Syriza won Greece’s General Election in January. Implementing their radical policies – in particular increasing public investment, opposing austerity measures and restructuring debt – will be fraught with difficulties as Europe’s neoliberals rally to defend their policies. The neoliberal war against the poor and vulnerable has exacerbated inequalities, poverty levels and corruption. Opposition to a Syriza-led government in Greece could manifest itself in the engineering of crises that will affect the chances of Podemos winning in Spain’s General Election this coming December.
Syriza – Greek politics
The Greek General Election resulted in the radical party Syriza winning 36% of the votes, two seats short of an outright majority. As the International Monetary Fund (IMG) and private speculators lined up to blackmail Greece, the Capital Group investment fund has threatened to pull out of Eurobank, one of Greece’s big four banks. Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has appointed Lazard, the US investment bank, to advise on negotiations about Greece’s debt, which amounts to more than 175% of GDP. Yanis describes the country’s relationship to the European Union (EU) as a “debt colony”.The media and other neoliberal commentators are predicting financial meltdown, reporting how folk are desperate, as if they weren’t living in the loan tranche and worrying about the future before 25th January.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is a ‘Tie-less atheist’, proclaimed a sub-editing genius at the Times. I haven’t seen any stereotypical cartoons or headlines along the lines of ‘Beware the Greeks bail-out grief’ or ‘Smashing Plato’, but they’re probably out there. ‘Athens faces financial collapse’ warns the Daily Telegraph. ‘Capital is going to take flight; there will be a run on the banks. Greece is on a collision course with the EU’. It’s scare tactics – part of a fear campaign that has spectacularly failed to frighten or convince the voters. Syriza is calling for the EU and the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) to keep funding Greek banks even if the national debt is subject to renegotiation. Since May 2010 and the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility, savage austerity policies have been imposed as a condition of the bail out loans available to Greece and other European countries. The ECB holds the largest part of Greece’s debt, so asking for renegotiation would involve asking the bank to write down the debt. Germany has offered to send 500 tax collectors to help the Athens government collect taxes from wealthy Greeks. “I have been told that the time to put up or shut up has arrived,” Yanis wrote on his blog. “My plan is to defy such advice.”
People anticipate that a Syriza government will bring real gains for them, not just on the economic front. Certainly there’s German hegemony on the Eurozone front, market opposition from the hated EU/IMG/ECB troika, bail-out conditions and debt roll-back negotiations to contend with – the problems with the economy will not disappear overnight. So how will a Syriza government respond? How will Syriza deal with the plotters and confront the forces of reaction? The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party garnered votes in the election. Speaking from prison, Golden Dawn’s leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos said the result for his party was a “great victory”. There are 4000 migrants held in prison camps in Greece.
Instead of ruling as a minority government, Syriza has formed a disturbing anti-austerity alliance with Anel, which won 5% of the votes. Anel is also called the Independent Greeks, a right-wing party noted for homophobic, anti-semitic and xenophobic pronouncements. Anti-racists have been campaigning to overturn attacks by the previous Samaras government on migrants’ children, demanding that anyone schooled in Greece should get the right to citizenship. What actions are the most pressing? Will policies to help the victims of austerity – the jobless and destitute – take priority over international creditors? Syriza has pledged to rehire 20,000 public service workers who lost their jobs during the years of reuced labour costs and budget deficit measures. The new Cabinet has promised to repeal the regressive university reforms that students were protesting against in November. There have been mass protests to halt the privatisation of the electricity company and the sell-off of its 67% majority stake in the port of Piraeus. Workers at State broadcaster ERT have called a demonstration to overturn its closure and get their jobs back. The biggest recent demos have been on the issue of police violence and repression.
Europe’s political landscape has changed, with the signs of better times ahead. The pursuit of growth, resulting in a bludgeoning chasm between the rich and poor, is not sacrosanct. Britain’s Green Party has described Syriza’s victory as ‘inspirational’. There are alternatives; a different world is possible.
In 2001 Argentina broke their link to the dollar and defaulted on their debts. By the autumn of 2002, Argentina was growing rapidly and by 2003 their economy had made up all the lost ground.
“Greece is turning a page.. leaving behind catastrophic austerity. It is leaving behind the fear and the autocracy. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain. Today there are no winners and losers. Today, Greece’s elite and Greece’s oligarchs were defeated. Our victory is a victory for all the people of Europe who are fighting against austerity that is destroying our common European future.” Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister
When Alexis arrived at his new official residence, he discovered that the previous occupant, former Prime Minister Samaras, had undertaken a thorough removal process. The Samaras household hadn’t left the passwords for Prime Ministerial Twitter and WiFi access: they had even removed all the lightbulbs, soap and toilet rolls.
There were calls for protests against the deal made between Greece and the Euro-group of finance ministers on February 19th. Activists linked to the Indignados movement called one protest, while the anti-capitalist left coalition Antarsya called another.