by Yorgos Mitralias
The recent election results in Greece have been heralded as a victory for the “conservative” party. True enough, New Democracy won the contest with 39.9% of the votes cast, to the outgoing governing left party SYRIZA’s 31.5%. But the true winners 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%, SYRIZA: 18%.
This mass abstention reflects the despair that currently grips the population. In the last ten years there has been nowhere on earth so determined a mass protest movement. Hundreds of thousands were marching on the streets, massing in the public spaces, hoisting banners in multiple European languages calling for international solidarity. In opinion polls, 35% of the population declared their support for “revolution”. Their defiance was shown in fifty general strikes, takeovers of workplaces, prolonged occupations of the public squares, the election of a new left party promising resistance to the bankers’ demands, 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 this mandate of defiance and scuttled off to negotiate an even more draconic programme which plunged millions of Greeks even deeper into poverty. 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 despair is hardly surprising. And yet what is surprising is the resilience they still show. The Greek working class and youth don’t submit for long! From the independence struggles to create a Greek nation, to the heroic 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. Veteran Greek socialist activist YORGOS MITRALIAS reports from Athens…
Almost unanimously, the international media and the leaders of the main Greek parties are celebrating the result of the recent Greek election as a welcome “return to normality” for a country whose crisis has hit the headlines over the last decade. This is because the combined votes for New Democracy (39.9%) and SYRIZA (31.4%), adding up to an overwhelming 71.3%, seem to bring a stable two-party system back into play, following a chaotic interlude during which the mass of the population abandoned what were then the traditional parties in favour of one extreme or another.
Furthermore, what better proof could there be of this return to “normality” than the eclipse of the fascist party Golden Dawn? Does this not mark the end of this period of unrest and agitation?
So is this “a return to normality”? Yes, for sure, but only superficially. And primarily because the historic crisis has given birth to a Greece that is the splitting image of the German Weimar Republic, which is here to stay, regardless of the constant exorcisms and pious incantations of those who have cultivated it.
Above all, the Greek public debt, which everyone agrees is “the mother of all ills”, has not disappeared. It continues to strangle, corrupt and blackmail the country to the point where those who run it (whether of the right or the left) do nothing to tackle the root of the problem. They obstinately refuse to audit this debt with a view to cancelling the bigger part of it, which is clearly illegitimate.
Yes, effectively the menace of Golden Dawn appears to have disappeared, along with the other racist and neo-fascist groups who appear too stupid and clownish to be taken seriously. However, it would be naive to draw the conclusion that the Greek far right has disappeared at the stroke of a wand. In reality, they are still present and dangerous, perhaps just less visible than recently because they are now hidden as an important component within New Democracy. This extreme right wing within ND is not limited to personalities like Adonis Georgiadis or Makis Voridis, already important ministers of the new Mitsotakis government, who have such a record of fascist and racial violence that they would even be unwelcome in the home of characters like Salvini, Le Pen or Orban. The problem is much broader than that, encompassing thousands of cadres and activists within this party. Many have already shown themselves to have attitudes that would sit comfortably even within Golden Dawn. The crucial question is if, when and how this right wing extremism will break out into the open and operate as an autonomous faction influencing the politics of the country.
A starting point in answering this question is to look at Spain’s Popular Party, which has been “host” to most of Spain’s extreme right since the end of Francoism. While “normality” continued in Spanish politics, this “accommodation” could carry on almost indefinitely. But everything changed when the old PP was unable to cope with a major crisis, like the struggle of the Catalan people for independence. The neo-Franco and hard right current which had been almost dormant inside the PP suddenly came into its own, and at the same time gave a boost to Vox, a tiny party which suddenly saw its electoral results go from under 0.5% to about 10%.
So, is a Greek version of Vox possible? The depth of the on-going historical crisis, the demoralisation of the population caused by the new right-wing government, the virtually insoluble problems (including so-called “national” problems such as relations with neighbouring countries and immigrants)… all this will certainly test the fragile unity of the party. Thus the presence of a strong far right movement within the ND is a ticking time-bomb. Even leaving aside the global context of a surge in support for aggressive parties of the far right, all these developments tend to promote politics to the right of mainstream conservatism. Therefore a Greek Vox is not just possible but probable.
