We have to learn from SYRIZA

ATOne big point is missing from a lot of the British left’s commentary on Greece and particularly the role of SYRIZA argues Liam Mac Uaid. It’s the simple, unavoidable fact that the political situation in that country and across Europe has been transformed by the existence of a pluralistic far left political formation which is willing to stand in elections and take to the streets. Its name is an acronym for “Coalition of the Radical Left” and until recently its membership was in the low thousands, this in a country with large Communist and social democratic parties which have long had mass working class support.

Home grown efforts to create something similar have repeatedly failed and the British far left is utterly marginal as a political factor. The results of the plethora of left candidates standing under various banners in the recent elections is grim reading. The contrast with SYRIZA which is now going mano a mano with Angela Merkel and the leaders of European capitalism couldn’t be starker. .

What has become clear as the convulsions in Greek society have intensified is that the alternatives to the crisis are articulated through organisations and parties with programmes. Greek workers and youth will be striking and demonstrating in the coming weeks. They will also be voting for parties which are making serious proposals about how, and in whose interests they will run society. Massive support for SYRIZA, especially if it emerges as the largest party, will be confirmation that Greece is in a pre-revolutionary situation and will be the single most power challenge to the European bourgeoisie since the Portuguese revolution in 1974.

SYRIZA has lessons to teach the British left. These confirm much of what Socialist Resistance has been saying for a number of years on the need for stable, left of social democracy (Labour) political organisations.

The first of these is that SYRIZA functioned in between elections campaigns. In Britain the far left’s electoral interventions are transparently futile efforts to fly the flag for socialism and maybe win a couple of recruits to whichever organisation holds the franchise in a locality. As soon as the campaign is over it’s back to the normal routine of paper selling, front organisations and branch meetings. Despite its interminable capitulations to neo-liberalism most working class people in Britain still see the Labour Party as their defence against the Tories. That situation is not likely to change until a force emerges which is understood by significant sections of militant workers, radical youth and anti-capitalists to be a permanent part of the political landscape.

The second is that SYRIZA makes a virtue of the breadth of opinion within it. Its very name proclaims that its component parts grasp that no single political current has a monopoly on truth. Dissent and opposing points of view which are tested out in class struggle are much more necessary to the working class than one small propaganda group winning phony victories in internal arguments. A consistent feature of the Occupy Movement and recent radicalisations has been an embrace of democracy and debate which some on the left find challenging.

It is not overstating the case to say that if either the Socialist Alliance or Respect and their major components had shown the same commitment to creating a broad left of Labour party the position of the working class in Britain would be much more favourable. It would have served as a pole of attraction in communities fighting cuts and workers facing job losses and pay cuts. It would have made it harder for bureaucrats like Dave Prentis to sell out the pensions struggle.

This is quite a good description of what’s happening in Greece in the pre-election period:

“…at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new régime… The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”

Trotsky was writing about the Russian revolution but the leaders of PASOK and the KKE must be thinking very similar thoughts as they see leadership of the most audacious members of the Greek working class passing to SYRIZA. It is what anti-capitalist parties are for and it is proving its value at the very moment the working class needs it most. That is what SYRIZA teaches us.


  1. A good article. But to call SYRIZA ‘far left’ (as indeed they’ve been called in the mainstream press in the UK) is misleading, since most readers of this site will take that to mean ‘revolutionary left’. Perhaps SYRIZA will move in that direction under the pressure of events, but let’s not count our chickens…

  2. Comrades all:

    I am posting here the statement of the Fourth International regarding support for the program of SYRIZA and for the creation of a workers united front against the Greek and European imperialist bourgeoisie. Perhaps this can be given greater prominence on the website than in the comment section, but it needs to be given broad distribution.

    The future of the workers of Europe is being decided in Greece

    Statement of the Fourth International
    Fourth International

    For two years the Greek people have fought against the austerity imposed by the Troika (the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank). After seventeen one-day general strikes, after mass demonstrations and the occupations of squares by the aganaktismeni (the indignant), after occupations of workplaces, in the elections held on May 6 it rejected the parties which had accepted the memoranda imposed on Greece by more than 60 per cent of the votes cast, and gave 37 per cent to parties to the left of the antisocial liberalism of PASOK.

