The Greek Elections and the Strategic Debates within the Left
On September 21, Alexis Tsipras returned as prime minister, supported by a coalition between his party and the right-wing nationalist Anel party. It has been only two months since the massive victory of the “NO“ vote in the referendum on the third memorandum. This government, which assumed power as a left coalition, and ended up accepting the toughest structural adjustment plan yet imposed by foreign creditors, is now being given a "second opportunity". Syriza represented the “lesser evil” in the elections against the historical parties of New Democracy and Pasok, who are considered to be the authors of the tragedy that the Greek people are now living.
September 25, 2015
Photo credit: La Izquierda Diario
The manoeuvre by Tsipras of resigning from government and calling for new elections was risky but in the short term, at least, it proved effective. After signing the third memorandum, the prime minister had lost his parliamentary majority and was at the mercy of a growing opposition. This made for an unstable political situation that would have limited his ability to carry out the austerity plan.
The government seems to have overcome this problem. With his victory in the elections last Sunday and the support of his old “partners” from Anel, Tsipras was able to reach a slight parliamentary majority of 155 out of 300 representatives. It is smaller than the number of representatives he had in January but enough to govern. In the context of a political and economic crisis that spelled the end of the PASOK-New Democracy two-party system, this victory seems to have given him some breathing room. Although the four years of “stable government” that Tsipras promises sounds like science fiction.
Internally, the elections gave Syriza a bonus: they were not only able to get rid of the Left Platform from within Syriza, but also were able expel them from parliament. The 25 dissident representatives from Syriza, who with other left groups made up Popular Unity, were not able to surpass the necessary 3% of the vote and did not win any seat in parliament.
Despite the fragmentation, almost 90% of the 300 representatives in parliament today now belong to parties that have applied austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors (EU, IMF and ECB). The ones outside this “pro-memorandum” consensus are, on the left, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and, on the right, the pro-Nazi Golden Dawn.
The radical left, grouped in Antarsya-EEK (to whom the FT-CI called for a vote despite our political differences) obtained a modest amount of votes.
The leaders of the European Union greeted Tsipras’ victory with relief, although they would have preferred PASOK or To Potami to be Syriza’s partner in government or even a government of “national unity” with New Democracy, rather than Anel. They may have the chance to see their desire accomplished in the next few months. There was no time for celebrations. They required Tsipras to get to work immediately to comply with the many commitments of the third bailout.
Before the end of the year, Syriza’s new government will have to win parliamentary approval of 80% of the measures included in the third memorandum. In order to receive the 25,000 million euros needed for viable banks to regain liquidity, the government has to reach a deal with the creditors on reform of the banking sector. Some (counter) reforms are expected to begin as soon as October, such us raising the VAT, taxing farmers, lowering pensions, cutting public spending, casualizing job contracts and limiting collective bargaining, reducing the number of public employees and putting in place a harsh program of privatizations closely supervised by the EU that will designate the resulting revenue to the payback of the debt.
Tsipras seems to have kept some modest goals for himself, such as renegotiating some aspects of the memorandum—at the least, receiving a deferral on the deadline for repayment, at most obtaining the cancellation of part of the debt. He will likely try to leverage the IMF’s position in July, when the institution backed a reduction of the debt to sustainable levels. But as the former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis acknowledged, any concession will be extremely difficult to win from the Troika.
Is it right to say, as some have asserted, that Tsipras has achieved a pyrrhic victory that will turn into the opposite as soon as he begins to put the austerity measures into place? Or will demoralization and resignation dominate in the coming term?
This remains to be seen. It will depend, above all, on the class struggle and whether we see the emergence of a political alternative— a working-class, revolutionary left that puts forward a solution for all the oppressed, against both the government’s austerity measures and the catastrophe of a “Grexit”.
The conclusions that workers, youth, and the exploited draw from the “left reformism” in power will likely have long-term consequences, not only in Europe but also internationally. It brings back to the table (and makes ever more concrete) the debate around strategy within the left.
With its capitulation to austerity, Tsipras became a sort of Mitterrand of the 21st Century. The difference with the French Socialist Party leader is that it took two years from the time Mitterrand assumed power in 1981 to make the neoliberal shift and change social-democracy into “social liberalism”. Tsipras took the same path in record time. It only took the leader of Syriza a few months.
In Spain, Pablo Iglesias is following the same path. Podemos is still supporting Tsipras and is preparing to become a “governable left” itself, ready to enter into deals with the mainstream parties like the PSOE.
The Left Platform of Syriza, now called Popular Unity, did not became an alternative. One of its leaders, Panagiotis Sotiris, says that this was due to various factors. He claims that they did not correctly read the real meaning of the "NO" vote in the referendum as a vote of “resistance” but already resigned to the austerity measures. They mechanically assumed their parliamentary weight would equal electoral success. They did not appeal to those, who out of frustration, did not turn out to vote. They were seen as a variant of Syriza and not as something new. They did not make a self-criticism for participating as a Left Platform during the first period of Syriza’s government. Furthermore, they were sectarian and bureaucratic.
There might be something true in this combination. However, this criticism does not go to the root of Popular Unity’s failure. They demonstrated themselves to be incapable of offering an exit to the crisis and they did not have any important weight in meaningful sectors or movements to confront Tsipras capitulation. Moreover, their strategy was limited to building a parliamentary left and a “national capitalist” program centered around an exit from the Eurozone and a return to the drachma, which offered no progressive solutions for the workers and the exploited.
The Greek experience confirms that without a revolutionary left rooted in class struggle (and not in bourgeois parliaments), that is able to mobilize the strength of the workers, the youth and the oppressed, it is impossible to defeat the offensive of capital and achieve a real government of the workers.
This article is a translation of an article originally published in La Izquierda Diario in Spanish on September 23, 2015.
Translated by: Gloria Grinberg, Juan Cruz Ferre