The recent Greek elections on 25 June saw SYRIZA take a hammering, with leader Alexis Tsipras announcing his resignation today. SYRIZA’s collapse has granted victory to the right-wing New Democracy. Coupled with the reentry of a fascist party into parliament, this has caused many on the left to claim that Greek society is shifting to the right, and is even threatened with the rise of fascism. This is a superficial conclusion that ignores the main trend: a surge in abstention, and disillusionment with the institutions of bourgeois democracy.
We publish the following abridged analysis of our Greek comrades, which can be read in full in two parts on their website, www.marxismos.com.
The results of the national elections of 25 June confirmed the general political trends of the elections of 21 May. There were three new developments, however. One was the huge rise of abstention, in just one month since the last election. Secondly and importantly, this election saw massive losses for SYRIZA on the one hand, and the strengthening of the fascists in the bourgeois camp, with the electoral success of the Spartans (which has a continuity with Golden Dawn). Finally – despite coming out on top – the ruling class’ traditional party, New Democracy (ND) lost hundreds of thousands of votes in record time.
The surge in abstention
Almost 800,000 from the registered electorate who voted on 21 May abstained on 25 June. This represents about 8 percent of the electorate, bringing the total official abstention rate up from 38.9 percent on 21 May to 47.17 percent now. This is a record for any national elections in Greece, smashing the previous record, which was set in September 2015, with 43.84 percent.
Both of these modern records for abstention came immediately on the back of major political defeats for the Left (SYRIZA’s betrayal of the historic ‘NO’ vote against Troika austerity in 2015, and the electoral collapse of SYRIZA a month ago). In both cases, frustration with the political direction of SYRIZA’s leadership is principally to blame.
The fact that a large mass of abstaining youth did not turn to right-wing parties shows that the main trend is not a drift to conservatism, but political disillusionment and confusion. These left-wing youth are waiting for a new hope to emerge on the left.
It was this abstention on the left that meant New Democracy was not thwarted. When, last month, there seemed to be a chance of electing a left-wing government, abstention fell to its lowest point since January 2015. By contrast, on the eve of the 25 June elections, when the prospect of electing a left-wing government had receded further than at any time in recent years, turnout plummeted, as was to be expected. Calls for electing a “strong parliamentary opposition” left large layers of the workers and poor coldly indifferent, having no practical meaning for them.
Those on the left who are wagging their finger at the workers and young people who did not vote should hold the left-wing leaders to account first and foremost.
The majority of those who abstained are the flesh and blood of the working class, belonging to the most plebeian layers of society. They have lost all confidence in capitalism and bourgeois democracy.
A turn to the right?
Some left leaders (especially the SYRIZA leadership) have persistently propagated the idea that there has been a rightward turn in society (thus justifying their own rightward shift). The real numbers resoundingly refute this idea.
A cursory glance at the overall performance of the right and far right reveals that, despite gaining a 3 percent increase compared to 21 May, their total votes actually decreased.
On 21 May, the right and far right took 51.54 percent, if we include ‘single issue’ groups like anti-vaxxers. On 25 June this was up to 54.48 percent. However, the total votes reduced from 3.04 million to about 2.84 million – i.e. a 200,000 vote fall! In other words, the small increase in right and far right votes registered on 21 May relative to 2019 (an increase of 360,000) was largely cancelled at the 25 June poll.
Indeed, as a proportion of the voting-age population (not just registered voters) the votes for the right and far right in fact represent a little less than 30 percent of the total electorate.
Why did New Democracy win?
The New Democracy gained 40.55 percent (2.11 million votes) this time round, winning 158 seats, compared to 40.79 percent (2.4 million votes) in May. In other words, it experienced a drop of almost 300,000 votes in just one month, and 135,000 fewer votes than in 2019! This tempered the celebrations of the ruling class.
Before the elections, the politicians and media of the ruling class were talking about New Democracy being likely to take 44-45 percent and significantly boost their vote. They even dreamed of winning 180 seats, which would enable New Democracy to launch reactionary changes to the Constitution with the votes of its own MPs alone.