    For two years, crushed by public debt, which has been used as a channel for the over-accumulation of financial capital, Greece has become the laboratory of policies aimed at making the population pay for the capitalist crisis. The rescue plans imposed on Greece have only one goal: to guarantee the payment of the debt by the Greek state to the banks, to preserve the speculative money of the financial bubble that they have created. The “memoranda” which accompany these plans are aimed at testing in Greece how far capital can monopolize the wealth produced by the workers by reducing them to poverty. The effects of this policy are the brutal reduction of wages and pensions; the deconstruction of labour laws and regulations; the brutal rise in unemployment (which already affects in Greece 21.2 per cent of the active population, nearly 30 per cent of women and 50 per cent of young people); a recession similar to that of 1929-1930 (a drop in GDP of 6.9 per cent in 2011, with an estimated further drop of 5.3 per cent in 2012; a reduction of industrial production of 4.3 per cent in March 2012 compared to March 2011 …); the destruction of the health system (closing of 137 hospitals and disappearance of a fifth of employment in health, a lack of drugs because of unpaid bills of 1.1 billion euros …) and of the housing market (200,000 residences are unsellable … while the number of homeless people has sharply increased), malnutrition …

    Making arbitrariness, secrecy and fear a veritable form of government, such a policy of brutal control of people could not fail to provoke reactions of rage, distress and anger. Part of this anger was canalized by a sinister racist, anti-semite and xenophobe force, the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn, which surfs on the government policy of repression of demonstrators and hunting down immigrants and has infiltrated the police. That must alert us and lead us to denounce the policy of governmental repression and racism imposed by the “Troika” in Greece.

    Confronted by the policy imposed by the Troika, the Greek radical Left, and in particular Syriza, which today occupies a central place in the Greek political situation, defends a 5-point emergency plan:

    1. Abolition of the memoranda, of all measures of austerity and of the counter-reforms of the labour laws which are destroying the country.

    2. Nationalization of the banks which have been largely paid by government aid.

    3. A moratorium on payment of the debt and an audit which will make it possible to denounce and abolish the illegitimate debt.

    4. Abolition of immunity of ministers from prosecution.

    5. Modification of the electoral law which allowed PASOK and New Democracy to govern to the detriment of the Greek population and to plunge the country into crisis.

    The Fourth International calls on the whole of the international workers’ movement, on all the indignant, on all those who defend the ideals of the Left, to support such an emergency programme.

    We want the Greek people to succeed in imposing, by its votes and its mobilizations, a government of all the social and political Left which refuses austerity, a government capable of imposing the cancellation of the debt. It is in this perspective that we call for the coming together of all the forces which are fighting against austerity in Greece — Syriza, Antarsya, the KKE, the trade unions and the other social movements — around an emergency plan.

    The crisis is not Greece’s crisis, but the crisis of the European Union subjected to the will of capital and of the governments in its service. It is the crisis of the capitalist mode of production in the whole world. It is not up to the Troika, but to the Greek people to decide on the policy to be followed in that country. The attempts of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel to impose on the Greeks a referendum on the euro on the occasion of the elections on June 17 — a real electoral putsch — must be rejected. It is not the euro, but the diktats of the Troika that have to be combated today.

    More than ever, the struggles against austerity policies make it necessary to fight for a break with the policies and the treaties which constitute the basis of the construction of the European Union. More than ever, fighting austerity does not mean retreating into nationalism, but the development of a movement for another Europe which defends the sovereign democratic and social rights of each people and the perspective of the Socialist United States of Europe.

    Greece has become a laboratory for Europe. They are testing out on human guinea-pigs the methods which will then be applied to Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and so on. The Greek people have revolted, in the workplaces, in the streets and at the ballot boxes, against these cruel policies. The resistance of the Greeks is our resistance, their struggles are our struggles. This resistance shows that the defence of the vital interests of the popular classes implies a confrontation with the ruling classes, on the national and European levels. We must multiply unitary initiatives in support of the struggles of the Greek people and of its radical Left. But the best form of solidarity with the Greek people is to imitate their example in all countries by developing and coordinating resistance against the inhuman policies of austerity and destruction. This is exactly what capital, which is responsible for the crisis, fears: the contagion of struggles!

    May 24, 2012

    Executive Bureau of the Fourth International

    The Fourth International – an international organisation struggling for the socialist revolution – is composed of sections, of militants who accept and apply its principles and programme. Organised in separate national sections, they are united in a single worldwide organisation acting together on the main political questions, and discussing freely while respecting the rules of democracy.

  3. hello i keep making this point and i doubt anyone is bothered but there is already a stable left of labour party in uk the green party also plaid is clearly to the left of labour in wales. i think socialist resistance must mean they want a stable party thats explicitly socialist/marxist thats to the left of labour. i hope socialist resistance activists would see the green party as a left of labour party in the absence of such a formation.

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