SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 160 - July/August 2012

Greek elections open up new phase of struggle

Capitalists in Greece and around the world breathed a sigh of relief when New Democracy was declared the winner in the general election. But, as the cutbacks and crisis continue, the weakness of the new coalition will be exposed. NICOS ANASTASIADES, of Xekinima (CWI in Greece), assesses the result, and the prospects for the second-placed, left-wing formation, Syriza.

THE OUTCOME OF the elections in Greece has left the majority of the population with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is the victory of the right-wing New Democracy, which conducted a huge campaign of fear and was able to rally all the conservative elements of society. Even so, the parties that explicitly backed the bail-out conditions of the ‘troika – European Commission, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) – received less than 50% of the vote.

On the other hand, the left-wing Syriza, while not coming first in the election (and so failing to take the bonus 50 MPs), still got almost 27%, the highest vote that any left party in Greece has won in recent decades. Alarmingly, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn won almost 7% of the vote. These results reflect the political tensions that have shaken Greece during the last two-and-a-half years as a result of the economic crisis and the impact of the policies of the troika.

How did New Democracy (ND), associated with causing Greece’s punishing austerity measures, emerge from the election as the largest party?

It was probably one of the most polarised election campaigns since the 1980s. ND, accompanied by troika officials, local and international media, institutions of the ruling class and all the other capitalist parties, waged a huge campaign of fear. "If Syriza is elected we will be kicked out of the euro". "There will be a social catastrophe". "There won’t be any medicine and petrol". These were typical of the phrases used by ND spokesmen.

New Democracy increased its vote from 19% in the previous election to nearly 30%. But this was not achieved on the basis of support for its programme. There were a lot of voters who despised ND, but voted for it because they succumbed to fear of a worse scenario for Greece.

All-out attack on Syriza

THE QUESTION OF Greece’s future in the euro and the country’s debt was the main focus of the ND scare campaign. It used the fear of many workers that Greece is a small economy and cannot survive ‘isolated’ from the eurozone and EU. According to polls, a third of the population voted with the euro issue uppermost in their concerns. ND’s propaganda was helped to an extent by Syriza, whose leaders did not have a clear position on the question, and put forward different proposals, creating confusion among big sections of the electorate.

It was not only the euro question, however. Syriza was declared the ‘root of all evil’. ND accused it of being linked to terrorism, to political violence and to corruption! This McCarthyite-style witch-hunt was aimed at mobilising the most reactionary elements of the older generation.

There was a clear split in the voting according to age. Among the over-55s, ND and the formerly social-democratic PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) got more than double the percentage vote than from voters aged 18-54. There was also a clear voter differentiation between the rich areas – for example, in Ekali, a wealthy neighbourhood in Athens, ND got 70% and Syriza 6.5% – and the poor ones – in Nikaia-Renti, a working-class area, Syriza got around 38%, ND only 17%.

Antonis Samaras, the leader of ND, stated after the results that Greece will "honour its signatures". In other words, it will continue along the austerity road. Of course, given the huge combined anti-austerity vote, he was also forced to talk about the need for "policies for growth", saying that he will try to negotiate a ‘looser’ economic policy with the troika.

It is clear that a new ND-led coalition will be a government of crisis and austerity attacks and will face big struggles. Greek and international capitalists and bankers do not have a humanitarian approach to the Greek drama. They will continue to impose brutal cuts policies, although perhaps at a slightly slower pace or in nicer packaging.

The new government will continue to provoke huge workers’ struggles and social movements. Now, however, these struggles will have a political perspective: that of bringing to power a left government. This will boost the combativeness and the determination of the masses even if, for the time being, the basic feeling is one of disappointment over the victory of ND.

The left-wing parties

IT MAY BE the first time in Greek history that the second party in an election has enjoyed bigger celebrations than the party that came first. Syriza has made a huge leap forwards, from 4.6% (315,627 votes) in the 2009 elections, to 16.78% (1,061,282) in the 6 May elections, and to almost 27% (1,655,053) on 17 June. This shows the huge potential for the left to grow during a period of crisis.

