Greece: Voters revolt against cuts
The results of the May 6 elections in Greece sent a message that has been heard around the world: Working people want an end to the austerity agenda that has plunged Greece's economy into depression and slashed living standards everywhere.
The highlight of the vote was the result for the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), a broad left party. SYRIZA came second with 17%, ahead of the social democratic PASOK (13%) and just behind the conservative New Democracy (ND ― 19%).
This election was the first time the people of Greece have had a chance to vote on the policies instituted in the wake of Greece's debt crisis. The savage cuts in public spending, wage cuts for public-sector workers, privatisation drive and other austerity measures are conditions for an ongoing financial bailout engineered by the so-called troika of the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The troika, and its backers on Wall Street and in powerful governments, want even more cuts, and the economic and political elites of Europe and the US are warning of dire consequences after Greece's election results.
Despite New Democracy receiving a bonus 50 seats in the 300-seat parliament for coming first, it was unable to form a coalition government. Under Greek electoral laws, if no party has a majority, each party in parliament gets three days to form a coalition ― starting with the first placed group.
SYRIZA, which calls for a government of all forces to the left of PASOK on the basis of opposition to austerity, was unable to form a government. The Greek Communist Party (KKE), which received 8.5% of the vote, refuses to collaborate with SYRIZA.
If no party can form a coalition, there will be new elections. The Guardian reported that polls showed SYRIZA would come first in a new election ― with more than 27% of the vote. But PASOK also failed to pull a government together.
However, PASOK was considered a chance to form a government with New Democracy and Democratic left ― a right-wing split from SYRIZA. If so, the fear of an even bigger win for SYRIZA, campaigning on a clear platform of rejecting the cuts, repudiating the debt and nationalising the banks, will have been a factor.
The Greek socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) helped to found SYRIZA in 2004. Below is an abridged editorial from DEA's newspaper. It is abridged from US Socialist Worker.
* * *
In the elections of May 6, the message of resistance and struggle put forward by SYRIZA was vindicated.
The result is a subversion of the political status quo. The people of Greece voted hugely against the ND and PASOK.
These two parties were the guardians of the so-called "memorandum", the anti-worker loan deal between the Greek government and the IMF, EU and ECB.
They were also the major partners in the technocratic government of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB official who took over during the upheaval against PASOK's drastic austerity measures.
The third member of the coalition government, the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally, was also crushed, ending up with 2.9% of the vote, beneath the threshold to qualify for representatives in the next parliament.
The ND leader Antonis Samaras said his party's goal was to win a governing majority on its own. In the end, it lost 1.1 million votes from its result in 2009, down from 33.5% two-and-a-half years ago ― and that total was a record low and considered a crushing defeat.
The leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, hoped his party would at least remain in first place among the parties. In the end, it lost 2.2 million votes from its 2009 result, down from 43.9% in the last election.
The main means that people used to express their huge shift to the left was voting for SYRIZA, which rose from 4.6% in 2009.
SYRIZA was rewarded for its radical left-wing politics ― a loud and clear "No!" to the memorandum and the loan deals, its constant attacks against the bankers and its demand to tax the rich.
It was rewarded for its unity, as it targeted the real enemies and avoided the civil war inside the left.
It was mostly rewarded because it didn't hesitate to challenge the blackmail that any vote which wasn't for austerity would destroy the Greek economy. SYRIZA talked about the need to get rid of the current government right now. It steadily proposed the solution of a government of the left.
The Communist Party remained at about the same level of influence ―it won 517,249 votes in 2009 and 536,072 votes in 2012. The increase was negligible, despite a period full of great struggles and a huge shift to the left.
So there was also a message in the May 6 results for the leadership of the Communist Party. These leaders chose to direct their criticism mainly against SYRIZA.
Above all, they chose to proclaim to the people that any effort they make to change their lives today, rather than in some sort of "people's power" regime of the distant future, is a dangerous illusion.
The electoral gains of ANTARSYA, a smaller coalition of far-left organisations, were also very limited. From 24,687 votes (0.36%) in 2009, it reached 75,439 (1.19%) this year.
In a period full of struggles and radicalisation, this far-left coalition failed to achieve a major advance in its influence and its political role in Greece. It failed to do what the neo-Nazis, the "radical" wing of the right, achieved.
This is the darkest side of the elections ― the big rise for Golden Dawn, which is not just a far-right party, but hardcore neo-Nazis.
The disciples of Hitler managed to win 438,910 votes, for 6.97% of the total. This gang of thugs ― which poses as an anti-memorandum force, even though it was, is and always will be a loyal hound-dog of the ruling class ― has the potential and the financial means to become a real political party.
The far-right has become an even more serious threat to immigrants, the left and the labour movement. Confronting them becomes one of the basic tasks for the resistance movement and the left.
The effort to drive back the Nazis must be a conscious, organised and constant struggle.
Over all, the election result was a body blow to the system. It caused an unprecedented paralysis for the political representatives of the ruling class, who were left with neither legitimacy, nor any options for winning support for their austerity policies.
This happened at a time when the intensifying global crisis has demanded that they act faster and more decisively against workers.
The result also raised the potential for an escalation of resistance from below. It has opened up the possibilities for a more radical shake-up of the status quo, since the slogan for a "government of the left" has the support of a crucial part of the population.
This is a fact that can't be ignored. SYRIZA came first in the working-class vote, public and private sectors, among the unemployed, and among voters aged 18 to 34 and 35 to 54.
It was also the leading party in the working-class neighbourhoods of Athens and Pireaus.
This result is also a message to Europe ― one that isn't isolated, as was proven in the presidential elections in France.
The leaderships of EU countries responded with a contradictory message of their own.
On the one hand, they hope to control the situation after the elections ― to scare people with the threat of "chaos" if the Greek state doesn't respect the commitments signed by Samaras and Venizelos.
On the other hand, they are manoeuvering in the hopes of opening up negotiations. They claim they would be willing to discuss adjustments to the terms of the memorandum ― for example, extending austerity measures from a two-year basis to a three-year basis, to make them less drastic.
They say they would be willing to negotiate a new policy that combines austerity with some promise of stimulus measures.
In reality, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schauble are terrified, because they realise Greece may now become the "weak link" of the European chain of austerity. The left must remain focused on this prospect.
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.
But the part that SYRIZA played to crystallise this dynamic and give it a political expression shouldn't be ignored.
The establishment is already trying to subvert this dynamic with threats about no party being able to form a government — and by pushing for a "national salvation" coalition government that includes all parties.
SYRIZA is right in refusing such a scenario. It is resisting all the pressure and blackmail, and it should keep on resisting until the end.
Only through a government of the left can the memorandum can be overthrown in a manner that is in the interests of workers. Such a government would cancel the Memorandum and the loan deals as the first step toward a program with completely different priorities.
The central concerns of such a program must be wages, pensions, public education, public health and support for the unemployed.
To find the financial means for such policies, this government would stop paying off the loan sharks, whether Greek or international; it would nationalize the banking system; and it would impose heavy taxation on corporate profits and the rich.
The left has the potential to shake up this rotten political system at its roots. Even if the attitude of the Communist Party leaders doesn't change, SYRIZA has no reason to be afraid of a new election.
Toward this end, we will once again repeat our call for a united front of the left, both in the various struggles across Greece and in the electoral field.