Greece’s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU

by Owen Jones

originally published at the Guardian

Supporters of Syriza at a rally in Athens in May 2014
If Syriza wins a possible snap poll in the new year, positive repercussions could be felt across Europe
Supporters of Syriza at a rally in Athens in May 2014
Supporters of Syriza at a rally in Athens.

‘A Syriza government could spur on other anti-austerity forces across the continent.’ Photograph: Petros Giannakouris/AP
Monday 22 December 2014
Another war looms in Europe: waged not with guns and tanks, but with financial markets and EU diktats. Austerity-ravaged Greece may well be on the verge of a general election that could bring to power a government unequivocally opposed to austerity. Momentous stuff: that has not happened in the six years of cuts and falling living standards that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

But if the radical leftist party Syriza does indeed triumph in a possible snap poll in the new year, there will undoubtedly be a concerted attempt to choke the experiment at birth. That matters not just for Greece, but for all of us who want a different sort of society and a break from years of austerity.

What misery has been inflicted on Greece. One in four of its people are out of work; poverty has surged from 23% before the crash to 40.5%; and research has demonstrated how key services such as health have been hammered by cuts, even as demand has risen. No wonder the country has experienced a political polarisation that has prompted comparisons with Weimar Germany. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn – which makes other European rightist movements look like fluffy liberals – at one point attracted up to 15% in the polls; though still a menace, its support has thankfully subsided to half that.

But unlike many other European societies – with the notable exceptions of Spain and Ireland – fury and despair with austerity has been channelled into the ranks of the populist left. After years on the fringes of Greek politics, Syriza only became a fully fledged party in 2012, and yet it won Greece’s elections to the European parliament earlier this year. The latest opinion polls give Syriza a substantial lead over the governing centre-right New Democracy party. A radical leftwing government could well assume power for the first time in the EU’s history.

After years of social ruin, Syriza is offering Greeks that precious thing: hope. Although it has shifted from demanding an immediate cancellation of debt, it is demanding a negotiated solution. It has conjured up the example of a European debt conference to wipe away a portion of the debt, as happened with Germany in 1953. Syriza’s manifesto proposes that repayment of debt could come through economic growth, rather than from budget cuts. It wants a European new deal backed up by an investment bank; an all-out war against the tax avoidance endemic in Greek society; an emergency employment programme; a raised minimum wage; and the restoration of collective bargaining. In alliance with anti-austerity forces such as Spain’s surging Podemos party, Syriza wants the EU to abandon crippling austerity policies in favour of quantitative easing and a growth-led recovery.

There’s one small catch: the determined opposition of the establishment in both Greece and the EU. Greece was ruled by a hard-right junta, the colonels’ regime of 1967-74, and there is still clearly anti-leftist sentiment deeply embedded in the state. The police have been infiltrated by Golden Dawn elements, with accusations that they have tortured anti-fascist protesters. The head of the bank of Greece has warned of “irreparable damage” to the economy if there is a change of course. Some form of coup – even if more subtle than that executed by the colonels in 1967 – cannot be ruled out.


And then there’s the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, a man who hardly has an inspiring democratic mandate and is best known for questions over his former country’s tax avoidance policies, who has already made it clear that the Greek people should not vote the wrong way. “I think that the Greeks – who have a very different life – know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the eurozone,” he has said. “I wouldn’t like extreme forces to come to power.” There are rumours that, if Syriza does win, Greece could be deprived of all EU funding. Apocalyptic talk of capital flight and bank runs abound. Markets and elite politicians alike have their guns pointed at the Greek electorate.

Syriza’s leadership does have its leftwing critics, though. Those on the party’s left look to the likes of Costas Lapavitsas, an economics professor at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, who believes its programme is impossible within the confines of monetary union. He believes that Syriza’s attempt to transform the EU is naive, but allows the party “to tell people you can have your cake and eat it”, not least given that most Greeks do not wish to be ejected from the eurozone – even after everything that has happened to them.

A confrontation looms between a Syriza government and the EU, he believes, and Greece will be hammered with blackmail and possible “deadly pressure” from the European Central Bank which could strangle the financial system in days. “Grexit” may happen, whether Syriza’s leaders want it or not.

That’s why Greece desperately needs solidarity. Firstly, there’s a point of principle: to defend sovereignty and democracy from attack, whether from within or without. But a Syriza government could spur on other anti-austerity forces across the continent. It is conceivable that Podemos could assume power in Spain later in 2015. The likes of Die Linke in Germany – the country at the very heart of the EU’s austerity drive – could be given a boost, too.

