SYRIZA Wins: Reflections While the Tide is Turning

by Ntina Tzouvala • 28 January 2015 For Critical Legal Thinking 

For any new radical politics the future lasts a long time.

There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.

∼ Leonard Cohen

It is probably uncontroversial to argue that the Greek elections of the 25th January will be remembered as one of the most important in the history of Greece, of the Eurozone and of the post-​1989 Left on an international scale. Indeed, SYRIZA’s 36.3% enabled the party of the radical Left to form a coalition government with the small party of the Independent Greeks (more about this later), which is arguably the first leftist government of the Eurozone and the first government elected post-​2008 in Europe committed to putting an end to austerity. Any discussion about SYRIZA can be of exhaustive length and duration, so in this post I will attempt to focus on three things: first, I will provide a brief overview of the outcome of the election trying to reflect on what it means for Greek society at this given moment. Secondly, I will reflect on why SYRIZA’s victory can have wider ramifications both for Europe and for the Left on an international scale. Thirdly, and given that this is a critical, ergo at least moderately pessimistic, form some thoughts on the limitations of the project will be provided.

SYRIZA succeeded in a clear victory over the previous governing party of New Democracy (‘ND’ hereafter), which managed to get a bit less than 28%. To comprehend this, we need to take into account that even though ND is nominally a centre-​right party, it has moved decisively to the far-​right during the last five years. Applying an aggressively neoliberal agenda that managed to alienate them even from some of their traditional supporters, such as the urban middle class or relatively well-​off farmers, ND advanced an openly xenophobic and racist rhetoric regarding immigration and pushed for a solidly conservative agenda, while its connections with the openly neo-​Nazi Golden Dawn appear undeniable.1

This takes us to our second point, which is that Golden Dawn is now the third biggest political party in Greece (6.28%), having elected 17 MPs. In my view, it is essential to understand that this did not happen despite the fact that its leaders are now in prison accused of grave crimes, often with clear racist motives, but exactly because of this. A significant fraction of Greek society remains devoted to neo-​Nazi ideas and racist violence, so for them being accused of such crimes is a badge of honour. What is of acute significance is that Golden Dawn enjoys widespread support amongst the police (and more specifically the riot police) and to a lesser extend in the army, and even among the judiciary. This could be crucial to the extent that it indicates a structural ‘hardening’ of the state, which even the government (any government) might not be in position to control fully. SYRIZA needs to deal with this situation as rapidly as possible, since losing control of parts of the state is not a wild scenario. To move on, the (hard-​core neoliberal) To Potami, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party (PASOK) and the right-​wing anti-​austerity Independent Greeks were all between 4,7% and 6% (the threshold to get parliamentary representation is 3%).

Given that media attention on Greece has been overwhelming, I will not focus my analysis on SYRIZA being a challenge to mainstream neoliberal politics of the Eurozone. This argument has been made repeatedly and it is undeniably a crucial one. Rather, I will try to reflect on how the project of a leftist government in Greece might influence the international Left. This debate needs to be informed by the proposition that the Left has developed a love-​hate relationship with the state and state power over the last century but more specifically after 1989. It is no coincidence that the question of state power and transition lies at the core of the schism between Marxist and anarchist versions of the communist project. Neither is it incidental that government participation became such a thorny issue for the Italian and the French Left in the 1970s.

Nowadays, the radical Left has grown to be very sceptical of the state: the Soviet experience and the failure of the Keynesian paradigm both pointed to the limits and the traps that state-​centric politics entail. Perhaps even more significantly, the official failure of the socialist experiments in Eastern Europe initiated a period where state power was unthinkable for the Left, to the extent that any grand project was. SYRIZA appears to be aware of this tension, but also determined to assume responsibility for its political desires. On the one hand, SYRIZA has been an organic part of various social movements. Just a few examples: SYRIZA supported and participated in the anti-​gold mining movement in northern Greece (here) and it was the only ‘mainstream’ party that did not outright condemn the 2008 youth riots, a choice that bore significant political costs at the time (here). Similarly, its policies aspire to support collaborative production projects that go beyond the private-​public sector divide and embody an alternative way of organising social co-​existence (here). On the other hand, for SYRIZA it is quite clear that, to the extent that neoliberalism (and capitalism more broadly) is a project that aspires to reshape the entirety of our social existence,2 the Left cannot give up on a mechanism such as the state, with its extensive repressive, biopolitical, ideological or redistributional mechanisms. It is genuinely unclear whether SYRIZA will be more successful than its political ancestors in resolving the immense underlying tensions, but the mere fact that it undertakes the project is a turning point for the Left at least on a European scale.