According to the exit poll data, New Democracy lost almost 48,000 votes to the fascist Spartans, 48,000 votes to PASOK, 25,000 to SYRIZA, 25,000 to Victory (a far-right religious party), 22,000 to Hellenic Solution, 25,000 to other parties, and about 100,000 to abstention. In other words, it lost votes both to the left and to the right, but mainly to abstention. These not inconsiderable losses would be enough to get a new party above the threshold for representation in parliament. They reveal not a solid, but an unstable and precarious electoral influence.
The exit poll data shows that the core of the electoral power of New Democracy are the middle classes in the city and the countryside, as well as pensioners. As we have already explained, New Democracy has prevailed thanks to a temporary sense of ‘stability’ after the past two years of economic recovery among these social strata, and thanks to the easing of fiscal rules across Europe and the one-off state support for households during the lockdowns.
But whilst the temporary economic situation favoured New Democracy, they do not fully explain why it won, and particularly the 22.71 percentage point gulf separating it from SYRIZA. This can only be understood in the light of the SYRIZA leadership’s own right-wing politics and the general disillusionment they’ve sown among the broad masses of the working and poor popular strata.
The PASOKification of SYRIZA
The hypocritical doom-mongers who inhabit the leadership of the left have exhort us to enter mourning since the evening of 25 June. For them, an electoral victory of the right, irrespective of the circumstances, leads to the automatic conclusion that there is a ‘right turn’ or even a ‘fascist turn’ in society. This automatic simplification, which takes on the character of a tick for them, arises from their existential need to shift blame for every electoral defeat as far as possible away from themselves and on to ordinary working people.
The fact is, New Democracy won because SYRIZA lost – and its loss was solely due to the policies of its leadership.
On 25 June, SYRIZA gained 17.83 percent, which represents 930,000 votes and 48 seats. That is, in just one month, it lost 2.24 percent and 255,000 votes. The SYRIZA of June 2023 now falls short of the SYRIZA of the 2019 elections by 850,000 votes and 13.7 percentage points! The general picture of the party’s declining electoral influence can be described in one word: rapid ‘PASOKification’.
SYRIZA’s electoral appeal to the working class in particular has taken a very big hit, and is beginning to resemble the precipitous decline of PASOK at the beginning of the last decade, which has decisively determined its ever-greater bourgeois degeneration.
Thus, in the electoral districts of Athens, which have a highly working-class population, such as Piraeus and the western sector of Athens, SYRIZA has lost more than 50 percent of its votes relative to 2019, losing 30,000 and 42,000 respectively.
According to the exit poll data, among all private sector employees, SYRIZA has lost almost 50 percent of its electoral strength in four years, falling from 30 percent to 16.8 percent. Among this layer, it is now separated by only 5 points from PASOK, which has risen from 7 percent to 11.5 percent.
In response to the adherents of the theory of a rightward turn among the working class, it ought to be noted that in the same four-year period, New Democracy fell from 38 percent to 30.8 percent among wage workers. SYRIZA also lost more than 50 percent of its influence in the same period among the unemployed (from 42 percent to 19.2 percent), while its drop among civil servants was also substantial (from 37 percent to 21.5 percent).
While the party suffered an electoral debacle among the working class, SYRIZA’s fortunes among the middle class and young people suffered similarly, with the party’s share among farmers falling from 26 percent to 13.4 percent, among freelancers from 27 percent to 16 percent and among young people aged 17 to 24 from 36 percent to 19.3 percent.
Clearly, the leadership’s attempts to justify its rightward shift as broadening its appeal amongst the middle classes has been proven utterly false.
The betrayal of 2015 and right-wing government policy
The summer of 2015, when Alexis Tsipras and his leadership team betrayed their promise to respect the referendum result, was a decisive milestone in SYRIZA’s collapse. The party was never fully forgiven or trusted after this.
Here the apologists of the SYRIZA leadership will ask the following question: how can an event that happened eight years ago be the determining factor for an electoral collapse that happened this month?
Human consciousness is conservative. As a rule, it only belatedly reflects the developments and processes taking place in the world. The political consciousness of the working masses does not follow a straightforward course, nor does it immediately and automatically reflect the political and social reality. The various phases through which it passes are formed through a contradictory process of qualitative and quantitative changes, leaps forward and backward. In this process, major events – domestic and international – form the decisive factor. Other factors also play a role, such as the state of the mass workers’ organisations, the experience of the results of their leadership’s political choices, the balance of class forces, etc.