Here in Britain, Syriza already represents a warning to Labour. The explosion in Syriza’s popularity has everything to do with Labour’s sister party in Greece, Pasok, coming to power and unleashing austerity on its own supporters. The consequence? Pasok is now on about 5% in the opinion polls. In Britain, some polls already have the Greens on up to 9%, and that’s before a Labour government that implements cuts has assumed power. Despite the British elite’s deficit-mania, polling by Ipsos Mori finds that while 27% believe Labour “gets the balance about right” when it comes to spending, 26% believe the party will cut too much. A Syriza victory could strengthen those who wish Labour to offer a genuine alternative – or, alternatively, if the first-past-the-post electoral system finally shatters, Britain’s own Syriza-style party.

So 2015 could finally be the year when austerity meets its reckoning across the continent. Or it could be the year that a democratic challenge to economic madness was strangled to death. It is a game of high stakes in which the futures of millions of people could be decided.

3 responses to “Greece’s radical left could kill off austerity in the EU

  1. OK I am a life time of summers in Athens, but from that knowledge I saw that the Drachma was fine in a nation that was prosperous. Me Greek mother escaped Greece by marrying an Englishman in the 1950s.

    Once the Euro money came in, there was the inflation of a bottle of water going from 50 Lepta to 50 cents, when the Euro was equivalent to 360 Drachmas.

    Since then, it is not business links with Europe that has been problem, but the rule of Brussells by a political side of the EU government ruling nations that are EU members.

    Greece will never solve tax avoidance, learned from generations of occupation by various foreign peoples.

    How Greece solved that in the past were one or two national monopolies, for example matches, so that the state got the funds to do public services.

    Also people are not wealthy in Greece who have 3 or 4 homes.

    This is the equivalent to the new 21st century idea of the automatic and universal Citizen Income replacing all benefits and its huge admin cost, and meaning no-one would ever starve again.

    Greeks have the original village house to which they go for weekend holidays, as it is unlikely they will be able to afford anywhere else for any forseeable future.

    Their home in Athens (or other cities) was gained after the scenario of Turkish and then Gestapo German occupation.

    At night if you could raise walls and a roof, you gained the oikopedo (a set amount of land in Greece’s tradition).

    Then you inherited this house from the large families that were the norm in the past, when much smaller families were from the 1960s and after all the deaths from wars before then.

    So Greeks survive by owning one house without a mortage, renting one or two others that maybe as small as 50m2, and having somewhere to escape the pollution in summer of nefos in the cities with a village home, that itself maybe merely 25m2.

    There was never barely a welfare state in Greece for the unemployed.

    Taxing gardens and olive groves of the Enfia idea, just taxes more money people do not have, as a good portion of these are inherited and not cultivated for any profit, as it costs more to care for olives than any money made, when mostly it is just used to feed the family and not sell for the worthless amount olives (or other produce) gets now.

    Me relatives in Greece eagerly seek the end of the Enfia by SY.RIZ.A winning in the New Year elections.

    But they seek just as much getting free medicine back on IKA to save their lives.

    With SY.RIZ.A winning in 2015, you might encourage The Greens in UK to put in their 2015 manifesto pledge for May’s UK’s general election, their web policies of:

    a) Replacing the cruel benefits regime causing starvation (and maybe even deaths) with a universal and automatic Citizen Income, in or out of work and not requiring to be actively seeking work

    b) Full State Pension for all citizens (hopefully at 60 denied since 2013), irregardless of contribution/ credit history, which has been lost due to early retirement due to the massive auserity job cuts (now due to double) or benefit rule changes, and with current law going to mean NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE for UK citizens’ women born from 1953 and men born from 1951.

  2. No party in the UK is offering the hope to the poorest starving that SY.RIZ.A now holds for Greece, with the snap elections now being called as Syriza has been successful in the presidential elections not succeeding.

    I had hoped that The Greens would save the lives of the poorest 20 per cent income income and below in the UK with their unique and new policies that competely solve starvation and fuel poverty, but they have not put those policies within their 2015 general election manifesto.

    They might do, as they are voting what will go in their manifesto in the New Year.

    Let us hope that SYRIZA wins in Greece and so give The Greens the radical socialist solutions they already have and which would give them as least 15 million votes, which is the number of the voters who did not vote in 2010 general election which is double that of all the voters who voted for all the parties in last election.

    This number is the 13 million poor (Oxfam), 2.6 million pensioners only on state pension so far far below the breadline (Age UK) and the over half of over 60s denied state pension payout since 2013 (payable if remain in work or get early retired on average works pension of 4 per cent lowest income) when the denied state pension is wrongly being called a surplus since 2013 in the ring fenced and full National Insurance Fund, that has not needed a top up from tax for decades.

    Only for the flat rate pension to threaten the 20 per cent lowest income and below with
    NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE and bulk of rest with LESS NOT MORE state pension
    after 7 years lost payout to a couple.

  3. Pingback: LabourNet Germany: Treffpunkt für Ungehorsame, mit und ohne Job, basisnah, gesellschaftskritisch » Neuwahlen in Griechenland: Die Panik der Bankenretter…·

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