This is not to imply that there are no significant limitations to SYRIZA’s experiment. To begin with, SYRIZA’s victory is attributable to a peculiar social alliance ranging from the radicalised unemployed youth that seeks radical change to the (moderate to conservative) middle-​classes aspiring to regain their consumption-​driven prosperity.3 Evidently, such alliances are essential to secure a viable government, but they also point to the potential limitations of radical policies to be followed. Moreover, SYRIZA was two seats short of an absolute parliamentary majority and therefore a coalition government with the right-​wing anti-​austerity party of Independent Greeks was formed. When this post was written, the details of the agreement were still unknown. It is safe to assume that the anti-​austerity commitments of the Independent Greeks at a minimum level are not directly hostile to the core aspects of SYRIZA’s economic program. Admittedly, the situation will be far more complicated when it comes to social issues, such as LGBT rights (Greece does not even allow for civil partnership between same-​sex couples, despite the ECtHR having ruled that this constitutes a violation of Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention) or granting citizenship to immigrants’ children. SYRIZA’s emphasis on austerity and democracy as opposed to market fundamentalism was warranted by the political momentum and won it the election, but implementing its human rights and civil liberties agenda is also crucial in a country where social conservativism is central to the articulation of neoliberal (and capitalist) hegemony.

In any case, and to recall one of the intellectual currents that lies at the heart of SYRIZA’s ideological origins, for new radical politics the future lasts a long time.

Ntina Tzouvala is a PhD candidate and part-​time staff at Durham Law School

One response to “SYRIZA Wins: Reflections While the Tide is Turning

  1. SYRIZA because huge numbers of people of all ages suffered austerity with a threat to their lives, from babes yet born to grannies.

    SYRIZA won and in a matter of days the old pensioners in town, cities and villages got back from the abyss of nil food money in old age, with pensions cut to nothing with no other income in life.

    The minimum wage that officially fell to 500 E was more like 300 E in practice and has risen back to what it was of 700 E, so helps all ages, but young workers especially.

    Cutting the price of life sustaining medicine will also save relatives I was worried about, from middle aged to those in thier 90s.

    That it why people voted SYRIZA.

    Their lives depended upon it day to day.

    As Gandhi observed, People’s Politics Are Their Daily Bread.

    In the UK, there is a way to get The Greens win a SYRIZA type of victory, but The Greens do not know what they have with their new and unique 21st century policies.

    I just wish Mr Tspiras would have a word with Ms Natalie Bennett and the MP Ms Caroline Lucas of The Greens.

    The Citizen Income would save lives from the first day of its implementation and is affordable.

    The right wing newspaper The Daily Telegraph says that the benefits bill has remained unchanged over the last 4 years and costs £220 billion each year.

    But the Department of Work and Pensions says that the cost of ADMIN both state and private is rising by the billions, whilst the money GOING to the starving is decreasing by the billions each year.

    One Tory commentator to the Greens’ Citizen Income said it would cost about £300 million. Where he got the figure who knows.

    But the Citizen Income, being automatic (so no form filling or assessment) and universal (so absolute minimal admin) would pour £300 million INTO THE ECONOMY.

    The Tories (and soundalike blue lite Labour) say that the benefit cuts under the Coalition have ‘evotion rather than revolution’ and that the most significant cuts are yet to come, with £21 billion of cuts yet to come.

    The British are already starving to death, committing suicide and being more of a burden on the NHS, from the cuts done already. The Tories want to cut benefit received by 23 per cent, when benefit and the state pension is already below what it should be under the EU Social Charter.

    The Tories want to cut the state pension and child benefit paid to middle class families (still as bad off as when the crisis began in 2008).

    The Tories have already cut the state pension for new claimants retiring next year on and from 6 April 2016, with people already forecasts as low as £55 per week with no tops up, when the current state pension is £113.10 per week plus up to £165 from the additional pension if you were not contracted out (which began 6 April 1978).

    If The Greens took up that Tories and Labour will do the poor from babes yet born to grannies and offered their Citizen Income and Full State Pension (with its minimalist admin by universality and automatic nature) then we have the potential of a SYRIZA moment int he UK of a true socialist party ruling the nation for the first time since before New Labour idea made us all right wing.

    Benefit to the unemployed has fallen from £8.5 billion in 2010-2011 (when the Coalition came into power) to £5.2 billion 2015-2016.

    But the majority of those on benefit are the working poor (about 5.5 million people), so the lie of getting people off benefit and into work is not the truth in the UK.

    And new jobs are not the security of a wage, because most new jobs are part time, temporary, or zero contracts. There has not been the rise in income tax because the new jobs are below the basic tax allowance.

    Poor pensioners will be in abject destitution in the near future from NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE when they have little or no other income in old age, because there are many people who for the first time since the state pension began, who will get absolutely nothing.

    Socialism could win big in the UK, the 6th richest nation on earth, because even the rich man’s newspaper The Times knows that welfare and pension reforms are engendering a revolution in the minds of millions of people:

    11 million disabled
    2.6 million poor pensioners
    5.5 million working poor
    Half of over 50s / over 60s are within the working poor
    New poor pensioners left destitute in old age from 2016
    The unemployed left to starve with benefit sanctions months long, when huge numbers do not find work even though their life depends upon it.

    So can SYRIZA please talk to The Greens (England and Wales).

    The Scottish Greens have little hope as the Scottish National Party is sufficiently socialist and already in power in Holyrood (Scotland’s parliament) and well predicted to wipe Labour our in Scotland in the general election May 2015.


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