Roger Silverman author of Defiance: Greece and Europe, comments on the general election results in Greece, announced earlier this week. Roger says… they have been reported as a victory for the “conservative” party New Democracy. True enough, New Democracy won the contest with 39.9% of the votes cast, to the outgoing governing left party SYRIZA’s 31.5% – a result which at first sight appears, if hardly spectacular, convincing enough.
The truth, however, is a little different. For the true winners of this election were those who expressed their revulsion at every one of the parties on offer by staying at home. A colossal 43% of the electorate abstained from voting… in a country where voting is nominally compulsory! So the true statistics of this election are as follows…
None of the above: 43%
New Democracy: 23%
This mass abstention reflects the absolutely justified mood of utter despair that currently grips the Greek population. Against a background of the EU’s savage austerity programme, in the last ten years there has been nowhere on earth so political, so energetic, so determined a mass protest movement. At the high point of this tidal wave, in opinion polls 35% of the population declared their support for “revolution”, and hundreds of thousands were marching on the streets and massing in the public spaces in a united movement of protest, hoisting banners calling for international solidarity throughout Europe. The Greek people’s defiance was shown in fifty general strikes, takeovers of workplaces, prolonged occupations of the public squares, the creation of a new left party promising resistance to the bankers’ demands, six elections culminating in an unprecedented victory for SYRIZA, and above all the magnificent referendum of 2015, when on a high turnout a massive two-thirds of the population voted NO to the bankers’ programme of cuts.
SYRIZA’s prime minister Tsipras thereupon ignored outright the massive mandate of defiance given him by the referendum and scuttled off to negotiate an even more draconic programme which plunged millions of Greeks even deeper into poverty. For an insight into that terrible moment of outright betrayal, read IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST, a review of his former minister Varoufakis’ memoirs.
Overall, the Greek people paid a terrible price for one of the worst economic catastrophes in history. The economy shrank by 25%, unemployment rose to 27% (58% for young people), and hundreds of thousands were forced to emigrate.
Against this background, the prevailing mood of resignation and despair is hardly surprising. After years of general strikes, occupations, protests, and the election of a nominally radical government, what more can the Greek people do? What is surprising is the resilience they still show. The movement is exhausted, but not yet defeated. Support for the fascist party Golden Dawn has slumped and it has failed to gain a single seat. Smaller left parties gained enough support to bridge the gap between the two main parties. SYRIZA is still intact and poised for future resistance.
The Greek working class and youth don’t submit for long! From the independence struggles to create a Greek nation, to the heroic mass underground resistance to Nazi occupation, to the civil war, to the overthrow of the colonels’ regime, they have a proud history. One thing is sure: a new upsurge is coming.
Read Roger Silverman’s book Defiance: Greece and Europe, available directly from:
Read some of the reviews for Roger’s book:
If Europe gets torn apart, it will start at the bottom corner. Greece, the first country in modern times to elect a radical leftwing government, faces economic war from Brussels and a tide of refugees from collapsing states to its east. At this critical moment Roger Silverman’s book views the origins of the Greek crisis using the lens missing from most media coverage: class, class conflict and the problems of a democratic system balanced on deep corruption and oligarchic power. ~ Paul Mason, Economics Editor of Channel 4 News, author of Postcapitalism: A Guide To Our Future and Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere
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In the last 4-5 years, I have been asked many times by friends from Europe and even Latin America to recommend them a book on postwar Greece. Unfortunately, I always had to answer that there is no such book, not at least in the major European languages, and that there is an enormous gap in the international bibliography of modern Greece. Now Roger Silverman’s book not only fills this gap but goes even further, by covering Greece’s recent political and economic turmoil with up-to-date first-hand information. But this is not its only virtue. Silverman prefers to give the floor to the protagonists and actors in these cataclysmic Greek events, leaving the reader free to judge and draw the lessons of this emblematic modern Greek tragedy. It goes without saying that such a book, written not only for specialists but accessible to almost anyone with an interest in the recent Greek crisis, needs to be translated into other languages as soon as possible. ~ Yorgos Mitralias, Athens. Journalist and member of the Greek Debt Truth Commission
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Roger Silverman’s excellent and most accessible book engages with the exciting advances and the devastating setbacks of Greek popular movements facing down the powerful and vindictive forces of international finance over the last five years. His analysis of the real possibilities in the first year of the SYRIZA Government is developed from a much needed popular history of the resistance of the Greek people from the War of Independence in 1821 to the present, and from an appreciation of similar developments across the world today. ~ Paul Mackney, Co-chair, Greece Solidarity Campaign
