The necessity of a transformation causes cracks in the political system for Greece

May 12, 2012

The Eurozone continues to experience a painful economic crisis. Recent data from EUROSTAT indicate that the rate of unemployment in the Euro17 countries continues its ascent. In February 2012, the aggregate unemployment rate reached 10.8%, ranging from a low of 4% in Austria to 21.7% in Greece and 23.8% in Spain. Such unemployment rates follow from a specific policy of class warfare by European capitalists that impose the costs of economic adjustment onto the working classes, especially those in the periphery. In addition to high unemployment, all the Eurozone countries after 2001 have experienced a fall in the share of wages in GDP. In particular, the productivity of labour has increased at a sharper rate than real compensation. Real wages have increased barely 30% since 2001 and the ratio of the wages to productivity remains largely unchanged. The consequences of this neoliberal-capitalist policy have been heterogenous in the political sphere.

In particular, the Greek general election of 6 May 2012 sent shock waves throughout the ruling classes of Europe. It may be noted that two mass parties dominated Greece during the post-Junta period, i.e., New Democracy and the Socialist Party. In the recent general election, however, the Socialists’ vote share fell by 30.7 percentage points to 13.18%, indicating a firm rejection of this party of austerity. In contrast, the Coalition of the Radical Left increased its vote share by 12.2 percentage points to 16.78% and became a national political phenomenon. This historic rejection of the Socialists and rise of the Coalition of the Radical Left suggests an acceleration in the decline of the politico-economic arrangements that governed Greece in the post-Junta period, which has been ongoing for several years.

Sanhati is therefore publishing a backgrounder on the political situation in Greece for our readers. The article was originally published in a Greek weekly “Road of the Left”, a newspaper affiliated with the Communist Organisation of Greece (KOE), a parliamentary party and member of the Coalition of the Radical Left.



The necessity of a transformation causes cracks in the political system for Greece

Translated by Taki Manolakos, Sanhati

By Rudy Rinaldi


The Greek elections, the Coalition of the Radical Left, the political stakes, and reactions to Tsipras’ proposal

The proposal of Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) for a government of the Left has caused large cracks not only in the space occupied by political parties but also the central configuration of political and economic administration. Despite the fact that few believed that they would rise from their beds on May 7th to find a government of the Left in the country, nevertheless, his proposal caused a significant debate, encountered a strong reaction from the political duopoly of the establishment, and curiosity from the other Lefts.

In a strange way, one week before the elections, it seems that the terroristic dilemma “anarchy or more rule by New Democracy and the Socialist Party, in other words pro-Troika forces” has been in large measure rendered useless and another proposal has entered the political agenda, that of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which is situated as the key demand of all. The largest “sin” attributed to this proposal, according to critics, is that were SYRIZA granted the right to attempt forming a governing coalition by the President, it will actually take a stab at it with the support or forbearance of other forces that can agree to two or three basic demands. What is the substance of the matter, beyond all this pre-election subterfuge ?

The ruins of the Troika and changing political landscape

In only two years, the parties that supported the memoranda are expected to lose roughly thirty lakh votes. In particular, on the basis of a study utilising survey data from April 20th, it was estimated that the Socialist Party (PASOK) will lose approximately 20 lakh votes, New Democracy (ND) will lose about eight lakh votes, and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) will lose approximately one and half lakh votes [1]. This represents an important change and massive displacement of votes towards other political forces that emerged as anti-memoranda in their character, did not support the memoranda, or differentiated themselves on this question.

Consistent with this, the urban bloc of the Troika’s political forces failed to resonate. They await a decline in their power, fearing the depth and extent of their fall. Only the extent of their punishment will be determined in the final hour. The pro-memoranda parties rhetorically emphasised the possibility of anarchy, “responsibility”, and the public good that would result from a wise vote. They avoided public assemblies, periptera [2] especially in the case of PASOK, and generally engaged in a defensive campaign.

What is the orientation, however, of these thirty lakh voters liberating themselves from pro-memoranda parties ? Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party, will gain from the losses of LAOS and no small number of voters from PASOK (who have become disillusioned from the entire political world and believe that this is the best punishment for the party). A large section of ND voters will be collected by Panos Kammenos, of the “Independent Greeks”. Kammenos is a solution for the people of the Right who feel betrayed by Samaras, leader of ND, and wish an end to the memoranda and regime of the Troika. A large proportion of the votes lost by pro-memoranda parties will accrue to the Lefts and the largest fraction of these to SYRIZA. SYRIZA reveals huge energy in its favour throughout the country and it cannot be ruled out that the party will become the surprise of these elections, in the sense that this energy is increasing even in the final week before the election itself. There are also no small number of former PASOK voters oscillating between SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, who will have a large impact on the outcome. The Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis will receive a share of Socialist losses and his campaign promise maintains that the party would not support a pro-memoranda coalition between ND and PASOK in exchange for ministries.

