Greek Elections and the dangers of Pyrrhic Victories

This means that they will be granted 50 seats to help them make a government.  However, the issue does not appear to be whether they will win, but whether they will win with 151 seats to ensure a majority in Parliament. If they do not win that majority, things are up in the air as an understatement.

 photo greekelectionpolls_zps132a4853.jpg
SYRIZA is in pink, compared to New Democracy in Blue (see… for further breakdowns)

So what is happening in the mainstream and far right?

Greece’s system is one of proportional representation and a 3% threshold cut-off rule exists to eliminate smaller party’s representation – those falling below 3% get no seats. This is having interesting consequences. First, PASOK (the Greek social democratic party) may not make the 3% cut-off; but it is probable that they will, but there is a new party that may draw votes away from it.  Giorgos Papandreou (the former leader of PASOK and the son of the party’s founder replaced by Evangelos Venizelos, the current leader of PASOK ) has set up a new centre-left pro-austerity party The Democratic Socialist Movement in an attempt to save his political career tarnished by failure to reject the memorandum forcing Greece into privatisation at bargain-basement prices, the destruction of pensions, incomes and the Greek social welfare state and, let’s just say it, the Greek economy.  Second, another centre-left party DIMAR has lost all credibility after joining the previous government and will not make the 5% cut-off.   Third, The neo-nazi Golden Dawn party is having difficulty finding people to run for it as most of its members of Parliament and its leader are in jail for doing what Fascists do, that is, violent attacks; if they find candidates willing and able to run, they are expected to make the 3% cut-off easily.

New Democracy (led by Antonis Samaras) is in the fight of its life  and has gone for the usual fear-mongering that characterised the last election (2012) campaign; that is a SYRIZA win will get Greece thrown out of the Eurozone (the majority of Greeks do not support leaving the Eurozone) and cause economic chaos, including bank runs and capital flight.

What is happening on the left and far left?

There are two coalitions and 1 political party that are running on an anti-austerity line in the Greek elections. SYRIZA (the coalition of the radical left) which is a broad left coalition, ANTARSYA (the Front of Greek anti-capitalist left, a hard-left coalition;) and the Greek Communist party (the KKE). While SYRIZA has appealed to both to join their electoral slate, this has been rejected by the KKE and it seems byANTARSYA who listed their candidates for the election yesterday.

Instead of joining SYRIZA’s list (like the Greek Greens (see also:…), the KKE and Antarsya have decided to run against them.  Now, this is not based upon the possibility of either of them actually winning anything, but rather because SYRIZA is not left enough.

So instead of joining the list and pushing SYRIZA to the left from inside, this party and coalition are running against SYRIZA. Normally this shouldn’t be an issue, but given KKEs refusal to join a left-wing government and rejection of SYRIZA  may mean that the KKE who may hold the balance of seats will not agree to go into coalition with SYRIZA and that means that there is no one on the left for them to go into coalition with as ANTARSYA will probably not make the 3% cut-off. ANTARSYA’s strength is more on the streets than as an electoral grouping.  This leads to the obvious question;  rather than running against SYRIZA, wouldn’t it make more sense politically to keep pressing them towards the left?

We can hope that those saying that they will vote KKE and ANTARSYA will actually vote for SYRIZA when they go to vote and that SYRIZA will be able to form a majority government and not have to search for coalition partners to the right which will both undermine SYRIZA’s programme and undermine their legitimacy among the Greeks as well.  Moreover, this will be a set-back for the whole of the anti-austerity left in Europe fighting neoliberalism. Pressurising from inside the government and on the streets would be more effective policy to ensure that SYRIZA stays on the left and this will not be accomplished easily if they are forced to seek support from groups to their right to get a majority. Quite honestly, left-wing sectarianism may actually undermine the first left-wing anti-austerity government in Europe which would be catastrophic for the European anti-austerity movement.

SYRIZA’s programme

With all the accusations of betrayal coming from the KKE and some members of the hard left, a glance at SYRIZA’s programme is useful.

We (i.e. Syriza) demand immediate parliamentary elections and a strong negotiation mandate with the goal to:

•    Write-off the greater part of public debt’s nominal value so that it becomes sustainable in the context of a «European Debt Conference». It happened for Germany in 1953. It can also happen for the South of Europe and Greece.

•    Include a «growth clause» in the repayment of the remaining part so that it is growth-financed and not budget-financed.

•    Include a significant grace period («moratorium») in debt servicing to save funds for growth.

