Greece: The resistible rise of the right
Updated: Apr 10
Greece is heading to national elections on July 7. Technically, they will take place 3 months ahead of what was planned (October 2019), making the government of SYRIZA the most long-lasting one of the so called memoranda era, that is after the country was hit by the financial crisis and put under austerity measures in 2010.
Nevertheless, the result is a hard defeat for SYRIZA and its leader prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The numbers speak for it. SYRIZA’s projected votes were 9.5% behind the right wing New Democracy in the EU elections.
In addition, as these were triple elections (European parliament, municipal councils, regional councils), tens of municipalities (including Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki) and all regional councils (except Crete) passed to control by the right, recording a colossal drop for the candidates of SYRIZA.
What has happened?
The first reaction from some spokepersons of SYRIZA was to blame the voters, who supposedly are “ignorant and conservative” and therefore “do not acknowledge the difference between the government of SYRIZA and its predecessors” (PASOK, New Democracy, coalition governments including them). On the contrary, it looks like people are ready to welcome the most hard- lined right wing version of the right New Democracy, headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, son of a wealthy family of right wing opportunist politicians.
In the last months, the government of SYRIZA attempted a tiny, mostly symbolic policy of concessions, specifically raising the minimum salary from 490 to around 550 Euros and granting a small allowance to the low salaried workers and pensioners (the so called “13th salary”). However this looked to the people like a mockery in comparison to the severe losses in income, jobs, properties (confiscations due to debts) and undermining of the
Everyone was severely and directly affected by austerity and memoranda, which were supposed to “save” the Greek economy. We all know today that the measures saved the banks and increased the profits of Greek capitalists but ruined the lives and sapped the future of thousands of people.
SYRIZA has failed
This procedure was not irresistible, as the Greek working class opposed actively the measures from the very first moment, with strikes and protests. In January 2015 SYRIZA was brought into office under the banner of scrapping the memoranda, restoring workers salaries and combating the debt payment.
But after facing the debtors’ pressure, and despite the popular support in the referendum of July 2015 (which gave a prestigious 62% to OXI –NO-), SYRIZA made a U-turn and capitulated to a humiliating deal on the ground that there was no other alternative (sounding like Margaret Thatcher’s TINA) for the country to remain in the EU and continue with its obligations.
In the following four years the government of SYRIZA remained loyal to the debtors by betraying the hopes and demands of the people who had voted for it. In the beginning of 2019 it was announced that the country was finally “exiting the tunnel” and returning to the markets. Everybody knows however how temporary and fragile this success is. In the next 4 years Greece has to pay 44 billion Euros for its incredibly unfair debt, which nevertheless keeps increasing.
The so called “Stabilization program” foresees surpluses of 4.2-4.7% at the same time as a 10% decrease in expenses for education, health and social security and a 20% decrease in pensions, as well as more privatizations. These policies have to be sustained for decades in order to pay off the debt.
As for SYRIZA’s external policy, the government has fully conceded to the most reactionary regimes of the area (Republic of Cyprus, Netanyahu’s Israel, Sisi’s Egypt). Tsipras’s government poses as the strongest ally of US imperialism in the area and also pursues Greek capitalists’ geopolitical interests against Turkish capitalists in the search for energy resources in the Mediterranean fields.
This does not obstruct coordination with the Turkish government in patrolling and controlling refugees who try to cross the two countries and head to Europe. The deal between Greece, Turkey and the EU foresees stopping these people from reaching the EU by keeping them in concentration camps throughout Greece and Turkey in the most appalling conditions. The big humanistic wave of solidarity with refugees, which unfolded in 2015-2016 across the country, has ended up in the Greek government repressing refugees and expelling them to Turkey.
Another false argument coming from SYRIZA is that it is paying for the so-called Prespes agreement which was reached last year with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia (today Northern Macedonia). SYRIZA actually engineered a success of Greek capitalism in having a decisive say in both the economy and the politics (Name and constitution) of the tiny neighboring country, so that the latter initiates entry process into EU and NATO.
