SYRIZA won the elections yesterday, which Tsipras claims gives him a mandate to continue on the road he had already embarked on this summer, i.e. to apply the conditions dictated by the Troika. He, however, conveniently ignores the not unimportant detail that his government coalition (SYRIZA-ANEL) lost a total of 416,000 compared to the vote in January.
In percentage terms SYRIZA received 35.46% almost the same as January’s 36.3%, but in absolute terms the party lost 320,000 votes. New Democracy won 28%, almost the same as January’s 27.8%, but it too lost many votes in absolute terms, nearly 200,000.
What has distorted the result was the much larger numbers abstaining this time round. In January 37% did not vote, while this time it was 43.5% and of those who went to the polling stations 2.5% cast a blank vote. Thus the total not casting a vote was 46%, almost half the population. We should not forget that according to Article 51 of the Greek Constitution “The exercise of the right to vote is compulsory”. It is in spite of this legal obligation that almost half the population refused to vote. This shows the depth of disappointment among a wide layer of the electorate.
Back in January some right-wing commentators, in an attempt to belittle the then SYRIZA result, pointed out that it was 36% of the 63% who voted, making it less than 23% of the electorate. That was when SYRIZA stood on the Thessaloniki programme of reforms and presented itself as an anti-Troika, anti-memorandum, anti-austerity programme. If we applied the same logic today, we would have to say that 35.46% of 54% means only 19.14% of the electorate voted for SYRIZA this time. Furthermore, those parties who voted in favour of the new Memorandum on July 20th lost a total of 800,000 million votes.
This is no real mandate for the austerity that the new government is going to apply in the coming period. The real expression of the Greek people was the referendum in July, when people felt they had a party in government that was prepared to stand up to the Troika. That feeling has gone now, and even those who voted for SYRIZA this time are resigned to the fact that austerity is all that is being offered. They simply hope that under Tsipras it won’t be so harsh.
What this election shows is what happens when the leadership of the working class is not prepared to lead a fight against the capitalist class that controls the economy. There is no middle road between what the capitalists are demanding and what the workers require. That is where the problem lies.
The Greek working class did everything it could, over 30 general strikes, many mass rallies and protests and a vote for what then seemed to be a “far-left” party as the media presented it. SYRIZA in a very short period of time rose from being a marginal party of 4-5% to the winner of the elections in January. This meteoric rise was not achieved by selling austerity to the masses, but by offering an end to austerity. It was its radical programme of reforms that won SYRIZA its votes in January. However, having adopted the austerity demanded by the Troika, SYRIZA under Tsipras has managed to lose 300,000.
The whole scenario in Greece exposes the real nature of bourgeois democracy. A party stands on a programme which comes into conflict with the interests of the capitalists and on that programme is elected into government. Within a few months the capitalists pressurise that party into abandoning the programme it was elected on and to adopt the exact opposite of what people voted for. The programme that Tsipras will now carry out is decided elsewhere, by the big capitalists of Europe.
An article published yesterday by The Guardian had an interesting title, “Unprecedented powers: whoever wins the election in money-starved Greece will be kept in line by this man...” followed by the subtitle, “Dutch economist Maarten Verwey's taskforce will oversee the implementation of Greece’s cash-for-reforms rescue package”. The article goes on to explain that, "Whoever ends up moving into Maximos Mansion, the official Athens residence of Greece’s prime ministers, after Sunday’s election, they will not, in any meaningful sense, be running the country. That honour might be said to go instead to a besuited Dutch economist in Brussels with the imposing title of director-general in the secretariat-general of the European commission in charge of the Structural Reform Support Service… According to the financial weekly Agora, Verwey’s 20-strong staff ‘will essentially write the legislation for almost all areas of government policy, from corporate income tax and labour market policy to the health and welfare system… and prepare interim reports during the evaluation of the economy’."
As we explained in our September 18th article (Greece into the elections – what stage are we at?), the latest Memorandum demands that 80% of what is specified within it must be passed into Greek law by the end of this year. That means the Greek people will be hit by a barrage of austerity measures in a very short period of time. Things will be very different in a few months. The hopes that Tsipras will “soften the pain” will be dashed and the real nature of what he has signed up to will become abundantly clear to all. Then it will be a different ball game.
The latest election results are but a snapshot of the situation as it is today. The Greek election results have to be understood in the context of the mood of apathy and exhaustion that exists in the country after five years of mobilisations and hope that something could be done to stop the draconian austerity being imposed on the working people.
Greece has gone through five years of political instability with a terrible economic crisis as a backdrop, five years, on the one hand, of shaky coalitions, technocratic governments and snap elections, and on the other hand dozens of general strikes, protests and mass movements that did not lead to any immediate political change and were exacting on the working class.
On top of that came the five excruciating months of SYRIZA government: constant crises, negotiations, twists and turns, with a constant wavering by the SYRIZA leadership and no convincing long-term perspectives. This was followed by a referendum where the people stood up to a brutal national and international political and economic campaign.
And all of these developments, despite all the momentum that was generated, culminated in a resounding capitulation, where the SYRIZA government was proven to be completely helpless and the NO a paper tiger in the hands of the government.
Revolution is a great devourer of human energies and the last few months have demoralised and exhausted the masses, which no longer trust any party and just want to get on with their lives and get some stability.
