Greece will hold early national elections on Jan. 25 following the failure of the conservative-led coalition government’s candidate for the presidential post, Stavros Dimas, to get the 180 votes needed to win out of 300.
The Greek constitution now requires parliament to be dissolved and the New Democracy government of Antonio Samaras has fallen after two and a half years of its four year term.
The Athens’ stock market suffered a sharp fall of 11% on the announcement of the parliamentary vote but recovered fairly quickly. The news of the forthcoming election caused barely a ripple in the wider Eurozone markets last Monday with the FTSE finishing up 0.36% and the German DAX up 0.05% .
This wasn’t the case two years ago when the Greek elections took place amidst the possibility of a Grexit from the Eurozone and the prospect of financial meltdown of the Euro bond markets. Things are somewhat different now but the Greek working class is still bearing the brunt of the bailout deal imposed by the EU.
More than one in four Greeks are still unemployed while youth unemployment is still at a staggering 50%. Those who can emigrate have done so but Greece’s economy and society have been devastated by the capitalist crisis and remains mired in depression. The living standards of the average Greek household have fallen by 40% as social services have disintegrated due to draconian spending cuts and redundancies that have been imposed by the government. This includes the sacking of 140,000 civil servants that, in Greece, includes teachers.
So what is the difference now? Firstly, from the capitalist viewpoint, the austerity programme imposed on Greece by the Troika has been a smashing success. Greece no longer runs a government deficit and is in surplus so doesn’t have to seek further bailout loans from the Troika.
Moreover the economy has undergone a meagre revival with positive growth for the first time in five years with forecasts for continued growth in 2015 . So Greece appears to have risen, slightly, from pits of depression to a modicum of growth and financial stability but this is cold comfort for the average Greek as poverty and hunger stalk the cities and countryside.
Europe’s most left wing party?
The other major change from 2012 is the alternative posed by the main opposition party Syriza.
In 2012 Syriza had a 40 point programme that included some very radical demands. This included such measures as:
- Raise income tax to 75% for all incomes over 500,000 euros.
- Increase taxes on big companies to that of the European average.
- Combat the banks’ secret [measures] and the flight of capital abroad
- Raise minimum salary to the pre-cut level, 750 euros per month.
- Use buildings of the government, banks and the Church for the homeless
- Nationalization/socialization of banks, and their integration into a public banking system under social and workers’ control, in order to serve developmental purposes. The scandalous recapitalization of the banks must stop immediately.
- Nationalization of all public enterprises of strategic importance that have been privatized so far. Administration of public enterprises based on transparency, social control, and democratic planning. Support for the provision of Public Goods.
- Abolition of privileges for parliamentary deputies. Removal of special juridical protection for ministers and permission for the courts to proceed against members of the government.
- Demilitarisation of the Coast Guard and anti-insurrectional special troops. Prohibition for police to wear masks or use fire arms during demonstrations. Change training courses for police so as to underline social themes such as immigration, drugs and social factors.
In relation to the debt burden Syriza described it in the following terms:
“The national debt is first and foremost a product of class relations, and is inhumane in its very essence. It is produced by the tax evasion of the wealthy, the looting of public funds, and the exorbitant procurement of military weapons and equipment.”
They proposed a moratorium on debt servicing and negotiations for debt cancellation, with provisions for the protection of social insurance funds for small savers to be pursued by exploiting any available means, such as audit control and suspension of payments.
This was perhaps the most left wing programme of any major political party in Europe at the time. No wonder the ruling class across Europe took fright at the prospect of a Syriza government. The programme stopped short of calling for a socialist society but elements of it posed a severe challenge to the system and to the capitalist state and could have galvanized working class resistance to Troika blackmail; especially if it had been linked to an appeal across the Eurozone for solidarity with the Greek workers .
If a week is a long time in politics two years is an eternity because this programme has all but disappeared as Syriza has progressively travelled to the right.
A Meeting of Minds
In October the leader of Syriza Alexis Tsipras met with Pope Francis in what party officials called “a meeting of minds”. This must have been a strange mind merge because Tsipras is an avowed atheist. Nevertheless the Pontiff joined with him in bewailing the unjust suffering of the Greek people under the harsh blows of austerity and economic depression. The Vatican meeting was part of a carefully choreographed charm offensive by Tsipras to convince the elites that Syriza isn’t really that frightening after all.
Tsipras is the doyen of the European left at the moment and his party, in a September poll, had a lead of 11% over New Democracy and Syriza members are confident that they can challenge for power..
Why then have the financial markets been so placid on the prospect of Syriza, once described as the Marxist left, coming to power? The reason is rather obvious because Syriza’s programme has been shorn of its most radical fringes.
No longer is Tsipras promising to renounce the EU bail-out agreement as he now wants to renegotiate the terms of the payback. He also intends to do without the final €15 billion EU loan in March 2015 and follow Portugal’s lead of finishing the IMF programme early.