Moreover, all other formations that have been created, or existed and re-appeared on the scene, expected some growth at the expense of the pro-Troika bloc. But regarding their electoral decisions, the people’s criterion will not be the restrictive binary “Left-Right”, but on the basis of the appearance and logic either of parties or personalities.

Landscapes of the contest during the past two years

The cracks in the political system and the massive displacement of votes within two years can only be explained with reference to the struggles and resistance of the people during this period. The general strikes, the movement of the Squares, the people’s occupations, the mobilisations during the parades, the public jeering of pro-Troika political personalities, the endless “no” of the people against the established order, the accusations from the new foreign occupation, the disgust towards the entire rotten political system, all these are the foundations and levers calling into existence substantial changes in collective consciousness and politics. These levers determine political behaviour and its correlates in the recent period in Greece. Within these struggles and resistance, there has emerged an awareness that no “one-way streets” exist, that cancellation of the memoranda and loans is required for there to be a way out for the country, that there must be a change in government that will remove the “dirt” and superstructure of the pro-Troika regime in order to open different road.

Two considerations and the dynamic of Tsipras’ proposal

Tsipras’ proposal for a government of the Left and execution of his expected marching orders have caused a ruckus because it touches upon two considerations that we have raised : in the huge collapse of pro-memoranda forces and in the struggles and collective consciousness that these have created. It has, therefore, both substance and a dynamic even if it gives the appearance of being impossible (since the forces of the Left and the Socialists hurried to denounce the proposal as repugnant).

In order for there to be an exit for Greece, a political transformation is necessary, in other words, a formation of a political and social bloc capable of colliding with the Troika and its servants. This entails the creation a new social and political majority with the radical Left at its core, combining the social and patriotic duties required in this period. This political transformation will not result through electoral processes. Its womb resides in political conflict and in this sense electoral struggles constitute an aspect of such conflict. The emancipation of the Left from urban politics, the victory of the masses around certain theses and proposals, presupposes a transformation of the Left itself. It presupposes a dual unity in particular. Unity of the political Left with her diffuse social base and at minimum her voters. Secondly, unity of the Left with a popular, mass movement for the formation of a political and social front that will support governmental forms for breaking our collar and our encirclement, and will place the country on the path of an exit with the people as protagonist.

More descriptively, in 2009, the Left had roughly ten lakh voters. In the fights of the last two years, roughly 30 lakh were gained. It remains to be seen in the election what percentage the Left will actually assemble and what forces it will be in a position to direct. What framework will be created and what will be the breadth of the struggles and participation of the people ? In this vein, there is of course a role for political mobilisations, political compositionality, recommendations and resolutions, slogans, and so forth. The dynamic of Tsipras’ proposal lies exactly in the fact of being grounded on specific political terrain and not advertisement of the system. The proposal leads in the direction of the formation of a programme of cooperation with concrete forces.

The position of the others Lefts

The speed at which almost all other Left forces distanced themselves from this proposal has been impressive. Instead of entering the forest of practical politics, they abandoned it completely, in favour of a general anti-capitalist rhetoric indifferent towards concrete political objectives. For example, the Communist Party (KKE) based its entire campaign on the slogan “a strong KKE” and nothing more, on the basis of their belief that whatever happens will be harmful to the people and the solution only exists in popular power. How and when we reach popular power we will see in the next phase of the “class struggle”.

We do not know exactly where those who attempt to move and act within the plane of practical politics will end up and collide with the establishment. The possibility of bad luck and failure always exist. This interpretation, however, cannot be brandished as a demon [3] each time actions must be taken towards overstepping the political system familiar to us amidst a Greece in transformation. In particular, when the situation has become ripe for a transformation of the people, for proposals that have a real dynamic and a momentum in the conjuncture of social struggle, is it necessary for anyone to dare entertain a fantasy and fight for their fantasy ? Such fantasies lead to interference and not from afar, merely denouncing the system and whoever engages the correlation of forces. And all of this, when the proposal is simply a proposal for a “government of the Left” that could have easily been adopted or investigated to the extent it was ripe and possible, and not collectively rejected. What would happen if we had to navigate more complex and difficult proposals ? A national front of all the people, for instance, would not have been an agglomeration of Left forces.

But these questions after the general election of May 2012.

Translator’s notes

[1] The final results of the general election of May 2012 are available at at this link.
[2] Small shops where the people gather to buy cigarettes, newspapers, and other minor articles of mass consumption.
[3] The exact Greek word refers to an entity that popularly appears in bedtime ghost stories for children.