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Roger Silverman’s book is the only one I have found which answers the fundamental questions I wanted answered about the tragedy of the Greek people. Nothing happens without reasons, but there are few writers who know how far back to go to provide a clear, honest and readable analysis of the corruption and mismanagement which led to a whole country being pauperised. Clearly written and with hair-raising details of the crisis which has brought Europe close to disintegration, this is a book to learn from. ~ Bill Boyle, Editor, DatacenterDynamics
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A ‘must’ read for those who wish to make sense of what’s happening in Europe. Having been brain-washed by the media into thinking of Greece as the ‘bad boy of Europe’, though also aware of the huge historical impact this small country had in forming not only Europe but the world we know today, I started this book with mixed feelings. Silverman’s command of language and easy style are such that I was soon sucked into the tragedy of modern Greece, Well-researched and packed with information, it allows the reader to stop and think, not only about the damage done over the years to a country that was once the cradle of Western democracy, but also about where we in the rest of the world are heading. Although I regard myself as an apolitical animal, Roger’s masterly, albeit disturbing book set me thinking. That’s what a good book, fiction or non-fiction, does. I thoroughly recommend Defiance, Greece and Europe to all who have even a remote interest in what the future has in store for us. – Eddie Nessuno
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A detailed and well articulated account of contemporary Greek history. Stretching from the events of the 19th century to the recent economic cataclysm that shook the EU to its core, this book is a uniquely insightful examination of how capitalist crooks and the IMF plundered the Greek economy and staged a deceitful counter attack against the upsurge of leftist movements that had the potential of transforming Europe. The capitalist class is feeling the heat under their feet, for sure, and are now desperate to ward off and crush any and all revolutionary uprisings. In the case of Greece, they achieved this by ILLEGALLY drowning the country in debt. If you’re looking for a complete, accurate, revised, informative, and credible explanation (update) of the Greek crisis, this is it. Thanks, Roger! – Ernest1994
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I’ve often felt when trying to convince conservatives of the evils of capitalism that my arguments have been tarnished in advance by the climate created by the lazy-if-correct opinions of my peers. Given the conspicuous – much less the hidden – crimes of big business and its political allies, people of a progressive bent have become so complacent in their opposition that self-righteousness has become our default. Reading Roger Silverman’s excitingly current book on the Greek economic fiasco reminded me of the importance of being rigorous even if you’re certain you’re right.
It is interesting to consider whether the book is truth-seeking, versus weakened by bias, given that its socialist agenda is on full display. Unashamedly polemical, it smacks axiomatic that the book would compromise on truth, yet Silverman earns his right to preach by providing a vast knowledge of Greek and European history. I questioned conventional historiography; maybe history should be openly polemical instead of a pretended objectivity serving a tacit personal or vested interest.
The writing is rousing, a fist punching the sky in the solar plexus. You get the voice of an angry man who witnessed something in Greece, defrauded and impoverished by capitalism, which compelled him to speak out. Upton Sinclair comes to mind. There are moments that the impassive way historians are supposed to write can no longer contain Silverman’s pleas for action. He describes the austerity measures lenders forced upon Greece as “a laboratory experiment conducted on the living body of the Greek nation to test out how far it could withstand the trauma of ever more drastic surgical amputation.” He describes quasi-democratic political dynasties as “tinged with the faint afterglow reflected by the yearnings for liberation of generations gone by.” Silverman bucks our contemporary trend of implying rather than stating ethics. He does not leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions; he gave you the facts for a reason. If you want to floor your class enemies with specifics instead of feeling pointlessly smug, right but not knowing why, read this book. – Norman Feliks, Broken Pencil
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Roger Silverman has done us a great service with what he calls a “single straightforward account of Greece’s story; to draw people’s attention to the rich historical background to today’s news”. He tells us, in a plain, passionate and often humorous way, the struggles of the Greek people – initially 700,000, now by means of expansion and population exchange 11,000,000 – since the successful uprising against the Ottoman Empire led to the establishment of modern Greece in the 1820s.
