Spanish and Greek elections have seen the collapse of the once radical parties Podemos and Syriza. The results shows that the parliamentary road to change is a dead end for the radical left.
Podemos in Spain was decimated at regional and municipal elections in May. It lost all its councillors in Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Tenerife, Burgos, Valladolid, Vigo and Coruna. Podemos’ senior coalition partner, the Labor party-type PSOE, also suffered heavy losses. PSOE has called a snap general election in July to try and hold on to power.
In Greece, the left reformist party Syriza suffered humiliation, reduced to 20 per cent of the vote in May’s national election. The right-wing New Democracy party has consolidated control of government.
The failure of Syriza
Syriza won the 2015 Greek election on an anti-austerity platform, sending shock-waves around Europe and the world.
It seemed a new radical left party had pushed aside PASOK, the equivalent of the Labor Party. PASOK was decimated after supporting austerity programs mandated by the “Troika”—the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Troika had lent Greece money to bail out its banks when they faced collapse as a result of the global financial crisis—but workers had to foot the bill.
Syriza was carried into power by an immense wave of anti-austerity struggle between 2009 and 2014 which included 32 general strikes.
It leader Alexis Tsipras told celebrating supporters on election night:
“You are an example of history which is changing… Your mandate is undoubtedly cancelling the bailouts of austerity and destruction.”
But these hopes have been shattered. Within months, Syriza was implementing its own austerity measures, attacks on workers and racist border controls.
Syriza tried to re-negotiate with the Troika. But it found they had no interest in allowing it to abandon austerity and were determined to punish Syriza to send a message to all those hoping to end austerity measures. Syriza announced a referendum on their demand for more cuts and 61 per cent voted “Oxi”, no to austerity.
But instead of using this mandate to defy the Troika Syriza accepted further austerity. They increased the retirement age and health charges and cut public services like schools. Four years later in 2019 they lost government.
This allowed the right-wing New Democracy to take power. They look set to win outright majority government in the next round of voting on 25 June.
Podemos has its origins in the massive rebellion of the 15M movement in Spain in 2011 and 2012. Anger at austerity and evictions erupted into a powerful protest movement of the “indignant” that occupied public squares.
Podemos (meaning “We Can”) was launched in 2014. Its aim was to channel the anger on the streets into parliament, promising to “Turn indignation into political change”.
Initially it hoped to replace the mainstream Spanish social democratic party, PSOE. Podemos won control of many important local administrations including Madrid and Barcelona. But when its vote faltered and hopes of power in its own right faded, it joined a coalition government as junior partner to the PSOE in 2019.
The results have been catastrophic. Spain’s coalition government is pouring money into the military while ordinary people suffer from a cost of living crisis.
In June 2022 Spain hosted the NATO summit and agreed to massively increase its defence budget. Spain has sent military aid to the bloodbath in Ukraine and increased troop deployments in Eastern Europe.
The left’s failures are opening the door to the far right. The fascist Vox party doubled its votes compared to the 2019 municipal elections and is now represented in all of Spain’s regional parliaments.
The failure of Syriza and Podemos shows it is not possible to win serious change through parliament. The inspiring struggles in the streets and workplaces that followed the global financial crisis show the way to build the power that can win—by fighting outside parliament, not by sitting inside it.
These struggles continue. Immediately before the recent election in Greece there was enormous anger at the right-wing government following a huge train crash caused by privatisation. “Almost 30 per cent of the Greek population was involved in strikes,” Petros Constantinou from the Greek SEK, Solidarity’s sister organisation, said.
“This led to a general strike on 8 March. But Syriza didn’t escalate the struggle, it tried to stop it. It opposed demands to renationalise the railway. All these people are still angry, but there is no visible alternative to them.”
It is strike movements and working class resistance that hold the hope for change. We need socialist organisation that focuses on building struggle to confront the economic devastation, war and climate crisis spawned by the system. If the radical left doesn’t give a lead it will be the far right that makes the political running.
By Adam Adelpour