•    Exclude public investment from the restrictions of the Stability and Growth Pact.

•    A «European New Deal» of public investment financed by the European Investment Bank.

•    Quantitative easing by the European Central Bank with direct purchases of sovereign bonds.

•    Finally, we declare once again that the issue of the Nazi Occupation forced loan from the Bank of Greece is open for us. Our partners know it. It will become the country’s official position from our first days in power.

On the basis of this plan, we will fight and secure a socially viable solution to Greece’s debt problem so that our country is able to pay off the remaining debt from the creation of new wealth and not from primary surpluses, which deprive society of income.

With that plan, we will lead with security the country to recovery and productive reconstruction by:

•    Immediately increasing public investment by at least €4 billion.

•    Gradually reversing all the Memorandum injustices.

•    Gradually restoring salaries and pensions so as to increase consumption and demand.

•    Providing small and medium-sized enterprises with incentives for employment, and subsidizing the energy cost of industry in exchange for an employment and environmental clause.

•    Investing in knowledge, research, and new technology in order to have young scientists, who have been massively emigrating over the last years, back home.

•    Rebuilding the welfare state, restoring the rule of law and creating a meritocratic state.

Syriza’s national reconstruction plan outlines the costs and benefits of their programme.  The 4 pillars of their programme essentially address the humanitarian crisis that working class Greeks have been plunged into, plans for job creation in the public, social and private sectors, restitution of pensions and wages, removing attacks on trade unions and their bargaining power, and recovering the social welfare state destroyed by the Troika and agreements signed by successive Greek governments for servicing the debt.

1st PILLAR: Confronting the humanitarian crisis

•    Free electricity to 300.000 households currently under the poverty line up to 300 kWh per month per family; that is, 3.600 kWh per year. Total cost: €59,4 million.

•    Programme of meal subsidies to 300.000 families without income. The implementation will take place via a public agency of coordination, in cooperation with the local authorities, the Church and solidarity organizations. Total cost: €756 million.

•    Programme of housing guarantee. The target is the provision of initially 30.000 apartments (30, 50, and 70 m²), by subsidizing rent at €3 per m². Total cost: €54 million.

•    Restitution of the Christmas bonus, as 13th pension, to 1.262.920 pensioners with a pension up to €700. Total cost: €543,06 million.

•    Free medical and pharmaceutical care for the uninsured unemployed. Total cost: €350 million.

•    Special public transport card for the long-term unemployed and those who are under the poverty line. Total cost: €120 million.

•    Repeal of the leveling of the special consumption tax on heating and automotive diesel.  Bringing the starting price of heating fuel for households back to €0,90 per lt, instead of the current €1,20 per lt. Benefit is expected.

There is a discussion of tax justice and funding the Greek state through economic growth rather than cuts and austerity and a call for personal debt relief for individuals to stop prosecutions, seizures of homes and accounts.

The programme also addresses the democracy deficit in the country and discusses empowering Greeks themselves and democratic institution to get popular participation on economic and political initiatives:

4th PILLAR: Transforming the political system to deepen democracy

From the first year of SYRIZA government, we set in motion the process for the institutional and democratic reconstruction of the state. We empower the institutions of representative democracy and we introduce new institutions of direct democracy.

1.    Regional organization of the state. Enhancement of transparency, of the economic autonomy and the effective operation of municipalities and regions. We empower the institutions of direct democracy and introduce new ones.

2.    Empowerment of citizens’ democratic participation. Introduction of new institutions, such as people’s legislative initiative, people’s veto and people’s initiative to call a referendum.

3.    Empowerment of the Parliament, curtailment of parliamentary immunity, and repeal of the peculiar legal regime of MPs’ non-prosecution.

4.    Regulation of the radio/television landscape by observing all legal preconditions and adhering to strict financial, tax, and social-security criteria. Re-establishment of ERT (Public Radio and Television) on a zero basis.

What does SYRIZA’s programme not do?

There is no call for wholesale nationalisations, no call for a worker’s government, there is no call for abrogation of the debt (instead they are asking for renegotiation on 50% of the debt) or leaving the euro, and there is no call for socialism.  It appears to be a simple and reformist plan for national reconstruction of Greek capitalist economy.  So why are the European ruling classes so worried?

What is the fear of the European ruling class from a SYRIZA victory?

