Why Greece’s Elections Matter & the Politics of SYRIZA

To satisfy the demands of international capital, Greece has been subjected to round after round of neoliberal austerity on a scale only previously inflicted on countries in the South. The terms of so-called “bail-out” plans have placed the country under the effective control of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission (the “Troika”). 

The kind of democracy that exists in even the most democratic capitalist societies is never genuine rule by the people, but what’s been done to Greece has reduced capitalist democracy to a bare remnant.

A huge portion of the public sector has been eliminated or privatized. Taxes have been raised. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, leaving more than one quarter of the workforce unemployed. Wages and pensions have been slashed. Workers’ rights have been greatly weakened. As a New York Times article admits, “The images of suffering here have not been that different from the grainy black and white photos of the United States in the 1930s. Suicides have shot up. Cars sit abandoned in the streets. People sift garbage looking for food.”

SYRIZA, the prospect of whose victory at the polls so worries much of the Greek ruling class and many governments and capitalists outside Greece, was originally a coalition of radical and revolutionary left forces. In 2013 it became a more conventional party. In recent years its leadership’s politics have become more moderate, though there is still a significant minority of radicals and revolutionaries within the party.

A win by SYRIZA will be seen by most people in Greece and beyond as a clear rejection of austerity and neoliberalism from the left. This could have a big political impact in Spain, other European countries and elsewhere. Crucially, it could lead a resurgent mobilization in the streets and workplaces — Greece saw many general strikes and over 20 000 demonstrations between 2010 and 2014. 

If that happens, a SYRIZA government would face not just pressure from capital to stay within the Troika’s neoliberal straightjacket (perhaps loosened) but also pressure from the working class to put a halt to austerity. This could quickly lead to a political crisis with the potential for both a catastrophic capitulation by SYRIZA – from which the fascist Golden Dawn party would probably benefit – or radicalization.

We think it is important for readers to have a better understanding of SYRIZA. For this reason, we are republishing the following comment by Ilias Milonas, a member of Internationalist Revolutionary Left (DEA), a socialist group in Greece whose politics are similar to those of the network that publishes New Socialist Webzine

– The editors.

The New Programme of SYRIZA

By Ilias Milonas 

On Monday the Greek Parliament will vote for the next President. If the Government’s nominee fails to gain the minimum 180 votes there will be a general election which will be held in the following six weeks. In such a situation, the opinion polls put Syriza, Greece’s new left-wing party, as the likely winner of the elections which could put the first anti-austerity party in power in the Eurozone. In the light of this, it is important for us to analyse Syriza’s new policy platform that was announced recently. Here, an active member of the left-wing of Syriza outlines the new policy and explains why it is not enough. 

A Limited Programme

This programme was announced by the president of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, during the International Exibition of Thessaloniki in September. It was not a result of a discussion through the bodies of the Party but the work of a group of people around him. It is a limited programme which the leadership wants to present to the people as the final programme of SYRIZA. 

It is a programme of course for a positive direction in order to relieve the poorest social layers. It promises: 

• A serious negotiation on the National Debt and a “haircut” of the biggest part of this Higher taxation of the rich
• Higher salaries for some low paid employees
• The abolition of ENFIA (the latest property tax)
• More money for the municipalities and the local authorities
• 300,000 new jobs
• Restoration of public radio and television closed down by the current government The establishment of a new National Development Bank
• The restoration of the minimum wage at 751 Euros 

Capitalist Resistance 

The leadership of SYRIZA is in reality trying to reassure the ruling class with this programme which is obviously not a genuine socialist programme. The intentions probably are good, but the capitalists in today’s conditions of deep crisis and hard competition will refuse to lose even one cent. Even this minimum programme presupposes a hard conflict with the bourgeois and so we will need to have by our side the big organised layers of labour in society. It is not obvious that the leadership of SYRIZA is prepared to organise these social layers in a proper way for such a conflict. 

Indeed, it is possible that even the simplest demand, for example of the minimum wage of 751 euros, will not be acceptable to the economic powers in Greece. Even more so the whole programme of 12 billion Euros!! 

Greece and the Eurozone

On the issue of the national debt, there is a permanent conception by the leadership of SYRIZA that the European Union cannot expel Greece from the Eurozone. This is really an illusion and the opposite was proved in the case of Cyprus – they threatened the Cypriot government that if it would not accept their terms Cyprus would be kicked out of the Eurozone, even if the Cypriot Parliament backed their government’s position. 

Actually, it is now more difficult for Greece to be thrown out of the Eurozone as its debt is higher (despite a three year period of hard austerity) and thus there is a bigger danger for the lenders to lose their money. Nevertheless, the Troika are not willing to continue the bailout without insisting on their rules being followed. Already they have sent a message to the Greek government which created a mini crash on the local stock exchange which lost 300 points.  

As the Left Platform and the main internal opposition in SYRIZA, we have put a lot of time into the issue of a Plan B, in case that Greece will be pushed out of the Eurozone. 

Public Ownership of the Banks 

In the Syriza leadership’s programme also absent is the most crucial matter of the nationalisation of the banks, a policy that was decided on at the last congress of SYRIZA – almost all the banks in Greece have been privatised in recent years. We believe that there is not one programme that can be implemented without the nationalisation of the banking system along with and the rest of the economic system. In contrast, the leadership’s proposal for the establishment of a New Development Bank with a budget of one billion Euros is like planting a tree in the Sahara in the hope of greening the desert. Indeed, all they propose for the banks is a vague form of “social control”.

The Potential of an Election Victory by SYRIZA 

We believe that a victory for SYRIZA at the coming elections will unleash a mobilisation of the workers in Greece who will demand from the new government, which they will see as their government, policies to take back what they have lost in recent years under the hard monetaristic measures of austerity. Such a situation has the potential to change the atmosphere in the whole of Europe, triggering off a domino movement towards the Left.  

SYRIZA must not be allowed to fail as a defeat for SYRIZA will be a defeat for the whole Left and of course for the whole of the working class.  

This article is republished from The Socialist Network. Ilias Milonas can be contacted at iliasmil [at] hotmail.com