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Syriza deserve our trust, support and solidarity

GREEK ELECTIONSRadical Left Takes Power‘. There’s a headline not seen in my lifetime. Syriza‘s victory in Sunday’s Greek elections is rightly being greeted with dismay, derision, and near panic by those who presume to know the needs of Greece better than the 2.2m voters who turned out against a completely unnecessary economic depression and austerity-without-end. Sadly, it was just two seats short from acquiring an absolute majority, tingeing the celebrations with a bit of ‘oooh, ‘ang on a minute‘ as Syriza came to a governing arrangement with the Independent Greeks (or ANEL), also known as the British Conservatives’ Greek sister party.

Alexis Tsipras and his cabinet, due to be appointed today, face an incredibly difficult situation. They may have the goodwill of most of the left from across Europe with them, but they could find the financial clout of the ECB and bond markets against them. Internally there are problems too. Even if Tsipras is able to renegotiate the bail out on the most favourable terms austerity policies are unlikely to be reversed in short order. The restoration of pensions, the minimum wage, and sacked public sector workers isn’t going to happen tomorrow. Easing off these policies and then clearing up the economic damage left behind might not happen at a pace agreeable to a chunk of Syriza‘s support.

Managing the situation politically is very tough and disappointment and disillusion is an ever-present danger. The only way Syriza can mitigate the potential damage is avoid the spin and stupid optimism of their predecessors who, like our beloved government, bemoaned “tough choices”, without seriously tackling tax avoidance and evasion and, in Greece’s case, ingrained corruption. Syriza has no choice but to be completely honest with their electorate and the Greek people at large about the challenges and problems facing it.

Another problem is with the state apparatus itself. There are two issues here. Firstly, Syriza is very well placed to purge the administrative machinery of the persistent pockets of corrupt officialdom. As it has supplanted PASOK as the main proletarian party in Greece, albeit with significant small business support also, taking on and rooting corruption out is sociologically possible because its core constituency does not benefit from those kinds of relationships. It’s hurt by them. The same is true of tax evasion. Just as it’s utopian to believe the Tories here would crack down hard on legal and illegal tax dodging schemes because it’s their base who benefits, so it was true of New Democracy‘s relationship to the conservative business interests aboard their coalition. Only a party standing apart separately from those interests can take them on. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution finds itself confirmed in constitutional politics too. Taking on entrenched corruption will be a tough fight, and Syriza are certainly motivated enough to do it, but it comes back to matters of timing and energy required.

This is because there’s another potential battle within the state looming: that between a government of socialists and a thuggish police force sympathetic – in the main – to Golden Dawn. Lest anyone forget the police’s appalling record of attacking what were protesters and are now government supporters. The New Democracy coalition undertook a limited offensive against fascist infiltration of and collaboration between them and the police after Golden Dawn supporters murdered an anti-fascist musician in September 2013. Their so-called fuhrer, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, currently awaits trial for that murder and his alleged involvement in the disappearance of up to 100 migrant workers.

Yet the fascists, while still small and hopefully an electorally spent force, might yet be a focal point for reaction within the police and security services. Their 2012 programme demands the removal of arms and masks from those policing demonstrations, and calls for a more comprehensive training programme aimed at understanding the social roots of crime. That was then. Now? I don’t know, but one assumes that Syriza comrades have been giving this some serious thought. (If any reader can shed a light, please comment below).

Syriza and its Independent Greek bedfellows make for awkward pillow partners. Syriza is uncompromisingly progressive on social issues, the role of religion in public life, immigration, and so on. The ANEL are not. Yet at least on the primary issue before Greece – the renegotiation of austerity – their positions are more or less identical, even if the bases for it are quite different. For leftists here in Britain who are getting a bit twitchy about it and are already looking for signs of a sell out, as Syriza‘s leadership have proved themselves politically adept to steer their party from a ragtag and bobtail outfit of Trots and Maoists to government in less than a decade, I think it’s fair to say they know how to treat with and the dangers of doing a deal with these characters better than you and I.

And that, overall, is the sort of stance the British left take toward Syriza. They’re the experts about the politics of their land, not us. There are a great many activists and thinkers in left politics here who do have expertise and experiences Syriza might find useful. They may occasionally avail themselves of an insight that a bit of distance and grounding in a different political history that could help. The British left should comment and above all learn from the experiences of the coming weeks and months. There is no room for lectures, for carping, for the performative piety of lefty identity politics. Above all the role of the left here, regardless of our background, is to offer solidarity with Syriza, defend it from the calumnies sure to be chucked at it by homegrown idiots and enemies, and make the case that another form of politics is not just possible, but can win too.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. James Martin says:

    “Above all the role of the left here, regardless of our background, is to offer solidarity with Syriza…”

    Hmm, well I’m all for international solidarity Phil but that should focus first on Greek workers and their trade unions given the pro-EU Syriza leadership has not even had the meetings with their German bank managers yet – let’s see what develops in that regard, but a blank cheque of support for a pro-EU group who have got into bed with the Greek version of UKIP is certainly not my position…

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      James: Nobody’s asking for a blank cheque here, but this is the most radical government elected in our lifetimes in a European state which has been brought to its knees by the forces of international capitalism and it needs our active support. Instead of whingeing from your armchair, you could give it to them – you can always withdraw it later if you feel you must.

      1. James Martin says:

        I’m perfectly happy to continue to support KKE from my armchair thanks Jon.

  2. Robert says:

    I hope they have a plan I truly do just like labour in the 1945 election took forward about growth not cuts.

    We cannot have any more failure on the left, sadly with Miliband lot he is failure from the day he was elected he is to close to New labour and Progress.

    Miliband speaks about working people because he cannot say working class or rather he has not been in work or working class himself so has no ideas.

    But this party must not fail if it does the labour party may well face years and years out of power or returning to new labour

  3. swatantra says:

    They may have a radical plan, but will the forces of the Centre-Right right across Europe allow them to put that [lan into practice; and can defaulters really tear up contracts and aggreements and say I’m not paying up, so there. In the end everything comes at a price, even freedom has aprice tag on it. Cuba faced 50 years of isolation because of ideology; and I’m sure it did them a lot for them, shut out in the cold. I doubt whether 10m people can show 2 fingers to the rest of Europe and shift the blame elesewhere, when in truth the Greeks brought it on themselves. In the end everything has a price tag on it.

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