Any interpretation of the Greek Parliamentary Elections of 6 May will find it hard to dispute that there was a clear message for change, a clear message for better crisis management along with a desire to defend democracy and society against the profits of the few.
The spectacular rise of SYRIZA should be seen in the context of the pan-European rise of grassroots political involvement. This rise has been fuelled over the last two years by resistances to the barbaric reduction in living standards, the post-democratic centralization of power; and against those who would attempt to revive national rivalries in an endeavour to obscure who really benefitted from the crisis.
The election results mark a point of a new political changeover in a political landscape that had been essentially unchanged since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974. The austerity policies with their policy of internal devaluation which are undermining the social foundations, exacerbating a pre-existing crisis of representation allowed Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) to break the two party stranglehold on Greek political life.
The message of SYRIZA for a new social contract with a new relationship between state and society seems to have been well received by large groups of Greek society. SYRIZA is continuing to garner support from the groundswell of discontent which has its roots in class based politics.
An analysis of SYRIZA voters bears this out. SYRIZA draws more supporters from public and private sector employees than any other party. It is the first choice among the unemployed, the middle class who have been hard hit by the economic crisis, young people, and women. It is the first choice in the under 55 age bracket with support being particularly strong in urban areas throughout Greece.
SYRIZA’s support from these groups is not an overnight phenomenon; rather it is the result of the political direction of the party, its role in social resistance where it is a prominent defender of social rights.
SYRIZA is a coalition of left-wing forces founded in 2004 in the wake of the anti-globalization movement and of the mobilizations against the neoliberal globalization of the previous period (Genoa, Florence, World and European forums). It functioned as an umbrella organization for a wide range of organizations from the entire spectrum of the Left who agree on the principles of political pluralism and unity in action. The largest component of the Coalition, Synaspismos, arose as a union of communists, socialists, euro-communists and ecologists. It is a party in favour of democracy, social justice and European integration; seeing this as a process enhancing solidarity between the peoples of Europe.
The foundations of SYRIZA lie in the labour movement as well as relatively new social movements such as feminism, ecology and the movements for immigrants’ rights. It is united in its opposition to all forms of neoliberal reforms such as; flexible working relations and the shrinking of the welfare state which has been implemented across Europe over the last 20 years.
The vote for SYRIZA should not be seen as a protest vote. Instead it reflects its continuous presence on the political and social landscape of Greece for many years. Since the outbreak of the crisis its opposition to the Memorandum (measures imposed by the EC, ECB and IMF) has been constant and at it has been the only realistic voice of parliamentary opposition; always maintaining its commitment to social goals. This was clearly seen in SYRIZA’s grassroots participation in the solidarity initiatives that took place in the streets and squares throughout Greece. During this period the inevitable unity of the peoples’ struggle found its political equivalent in the unity of the Left and in SYRIZA’s proposal for a government of the Left.
In the eyes of the general public SYRIZA stands in the vanguard of the struggles against the privatization of the universities, for worker and immigrant rights, and was especially active in the street protests against the brutal policing methods that followed the cold blooded murder by police of the 15 year old student, Alex Grigoropoulos.
This radical heritage of SYRIZA meant it was able to withstand the furious assault unleashed by the ruling political elite and its mainstream media in the pre-election period; an assault that saw its rise linked with the rise of the extreme right and an attempt to portray SYRIZA as a danger to Greece’s European orientation.
In fact what happened in Greece was the emergence of an “extremism of the political center” (as various scholars have called the phenomenon). Many of the mainstream parties adopted the whole authoritarian extreme right-wing agenda, practices and in many cases personnel. They then attempted to terrify and sow social panic in society in order to shift the agenda from the failed economic policy. This intensified in the pre-election period. By doing so, they opened the door to the public discourse on xenophobic and racist ideas thus bringing to prominence the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. This dialogue enabled a legitimization of this formerly marginalized and discredited party acting as a catalyst for them to gain parliamentary representation with nearly 7% of the vote. The electoral success of SYRIZA and the unambiguous defence of social rights and democracy have forced the old established parties to review their position regarding their dangerous accommodation of right-wing views into adopting more moderate positions.
The allegation that characterizes SYRIZA as an anti-European undermining the country’s European perspective does not stand up to scrutiny. Indeed these claims sound preposterous to those familiar with the situation of the Greek Left; for many years SYRIZA has been heavily criticized from other left-wing parties for what they see as excessively pro-European positions.
SYRIZA’s criticism of current European economic policy should not be seen as an anti-European stance, since it is clear that the policies now being applied are the real threat not just to Greece but to Europe. Current policies are sharpening nationalist rivalries in the name of economic competiveness which ultimately endanger the peace and cohesion of Europe. Furthermore, it is the firm position of SYRIZA that socialist transformation can only be achieved through specified coalitions of left-wing forces in Europe. To this end SYRIZA believes that socialism with democracy and freedom can only be achieved by continuous efforts to form grassroots structures that aim political integration. Only this would help eliminate the curse of nationalism that threatens to rise at this time of crisis.
The implementation of the Memorandum in Greece has resulted to a steep reduction of salaries and pensions, an increase in youth unemployment to 50%, unfair and arbitrary taxes, tens of thousands of bankrupted small businesses and an increasing number of homeless. It has resulted in mass privatizations, an insidious worsening of the health and educational systems, the destruction of the welfare state, an overwhelming proliferation of suicides and mal-nourished children, the total failure of the neoliberal model and finally the collapse of society. In Greece, in which this humanitarian crisis takes place, it is necessary to express the radical desire for democracy and the radical demand for a life with dignity for all people throughout Europe. It is time for the message of radical common sense expressed in Greece to spread throughout Europe.
by Vagia Lysikatou and Michael Nikolakakis