October 18, 1981 was a symbolic day for post-war Greece. Not even 7 years after the return of Greek leftists from the exile and the tortures following the fall of the military junta, a left party suddenly managed, after participating in three elections, to multiply its percentage and take power. Its political program terrified the right-wing forces of the Greek society (the winners of the Greek civil war) as well as parts of the over class. The program included the exit of Greece from the European Community, its disengagement from NATO and the US sphere of influence, a mass socialization of enterprises and social control in factories, a dissolution/disintegration of the military parastate, an attack on the orthodox, far-right cancer/church, freedoms that are self-evident today and so on. The PanHellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) was a real left-wing party that propagated for a peaceful (with guns at their disposal if needed) socialist transformation. It was a radical party even for the 1980s.
The parallels with SYRIZA are obvious.
What is SYRIZA?
SYRIZA starts as a peculiar gathering. It is the evolution of a detestably vulgar and reformist historical Euro-communist current, in which leftist groupings that cover the entire spectrum of Leninists heretics coexist with grassroots movements and other activists. SYRIZA, just like PASOK, “becomes everything out of nowhere”. But, compared to PASOK, SYRIZA transforms faster, its political program is not even close to PASOK’s radical ideas of the 1980s, and it consists of only some thousands members.
In 2008 Tsipras’ taking over of SYRIZA’s leadership- as the chosen one from the party’s former leader- signified the abandonment of Euro-communism and the creation of a new political identity. This new identity aimed to support social struggles and demands through a rhetoric that flirted with the libertarian tradition [translators note: as in anarchist, not libertarian], an obsession with political rights and a militant presence in the streets. After all, the leftist parties brought along their experiences in street struggles as well as a, certainly reduced, number of militant members that the aforementioned new political identity was necessary for some kind of unity to be established.
At the same time, Tsipras attempted to reinforce SYRIZA’s influence within the trade unions primarily in the public sector as well as among organized university students.
Additionally, SYRIZA, which did not exceed 4% of the voters back then, continuously called for the unity of the whole left spectrum in Greece, in both general and emotional terms, although that had been openly rejected by both the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other, that is to say outside SYRIZA, leftist forces.
Moreover, the 4% SYRIZA was the scapegoat for the whole far-right and fascist forces: SYRIZA’s pro-immigration positions, relative secular ideas, polemics against social discriminations and anti-nationalism were under constant and sometimes even hysterical attacks.
This old SYRIZA attracted a huge voting dynamic that SYRIZA’s political executives could never predict or plan. From an oppositional party that struggled to exceed the 3% barrier to enter the parliament, SYRIZA managed to overthrow the percentages of KKE and took the symbolic hegemony within the left, flirting with taking over power.
Some words about the political climate
Workers in Greece lived the end of the dream of prosperity and witnessed the lie behind the systemic promise made by both the EU and Greece. They found themselves either unemployed or with a lot lower wages, having to pay for their medicine, losing benefits.
For the elderly the situation is even worse since they not only lose their pensions but also experience a degraded healthcare system. Everything that constituted the “welfare state” shrank, became more expensive, and worse. The general corruption was divided. Within that framework the corruption that could be found among members of the social basis became an alibi for a mass cutback in social benefits. On the contrary, when it came to bourgeois or state corruption the members of the over class remained untouched.
The two former major parliamentary parties (PASOK and New Democracy) have been severely devaluated. Since they can no longer “buy” votes through simple “exchanges” (such as hiring people in the public sector, tax reductions and so on) and, at the same time, attempt to take back as much as they have given away through their political clientelism, they are but shadows of their past.
The right-wing New Democracy (ND) managed to survive because it was lucky enough to pass the bomb of the economic breakdown to the PASOK government back in 2009. ND has been in government since 2012 gathering a heterogeneous dynamic of far-right, conservative, liberals, bourgeois, oligarchs, political professionals, scared petit-bourgeois and elderly voters who reckon that they have few years of life in order to jeopardize their pensions and peace with a leftist government. Even so, it only gathers half of its previous parliamentary strength at this moment.
