By MARTY GOODMAN
The Sept. 20 Greek national election, held in a rush, resulted in the reelection of the Syriza party’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The election occurred merely 30 days after its announcement. It was timed cynically to take place before the onset of a new wave of punishing austerity conditions—the worst ever—agreed to by Syriza and imposed by European Union (EU) financial institutions and the International Monetary Fund.
Defying the pollsters, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) nevertheless received 35.47% of the vote, easily beating its neoliberal rivals and only slightly down from the Jan. 25 election that brought it to power. Syriza’s nearest competitor, the New Democracy Party, received 28.3% of the vote.
Voter turnout was a mere 56%, down 800,000 voters from January, the lowest percentage since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. The small turnout reflected disgust with capitalist politicians, “left” or right, who promise relief but deliver more misery. In contrast, 70% voted in the July referendum before Syriza’s sellout to the EU and the banks.
Syriza won 145 seats, down from 149, a minority in the 300-seat parliament. Syriza once again sought a coalition partner in the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL), which has opposed the austerity agreement. ANEL won a total of 10 seats, down from 13. In September, Dimitris Kammenos, ANEL’s Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, tweeted anti-Semitic remarks and resigned hours after the new cabinet was sworn in.
The capitalist media reacted to the Syriza victory with delight. Syriza is a capitalist government, not a worker’s government. Said the New York-based Ferro, which manages about $1 billion in assets, “The Greek election result is the best one from a market point of view.” Indeed, a leader who will mislead and betray working people after echoing their demands is often a much better option for the capitalist class than a despised reactionary politician.
Syriza first came to power based on its promise to demand “not one sacrifice for the euro,” the currency of 17 countries in the European Union. Called “the memorandum,” the agreement is for an EU loan of 86 billion euros (U.S. $96 billion) with brutal “free market” anti-worker conditions attached.
Unemployment in Greece stands at 26%; 60% for youth. A medical study found that 54% of Greeks are undernourished. Public services are devastated; 50% of children live in poverty. National debt is 180% of the Gross National Product.
The memorandum was rejected by 62% in a July 5 voter referendum. Then, in an astonishingly rapid betrayal (but not the first!), the memorandum was nevertheless accepted withn 72 hours of the vote by the pseudo-radical Syriza government.
Incredibly, the deal accepted by Syriza cost 4 billion euros more than the version rejected July 5 by the Greek people. The memorandum wielded additional cuts to pensions, including special aid to the poorest; a hike in taxes on food and other goods and services; a “liberalizing” of the labor market (that is, voiding labor protections and job security); and the privatization of 50 billion euros worth of public institutions.
Clearly, the EU rulers sought to punish Greek working people for daring to vote against austerity (attacks on workers) by voting Syriza in January and voting “no” in July. Indeed, Greece has become a testing ground for capitalists everywhere, including the U.S., probing how far a working class can be bullied into poverty in the age of capitalist crisis.
Defections from Syriza
Some 40 members of Syriza’s “dissident” parliament members, known as the Left Platform, voted “no” in a final memorandum vote in late August, prompting Tsipras to call for the September election. The former boosters of Syriza in the Left Platform quickly found themselves purged from government and formed an anti-memorandum party called Popular Unity. Eight out of the 11 Left Platform leaders resigned from Syriza.
According to Syriza officials cited in a Financial Times article: “In the aftermath [of the memorandum] at least one third of Syriza’s membership defected to other parties, including those to its left, with others leaving political campaigning altogether.”
On Sept. 1, the majority of the Syriza youth group leadership signed a statement of resignation. An organization of up to 2500 members, it was a force in Greece’s important student movement. The youth group cited Syriza’s political “bankruptcy” in accepting the memorandum as a major reason for its split. It also cited “the depreciation of internal democracy and collective decisions of the party by the government’s leadership.”
Indeed, calls for a Syriza party conference before the final vote on the memorandum and the election were rebuffed by the Tsipras leadership.
Popular Unity did not receive a seat in parliament, falling just short of the 3% threshold with only 2.9% of the vote. “We lost the battle, but not the war,” said PU leader Panagiotis Lafanazis, the former Syriza energy minister. The PU promoted a “Grexit” (Greek exit from the EU) in a capitalist, not socialist, Greece.
Other memorandum opponents in the election included the Greek Communist Party (KKE), a sectarian Stalinist party, which increased its vote only slightly to 5.5% and retained its 15 seats in parliament. Despite the crisis, the KKE has rejected any form of unity with other forces, including telling its members not to participate in the memorandum referendum. It’s well known, however, that most KKE members voted “no” anyway.
The anti-capitalist coalition known as “ANTARSYA” increased its vote marginally from .64% to .85%. ANTARSYA suffered a split by two Maoist formations, ARAN and ARAS, which joined PU. ANTARSYA was extremely active in the “OXI” (no) memorandum vote campaign and anti-fascist mobilizations. Socialist action’s sister party in the Fourth International, OKDE-Spartakos, is in ANTARSYA.
The violent Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn (GD) party, whose hard-core members are from the police and army, has gained support by posing as the most uncompromising opponent of the memorandum. GD received 6.99% of the vote, allowing these racist thugs to increase their seats in parliament from 17 to 18. The GD vote has risen on the Greek islands that have seen an influx of immigrants.
According to Alternate Shipping Minister Christos Zois, about 230,000 undocumented immigrants, mostly from Syria, have arrived in Greece over the previous eight months. Many come to Greece as a stopping-off point in their migration to Germany and other European countries. Molotov cocktails were thrown at refugees on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Kos. Amnesty International witnessed “thugs” with bats attacking them in Kos. Moreover, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized Greek police for heavy-handed tactics against the refugees.
GD says that all “illegal immigrants” should be rounded up and deported. A united mobilization of the entire working class is needed to smash fascism.
The dead-end Syriza strategy
Syriza’s strategy, hailed by many on the international left as the wave of the future, is based on the lowest common denominator of divergent radical forces. Syriza stressed the electoral road to socialism (when socialism was even mentioned!), not popular mobilization. Its base is considered small within the union movement.
Syriza is led by the former “Eurocommunist” wing of the Greek Communist Party. Eurocommunism was a trend within the Stalinist parties of Europe, beginning in the 1970s, which tended to seek reforms under capitalism while abandoning the Marxist perspective of proletarian revolution. Tsipras himself and PU leader Lafanazis were Eurocommunists. Syriza also includes various Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, and others. They all promised radical change and party democracy. They got neither.
A fighting working class—alongside allies such as students, women, LGBT people, and immigrants—is the only class capable of leading the fight for socialism. Socialists say, “Cancel the debt! For a workers government in Greece!”
Photo: Syria leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates recent election victory. Ari Messinisaris / AFP / Getty Images