In January 2015, by voting en masse for a left-wing programme (full, of course, of striking gaps, contradictions and inconsistencies), workers and the poor brought SYRIZA into government with 36.34 percent and 2.25 million votes. After submitting to the Troika in September 2015, SYRIZA retained its vote share with small losses, at 35.46 percent, but the absolute number of votes received fell by a remarkable 330,000 votes, to 1.92 million.
After four years of implementing a generally right-wing policy, which it attempted to mitigate using extraordinary benefits for the unemployed and pensioners, and a small increase in the minimum wage towards the end of that four-year term, SYRIZA’s vote share dropped further to 31.53 percent, with its votes falling even further by 160,000, to 1.78 million. Finally, in 2023 SYRIZA suffered an electoral collapse, losing almost 48 percent of its strength!
The fact that it collapsed not while in government, but rather when in opposition, has led to confusion that is to some extent understandable. Taking advantage of this confusion, the apologists for the right-wing turn of the SYRIZA leadership are attempting to excuse its actions in government.
However, it should be noted that the electoral decline of SYRIZA had already begun immediately after it escalated its right-wing turn whilst in government. Thus, from January 2015 until the moment it went into opposition in July 2019, as a governing party, it had already lost 465,000 votes. That is, solid disapproval had already been expressed for its rightward turn. The only reason this disapproval from the working class and the poor was not greater was the absence of any other party possessing a viable solution, from the left all the way to New Democracy.
But it ought to also be noted that election results are a poor indicator of the working class’ ties with a party and its attitude towards its policies. Dissatisfaction of the working class and youth with the rightward shift of SYRIZA after the summer of 2015 was reflected strongly in the marginal influence of its forces in working-class and youth movements, in the trade unions and student associations, where its influence was everywhere lower than not only the KKE but even than PASOK. This weak influence screamed of an electoral collapse to come, unless its policy changed dramatically whilst in opposition.
Complacency after July 2019
After the defeat of SYRIZA in the July 2019 elections, however, Tsipras and his leadership team made another fatal mistake, demonstrating for the umpteenth time their political blindness and the gulf separating these careerist reformist leaders from the life and consciousness of their working-class base. With an analysis of the election results that constituted a typical mixture of assessments by a trainee political reporter and an arrogant bureaucrat, the ‘charismatic’ leader, underestimating the process of declining popularity already underway and ignoring its real causes (obvious to every ordinary worker – namely, the rightward shift), he concluded that since the party had maintained a share of over 30 percent after four years in government, it would be easy for it to get back up to 35-40 percent and reclaim the government.
Tsipras concluded that, after the 2019 defeat, all he had to do was to find a new ‘narrative’ (or, rather, a ‘fairy tale’). This ‘narrative’, on the one hand, included justification of a rightward shift towards the ‘centre ground’ and respect for the legitimacy of the regime and the ruling class, and on the other hand, responding to the needs and demands of workers with certain leftist slogans.
But the needs of the workers were quite different, and indeed much more demanding, than those of the party on which they had pinned their hopes. The attacks since July 2019 by the New Democracy government on workers’ incomes and basic rights could not be countered by a simple revision of the left leaders’ ‘narrative’. The only way SYRIZA could consolidate its results from 2019 and seriously fight for a return to government would have been through a brave, and much-needed self-criticism of the 2015 betrayal and of its right-wing government policies, and a decisive turn to the left, with a new programme for breaking with the ruling class and the Troika, and active and militant opposition to the right-wing government.
Why SYRIZA collapsed in opposition
It should be stressed here that for workers and youth, effective opposition does not mean speeches with a more left-wing ‘flavour’ in parliament; nor uninspiring programmes passed at party conferences to be stashed away in oblivion. Effective opposition means a practical effort to mobilise the masses in the streets in order to hasten the fall of a right-wing government.
But such an option was not what Tsipras and the other SYRIZA leaders had in mind. Such an opposition might bring SYRIZA into power on the back of a demanding mass movement, which would push for radical change from the outset. This is exactly the opposite of what reformist careerists organically desire, namely: a peaceful government career, with workers playing the role of mere spectators, waiting for the mercies of the ‘charismatic’ leader to descend from on high.
