “the latest data is adding concerns that Europe is headed for a new financial and economic crisis.”

This is what led the European Central Bank (ECB), against opposition from Germany, to announce on January 22 a quantitative easing (QE) programme involving combined monthly purchases of public- and private-sector securities, including government bonds, totalling at least €1.1 trillion by 2016.

The move, both advocated and welcomed by Tsipras, has nothing to do with ending austerity. Its architect, ECB head Mario Draghi, has called for QE to be combined with “progress on the important structural reforms—more flexible labour markets, less bureaucracy, lower taxes,” especially in the highly indebted countries in southern Europe. There, Draghi declared, “Reforms have waited too long. It is now time to implement them. That’s my message.”

As with previous stimulus measures, whatever money is pumped into the economy will go overwhelmingly to the banks and corporations and be paid for by the working class. Syriza will be instructed to implement whatever attacks are deemed necessary by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

If there is any renegotiation of the “Memorandum” governing the terms of Greece’s debt repayment, it will be confined to allowing Syriza a little more time to impose reactionary measures on a politically restive and socially desperate working population.

“We are very motivated to work with the new Greek government to maintain the recovery path,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, speaking on behalf of the euro zone’s finance ministers. He added, “We all have to realise and the Greek people have to realise that the major problems in the Greek economy have not disappeared and haven’t even changed overnight because of the simple fact that an election took place.”

Tsipras may make some initial small or symbolic concessions to popular sentiment. However, they will be designed to win himself the time needed to reorient the policies of the bourgeoisie, reorganise the state, and disorient and demoralise the working class before a more decisive offensive is mounted.

During the visits Tsipras made to the US and in various discussions with American officials, the CIA will have sought his reassurances that Greece will pursue a foreign policy fully in line with the essential interests of the American bourgeoisie. Greece’s location in the Mediterranean and its proximity to the Middle East make it geopolitically crucial to the US in confronting China and Russia.

Tsipras will have been questioned about Syriza’s attitude to the growing investment of China in Greece, to the crisis in Ukraine, and to NATO’s encirclement of Russia. The coming months will reveal the dangerous implications of the reassurances he no doubt offered.

The International Committee of the Fourth International rejects with contempt the political excuse offered by the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left to justify support for Syriza and its pro-capitalist agenda—that a Tsipras government is a necessary “experience” for the working class, from which it will somehow come to understand the necessity for genuinely socialist policies.

Such sophistries are advanced only to oppose the emergence of a revolutionary movement of the working class, a development possible only through a relentless political exposure of Syriza. This task is undertaken by the World Socialist Web Site in order to prepare workers and young people for the decisive struggles they face in Greece and internationally.

 

 

Syriza’s Challenge

Combatting Austerity and Post-Democracy in Greece

By Binoy Kampmark
January 27, 2015
Counter Punch, January 26, 2015

 

Alexis Tsipras. Bologna, May 2014. [Laurenzo Gaudenzi/Flickr]

“Marx’s once scandalous thesis that governments are simple business agents for international capital is today an obvious fact on which ‘liberals’ and ‘socialists’ agree.”— Jacques Rancière, Dis-agreement (1999), 113

Across Europe, and more specifically, the euro-zone, a spectre did not so much haunt as totally materialise in the form of Alex Tsipras and the Syriza party. Greece woke up to a new party that had never seen office, coming within a few seats of governing in its own right. Any European party would have salivated at such an outcome – coalitions tend to be a matter of course, and majorities normally associated with authoritarian types. In the Greek case, the order established during the post-junta period had been overturned – at least on electoral paper.

Tsipras, in just falling short of the 151 number required to form government, has sought support from other potential partners. To date, it seems that the right-wing ANEL Independent Greeks party has agreed to muck in. Both have a common anti-bailout position, though it remains to be seen what else they can find common ground about.

