After June’s election in Greece, President Obama hailed the result as an opportunity for a new government to “continue on the path of reform and do so in a way that also offers the prospects for the Greek people to succeed and prosper.”
This has a very hollow ring as the new coalition is politically little different to the coalition that ruled from last November to the elections in May. It was the coalition that replaced Georges Papandreou that accepted the conditions for the most recent 130bn Euro bailout. It was the coalition that intensified the already harsh austerity measures. In the latest election New Democracy and PASOK, the parties that had ruled Greece between them since 1974, stoked up fears that funds would dry up and that an economy already in deep crisis, five years into recession (with a population already suffering severe depredations) was facing an even worse catastrophe. And they’re still in power, with the assistance of a small left-wing party, rather than a small right-wing party.
However, after Prime Minister Samaras had finally named all the figures in the new government, there was a slight change of tune. The coalition parties agreed that they would like to renegotiate some aspects of their agreement with their international creditors. They want “two more years, up to 2016, to bring the public deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product. This would allow the government to meet its fiscal targets without making further cuts to wages, pensions and the public investment programme. Instead, savings would be made from tackling corruption, waste, tax evasion and the shadow economy” (Kathimerini 24/6/12).
It will be interesting to see how much international sympathy there is to this approach. Pain, and more pain, is the prescribed remedy from the leaders of much of the Eurozone. Seeing as the main participants in the Greek government have been responsible for imposing all previous cuts, other European bourgeoisies are likely to wonder why they can’t continue in the same vein. Although they will be aware that discontent can lead to militant action
Fear, anger and illusions
In the June election the turnout was down to 62.5 per cent. This is even lower than May’s previous lowest ever figure of 65 per cent. Voting is considered mandatory in Greece, although abstention is not met with any legal sanctions. However, it’s clear that more and more people see no prospect of any electoral outcome having a positive impact on their lives.
Of those who did vote, those over 55 tended to turn to New Democracy because it offered the illusions of stability and financial security. Those between 18 and 24 were attracted by Syriza as offering some sort of ‘alternative’. In a survey of those who voted for the neo-nazi Golden Dawn in May, 60% said it was as a protest vote, with fewer than 30% actually wanting to get rid of immigrants. It might seem a strange way to protest, but in many ways no stranger than thinking that Syriza was different to the other left parties.
Many Trotskyist groups were very enthusiastic about Syriza. While admitting that it is a party of reform rather than revolution they see it as the focus for resistance to austerity. Yet if you examine Syriza’s pronouncements and the utterances of its leader, Alexis Tsipras, you will see a model of, in his own words (Reuters 19/6/12), “responsible opposition”.
A commentator on Al Jazeera (18/6/12) wondered whether Syriza “may be privately grateful to escape the responsibilities of governing Greece at this desperate time.” Certainly, in the coming period Syriza will be the focus for opposition to the new government. It will encourage the illusion that austerity can be less harsh. But “Tsipras signalled that Syriza would not call its supporters onto the streets to protest against the austerity measures” (Reuters 19/6/12). He thinks that resistance is not the priority of the moment and says “Our role is to be inside and outside parliament, applauding anything positive and condemning all that is negative and proposing alternatives” (ibid).
Tsipras, who wants fair taxation, a moratorium on debts, and favours certain ‘structural reforms’, puts Syriza in a very mainstream tradition. In an interview in Time magazine (31/5/12) he declared that the New Deal policy in 1930s America was an example to follow, “we will realise that Roosevelt was right and follow that path.” And it’s not just a nostalgia for a lost past; he is an admirer of current state capitalist institutions in the US. Analysing the problems in European monetary union he says it’s partly down “to the lack of a Central Bank which can act as a Central Bank, as [the] Fed does in the USA and which — as a last resort — will be able to lend money to a country which faces problems in the markets.”
In an article for the Financial Times (12/6/12) Tsipras wrote “Syriza is the only political movement in Greece today that can deliver economic, social and political stability for our country. … Only Syriza can guarantee Greek stability because we do not carry the political baggage of the establishment parties that have brought Greece to the brink of ruin.”
This demonstrates Syriza’s concern for capitalist stability, and also that its appeal lies mainly in not being PASOK or New Democracy. They relate to the anger in the population, but with a specific goal “Greece needs courageous and decisive leaders who can use the rage of our people...as a weapon to negotiate for the benefit of the country” (Reuters 19/6/12). The dozen or so leftist groups that make up Syriza want to use the rage of the people … as a weapon in negotiations for Greek capitalism. The main difference with the Samaras government is that the coalition relies on people’s fears rather than their anger.
. For more on Golden Dawn, as well as the wider context for the May elections in Greece see https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201205/4909/you-can-t-fight-austerity-through-elections