Election triumph for the left in Greece

Voters in Greece sent a clear message in national elections on Sunday: A repudiation of the country's two main parties, along with the austerity agenda they represent--and a huge advance for both the radical left and, though to a lesser extent, the far right.

The main conservative party New Democracy had the highest vote total at 19 percent. But the center-left PASOK party, which triumphed in the last election in 2009 and controlled the government since, got only 13 percent and was pushed into third place by the Coalition of the Radical Left, known as SYRIZA, which won 17 percent.

New Democracy now has three days to try to form a government that can command a majority of representatives in parliament. If it fails, SYRIZA could get an opportunity.

This election is the first since Greece was plunged into an economic depression as a consequence of drastic austerity measures imposed in the wake of financial rescues engineered by the so-called "troika"--the European Union, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund.

Greece has suffered the worst in Europe's catastrophic debt crisis, though other countries like Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy aren't far behind--and among the continent's biggest economic powers, France is on shaky ground, too. PASOK carried out the austerity demanded of Greece over the past two years without significant dissent among its leaders. Now it has paid for that role with a humiliating defeat at the poll--and the radical SYRIZA, which counts revolutionary socialist organizations among its coalition members, is now the leading party of the left.

At his blog Lenin's Tomb, British socialist Richard Seymour, author of The Liberal Defence of Murder, published these comments on the Greek elections when the results were still emerging from exit polls that predicted the strong showing for SYRIZA.

Alexis Tsipras speaks to a mass rally of SYRIZA supporters in Thessaloniki (Asteris Masouras)Alexis Tsipras speaks to a mass rally of SYRIZA supporters in Thessaloniki (Asteris Masouras)

IN RECENT days, the signs have been accumulating to suggest that the radical left coalition SYRIZA would perform some sort of remarkable upset in the Greek elections. Well, stow your cynicism because the exit polls say they're in second place in this election. In the actual vote, poll experts say they may even come first, though I hasten to say that we need make no such assumption in order to appreciate that this is a tremendous victory for the left.

At present, SYRIZA appears to have 16-18 percent of the vote, with New Democracy first with about 19-20 percent, PASOK third with 16 percent, Independent Greece (a right-wing anti-austerity party) fourth with 10 percent, the Communist KKE fifth with 9 percent, the neo-Nazis of the Golden Dawn (actual hard-core neo-Nazis) with 7-8 percent, and other left parties and the Greens taking up the remainder.

The distribution of the seats will probably favor a coalition of the capitalist austerity parties, with New Democracy and PASOK forming a government. But make no mistake: this is a cataclysm for the Greek--and, by extension, European--political establishment. It signals a fundamental realignment of Greek politics to an extent that wouldn't have been predictable even weeks ago.

Importantly, SYRIZA has taken the lead in all of the major cities of Greece, meaning that they have made real inroads into the core working-class constituencies resisting the cuts. This party had less than 5 percent of the vote in the last election, which PASOK won. SYRIZA have now pushed the winners of the last general election into third place, and have become the leading left party.

This is not only important because of the rejection of austerity politics that it signals (and the austerity parties are in a minority), not only because of the new possibilities for resistance that will now become apparent, but also because of the crisis and rethinking it will create within the anti-austerity left.

For example, the KKE's consistently sectarian approach of staging separate marches, rallies and events from the rest of the left, its refusal to countenance unity with forces to its own left, will come under scrutiny from the section of the working class which it still leads. Those workers who support the KKE will want to be united with, or at least open to, those workers who support SYRIZA. The argument that they can't do so because of the ambivalent attitude of some SYRIZA leaders to PASOK was always dangerously "Third Period," and is unlikely to be persuasive now. That, too, will create new possibilities for unity in the workers' movement.

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THE NEO-Nazis should not be ignored. Their emergence, almost out of nowhere, as a mass fascist organization with actual Third Reich-style paraphernalia, shows how perilous the terrain is, and how much danger awaits Greece's most vulnerable communities.

Recently, the state has been stoking racism toward immigrants and planning a crackdown on the grounds that they "spread diseases." In this toxic, unpredictable climate, any gains made by the radical left are likely to be subject to new tests on a routine basis. Any serious defeat for the left amid continued austerity and the ongoing stalemate of the parliamentary system would certainly give the far right their best chance since the dictatorship. Already, they stand poised with their legions of voters and their parliamentary delegates and their marching squads of thugs to wreak havoc. Do not underestimate them.

But for now, the radical left has seized the initiative, upended the electoral system and torn apart the austerity script so painstakingly drafted by the ECB, the presidency and the finance ministers. And in this context, the defeat of Sarkozy in France assumes a new significance.

The mandarins of the EU are worried, as they should be, by the failure of the austerity formula to permit resumed dynamism even in the core European states. From rattled heads of state to the head of the ECB, they have started to wonder if there might not be a case for emphasizing growth policies, stimulus rather than austerity. This is all very timid, and it is by no means intended to benefit the working class. But EU elites are also aware that they face an even graver climacteric than two quarters of negative growth if they cannot appear to offer some material inducement to the working class to acquiesce in the politics of austerity.

In that situation, the deposal of PASOK as the main party of the workers in the weakest link of a weakened chain of national states, gives the EU leadership all the more incentive to rethink what they have been doing. And that means a more divided and uncertain ruling class than we have hitherto seen.