The road ahead after SYRIZA’s victory

May 28, 2014

Right-wing parties made the biggest gains in most countries during last weekend's elections for European parliament, but the biggest exception was Greece, where the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, made history by taking first place in a nationwide election.

Two years ago, SYRIZA emerged from the margins of Greek elections to place a close second in two successive elections for Greek parliament. The center-right New Democracy of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has ruled Greece since then, carrying out the savage austerity measures demanded by the "troika"--the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund--as a condition of a bailout for the Greek financial system. New Democracy has had to rely on its junior partner in the coalition government--the center-left PASOK, once the country's dominant political party.

With the relentless austerity offensive continuing and the mass strikes and struggles of recent years diminishing, many people predicted SYRIZA's electoral strength would seceded. But the left-wing party's victories in not only the European vote, but local and provincial elections, proves the continuing popularity of its message of uncompromising rejection of austerity and blackmail by the troika. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has demanded early elections for parliament on the grounds that his party's victory shows the coalition government no longer has a mandate to rule.

In this statement, the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek)--a co-founder of SYRIZA in 2004 and leading force in the Left Platform, which unites left-wing forces within the party--analyzed the election results and their meaning for the fights ahead.

THE RESULTS of the European elections in Greece--with 1.5 million votes and 26.6 percent of the total going to SYRIZA--is a clear electoral victory for the radical left.

The coalition government of New Democracy and PASOK has been shown to be a minority government, not just in opinion polls, but according to the results of a national election. This government no longer has the democratic legitimacy to apply the harsh austerity measures included in its "Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy"--that is, the new agreement between the local ruling class and international "creditors" for further austerity.

SYRIZA's success is even more undeniable if we consider the test of a triple election--the results of municipal and provincial voting, along with the European elections. When it comes to local elections, the difficulties for a party like SYRIZA are far bigger because established local politicians have a greater advantage. The wave of political upheavals unleashed by the financial crisis and the mass struggles of 2010-12 have reached these local arenas after some delay and in a distorted fashion--as was shown by the large number of independent candidates not affiliated to the major parties.

Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras (Lorenzo Gaudenzi)

Even in this difficult terrain, SYRIZA made important gains, like its victory in the Attica region that includes the capital of Athens and surrounding municipalities, the Ionian Islands, and many large working-class municipalities.

Between the first and the second round of voting in local elections, SYRIZA proved that it is not sectarian toward other left-wing parties and organizations. It immediately and unilaterally called on its supporters to vote for candidates of the Communist Party when they were facing candidates from New Democracy or PASOK in the second round--in the municipalities of Patras, Chaidari, Petroupoli and Icaria.

The comfortable victory of Communist Party candidates in all these municipalities proves that supporters of SYRIZA, convinced of the necessity of left-wing unity that their own party promotes, applied this principle overwhelmingly and without hesitation.

Fortunately, the comrades of the left-wing coalition ANTARSYA took a similar approach, calling for a vote for SYRIZA candidate in the municipality of Athens in the second round.

Unfortunately, the comrades of the Communist Party chose to call on supporters to remain neutral in runoff elections between candidates from SYRIZA and candidates representing the coalition government parties, distancing themselves from both sides "equally."

In Athens, SYRIZA's mayoral candidate Gabriel Sakellaridis was narrowly defeated by the incumbent Giorgos Kaminis, who was backed by all the pro-austerity forces, by a margin of 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent--which proved that "equal" distances are never equal in the end.

Of particular importance were the left-wing victories in other municipalities--for example, Chalandri, Nea Filadelfeia and Keratsini--which were based on a radical program and clear alliances among left parties and organizations. These victories proved once again that principled radical left politics don't lead to marginalization. On the contrary, in the context of the present crisis, they are a necessary precondition for hard-fought and even unexpected victories.

IN THE European elections, SYRIZA came in first, with a strong 3.8 percent edge over New Democracy in second place. This proves that the political and electoral successes of May and June 2012 weren't a one-time fluke that came as a result of the anti-austerity revolt of that time.

Despite the relentless attack of the ruling class and the mass media, SYRIZA has maintained and increased its electoral support, putting the left in first place and opening up the prospect of a left-wing government finally coming to power. It's important to note that this success has taken place as the mass movement is at a low point, at least in comparison to the generalized revolt from 2010 to 2012.

The Communist Party, aided by its organizational strength and resources, succeeded in a limited recovering of its support compared to the last election in June 2012. But it is still behind where it stood in the first of the spring 2012 elections in May. In the voting for European parliament, it won 341,748 for 6.1 percent, compared to 277,227 votes and 4.5 percent in June 2012 and 536,072 votes and 8.5 percent in May 2012.

Similarly, ANTARSYA won 40,386 votes this time around for 0.7 percent, compared to 20,396 votes and 0.3 percent in June 2012 and 75,416 votes and 1.2 percent in May 2012.

The relative retreat of the mass movement--despite some heroic workers' struggles by women maintenance workers, teachers, nurses and others--is providing the government some space to manoeuver and regroup its forces.

In the election, its main pillar of support was the percentage of votes won by center-left parties. The combined vote of the various center-left parties shows that the political space of social liberalism has some potential to survive.

The starting point for this effort was the 8 percent share of the vote won by the Olive Tree, the electoral alliance of PASOK and smaller allies; the 6.6 percent that went to the River, a newly formed and supposed "anti-political" party hyped by the media; and the 1.2 percent won by the Democratic Left.

Still, even this combined support is far below what the once mighty PASOK could count on in elections. The prospects of a regroupment of the center-left parties will depend on its attitude toward the Samaras government--whether they will regroup to support it or to take their own independent course.

For now, though, this center-left is giving the right-wing leadership of New Democracy something to rely on as it implements one of the most merciless austerity policies in contemporary history. It is the basis that allows Samaras to dream about holding on to power until 2016.

The dark stain of the election results in Greece was the 9.4 percent won by Golden Dawn--fully 527,000 votes.

DEA insists on the view that to crush the neo-Nazis, we need to struggle to reverse austerity, we need to wage an ideological battle of anti-racism, we need a generalized mobilization of the anti-fascist movement to exclude the Nazis from the public spaces, and we need to insist on our efforts to cut the umbilical cord that connects Golden Dawn with the state and its various agencies.

WITH ALL of this in mind, the elections have valuable lessons for militants of the resistance movement and the left.

The electoral success of SYRIZA is real, and it does create a new political environment. But the overthrow of the coalition government, the renunciation of the agreements with the troika and the EU and the reversal of austerity are tasks that far more complex than can be accomplished in a narrow electoral battle.

We need a mass movement, organized from below, in the streets and taking strike action. We need an escalation of the political struggle, with initiatives from the left. We need an alliance based on SYRIZA, the Communist Party and ANTARSYA that will be more capable of drawing in and organizing unaffiliated activists.

Finally, we need a clear radical left program, with an anti-capitalist, socialist direction.

Translated by Panos Petrou

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