Syriza became a pole of attraction when it posed the question of power, calling for a "left government" and challenging ND on the slogans of scrapping the bail-out memorandum and ending austerity. By doing so, Syriza gave hope to big sections of workers and youth, who saw a way to end the nightmare imposed on Greek society during the last two years.

In the run-up to the latest elections, there was a clear trend towards Syriza, but it was not an enthusiastic one. Syriza leapt to 27% in the polls just after the 6 May elections. That means that, in the one-month pre-election period, it did not manage to increase that support. ND was constantly gaining ground.

On the one hand, people saw Syriza as the only alternative to punish the ‘parties of the memorandum’. On the other hand, people saw that Syriza did not propose a clear alternative to the implemented policies. The leaders of Syriza kept a clear distance from advocating a socialist programme, which is the only possible way out of the present crisis. They actually tended to water down Syriza’s programme in the weeks before the election and moved to the right.

One of the central tasks facing Syriza is to engage in a serious political debate on the programme it puts forward. The basic deficiency of Syriza is that it does not have a rounded-out socialist programme to deal with the crisis. There were radical elements in what it proposed, but these were pared back as the election date approached. For example, the demand to "nationalise the banks", became "public control over the banking system". The slogan "for a government of the left", changed to "a government of all the Greeks".

Xekinima (CWI in Greece) campaigned for a Syriza vote, and put forward the need for a clear socialist programme. This included ending all austerity, non-payment of the debt, and nationalising the big banks and main planks of the economy under democratic workers’ control and management.

Another part of Syriza’s problem was that different spokespersons said different things. ND used that ‘multilingualism’ to accuse Syriza of not having a clear orientation. It was not completely wrong in that sense.

Syriza took part in the elections with a programme which created illusions that a change of policy can be achieved without clashing with big capital in Greece and Europe. This alienated some of the most politically conscious sections of the working class – who voted for Syriza but had serious doubts. It also contributed to a concern among other working-class voters that Syriza may become a ‘new Pasok’, promising a lot of things that it cannot fulfil.

Another weakness was that Syriza does not have deep roots in the workplaces and neighbourhoods. There was an attempt to organise local meetings before the election, and some events saw significant numbers attend, but the overall picture was that the decisions were taken at the top of Syriza.

Can Syriza replace its programme of reformist illusions and confusion with a socialist programme to create a vehicle for the masses to take power? Or will Syriza fail to develop its potential and be in danger of becoming ‘absorbed’ by the political system? Xekinima, which participates in Syriza’s local organisations, intends to play a role in this process, working with the rank and file, developing alliances and attempting to move Syriza in a leftward direction.

In the weeks immediately following the election, there are signs of a growing scepticism in the rank and file of the ‘Communist’ Party (KKE) and Antarsya (an alliance of left groups) because of the sharp drops that they both recorded. The KKE lost 50% of its votes compared with 6 May, Antarsya was down 75%. This is the worst result for the KKE since 1993, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union and other Stalinist states, and the double split it suffered in that period. Syriza has now become the dominant force on the left in Greece.

Xekinima has called on KKE and Antarsya to respond to Syriza’s call for unity. Unfortunately, the leadership of these formations failed to do so, maintaining very sectarian positions. The KKE, above all, waged a campaign specifically targeting Syriza, denouncing it as being against the working class. This led to an alienation even from workers who have voted for the KKE for 30 or more years.

Sadly, the leaderships of both these formations have not learnt any lesson from that collapse. In their post-elections balance sheets they blame "the people" for not understanding the "correct line". With this approach, they are creating a momentum for splits in their ranks in the next period.

