Some observations about the recent election in Greece.
First, I am hesitant base any general assessment of Western politics on domestic Greek politics, which is still very much in the mode of mid-twentieth century models of Left and Right. Greek’s communists are Old Leftists, not New Leftists. Their fascists, Golden Dawn, are classical fascists. And their anarchists are “black and red” anarchists, not “pink and green” anarchists of the kind found in Western Europe and North America. Still, this model of the radical left and populist right coming together to oppose the transnational neoliberal ruling class is the model I have pushed for since the late 1990s.
Syriza’s election is rather extraordinary.
“This is the first time since the Spanish revolution of 1936 that a left party wins general elections in Europe. In this weekend’s national elections in Greece the leftist SYRIZA took 149 out of 300 seats and will now form a coalition government with a small right-wing anti-austerity party to run the country.”
From the late 70s until the economic crisis of 2007-2008, Greece essentially had a standard brand two-party system with a center-right and a center-left party. However, Syriza (which means “coalition of the radical left”) has emerged now not only to become the largest party in parliament but has marginalized and replaced the center-left party, and rendering it to minor party status. It is comparable to what would happen if a coalition of the far left third parties in the US replaced the Democrats and held half of the seats in Congress.
“After seven years of neoliberal overkill the Greek people overthrew the two-party regime that has been governing the country for the past 40 years with socially catastrophic results. The populist-right New Democracy (ND) party took 27,8% and the ex-socialist (now turned neoliberal) PASOK received a petty 4,6% of the votes. SYRIZA has increased its electoral base by 10% since the 2012 elections, by amassing the votes of the underclasses and the violently proletarianized lower middle class.”
The Greek working class has always been more proletarianized than the working classes of Western Europe and, especially, the “working middle class” of the United States. However, the Western working classes are undergoing a process of reproletarianization, particularly the American working middle class.
The Greeks have voted for SYRIZA in order to be able to breathe, but deeper aspirations for freedom, social justice and radical democracy are very high.
Welcome to Greece.
This is the first time since the Spanish revolution of 1936 that a left party wins general elections in Europe. In this weekend’s national elections in Greece the leftist SYRIZA took 149 out of 300 seats and will now form a coalition government with a small right-wing anti-austerity party to run the country.
After seven years of neoliberal overkill the Greek people overthrew the two-party regime that has been governing the country for the past 40 years with socially catastrophic results. The populist-right New Democracy (ND) party took 27,8% and the ex-socialist (now turned neoliberal) PASOK received a petty 4,6% of the votes. SYRIZA has increased its electoral base by 10% since the 2012 elections, by amassing the votes of the underclasses and the violently proletarianized lower middle class.
Change of course for a whole society
SYRIZA is the outcome of a 15 year collaboration between divergent political groups within the fragmented Greek left, which started at the times of the alter-globalization movement.
It climbed from 4% to 27% in the 2012 elections, when it managed to represent the social dynamics of the massive social movements, which at that time shook the country and overthrew the previous PASOK government. As movements failed to provide tangible alternatives and the next ND-PASOK coalition government pushed harder on the neoliberal restructuring and its extreme right political agenda, the oppressed strata of Greek society again bestowed their hopes in representative politics.
In this context, SYRIZA has won yesterday’s elections by forging a social alliance on two specific proposals: (1) a social salvation plan to ameliorate the consequences of the neoliberal onslaught on the lower classes, and (2) a plan to re-negotiate the Greek public debt with the EU and the IMF, in order to make it sustainable. Although this moderate political program does not sound leftist, it constitutes a radical change of course from the neoliberal orthodoxy, which has been cemented in both the EU and global institutions, and gives hope not only for Greece but also for wider power shifts in the European Union.
Popular power on the surge
Strange as it seems, the rise of SYRIZA is the result of two years of decline in the Greek social movements. Yet these elections may signal the ignition of a new and stronger round of social struggles in Greece and beyond. The power of representation to passivize voters and stabilize the political system has lost ground. The poor have voted for SYRIZA in order to be able to breathe, but deeper aspirations for freedom, social justice and radical democracy are very high.
The youth, the precariat and the jobless form large and dynamic social groups that will not stay content with moderate social democratic politics. After too many years of suppression and amassing of movements’ power, militants from the grassroots are now mature enough to gain every inch of ground from the state and the Greek oligarchy and fight back from better positions. Social antagonism in Greece is bound to intensify for the right reasons.
Athens calling, echoes spread
The timing for a rise of popular power from below in Greece is better than ever, but its call now echoes throughout most of Europe. Apart from Podemos, Spain is a melting pot of grassroots alternatives and movements’ experiments with representative politics. Politicization at the social base also gives rise to strong leftist or left-populist parties in Ireland, Scotland and in Eastern Europe. Social mobilization in Italy and France rejuvenates. The European movements are more networked than ever before.
In addition, the peoples of the European periphery face similar social conditions due to years of neoliberal austerity and plunder. The victory of the Greek left echoes to them as a hope for radical changes in their own countries. If the European neoliberal elite attempts to crush Greece under hardline austerity, war will be brought home. An alternative Europe beyond the existing neoliberal structures of the European Union is indeed possible. Its future is vested in our hands. Now is the time to build our counter-attack.
Antonis Broumas is a technology lawyer and independent researcher focusing on the interaction between law, technology and society. He is currently working on his PhD at the University of Westminster on intellectual commons and the law. Antonis is a militant in grassroots movements promoting social autonomy and the commons.
For a more in-depth analysis, read last year’s essay by Antonis Broumas and Theodoros Karyotis, ‘SYRIZA rising: what’s next for the movements in Greece?‘