The well-known ‘argument’ of the leadership apologists that “the people did not want such an opposition” collides with reality. In the three general strikes from 2021 to 2022, and in the two massive anti-government movements – one against police violence, and the other following the Tempi train crash in particular – the SYRIZA leadership could have taken the necessary initiatives for a truly effective opposition.
But, apart from uttering statements of sympathy, and the symbolic mobilisation of a very small number of its members, it did literally nothing.
The moment of collapse
A SYRIZA apologist might ask: why was SYRIZA’s electoral rout delayed? “Why did the masses not rally to SYRIZA as the only governmental alternative to the right in May this year, as they did in 2019? The only answer is that we have a rightward turn in society!” The answer to this simplistic view is relatively simple for anyone with the least contact with working people.
Throughout the entire election period, even the most SYRIZA-friendly polls predicted victory for New Democracy to greater-or-lesser degrees, and repeatedly referred to figures for SYRIZA that were, at best, well below the 2019 figure. Under these circumstances, the alternative vision put forward by the SYRIZA leadership of a ‘progressive government’ with PASOK did not excite a single worker or young person. Moreover, the certainty that we would have a second consecutive election tranquilised many young and working-class voters.
Having thus disappointed the working masses with its right-wing turn in government, and its non-opposition to New Democracy, the SYRIZA leadership found itself teetering on the edge of collapse. The extent to which the faith of the workers in the party had been undermined proved to be enormous. It blew up all the leaders’ strategic and tactical considerations.
The fall on 21 May was so massive that it surprised even those same working-class voters who had abandoned SYRIZA. Meanwhile, the now enormous gulf separating it from New Democracy in the polls removed any incentive for those ex-voters to return to vote for SYRIZA again. It led to even higher levels of abstention as a result of the massive political disillusionment in the absence of another left alternative. The rest is now history.
Could SYRIZA have recovered on 25 June?
Was there any way to at least partially cover the losses of 21 May in the latest electoral round? In theory, of course there was! On the basis of a sincere and comprehensive self-critique, and a programme of rupture with the right and the ruling class, alongside a campaign of mass rallies in working-class neighbourhoods, 20 percent could have become 25 or 30 percent again. Hope might have been restored among working people to some extent. But the SYRIZA leadership as a whole (not only Alexis Tsipras), has shown that it is organically incapable of following this path. Thus, it was doomed to lead the party to another heavy defeat.
When a meeting of the SYRIZA CC was organised, Tsipras made a speech, and no one else was allowed to follow. The official assessment of the party’s defeat confused workers and insulted their intelligence, blaming the rightward shift of an evil society, blaming well-known statements by SYRIZA ex-minister Katrougalos and others on this or that TV channel.
Tsipras ordered the entire election campaign to focus exclusively on the ‘charismatic’ leader. He created his own electoral commission, with the ‘charismatic’ and inspired decision of including in it a prominent anti-communist intellectual of the ‘centre ground’ and practically exhausted the entire election campaign in interviews on TV channels, where he answered staged questions taken from the political agenda imposed by the New Democracy.
Any reasonably sober assessment of this tactic can only conclude that the 250,000 additional votes lost since 21 May was really not a large figure at all – two-thirds of them being lost directly to abstention.
To sum up, the electoral collapse of SYRIZA that we witnessed in the two electoral periods in May and June was caused by two factors: on the one hand, the continued draining of faith in SYRIZA among the working masses, which has waned ever since the party was in government carrying out right-wing policies, and on the other hand, the party’s refusal to conduct a practical, real, effective opposition to the New Democracy government that the working class needs.
The result is that social democracy has suffered a second casualty after the demise of PASOK.
The return of the fascists to parliament
The only real rightward shift that took place in the 25 June elections was not in society at large, but in the political camp of the ruling class. The extreme right has been strengthened. Across Europe, almost 1 in 6 voters vote for far-right parties. This expresses political polarisation, under the weight of the sharpening of class antagonisms created by the historical impasse of capitalism.
In Greece, this has seen the obscurantist formation, Victory, elected into parliament on 25 June, slightly stronger than on 25 May. The Greek Solution party of Kyriakos Velopoulos did not benefit from the rightward shift, losing 30,000 votes compared to 21 May. The epicentre of the Greek Solution's appeal remains Northern Greece, where over the last 30 years nationalism centred on the Macedonian issue has remained consistently higher than in the rest of the country. As the exit poll showed, the Greek Solution has its strongest influence among farmers and stock breeders, i.e. the most backward, petty-bourgeois strata of the countryside.