Neo-fascist threat

THE CONSOLIDATION OF nearly 7% of the vote by the neo-Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn is an alarm bell to all workers and progressive people in Greece and Europe. Its ‘election campaign’ was mainly based on threats and violence. To an outside observer, it may seem strange that there has been a growth of the fascist political wing after all the struggles we have had in recent years. How can the neo-Nazis gain in a society that is moving to the left?

First of all, the desperation of parts of society is huge, especially among middle-class layers who have lost everything. There are people, small shop-owners mainly, who were pushed by the banks to take out massive loans based on the prospect of ‘continuous growth’, and who now face evictions and confiscations. There are reports of people still wearing expensive clothes, bought in recent years, but who are eating from rations given out by the church or NGOs.

These people are seeking an immediate solution, because they feel shattered. The neo-fascists present themselves as "the punishers", who are against the political establishment. Before the elections, a prominent leader of Golden Dawn said that it will not hesitate to throw some punches in parliament if necessary. This kind of rhetoric finds an echo among these desperate layers.

Golden Dawn’s vote came from this part of the population which is also alienated, politically inexperienced, confused and disoriented. The infamous punching of the KKE MP, Liana Kaneli, on live TV, shook a big part of the population. But it also seems to have helped Golden Dawn reach that part of the population which seeks ‘radical and immediate solutions’ against the whole political system.

To strengthen its support in the poor areas of Athens, Golden Dawn has used the problems created by mass immigration. Greece is becoming an open-air prison for immigrants from Asia and Africa. They want to go to Europe or stay in Greece, but have not been given papers by the authorities. So there are hundreds of illegal immigrants who are forced to stay out in the street. This creates huge problems. Golden Dawn used this, and with tactics of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (beatings, stabbings, etc) appeared to ‘solve the problem’ – in reality, forcing the immigrants a few blocks away, of course.

The downtrodden layers of society that are squeezed by the crisis are looking for answers, they are not moving to the left ‘by themselves’. It is an open struggle as to which side they will be attracted to. While the left parties in Greece have gained a lot of support during this period of crisis, they have failed so far to present a vision to large layers in society for a clear way forward. The fact that the left parties, even during periods of struggle, tend to speak generally for a need for change but have not posed concrete solutions has played a role in this.

Golden Dawn’s position will now be strengthened, and the left must come together to form anti-fascist committees in every city, neighbourhood and workplace to stop its rise. We hope it is now understood, at least from the left, that a failure to confront the fascists in the correct way may lead to a further rise in their support. Until now their backing is mostly electoral but, if the left fails to offer a solution, the fascists could become a more dangerous threat.

Further struggles ahead

IN THE MONTHS to come, Greece will continue to be the weakest link in the weak EU chain. The new governing coalition will solve none of the country’s difficulties. Instead, it will continue to pauperise the already impoverished people. This will provoke a massive renewed fightback by the working class, at some stage.

New Democracy and Pasok, now with the addition of Democratic Left (a right-wing split from Syriza), are trying to portray their new government as a "break with the injustices of the past", and a "new start to end the era of memorandums". At the same time, in all their statements they insist on keeping all the commitments of previous governments. They try to create the illusion that the EU and the IMF will see their ‘mistakes’ and give away money for growth in Greece.

But, as the US economist and commentator, Paul Krugman, put it, "Greece is pretty much a lost cause", and nobody, especially the capitalists, wants to hand out money if they know they are going to lose it. They may be willing to make some minor concessions, depending on how the crisis in Spain will evolve, in order to support their parties. But, as long as Greece is forced to repay its debt, no growth can be achieved.

The new government has 179 MPs supporting it. But it will not be stable. When the working class is forced into battle again, tensions will arise between the different parties. We could see relatively quickly the situation exploding again, with important industrial struggles and general strikes. In this case, the prospect of a left government will be imminent.

Xekinima will fight for that perspective, to organise the struggles against the new attacks, to support the new forms of self-organisation in the movements and the workplaces, and to popularise a socialist programme in order to push Syriza in this direction.


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