‘It’s a war between people and capitalism’

Since the elections on 6 May failed to produce a government, Greece has been in the spotlight all over Europe. While the mainstream media and political establishment focus with considerable alarm on the effects of Greece potentially defaulting on its debts, with the country epitomizing the crisis and instability which is currently making the future of the single currency Eurozone highly uncertain, it is getting increasingly impossible to ignore the real message of the Greek elections. Far from being contradictory or confused, this message is in fact a very clear one - that people are refusing to carry on accepting the neoliberal ‘austerity’ measures imposed by corporate capitalist interests and are increasingly backing left forces which offer genuine alternatives.

The most significant result in the 6 May elections was the groundswell of support for the Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza, which came second with 17% of the vote on a platform of tearing up the Memorandum of Understanding between the Greek government and the so-called ‘Troika’ (team of three) of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The two Memorandums or bailout packages signed in the last two years have demanded massive cuts in public spending, wage cuts and privatization in return for loans amounting to 240 billion Euros, and have wreaked social and economic destruction across the country. More than 70% of the electorate voted for anti-Memorandum parties, with notably, 26.5% voting for revolutionary or radical left parties including Syriza, the Communist Party (KKE) and Antarsya, another coalition of anti-capitalist groups. With the share of the two erstwhile dominant parties, the conservative New Democracy and centrist PASOK, which have both pursued neoliberal policies, falling from nearly 80% to only 32%, the de facto two party system which has been in place in Greece for the last 40 years was decisively undermined.

The real issues at the heart of the election and of the crisis in Europe as a whole came to the fore in the days following the election, as the Syriza coalition was asked to try to form a government after New Democracy’s attempt collapsed. As Alex Tsipras, the 37 year old leader of Syriza, a communist former student activist whom the mainstream media like to describe as a ‘political firebrand’ and a ‘charismatic leader’ with a ‘propensity for rousing oratory’, put it in a recent interview, “It is not between nations and peoples. On the one side there are workers and a majority of people and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It’s a war between peoples and capitalism … and as in each war what happens on the frontline defines the battle.”

As a result of policies of ‘neoliberal shock’, Greece has seen real wages falling by 25% in two years, average purchasing power has fallen by 35% and one in two young people – and almost a quarter of the workforce – are now unemployed.. This has been accompanied by mass protests in which left forces have played a central role. As Marxist commentator Christos Kefalis points out, ‘the results of May 6 didn’t come out of nowhere. This political upset has its roots in the waves of struggles of the last several years ― the huge general strikes, the militant demonstrations, the occupations of the squares. It has its roots in the accumulated political experiences of the people, from the youth revolt of December 2008 to the militant explosion of class anger in the streets of Athens in February’. It is in this context that support for the Syriza coalition, which brings together different strands of the Marxist Left along with greens and anti-capitalist groups, grew rapidly. The coalition’s key demands are rejection of austerity and the bailout conditions imposed in March by the Troika, a moratorium on debt repayments and an international commission to audit the Greek debt, together with vigorous debt write-offs. They also call for taxing the rich, a radical redistribution of income and wealth, the nationalisation of banks, and a new industrial policy to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector.

In response to the clear mandate of the Greek people rejecting the Memorandum, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany (the biggest contributor to the bailout funds) has refused to consider the renegotiation of either the treaty or the impossible terms of Greece’s bailout, turning the struggle over Europe’s economy into a battle for democracy. But as the mixed messages from the recent G8 Summit indicate, the EU leaders and the banks are in fact extremely anxious about the possibility of Greece defaulting and leaving the eurozone which could lead to the abandonment of austerity policies across Europe and even the collapse of the eurozone itself.

The Left in Greece itself is divided over the question of leaving the eurozone, which may cause further hardship for the people in the short term. Syriza has not made a full repudiation of debt – which would inevitably mean leaving the eurozone - part of its programme, although some elements within the coalition see this as the only way forward. The fact that immediate exit from the single currency was not on the agenda was also one of the reasons given by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) for not joining the left alliance proposed by Syriza after the elections. But many on the left are highly critical of the KKE’s stance, which claimed that any attempt to form a left government amounted to ‘spreading illusions among the people’ and whose leader refused to even meet with Alex Tspiras to discuss an alliance, effectively making the formation of such a government impossible. Christos Kefalis argues that overcoming sectarian divisions is crucial for the left at this juncture. The KKE has the support of a significant part of the industrial working class, fighting elements that would be important to the formation of a consolidated mass front which is currently lacking: ‘with the support of a mass movement big radical changes can be initiated using the parliament as a lever; there is no real reason why this should, in principle, not be possible for Greece. Real problems however start from this point on. To enforce such a radical change with the help of a left government based on a parliamentary majority, a mass front is needed, which would lend support to the project. This is all the more essential in Greece, in order to be able to withstand the strong pressure by foreign lenders, European governments and imperialist institutions’.

Meanwhile the other significant feature of the May 6 elections in Greece, which is also characteristic of capitalism in crisis, is the rise of the far right, with three far right parties receiving an unprecedented 20.5% of the vote. Most disturbingly, Golden Dawn, an avowedly neo-Nazi, racist and anti-immigrant party, received 7% of the vote, the first time that such a party has entered parliament with large-scale support in Greece, known for its resistance movement against the Nazis during the Second World War. This echoes developments in France, where Marine Le Pen’s National Front came third in the recent Presidential elections. With fascist groups gaining a foothold, it is clearly a very urgent task for the Left across Europe to directly confront them, and in particular to more explicitly and concertedly counter the racist anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideologies of these parties.

Syriza’s popularity continues to grow, but the outcome of the fresh elections called for June 17 is impossible to predict. In any event however, with the crisis set to deepen, the mounting tide of resistance to neoliberal austerity measures and the re-emergence of the Left as a political force to be reckoned with in Greece and across Europe is clearly here to stay.

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