The far-right religious party, Victory, received 3.69 percent, almost 192,000 votes and 10 seats. It received only 20,000 more votes than on 21 May, and in any case, its generally marginal entry into parliament is far from an expression of strength. Its electoral performance is to a considerable extent the result of the active support given to it by sections of the reactionary Orthodox Church.
But the undisputed winner on the far right is the new fascist formation under the leadership of the imprisoned Nazi H. Kasidiaris, known as Spartans – i.e. the parliamentary continuation of Golden Dawn.
The Spartans received their highest percentages among the unemployed (9.4 percent), private sector employees (6.8 percent) and young people aged 17-34 (9.2 percent). These figures show an increased influence on more plebeian and lumpenised layers of society compared to the electoral base of Victory and Hellenic Solution.
Not three years have passed since Golden Dawn was branded a criminal organisation, and the neo-Nazis have returned to parliament in a new shell. The fact that this fascist front-formation easily entered the Parliament with 4.64 percent and 241,000 votes after only 20 days of electoral struggle, based on a statement of support for Kasidiaris spread mainly on the internet, clearly indicates the fair degree of solidity of its influence. It also shows how deceptive and hypocritical were the much-publicised attempts by the government and the ruling class to prevent any Kasidiaris-controlled formation from participating in elections.
The result will inevitably lead to the unleashing of the fascist gangs and the systematic revival of their brazen terrorist action against left-wing militants and immigrants. The only force that can prevent this action is mass, militant anti-fascist self-defence, coordinated by the United Front of the mass organisations of the working class and youth. The pursuit of its realisation falls today mainly on the shoulders of the only mass communist party of the working class, the KKE, and this is one of the most urgent tasks facing it in the coming months.
But today, the path to the seizure of power by the fascists is closed, at least as long as the existing correlation of power among the classes continues. Only crushing defeats capable of disintegrating the backbone of the organised workers’ movement and its mass organisations could give the fascists their chance. But before even a hint of such a prospect opens up, the working class will have many ample opportunities to carry through a victorious revolution.
The KKE facing historic tasks
The KKE’s vote share on 25 June was 7.69 percent (up from 7.29 percent on 21 May) and, with 401,000 total. Clearly, the 125,000 vote increase on May 21 compared to 2019 was not a fluke, even if it was mitigated by the loss of 25,000 votes on 25 June (the party received 426,000 votes on 21 May). These results reflect a genuine movement of a respectable number of workers and young people towards communism. This has now consolidated the party in third place in Athens and Piraeus, where almost half of the country's population lives and works.
The KKE has now almost doubled its appeal among private sector employees, going from just 5 percent in 2019 to 9 percent. Of particular importance for the party’s future is the rise in its share among young people aged 17-24, going from 6.4 percent to 8.9 percent.
On the other hand, the results revealed the negative effects of serious errors in the party’s central political line, resulting in its inability to benefit from the very large losses suffered by SYRIZA. While SYRIZA lost 255,000 votes, the KKE gained only 23,500 of them, and lost 20,000 in the other direction, forming a positive balance of only 3,500. PASOK received 35,500 votes from SYRIZA, ending up with a larger positive balance (15,000 votes).
The main slogan of a vote for “militant opposition” reinforced the view among layers of the population that the KKE is not serious about taking power, and sees itself as a perennial opposition party. Also, there are hard limits to what can be achieved in “opposition” on a capitalist basis. This is the lesson of the many mass struggles in Greece in recent years: all were defeated due to their unwillingness to escalate to a direct confrontation with capitalism, to install a workers’ government.
In order to win to communism those former SYRIZA voters, who have rejected their bankrupt reformism, the communists must, first and foremost, explain to him their own revolutionary proposal for power.
However, the confirmation of the strengthening of the KKE’s influence on 25 June gives it the necessary room to correct this mistake. The collapse of SYRIZA leaves an enormous political vacuum in the working class, and KKE must fight to fill it as soon as possible. Winning to communism those workers who have abandoned SYRIZA is a vital task for the future of the KKE, and the prospect of the socialist revolution itself.
