by Costas Douzinas and Joanna Bourke, originally posted at guardian.co.uk June 17 2012
The Financial Times Deutschland last week published an article on its front page headlined “Resist the demagogue“. It was written in Greek. The article advised the Greeks to reject the radical left Syriza party and vote for the rightwing New Democracy today. It is the culmination of an astounding campaign of fear and blackmail against the democratic right of Greeks to elect a government of their choice.
Angela Merkel, the European commission president José Manuel Barroso, and even George Osborne, have ordered the Greeks to vote the right way. This direct intervention into the democratic process of a sovereign state follows a plethora of threats and rumours, secrets and lies, telling people that if they vote for Syriza, the country will be ejected from the euro and untold catastrophes will follow.
Why are the European elites carrying out this unprecedented campaign, which strikes at the heart of the EU and would lead to outrage if the target were the British, the Italians, or the French? The reason is simple. If the Greeks vote a Syriza government into office, the EU and the IMF will have to drastically change the austerity policies that created an economic disaster and a humanitarian crisis.
The 6 May result saw Syriza’s share of the vote jump from 4% to 17%, while the New Democracy and Pasok parties, which had alternated in government with a combined 80% of the vote in the last 40 years, collapsed to 32%. On 7 May, the Europeans started admitting the Greeks have been punished disproportionately, and that austerity does not work and must be mitigated. On 17 June, a Syriza victory will be the first defeat of austerity in Europe and will have international repercussions.
The belated admission by the IMF and EU “experts” that austerity does not work is a direct result of the 6 May results. The figures are staggering: more than 20% contraction of output over four years; 22% unemployment and 54% youth unemployment; a 24-point jump in the poverty index; and a 50% reduction in the salaries and pension of civil servants. The second memorandum moved to the private sector, abolishing collective bargaining and other basic labour law protections, as well as cutting the minimum wage and unemployment benefits by up to 32%.
The Guardian has documented the humanitarian catastrophe that followed. Soup kitchens for the middle class, a huge jump in homelessness and mental disease, daily suicides, lack of basic medicines, cancer patients turned away from pharmacies, and hospitals ceasing operation because of a lack of basic supplies. The question on Sunday is not between the euro and the drachma, but between the continuation of these policies or salvation from the greatest destruction a people have experienced in peacetime. If something is leading to the exit from the euro, a probable collapse of the eurozone and a possible world crisis of 1930s magnitude, is not the Syriza policies but extreme austerity and mad economic recipes.
Syriza is totally committed to the eurozone. Its manifesto promises an immediate repeal of all laws enacted by the Greek government after the bailouts. Some of the measures affecting the private sector were never demanded by the troika – the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank – and were introduced by the establishment parties. After that, negotiations will start for a substantial reduction of the debt, which may be followed by a moratorium on servicing the debt until the economy starts growing again.
In a highly symbolic move, the minimum wage and unemployment benefit will return to their pre-austerity levels. Syriza’s anti-austerity and pro-Europe policies represent the best interests of the Greek people.
Why don’t the Greeks bow to the threats coming from such powerful quarters? Why has the disinformation campaign backfired, making Merkel the best canvasser for Syriza? The answer can be found in the same FT article. New Democracy, the paper admits, is “co-responsible” (with Pasok) for the sorry state of the country. The two establishment parties built their rule on an inefficient and corrupt state, characterised by clientelism, corruption, and kickbacks for apparatchiks and their coffers. Their servile acceptance of the European austerity diktat sounded their death knell. The majority of the people did not evade their taxes because they are taxed at source, and they did not act corruptly because they did not have any power. Now they do not accept the FT logical fallacy: vote for the parties who brought you to your current predicament in order to be saved.
Throughout history, revolutions have succeeded when a power system runs its course and becomes historically obsolete. It may survive for a while but eventually a political agent appears, to give the final push to the redundant and harmful ancien regime. The collapse of the Greek political elite is a textbook case of how historical necessity combines with popular desire to lead to radical change. Whether Syriza wins on Sunday or not, a new type of socialism will enter the European scene.
But why was Syriza adopted by people who never formerly associated with the left? One answer lies in the resistance of the Greeks over the last two years, particularly the occupations of Syntagma and 60 other squares throughout Greece. The multitude in the squares represented every section of the community. Greeks and foreigners met with a common political desire to get rid of austerity and the corrupt establishment.
The post-civil war divide between victors and defeated dissolved in the popular assemblies of the squares and in clouds of teargas. Syriza members participated in the occupations without attempting to lead or direct. The party is a coalition of 12 groups with equal rights in policymaking. Disagreements are allowed. Syriza’s internal organisation came closest to the direct democracy operating in the squares. On 6 May, the multitude of the squares met again in the polling stations and voted massively for Syriza. This is how revolutions occur.
On Sunday, the Greeks have a rendezvous with history. A Syriza victory will be the beginning of the end of the Greek tragedy and a message to the rest of the world.