This immediately got the leaving incumbents speculating that the union would not last, a desperate attempt at premature Schadenfreude. Petros Doukas, former deputy finance minister, pondered that, “It’s ultimately going to be much more difficult to figure out exactly what policies they will ultimately agree on.”

A mixture of euphoria and terror has met the result. The latter reaction is typical of the market-managers who see earnings being whittled away in speculation and a rocking of the financial sector. The market, in such language, is a sanctified deity which should be propitiated. It is not something to control, let alone directed by human hand. It has its own inscrutable morality.

Consider the wording of Nick Squires (The Telegraph, Jan 26), as he was monitoring the numbers: “The surprise alliance between two staunchly anti-bailout parties, spooked markets and triggered a loss of nearly 4 percent on the Athens Stock Exchange as well as elsewhere in Europe.”

But the Syriza victory is more significant in another sense: the challenge it poses to democracy in the euro-zone. The issues of austerity and debt cannot be divorced from that of political management. Where, given Syriza’s jarring win, does that sit in the European rubric, frayed as it is? For one, the party faces what has been termed by French philosopher Jacques Rancière as the “post-democratic” moment.

Democratic institutions, in this age, are openly, and unquestionably, identified with the market, something which distinctly takes the gloss off their accountability for the broad citizenry. “From an allegedly defunct Marxism,” argues Rancière in Dis-agreement (1999), “the supposedly reigning liberalism borrows the theme of objective necessity, identified with the constraints and caprices of the world market.” The company boardroom and the cabinet meeting room, have become one.

Axiomatic to this is the creation of the debt, or indebted society, a system of control that works through imposing punishment, providing dispensation, and reimposing punishment in accordance with the manager’s logic. The manager works according to biblical dictates, moralising the world of debt, frowning against the heavily indebted, but frowning even more when the debts are paid.

Colin Crouch, who had already written about post-democracy in 2004, sees the Greek-austerity policy adopted, and imposed, by the troika, as its ultimate form in action, debt fanaticism generated from above. It is a situation where bankers and financiers, responsible for a crisis (the Global Financial Crisis being their supreme handiwork), manage it through compliant governments who, in turn, forged a response sympathetic to bankers and financiers “at the expense of the rest of the population.”

For Crouch, “the most explicit expression of the post-democratic aspects of crisis management was the framing of the Greek austerity package, designed by international authorities in close collaboration with an association of leading bankers” (LSE Blogs, 2013).[1]

There are even some writers who feel that another, more threatening stage in the funereal rites of democracy is being read, something far more sinister: that which totally inverts it, creating a form of self-defeating totalitarianism.

Little surprise, then, that European leaders warn of irresponsible democratic behaviour, one that will lead to bank runs and negative European Central Bank briefings. (Eight billion euros was withdrawn from Greece in the last week alone.) Ultimatums are being hinted at: if you are against austerity, then you must be against the euro-zone. British Prime Minister David Cameron, having only recently glowed at the achievements of the late authoritarian Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, found Greek democratic judgement a touch too much to bear. “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainly across Europe.” (Twitter, Jan 25).

For all those reasons, the austerity brigade, with its philosophy, has taken a battering. Savage cuts and so-called structural reforms to the Greek economy have actually served to increase unemployment and shrink the welfare state. This can be laid squarely at the feat of those who have become Greece’s economic managers, these post-democratic managers in the form of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The mountain to be scaled by Syriza is a monumental one. Come March, seven billion euros worth of debt will mature with menacing, guilt-worn clout. Liquidity will be needed, but Tsipras will be very much in his rights to ask for debt cancellation and a readjustment of bailout terms. But even cancellation will not let Greece off the hook, giving only a false hope and liberation from a distinctly unequal financial system within a zone that is artificially democratic. The words of the Greek electronic music band from 1992, Stereo Nova, may still apply: “My country is a colony of a larger colony.”[2]

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes.

[1] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/five-minutes-with-colin-crouch/

[2] http://www.chronosmag.eu/index.php/y-stavrakakis-my-country-is-the-colony-of-a-larger-colony.html