PASOK-KINAL received 11.84 percent and 617,000 votes, losing 60,000 votes compared to 21 May. Thus, it confounded the ‘predictions’ of the bourgeois media after 21 May that the party was a rising force that would overtake SYRIZA as the main party of opposition. PASOK’s very poor performance in Athens and Piraeus, where it again fell behind the KKE as the fourth party, demonstrates its failure to capture the imagination of the working class.
Elsewhere on the left, Zoe Konstantopoulou’s Plefsi Eleftherias (‘Course of Freedom’), received 3.17 percent and 165,000 votes, just barely entering parliament.
Despite SYRIZA’s huge electoral losses; and despite receiving 2.5 percent and 130,000 votes, Yannis Varoufakis’ MeRA25 not only failed to return to the Parliament, but even failed to maintain its own small forces from 21 May, losing 24,000 votes. This result proved once again that, despite the left-wing shift in its politics and programme over the last two years, MeRA25 has failed to build strong links with the working class and youth.
We identified the political reasons for this result in our analysis of the results of May 21. But one additional factor is that, in the consciousness of the working masses, Varoufakis is associated with the miserable failure of so-called “militant negotiation” with the Troika in 2015. This ultimately ended with Varoufakis breaking with Tsipras, the betrayal of the referendum and the imposition of brutal austerity.
Political distrust of Varoufakis is deeply rooted. It could not be overcome, no matter how many times he and MeRA25 members swore during the pre-election campaign (without wanting to question their sincere intention) to “rupture” with the oligarchy.
Just like the leadership of SYRIZA, the leadership of MeRA25, in order to cover its own mistakes, bemoaned the “conservative turn of society”. Varoufakis went one step further. In an article published the day after the May elections, instead of admitting his own serious political mistakes, he indirectly (but clearly) incriminated the popular majority in the ‘NO’ camp from July 2015 of consciously bowing before the capitalist juggernaut, questioned its democratic convictions, and also its intelligence, which supposedly did not allow it to understand his “difficult” analyses.
The leadership of a left-wing party that adopts such a cynical, sceptical and deeply defeatist reading of reality will never see an electoral recovery.
The previous government of the New Democracy benefited from the temporary stabilisation of Greek capitalism. But the situation has become quite different internationally, which will have implications for Greece. A world recession is on the way, provoked by an international rise in interest rates, which will increase debt, and fuel a new downward phase in global capitalism.
With the Eurozone already in recession, the prospects for Greek capitalism are again extremely bleak. The Greek trade balance has never been in such a deep deficit; Greek government bond interest rates have steadily risen to levels reminiscent of just before the Memoranda crisis; unemployment is surging again; and the government has already announced the end of electricity subsidies (at the directive of the European Commission).
In addition, from this year Greece officially returns to its primary surplus targets: 2 percent of GDP in 2023, 2.8 percent in 2024 and 3.7 percent of GDP in 2025. We get a sense of the severity of cuts necessary to reach these targets when we consider the 0.1 percent level of Greece’s primary surplus in 2022.
Thus the new majority government of New Democracy will, from the autumn, begin to replace the Keynesianism of one-off benefits with a new programme of harsh austerity.
In these conditions, new mass struggles of the working class and youth will inevitably break out. The mass anti-fascist mobilisation against Golden Dawn in October 2020; the three general strikes that followed in 2021 and 2022; the mass youth demonstrations against police violence in 2021, and the Tempi movement that was combined with another large general strike, are events that have already heralded a new period.
Inevitably, the shock that the comfortable election of another right-wing government has created in the working masses will tend to have a paralysing effect for a while.
It is the youth who will ‘drag’ the politically disillusioned working masses into a new movement. The attitude of its freshest layer, the young people aged 17-24, can be glimpsed by the fact that it gave the parties to the left of PASOK 46 percent of their vote on 21 May, and over 40 percent on 25 June.
This generation represents the real hope of Greek society and its political aspirations are a slap in the face to every self-interested cynic and sceptic. Winning it over as soon as possible to the ideas and programme of genuine communism is a prerequisite for escaping from the grim realities of capitalism. Namely, a system that constantly causes heinous crimes such as those of Tempi and Pylos; brings fascist sects into parliament; and plunges the masses into political disillusionment and electoral abstention.