Greece’s elections, SYRIZA, and the austerity battles ahead

As we go to press, all eyes are on Europe for Greece’s election on June 17. The possibility that SYRIZA, the “Coalition of the Radical Left” could form government and inspire even greater anti-austerity struggles in Greece and across Europe has governments worried.

In the first election on May 6, the Greek people punished the major parties, PASOK (Greece’s Labor party) and the conservative New Democracy, for forcing massive cuts and poverty conditions on the population.

SYRIZA won 14.5 per cent in the elections. Their popularity surged after they refused to enter into coalition with parties that accept the austerity terms of the latest €130 billion bailout. The inability to form government means Greeks will head to the ballot box again. Some polls show SYRIZA in first place for this election with 30-35 per cent of the vote.

Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA’s leader, has accused the EU and German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “playing poker with European people’s lives”. He called the austerity programme “barbarous” and a “disease”. SYRIZA promises a suspension of monthly interest payments, a delay to the next €11 billion of cuts, a reversal of cuts to the minimum wage and the restoration of collective bargaining rights for unions.

They are the electoral beneficiary of a deep radicalisation in the Greek working clas, that has followed the immense wave of strikes and occupations since 2009.

But SYRIZA’s entry into government will not solve the growing crisis. SYRIZA is a left reformist, not an anti-capitalist, party. It is a coalition in which the dominant force is a Eurocommunist grouping called Synaspismos, which makes up 85 per cent of the party. Synaspismos was a parliamentary-oriented split from the Communist Party in 1968. The other 15 per cent is made up of Maoist and Trotskyist groups.

SYRIZA argues that the crisis is not systemic to capitalism, but is the result of corruption, greedy bankers and “casino capitalism”. Rather than challenge the underlying structures of the Eurozone and capitalism itself, SYRIZA thinks that getting the “right people” elected with the right policies can fix things. They are against a unilateral default on Greek debt. They want a moratorium on repaying the debt for three or five years, arguing this will give the Greek economy time to recover. This means a renegotiation, rather than cancellation, of the debt.

If SYRIZA wins the Greek elections - and socialists are hoping they do - they will come under immense pressure from the European and Greek ruling class

They also believe that this can be done without leaving the Eurozone. But arguing against austerity and keeping Greece inside the Eurozone are seriously contradictory aims. The EU has neo-liberal policies hard-wired into its framework and is dominated by Germany, which is committed to imposing austerity.

Rather than appealing to the working class to spread the strikes and workplace occupations, Tsipras sent a letter to the European Central Bank, requesting it rethink the austerity policies so that, “social stability and cohesion in Greece, and the stability of the whole Eurozone, is not to be threatened”. SYRIZA may undermine the working class resistance if it takes government and argues for “stability” while negotiations take place.

If SYRIZA wins the election—and socialists are hoping they do—they are going to come under incredible pressure. If the ruling class in Greece, and across Europe cannot co-opt them, they will try to smash them. There are worrying signs that sections of the police have already made connections with the rising fascist party, Golden Dawn.

In periods of heightened crisis parliament becomes a side-show to the real battles—the class struggle on the streets and in the workplaces. Whatever the results of the election, the key to beating austerity is in raising the level of working class resistance.

Erima Dall


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