The other pole of the two-party system and member of the governmental coalition, PASOK, shrank to 4%, facing the risk of not even entering the next parliament especially after its disintegration a couple of weeks ago [translators note: Papandreou, the former prime minister and leader of Pasok, started a new party]
The two parties that will benefit from those voters that have decided to no longer vote for ND and PASOK are the fascists of Golden Dawn and SYRIZA. In a few days, on January 25, these dynamics will be depicted in the election results.
SYRIZA ANDE PORTAS
The narrative of realpolitik that every radical force creates every time it confronts power has been told many times before. SYRIZA is not there yet. SYRIZA’s current realpolitik is to please everyone. It propagates its dedication to democratic institutions at the same time as it promotes its relations to grass-roots movements. It is unreserved in supporting the scenario that Greece remains in the EU, only if the latter becomes an EU of equality, fraternity and justice. SYRIZA praises grass-roots struggles, but wants to see their dynamics reflected in voters’ numbers. It condemns violence and ruptures with the legal system during different kind of struggles, but does it with kid gloves. It condemns imperialism and all kinds of interventions, while remains silent about Greece’s position within NATO. It flirts with Russia, China and the US… It spreads rumours that it has made agreements with parts of the over class. At the same time, it supports anarchist squats, when they face repression, and hunger-strikers.
SYRIZA’s main concern is to keep everyone satisfied. How could it do otherwise, anyway, since it’s only interested in winning the elections?
We need to keep one thing in mind: when we talk about SYRIZA we refer to a political force whose election and social dynamics are mismatched. Whoever, either in Greece or in Europe, believes that SYRIZA is going to introduce important socialist changes, is flogging a dead horse.
The necessary conditions that would allow for radicalisms simply don’t exist: trade-unionism within the private sector is an unimportant movement controlled by the Stalinists of KKE (the Greek Communist Party). The student movement is loud and decisive but rather small, seasonal and linked to leftism. There are a few local struggles but SYRIZA is seriously challenged there by anarchists and the revolutionary left. Even in the cases of social rights, solidarity with prisoners and anti-fascism, SYRIZA desperately attempts to share a bit of the publicity and the political capital produced by anarchists in the streets.
The Greek society, the workers, the social basis, went through 5 tough years during which they tried out all the means of struggle that correspond to previous concepts of social conflicts and ways of fighting. And it was a total failure. With few exceptions that remain active (and these will hardly support SYRIZA in the elections), workers are isolated in their houses. Many of them waiting for SYRIZA with a faint hope.
Is it possible, in such a globalized environment, major ruptures to be put forth without a general social/class support? Are changes for the masses without the masses possible? No, it is not, and those who are active within SYRIZA know it very well.
No doubt, there are honest executives in the party (and for the Greek systemic customs this is rare). There are in SYRIZA experienced leftist militants that have never sold themselves to PASOK, even though they could, radicals from neighborhoods and working environments, good-willed activists. These people fight and will fight within the party for the eternal left illusion, a free socialist state-guardian of the working-class.
For sure, it is amusing to watch a surprising disgust on the faces of far-rights for the forthcoming “victory of the national-nihilist Bolsheviks”. It is positive that more people oppose the repressive agenda of fascism.
All this, however, is temporary.
A part of PASOK’s previous “senior” members has already moved to SYRIZA and, along with the remaining of the Euro-communism tendency, gains power within the party, since the closer this gets to authority/power the less space it allows for the “crazy leftists”. Indicative of this tendency is the fact that they backslide on their determination concerning the impending conflict with Germany and the EU about the Greek debt and the austerity measures.
Additionally, we need to take into consideration that SYRIZA will have to govern in a state where the bureaucratic mechanism consists of former members of PASOK, and the repressive mechanism, that is to say, the deep state (army, police, and justice system) consists of right-wing and fascists. If we take for granted that SYRIZA will not attempt to establish a junta, how will it control the state if not through exchanges and negotiations with these actors?
The old radical SYRIZA of the 4% still dreams of overthrows. They wanted, but they could not!