Syriza is now planning a € 14 billion tax-and-spend programme. This was picked up on by Paul Mason of Channel 4 News:
“….in the past two years Syriza has professionalised, mounted a fairly consistently slick performance as the official parliamentary opposition, and moderated its demands. Instead of cancelling the debts to the EU and IMF, it wants to negotiate half of them away. It is pledged to something George Osborne will only achieve in 2018 – a balanced budget.
So even as the symbolism of moderate Marxism is plastered all over Syriza, in reality its programme for Greece is mainstream Keynesian economics.””
Syriza are putting forward some anti-austerity proposals including restoring the minimum monthly salary to €750, cracking down on tax evasion, creating 300,000 new jobs and restoring Christmas bonuses for pensioners. Tsipras is facing both ways with this programme as the proposals for punitive taxes on the wealthy and big business have been ditched and in fact Syriza is even considering reducing the corporate tax rate from 26% to 20%!
These limited proposals could well gain working class support for Syriza but they are not being met with much enthusiasm by the elites.
German finance minister Wolfgang Shaube warned Greece that it had to stick to the austerity programme of the Samaras government and that there was “no alternative” to what he called “reform” (more austerity cuts and wage reduction to make Geek capitalism more competitive). On the news of the fall of the Samaras government the IMF have temporarily suspended financial aid to Greece before negotiations begin in early 2015 with its replacement.
One reason for the intransigence of the Troika is the size of the Greek debt which remains at 175% of GDP despite “restructuring” in 2012. They demand that it be reduced to 120% by the end of the decade so the idea that Tsipras can have a Keynsian style deficit financing programme is pure moonshine given the crushing weight of public debt in Greece.
Were Syriza to win the election they would come under enormous and immediate pressure to continue with the stipulations of the Troika who fear the potential election of any government, even one with only a lukewarm alternative anti-austerity plan, as it would threaten to derail the austerity offensive in other parts of Europe. Spain has an election pending in 2015 as well and the populous Podemos party, who make similar anti-austerity noises as Syriza, could challenge the reactionary Rajoy government for power. A Syriza victory could be a template for other movements elsewhere and politically destabilise the Eurozone.
No middle way
Despite the limitations of the original Syriza programme it promised a platform to rally working class support and pose a challenge to the capitalist class, not just in Greece, but across Europe to the depredations of the Troika.
The current stance of Syriza is marked by a major turn to the right with the dilution of its programme and adaptation to the existing structures of the capitalist Eurozone It is also fraught with danger for the working class who will support Syriza in the election. Millions of workers will vote for them in the hope that it will mean a reversal of the austerity offensive in Greece. This support may well be misplaced as Syriza will face a dilemma.
The mistake of Syriza is in believing that there is a middle way out of the crisis through an alternative to austerity within the confines of the present economic system. Hence their conversion from a broadly left wing programme to a much milder less radical one. Tsipras seems to think that the Troika will be impressed by the reasonableness of his party’s proposals and will engage in meaningful negotiations.
Should Syriza win the election the honeymoon will be short lived. The Troika will demand its pound of flesh and should Syriza refuse the heat will be turned on the Greek nation, by the markets as much as the Troika. In these highly pressurised conditions Tsipras will be caught between a rock and a hard place. Either call on the Greek masses to resist the blackmail of the Troika or implement their demands for further “reforms”.
Given the rapid evolution of Syriza to the right the second outcome is far more likely and they may end up doing the dirty work instead of the discredited New Democracy although messy negotiations with the Troika could spin out over 2015.This means that a Grexit from the Eurozone won’t happen in 2015 and the agony for the working class will continue.
A shift to the left?
Given Syriza is a new political formation with divergent currents there are tensions within it and a left wing would quickly crystallise that would oppose a sell out to the Troika. Tsipras has a background close to the Euro communist tradition that supports reformism within capitalism but has been opposed within the party by elements of the left in his efforts to put forward more right wing Syriza candidates
An election of a Syriza government could spark a renewed movement of the working class from below. What would be the response of a Syriza government to a new wave of mass demonstrations and strikes? The New Democracy government met such movements with the riot police and state repression but a similar response by a Syriza government could provoke an internal crisis within the party as a left wing articulates working class anger and frustration.
So the election of a Syriza government could open the door for the working class to press forward with their own demands and it is unclear what the ramifications would be. Polls continue to show that Syriza’s popularity isn’t waning and workers are looking towards the party as a real alternative to capitalist misery. Tremendous pressure will be put on Greece in the run up to the election but, at the moment ,the Greek working class appears to be standing firmly behind Syriza.
We would call on workers in Greece to vote for Syriza given there is no viable alternative of a mass party with a socialist programme but they should do so without illusions that it offers a way out of the crisis. In this sense we support Syriza’s limited commitments against austerity but warn workers that it barely scratches the surface of the economic problems facing the working class.
- End the blackmail of the Troika!
- Repudiate the debt
- For the return to the founding programme of Syriza
- Build an all European movement against austerity
- For a socialist Greece and a socialist Europe