This explains the apathy and the extremely high rate of abstention. The unimpressive victory of SYRIZA has to do with the fear of New Democracy getting back to power, the last glitters of leftism that Tsipras still conserves and his promise to be the most "progressive" pro-memorandum party, the fact that the economic impact of the memorandum still has not been truly felt, and the fact that no credible political force has put forward a convincing alternative to the memorandum.
To the left of SYRIZA, neither the KKE, nor the new Popular Unity party managed to make a breakthrough. The KKE won 5.5% of the vote, exactly the same percentage as in January, but in absolute terms they lost 37,000. The Popular Unity party which was formed out of the left wing of SYRIZA, to which 25 MPs adhered, won 155.000 votes, only 2.86%, 11,000 votes short of crossing the 3% threshold and therefore gets no parliamentary representation. ANTARSYA won 0.85% of the vote, relegating it to the margins of the political process in Greece. They believed they could gain from the betrayals of Tsipras. In January they won 39,411, 0.64%, while this time they won 45,937 votes. Had Popular Unity and Antarsya been able to reach an agreement to build a joint electoral front, they could have won more than 10 MPs in this parliament, and stood as a voice of left opposition. Instead they have nothing.
The KKE’s lack of growth is to be explained by its sectarian position throughout all these years. Although it makes a whole series of correct criticisms of both SYRIZA and the new Popular Unity party, it makes no attempt to apply the United Front tactic developed by Lenin. It is not enough to be right in theory; one has to prove it in practice. One has to demonstrate to the masses that the KKE want to win the leadership of the movement, and that can only be done by offering unity to the other workers’ parties, not by conceding to their reformist tendencies, but by putting demands on them, demands that meet the interests of the working class. The KKE leaders satisfy themselves by denouncing the others as traitors and saying that all will be well when the KKE grows. The party paid in these elections for its sectarianism towards social movements, towards other forces on the left, and towards the NO camp of the referendum.
Popular Unity, on the other hand has been held back by its weak programme based mainly on a return to the drachma and on a protectionist form of capitalism, and by the fact that Lafazanis (who proved to be a very toothless critic of SYRIZA while in government) and company are still associated with the government and thus affected by the general scepticism. Why vote for a small unknown force like Popular Unity, which doesn’t seem to be very different to what Tsipras was saying few months ago, many voters must have been thinking.
The leadership of Popular Unity has paid a very big price for its previous approach to Tsipras inside SYRIZA. At one point the majority of the SYRIZA Central Committee was against Tsipras, the Political Secretariat was against, the youth wing of the party was against, SYIRIZA’s trade union cadres were against. Had Lafazanis wanted to, he could have launched a battle to take SYRIZA, to win a majority which was there for the taking. But to do that he would have had to be consistent throughout these past eight months and would have had to mobilise the ranks of the party. Instead, he preferred to go for an “amicable divorce” as some have put it. He thus handed SYRIZA over to Tsipras, who up until then was in a minority within the party. It is this behaviour that explains also why many on the left did not trust the new party.
In spite of all these difficulties on the left, however, the truth remains that Tsipras will have to implement a savage memorandum that will drive Greece deeper into crisis and will become economically, and politically, unviable. The bourgeois parties are now weaker than ever, divided and delegitimised as they are, and the ruling class has to bank on Tsipras as its last, dubious ally. The bourgeoisie is too weak to impose itself decisively.
The exactions and tensions of the spring, and the blow of Tsipras' betrayal, will produce demoralisation and stagnation for a period, but under the hammer blows of the crisis the working class will raise its head again. And it will do so on a higher basis, because this will happen after having gone through the hard school of pro-EU reformism, that has been proven to be completely utopian. The conclusion from the SYRIZA debacle is clearly exposed for everyone to see: reforms can only be won through struggle and through revolutionary measures. This has been a defeat, but one that in the medium term will elevate the class struggle up one notch. As Rosa Luxemburg explained:
"The whole road of socialism – so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned – is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory! Where would we be today without those ‘defeats’, from which we draw historical experience, understanding, power and idealism? Today, as we advance into the final battle of the proletarian class war, we stand on the foundation of those very defeats; and we can do without any of them, because each one contributes to our strength and understanding."
What is needed today in Greece is neither to cry, nor to laugh, but to understand. Reformism cannot stop the juggernaut of austerity. What is required is a party of the Greek working class that can draw all these lessons and explain to the workers and youth that a struggle against austerity cannot be carried to a successful conclusion unless it becomes a struggle against the capitalist system as a whole.
This defeat is not the end of the story. It is one step in a long drawn out process, the final outcome of which will depend on the building of a viable Marxist tendency within the labour and youth movement of Greece, a tendency that can take the analysis and programme of Marxism to the advanced layers and then to the wider working class. The radicalised layers around the KKE, the Popular Unity party, the militant youth, will be the forces around which a genuine revolutionary party of the Greek working class can be built, but first we must understand why we are where we are.
Postscript - A note on the Golden dawn: In the recent period the threat of the Golden Dawn has been raised by some on the left as an indication of a growing right-wing vote, but the truth is that in the last four general elections the absolute number of votes cast for the Golden dawn has been in constant decline, May 2012: 440,966, June 2012: 426,025, January 2015: 388,387, September 2015: 379,539. This does not exclude the possibility that they may recover in the future as the austerity measures are imposed on the Greek people, but for now they are not gaining from the present situation.