It is a complicated tale. “In the 193 years since its foundation, Greece has had no fewer than186 governments – some of them concurrently”. There is therefore plenty of room for differences of interpretation and Silverman is, in his own words, “frankly partisan”, lacing his description with delightful side comment aphorisms – e.g. describing the monarchy as “that symbol of national humiliation”. The nine-page first chapter covers the turbulent first century with recurrent debt crises, uprisings, wars, territorial expansion, hunger, emigration, depressions, military coups, foreign meddling, an imposed monarchy, popular resistance, battles for democracy and class struggle. In passing, Silverman still manages to let us know that the new young King Alexander died in 1916 after being bitten by a gardener’s pet monkey.
And the story continues: with an influx of 1.4 million Greeks expelled from Asia Minor in the 1920s; a neo-fascist dictatorship in 1936 headed by General Metaxas, ironically best known for saying ‘Oxi’ (No) to Mussolini’s request to send his army into Greece in 1940; repulsion of the consequent Italian invasion; brutal occupation by the Nazis generating one of the biggest mass resistance movements, which was denied the spoils of victory by occupying British and US forces, a period of state McCarthyism with many left-wingers interned or in exile, a resurgence of the left in the mid-1960s, cruelly crushed by a group of Colonels whose incompetent Junta held power from 1967 to 1974, when an ill-planned intervention in Cyprus plus the risen population brought their downfall.
The restoration of democracy and, in particular, the rise of the new social democratic party PASOK from 1980 led to a degree of political stability and something approaching a European standard of living for many citizens, which is associated with preparation for and entry into the European Union. Then in 2010, the international financial crisis found its weakest link in Greece, where debt bail-outs from the Troika (of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank) and failure by all established government parties to find a solution, caused a catastrophic collapse in standard of living affecting all but the richest.
From 2010 a popular resistance far surpassing anything seen anywhere else in Europe in over fifty years grew up in Greece with mass assemblies in the squares, over thirty general strikes and the development of a network of solidarity support in the form of social pharmacies and people’s markets. On this rising tide, Syriza, a relatively unknown left wing coalition of parties, led by Alexis Tsipras – was swept to power with its share of the vote increasing from 4.6% in October 2009 to a triumphant 36.3% in Jan 2015.
The question which dominates the last half of Silverman’s book is what was possible for a far left Greek government, in such a crisis-ridden country with 3% of Europe’s population, generating only around 2% of Europe’s GDP? Unlike some less sophisticated comrades, Silverman is not unsympathetic to Syriza’s dilemma. He recognises that the rise of Syriza helped spark a frisson of hope, similar to Podemos, the Portuguese coalition government, Bernie Sanders in the USA, the election of Jeremy Corbyn. It could be catalytic but was unable to transform the situation on its own.
In 2015, after 4 months of trying to face down the powerful and vindictive forces of EU finance ministers and international finance, Tsipras called a referendum and the Greek people delivered a massive 62% (Oxi) rejection of the terms on offer from the European institutions. Then, to almost everyone’s surprise, Tsipras did a somersault and went back to the ‘institutions’ and ended up signing a new memorandum of cuts in return for a bail-out which was every bit as harsh as the previous two.
Was this forced on Tsipras having assessed the prospects for Greece of holding out, or was it an unnecessary loss of nerve and betrayal of the Greek people? Silverman assesses the real possibilities for the Syriza Government and notes that “the Greek misfortune is that they launched their struggles a little ahead of the rest of us and found themselves facing the enemy alone.” Nevertheless, his main analysis is close to that of the Popular Unity MPs who split from Syriza after what they saw as ‘capitulation’, but failed to reach the 3% threshold for winning MP seats in the September 2015 election, which Syriza won with 35.5% of the votes.
This story is far from over. International solidarity is still vital. As I write, it is reported that Golden Dawn has organised attacks on refugee camps in the Aegean Islands. Greek families are struggling to make ends meet on wages and pensions which have been cut by 30-50%, with unemployment around 25%, and 300,000 Greeks in economic exile. As William Morris said: people “fight and lose the battle and the thing they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out to be not what they meant, and other people have to fight for what they meant under another name.” – Paul Mackney, Co-chair Greece Solidarity Campaign, published in The Chartist