New situation, new responsibilities

The left in Greece after the European elections

THE RESULTS of the European Union elections in Greece did not confirm the expectations for a significant rise in votes for the left. The total number of votes between the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA)—a broad coalition between the left reformist party of Synaspismos and organizations of the revolutionary left like DEA (International Workers’ Left)—remained at the same levels with those of the elections of 2004.

The loser of the elections was the right, the Party of New Democracy (ND) of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, who has been in power since 2004.  ND received 32 percent of the votes, losing 10 percent (one million votes) compared to 2004. The resurgence of the other European right in other EU elections was not repeated in Greece.

A portion of the votes that were lost from the right did move toward the extreme right, the racist party of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) which saw its percentage jump from 4 percent to 7 percent. Since the elections, the ND government has adopted basic slogans of the extreme right (“zero tolerance” towards “illegal” immigrants, repressive “law-and-order” policies, etc.) in an attempt to limit its losses in the next national elections—probably during the fall of 2009 or, at the latest, the spring of 2010—when government power will be at stake.

The winner of the elections was PASOK, the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, the social-democratic party of the opposition who surpassed ND by a 4.5 percent point difference. The social democrats appear to have gotten over the crisis they were thrown into as a result of their defeats in 2004 and 2007 and are seen as the favorite to return to power in the next elections. This came as the result of popular anger against the anti-labor policies of Karamanlis. This anger was expressed at the polls as a vote for the immediate departure of the right from the government. But the leadership of PASOK is incapable of delivering the crushing blow to the right. Since the elections and amidst conditions of the present economic crisis, the leader of PASOK, Giorgos Papandreou, talks daily about “realism and responsibility,” in order to persuade mainly the big industrialists and bankers that his party has “matured” enough to return to power. The leadership of PASOK talks about “zero tolerance” toward immigrants and declares openly that the main duty of the next social-democratic government will be a stabilizing plan for the economy, in other words the continuation of the same policies of Karamanlis.

Under these circumstances it was absolutely feasible for the left to achieve a significant political victory in the European elections, but this did not materialize at the ballots. For a country like Greece with a tradition of high participation in the political process, there was an unprecedented low voter turnout. The left failed to convince a significant section of young voters that abstaining from voting is not the best way to express their anger against the system.

The Greek Communist Party received 7 percent, holding on to the same percentage they received in the 2004 election. It is a party that openly condemned the youth rebellion of last December, while their last convention reaffirmed their faith in Stalinism. It is the only mass reformist party in Europe that still maintains that the Moscow trials of the 1930s were defending socialism against the supporters of capitalism and Hitler. After the elections no one in their leadership dared to say that they are satisfied with the results but in reality they are all happy that they avoided being surpassed by SYRIZA, as some earlier opinion polls had indicated.

SYRIZA received 4.7 percent of the vote—a little less than the 5.04 percent of the last national elections. We all have a sense of failure because we could not confirm the perspective that the radical left could become the pole of attraction for the anger against the government of the right and also for the disappointment from the social-democratic opposition. The reasons for this failure are mainly:

1) At the time when the opinion polls gave SYRIZA 15 percent (after the last national election in the fall of 2007), PASOK was immersed in a paralyzing leadership crisis, out of which gradually it emerged. Once more (especially in countries with a strong two-party system tradition) it was proven that the social-democratic parties are more resilient organisms than suggested by superficial media analyses; and 2) After the December rebellion and the rabid attack that followed by the system against SYRIZA, the leadership of Synaspismos made a turn toward “political realism.” The zigzagging, as always, proved to be a disastrous tactic: the conservative voters never forgot SYRIZA’s identification with the December rebellion while the radical voters, especially the youth, were quite unhappy with the later more moderate direction.

In order to understand the results of the elections in Greece, we have to understand two major factors that determine the developments in Greece today.

The first factor was the rebellion of December. The left was not able to succeed in maintaining the mass demonstrations and the daily clashes with the police in the streets through a strike wave fighting for important victories for the workers and the youth. The social-democratic leadership of the unions suspended all the mobilizations, providing the government with the opportunity to recover. December has stayed in people’s minds as an explosion of militancy expressed mainly through the clashes with the cops in the streets, that is, within the anarchist-antiauthoritarian political tradition.

The second factor is the consequences of the global economic crisis of capitalism. The European elections took place at a time when Greek bosses began layoffs in the factories, reducing wages, and demanding more and more flexible work relations. Under these conditions, demands such as stopping layoffs, protecting wages, and mass hiring in social services are very important. All of those demands are part of the political program of SYRIZA. But this is not sufficient. In an economic crisis the workers need concrete struggles through which, gradually, they can rebuild a sense of self-confidence that can counterpose to the climate of desperation the belief that with struggle workers can defend themselves and their class. SYRIZA couldn’t organize such struggles. This helps explain the expression of popular anger through the election, with the vote for the social democrats who promised an easy overturn of Karamanlis and the management of the crisis with a human face.

In the aftermath of the election a serious debate has started within the ranks of SYRIZA. The right wing of Synaspismos proposes that its party abandon SYRIZA, which it considers an ultra-left coalition, and turn to more “responsible” politics in an alliance with the Environmentalists-Greens. But the vast majority of the SYRIZA supporters at the grass-roots level, including the majority of the members of Synaspismos, are moving in the opposite direction. They consider SYRIZA as the most suitable instrument in the counteroffensive of the left. They declare that a political turn indeed is necessary but they mean a turn toward more radical politics, with a clearly defined left perspective. The third national conference of SYRIZA, which takes place this coming October, will take on all these issues and is awaited with great anticipation by everybody, including the major corporate media.

In the European elections, a “coalition” of organizations from the extreme left (ANTARSYA) also took part. It was the product of welding together two “fronts” and a few other organizations, among them the Greek section of the Socialist Workers Party (SEK). They received around 22,000 votes, about 0.47 percent. The coalescing of these organizations didn’t bring any increase in support, instead it was another clear electoral failure.

The next few months will be of major interest. The government of Karamanlis is on its deathbed. The political crisis is combined with the economic crisis of the system. The social democrats who are coming to power will have no grace period. Everything will be determined by the level of struggle that can be supported by the strength of the workers and the youth, but also by our success in building through these struggles the radical left needed to fight the challenges of the capitalist crisis.


Issue #76

March 2011

Revolt in the Middle East: Another world is possible

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