Northern Macedonia (aka FYROM) has been under the Greek sphere of influence and pressure since it broke from former Yugoslavia in 1991. This is the truth behind nationalist conflicts about the name of the country and who really has the right to inherit ancient Macedonia and its leader Alexander the Great.
Last year’s nationalist protests against SYRIZA’s external policy, claiming that Tsipras “was selling out our Macedonia” had very limited appeal outside the Orthodox Church followers and far-right and Nazi groups like Golden Dawn and its splits.
None of the organizers of these demagogic protests benefited in the elections. The Independent Greeks party (ANEL), SYRIZA’s ex-partner left the government on a nationalist argument against the Prespes agreement, but instead of benefiting, it collapsed electorally.
The good news: Nazis pushed back
The Nazi party Golden Dawn saw an important loss in votes (half of what they had got in the previous European elections). Several of its cadres have already split to reactionary far right formations or returned back to New Democracy.
This was basically a success of the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, which kept campaigning all these years against the nazi criminal organization. The on-going trial of the GD leadership and perpetrators of criminal charges such as the murder of anti-nazi rapper Pavlos Fyssas , the attacks on Egyptian fishermen and communist party members has actually been the field for political struggle outside and inside the court rooms and despite the low pace of the trial which is expected to conclude this year. Iit has succeeded in keeping Golden Dawn and its paramilitary gangs out of the streets. Nevertheless this is no time for complacency, but for continuing the anti-nazi struggle.
The return of the right
Based on the above, the return of New Democracy in office is to be understood more as a failure of SYRIZA to deliver what it had promised and less than the right being a focus of attraction. There have been struggles throughout the 4 years that SYRIZA was in office by militant sections of the working class who were demanding a stop to austerity, restoring of salaries, jobs and public services. They were met either with manipulations and more broken promises, or worse with cynical statements that this is all that can be delivered and eventually with the police repressing demonstrators.
A few examples are the continuing strikes in public hospitals, militant struggles even by smaller workplaces against closures and redundancies, protests to defend people whose apartments were confiscated by banks, massive turnout in events like the Pride-demonstrations all over the country against sexism and discriminations. Nevertheless most remained scattered and did not manage to defeat the memorandum policies, giving space to bitterness and discontent.
As things hardened, SYRIZA lost members, the parties of the center (Potami, Enosi Kentroon etc.) could not provide any alternative and collapsed and at the end of the day the party who benefited was the crudest representative of neo-liberalism and austerity, was the right wing New Democracy. Its leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks the nasty language of further austerity, more “flexibility” on the shoulders of the working class, tax reductions for big business, privatizations and scapegoating of protesters and immigrantns.
However, at the moment it is not clear at all whether he will be able to form a strong government to impose them. On the contrary, instability everywhere: In the economic expectations of capitalists, in the plans for a self-reliant government of the right, in the hopes of defeating popular resistance.
Is there alternative to the left of SYRIZA?
Unfortunately, the disillusionment from SYRIZA was not expressed with a rise of the parties who stand to its left. The communist party KKE saw a loss in votes in the European elections and lost 4 from the 5 municipalities where it had elected mayors (retaining only Patras). Popular Unity (LAE), a split from SYRIZA after the referendum U-turn collapsed to less that 1%.
Also ANTARSYA, the front of the anticapitalist left, which stood on more coherent political arguments lost a few thousand votes, while retaining its elected city councilors due to the fairer electoral law, despite a fall in votes.
There were also votes of discontent, especially towards Varoufakis’s DIEM 25, but this cannot alter the outcome that there can be no direct transform of anger into left wing votes, more has to be done from the left in order to attract the people who abandon SYRIZA looking to the left.
Sectarianism and self-proclamation of being “the only left alternative” does not help to build united action and fronts. On the contrary, principled united front politics in trade unions and neighborhoods on a radical programme have revealed the potential to resist. This experience has to be reconsidered by all left formations, as there will be new tasks against the coming right-wing government, starting with resisting it from the very first moment in office.