Unlike the last election in 2012, finance capitalism (both the individual European and multinational banks are mostly covered from disaster of debt abrogation, repudiation, or relief (the Greek debt has been purchased by European governments and the ECB; see also:…). So the issue of bank failures solidifying fears of a spike in the crisis is not the issue as much. Yet, international financial markets are reacting rather negatively to the strong possibility of a SYRIZA victory.  A Greek exit from the Eurozone and debt repudiation from the election of SYRIZA is not as worrying  for the European ruling class, but the question of how can that influence others in Europe is the issue.

Tsipras has not called for leaving the Euro and has asked instead for renegotiation of the debt to get 50% of an unserviceable debt relieved. So Greek exit is not a demand of SYRIZA, but that does not mean that the Eurozone will not ask them to leave. Also, if they get the renegotiation and still remain in the Eurozone, the question of the rules underlying the Euro come into play as they require caps on fiscal deficit and debt and hence limits to government spending. This is then compounded by economic fears of debt renegotiations affecting the financial markets as they find instability nerve-wracking and fears of what may happen lead to uncertainty.

The issue is one of a domino effect whereby Italy (on deflation and why financial markets are worried, see:…), Spain and Portugal will the same thing following the election of a left that has raised the issue of a rejection of austerity and debt repayments.

That is the fear of the ruling classes, a popular rejection of austerity and neo-liberalism; that is a political fear of the ruling class in Europe and in the advanced capitalist world.

So should the left support SYRIZA?

Yes, it will represent a significant defeat of the austerity agenda which is essential for the fightback against neoliberalism and the attack on the working class since the crash in 2007-8.

Is this all that we on the left want? By no means, but it is a major first step.  The support of the left and support of the organs of the working class in Greece will force them further to the left and to keep their electoral promises. The end of the struggle is not the election with a victory (hopefully a majority one).

SYRIZA needs the support of the left inside and outside Greece if this is to be a real victory and to keep them on track. If they are not pushed, then this may turn into a Pyrrhic victory where a left party wins and is forced into more and more concessions by the ruling class rather than fulfill its potential and be the beginning of an electoral and mass fight-back against neoliberalism.


Susan Pashkoff is a supporter of Socialist Resistance, a member of the Association for Heterodox Economics, and of the Left Unity Economics Policy Commission. This article first appeared on the Daily Kos on Sunday 11 January.

1 Comment

  1. Good article, Susan. As you say, despite the undoubted huge political weaknesses of Syriza it is both tactically and politically vital that the Left actively support a possible/likely future Syriza government. This support must obviously be a critical support – given the potentially disastrous class collaborationist and simply over-cautious major political and tactical currents within, particularly the leadership, of Syriza. But to hold back on support , for sectarian political reasons, is quite simply a crime against our class – and a failure in political understanding.

    For sections of our tiny Far Left in Britain, the writings of the CPGB and Workers Power spring to mind, it is the eternal “exposure of reformism” which seems to be the main priority – rather than genuine , even critical, support. In this they mirror the extraordinary “preserved in historical amber” politics of the KKE – apparently forever entombed in the doomed “Third Period” Stalinist tactics of 1928 to 1935 (before the equally bankrupt U turn to class collaborationist “Popular Frontism”). The sad thing is , reading both the KKE’s analysis, and those of Workers Power and the CPGB, they all recognise the huge dangers of the reformism of Syriza – and have some sensible things to say on this , but fail utterly to grasp the huge opportunities also opened up, in Greece and across Europe, by the inevitable higher levels of political struggle that a victory by Syriza will represent. Both the KKE , and the tiny sects adopt an attitude to Syriza not far off (in fact pretty much identical in the KKE’s case) that dreadful tactically/politically disastrous description by the fully Stalinised Third Period Communist Party in Germany of the German Social Democrats as “Social Fascists”. they constantly caution against Syriza “taking on the mantle of government too soon – before the class is ready to challenge for state power”. However, as Rosa Luxemburg always riposted to this (usually social democratic) argument – the working class is always “unready for power” – until it is actually involved directly in the actual struggle which will reveal the need for that power to be seized . Such is the revolutionary dialectic – to repeat a good old cliché !

    As you say, the place for revolutionary socialists in Greece is inside Syriza – fighting to keep it moving Leftwards – not outside sniping and sowing dissent and confusion amongst the working class. As in 1973’s Chilean Allende government disaster , in the current context of Greece’s deep politico/economic crisis, a failure of a future Syriza government could easily find KKE and Syriza and Antarsya supporters interned by the military inside the sports stadium in Athens awaiting their turn at the hands of the CIA trained torturers and death squads. The stakes are simply that high – for all Europe.

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