Clearly a lot depends on the main opposition party. But SYRIZA (the coalition of the radical left) is no longer radical. According to the first post-electoral speeches of its president Alexander Tsipras, it is preparing to fully reorganise itself from the base in response to two directions from its leadership: first, to bridge the gap that separates its millions of voters from its members, who number no more than a few thousand; and then to carry out his already declared intention of steering towards the social democracy.
There is no doubt that Tsipras will undertake the transformation of SYRIZA, or in effect the foundation of a new party; but this is a major task. Success will take time and is not guaranteed in advance. Meanwhile, SYRIZA remains an electoral party without any organised base and devoid of any means of controlling the mass of the Greek population, who no longer trust any party or any person, and who could force their resignation at any moment with a chaotic explosion of anger and violence – the outcome of successive historical defeats over the last eight to nine years. Nevertheless SYRIZA is in a much better position today than it was even a year ago. It has accomplished a significant electoral feat, building in a few weeks from a score of 24% in the European elections to 32% – only 3% shy of its triumphal 2015 result.
So this election feat has enabled SYRIZA to share responsibility in bipartisanism. Is this the much desired “return to normality” that Tsipras was eager to celebrate the day after the elections? Since SYRIZA’s election campaign poorly disguised its terrible weaknesses, the answer can only be “no”. There is an incredible political hotchpotch within this parliamentary group: socialists, social-democrats, conservatives, liberals and even nationalists, chauvinists and even racists of the extreme right. There is an appalling shortage of experienced activists, resulting in a complete absence of any grassroots organisation or link between the party and its electoral supporters. Above all its success is due largely to the barely concealed fact that there is no organised and credible political alternative to the left.
We can safely conclude that the elections of 7th July have shown the complete bankruptcy of those political formations created four years ago to distance themselves from Tsipras’ turn to the right and offer a left alternative to SYRIZA. Their election results – in free fall – are more than eloquent: 0.28% for Popular Unity, led by ministers from the first SYRIZA government (Lafazanis, Stratoulis and Issihos); 1.4% for the party led by Zoé Konstantopoulou, former speaker of the Greek Parliament; and only 0.41% for the Coalition of the Anti-Capitalist Left Antarsya, which has been around since 2009. With the partial exception of Antarsya, all the other formations have paid dearly for their concessions to the mood of chauvinism and even xenophobia and racism which was sweeping the country. Zoe Konstantopoulou made a bid to be the leader of those who were threatening the scaffold to ”the traitors who are selling our Macedonia to the bastards of Skopje, our Thrace and the Agean Sea to the Turks and even Northern Epirus to Albania”, taking this to its logical conclusion by dissociating herself from the left, declaring herself to be “neither right nor left”. Meanwhile, like the UP, the Greek CP- sought salvation in a privileged alliance “of our nation with Putin’s Russia”, which led it down the path of support for Assad and its characterisation of the climate catastrophe as “imperialism’s biggest fraud”. And while all this was going on, the anarchist movement, particularly strong in Greece, especially among young people, was living in a hermetically sealed flask, inventing popular insurrections which existed only in its imagination.
KINAL, the party constructed from the remains of PASOK, achieved an honourable vote of 8.1%, but SYRIZA’s success on a similar programme condemned it to a subordinate role, precipitating internal turmoil and the defection of some of its leaders.
As for the MeRA25 of Varoufakis, it rightly celebrated its entry into parliament, but it will take a lot more than triumphalism, its fudged programme and the inconsistencies of its leader for it to achieve its ambitions to be arbiter.
The balance of the Greek left, with all its sensitivities and interacting currents, ten years after the explosion of a crisis which precipitated a mass revolt of the Greek people, abandoning their traditional parties before installing in power “the first left government in the history of the country” can be summed up in three words: WHAT A WASTE!
What a waste of this globally unique experience: the solidarity of a dozen far-left organisations and a small Eurocommunist party leading to the foundation of SYRIZA. And what a waste of this first government of the left, whose leaders betrayed the defiant YES vote of the July 5th 2015 referendum, handing over the powerless Greek people into the servitude of Greece’s creditors. Above all, they shattered the confidence of millions of people in Europe and around the world who had invested hope in Greece’s SYRIZA for a better, more humane world, free of austerity, racism and fascism. Even though this tragedy has been played out a thousand times over the last century, in Greece and elsewhere – left leaderships who hasten to capitulate to the class enemy – we cannot help feeling deeply indignant, wounded and outraged at the scale of this disaster.
The last word has yet to be spoken.