In the first of a series of responses to the success of left-wing, anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece’s elections, Leandros Savvides takes a critical distance and discusses some of the wider implications of the win.
The elections in Greece resulted in a landslide win for Syriza, undoubtedly an important moment in Greek and European politics. These elections were the most psychologically motivated and psychoanalytically interesting elections in Greek history. People voted with passions and instinct rather than on the basis of rational decisions or programmatic positions. The polyphony within Syriza, from radical socialists to moderate centrists and even conservatives, forced the party to adopt a populist and abstract rhetoric against austerity as the way to reconcile at times even antithetical positions and interests. Indeed it has been confirmed that Independent Greeks, a right wing populist party that broke from New Democracy a few years back will support its government.
Syriza is primarily the choice of the young generations that seek a glimpse of hope, the former middle class and some sections of the working class that saw in the party a potential end to austerity, what other left parties failed to promise. But for those who think that Syriza managed to achieve enormous electoral growth based only on the people’s will need to look a bit closer. Significant sections of the European and US capitalist class were in favour for a change of pace within the EU and grasped that within a moderate Syriza there is the potential to achieve that.
Success in the Greek elections is not that of Syriza per se, but of anti-austerity and this is big news for Europe. Syriza invested and capitalised on the fact that many sections of the populace were opposed to austerity and are not convinced about the rhetoric of ‘there is no alternative’. A large section of Syriza voters have been expressing in public their feeling that, despite the fact they do not believe Syriza will carry a hard political line, they do hope for some kind of change. A transfer period resulted in many members of various parties from the centre and even right wing, joining forces against the austerity line. Many of these voters turned to Syriza because of its commitment to moderation.
There are three points that I consider very crucial for the future of Greece under a Syriza government:
1. New Democracy invested in fear and Syriza on hope in abstract terms. Syriza had the advantage, this besides the fact that large sections of PASOK switched allegiance to staff the emerging party. Crucially, Syriza does not have its name linked to corruption and power. It is important to note that Syriza is not a mass party of the working class. It has no ties and deep roots or organic connection within the populace that are represented under its percentage of the vote. This is particularly important because the fluidity of voters may result in a quick disappointment of sections of the population and a Syriza government could be extremely unstable.
An unstable government could also be an outcome because various sections of the population that voted for Syriza have opposite interests. Big capital that wishes to unblock economic growth through a more Keynesian economic policy, small entrepreneurs, large numbers of academics, the creative class and younger precarious people who voted against New Democracy and PASOK either because they believed that the old system is no longer viable or because of objective social status. If Syriza does not manage to organise the working and fading middle classes and form alliances within the lower sections of the population to back possible anti-austerity policies, it could lead to a disaster.
2. Syrizas’ strategic positions are not against the EU and NATO. It is considered to be a pro-European Union party and this is also the reason why the two other anti-capitalist parties, the Communist party of Greece (KKE 5.5%) and Antarsya – Mars (0.65%) are not prone to put their name in a government that is not willing to break from such organisations. It is interesting to note that the parties to the left of Syriza did not leak voters towards it this time (they actually increased their percentages compared to the previous elections), showing that some on the left are suspicious of Syriza’s downplay of its radical voice after 2012.
3. One of the potentially dangerous developments of the anti-austerity rhetoric is that the abstract notions that describe such populist politics are not only a feature of the left, they can be capitalised on also by extreme right wing parties on a European level. This is evidenced by Jean Marie Lepen’s move to greet Syriza’s win, arguing for a European change in austerity politics. At the same time, there is an rise of voices within liberal and conservative circles arguing for a ‘left time-out’ in Greek politics that could re-energise a full blown attack of right wing politics in the near future, if voters end up disappointed with Syriza’s failure to deliver on its promises.