Compromise is the only option left for SYRIZA. It is the only end that the governmental way can have for a left party that does not aspire to rise to power by means of violence, let alone a party that does not even have organized masses of loyal voters.
The governmental SYRIZA of the 30% dreams of surviving in power. Not only they cannot, but, what is worse, they do not even aspire overthrows any longer.
What is going to happen after the elections?
The first two years after 1981, PASOK that consisted of at least 400.000 fanatic members who promoted the party line, realized some parts of its program. They raised wages, established union rights, and socialized (hypocritically and from top-down) a few enterprises that were up to shut down. After 5 years in power, PASOK focused only on massively hiring leftists, who had been banned for 40 years, in the public sector, and on canceling middle-age and civil war laws, regulations and bans. Next, it became social-democratic, and, then, liberal. PASOK dived into corruption and finally, some years ago, opened the door to EU’s economic supervision and imposed austerity on Greece.
There is a chance that this kind of party-political evolution will be repeated by SYRIZA, but a lot faster and not in such a large-scale.
A possible successful negotiation about the debt, an essential relief from austerity, and whatever positive Tsipras can guarantee to the Greek society, will be presented as a victory against the international loan sharks, will strengthen SYRIZA in power and demolish the old political personnel.
This old political personnel would be extremely amusing to observe now, if one didn’t have to endure them: they are scared, parasitical, corrupted, religiously obsessed and with civil-war complexes, an amazing combination of nationalists and quisling. If the contrast between the current government and SYRIZA is huge, it is because this government is repulsive.
Therefore, SYRIZA will win the elections despite the fact that they are obviously unclear. If SYRIZA succeeds with anything, even minor, this will, politically, last for long time. If it fails, that is to say, if Germany, from its ruling within the EU position, seeks to break with Greece, then the development of events will undoubtedly be totally unpredictable.
There is nothing that can indicate what the reaction of the Greek society will be in such a scenario. Not even if the society will turn towards an emancipatory or reactionary direction.
What should happen?
If the issue is a sound management of both the Greek debt crisis and the madness of austerity, then, yes, SYRIZA is a solution. That would be a progressively systemic and reassuring solution for the shrinking “middle class”, as well as for the petit bourgeois parts of the Greek society that have the illusion that all this is temporary.
For those who want more, for those who are interested in their class, for those that self-organization and participation is a demand, for the people of all kinds of struggle, SYRIZA constitutes an illusion. It is not SYRIZA’s fault that the exploited society is silent. And it is not SYRIZA’s fault if the new generation falls for parliamentarism and the bunkum of left governance.
It is a long way and it requires a lot of work on the grassroots level: the workers’ involvement with the commons through a new militant and horizontal syndicalism, through self-organization in neighborhoods and a radical political engagement in libertarian/anarchist ideas and practices.
Those few forces in Greece involved with class syndicalism, local social movements and the anarchist movement comprise a subversive political capital, which is small, but not so small.
Social change does not allow for indirect courses and the road of power is the ultimate dead-end. It may seem that there is time, but it might as well not be so: moments of crisis, moments when the ears of the workers are open, moments that demand taking risks appear not only through conscious preparation but, often, also “during the night, like thieves”. In any case, only if a social movement is dedicated to grassroots work, only if a social movement has created channels of communication and political fermentation, only if a social movement has assured its validity and has proved its consistency can become the spark to enable the masses to explode.
Everything else is a recipe for failure, disappointment, loss of time, and, of course, political and individual corruption, i.e. what power and state always create.
As before with PASOK, once again with SYRIZA…
A lot of people, both in Greece and in the rest of Europe, put a lot of hope in the left party Syriza.
We choose to publish this article written for SAC syndikalisternas weekly newspaper Arbetaren, by Spyros Dapergolas, a comrade from Athens.
We think it gives good background on the political landscape of Greece, as well as insights in the left environment.
You´ll find it in swedish here: http://arbetaren.se/artiklar/syriza-vid-maktens-portar/
and we soon publish it in greek as well!
/ international committee of SAC syndikalisterna