By Tash Shifrin | 25 January 2015
Here is a result to cheer the left across Europe and beyond. Voters have given the radical left Syriza victory in Greece’s parliamentary elections. Syriza has won, and won handsomely.
As this is written, two thirds of the votes have been counted and it looks as if Syriza will fall only two seats short of securing an outright majority in parliament. There may be some political wheeling and dealing to come.
Syriza’s win has set off a political earthquake, and one to celebrate – although the Greek election has sounded a couple of warning notes, and raises many questions as well.
The huge vote for the anti-austerity Syriza coalition – trouncing the conservative New Democracy party – is a slap in the face for the bankers, the bosses, for Britain’s David Cameron and Germany’s Angela Merkel.
The pro-austerity, rightwing leaders of Europe have been moaning and groaning all day. Tomorrow they will be squealing less and spitting threats rather more, but let’s enjoy their pain for the moment.
Syriza’s barnstorming victory is also a deeply uncomfortable moment for the likes of François Hollande, the Parti Socialiste president of France, whose plunging poll ratings are a graphic illustration of just how unpopular you can make yourself by claiming to represent the workers while pushing through austerity measures regardless. Syriza shows that challenging austerity is a vote-winner.
This is not a vote that has come from nowhere. It is not the result of slick electioneering, of social media wizardry or perfection in the art of eating a bacon sarnie in elegant style – things that we are regularly told are crucial to electoral success. It is not a triumph of manoeuvre amid the pro-austerity consensus of the mainstream parties. Nor is it one tainted with racist populism – Syriza has instead played its part in antifascist and antiracist activity.
The Syriza landslide is a great cry of rage against austerity, stark poverty and rocketing unemployment – the burning anger that has driven workers in Greece to stage more than 30 general strikes over the last few years. It is an expression of fury at the continuing economic crisis and the “Troika” – the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF – that has applied such a savage squeeze.
Crowds are already gathering to celebrate in Athens, and across Europe Syriza’s victory has given us something to cheer.
But Syriza’s hugely impressive vote – up sharply from 26.9% at the last parliamentary elections in June 2012 to 36% now – is not the whole story of the election. Nor does it answer the big question: what comes next?
The election has not all been good news. Worryingly, the fascist Golden Dawn party’s vote has held up well. It has taken 6.4% of the vote – only narrowly down on its 6.9% in 2012 – and scooped third place in the poll, ahead of Potami, the party of TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis. Golden Dawn has won 17 seats in parliament.
Golden Dawn is one of Europe’s hardcore nazi parties, unafraid to use swastika style imagery and with a streetfighting wing alongside its electoral operation, in classical fascist tradition. Not for Golden Dawn the careful makeover that Marine Le Pen has applied to hide the fascist politics of her Front National party in France. Golden Dawn does not do “de-demonisation”.
And while the party was little known in 2012, Golden Dawn’s vote this time comes after its nature has been clearly exposed and with its leaders in jail, facing a swathe of criminal charges following the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013. Despite all this, the fascists have emerged from the poll with much the same level of support. The fascists’ ability to maintain their base is a dangerous sign.
In fact the mainstream rightwing vote has fallen only slightly too. New Democracy narrowly beat Syriza in 2012, with 29.6% of the vote to 26.9%. It has been left well behind by Syriza this time, but the conservative party’s vote has not been knocked down much – it is 28.1% this time. However the smaller Independent Greeks party, a split from ND, has seen a noticeable fall in its vote from 7.5% to 4.7%.
Instead, Syriza’s rise has come mainly at the expense of the social democrat Pasok party, whose already weakened vote has slumped from 12.3% last time to just 4.8% now. Pasok’s former leader George Papandreou stood this time under the banner of his own newly formed outfit, Kidiso, which failed to make the 3% threshold to enter parliament.
It’s shocking to recall that in 2009, Pasok comfortably topped the poll with 43.9% of the vote. In 2009, it was Syriza who tailed in with 4.6%.
The severity of the economic crisis in Greece has polarised politics, with Golden Dawn emerging as a force at the extreme right, while on the left voters have surged away from centre-left austerity-friendly Pasok to the radical anti-austerity left. The leftwing KKE (Communist Party) has also seen its vote go up slightly from 4.5% to 5.5%.
The scale of the shift to the radical left is a huge positive, but the danger of the fascists – in jail or out – cannot be ignored. There is no let up in the economic crisis, and the new political landscape presents its own uncertainties. If the left fails to deliver, the right will always be waiting.
The bosses’ paper, the Financial Times, was already warning of the “dangers” of resistance to debt repayments and austerity measures early this week. Syriza is set to face an economic and political onslaught as the captains of capital pile the pressure on.
Now comes the test. This is where we find out how far Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras will challenge the power of the Troika, now they are elected. Tonight’s election result is a triumph – but it will be a shortlived one unless it really delivers for workers who have borne the brunt of Europe’s harshest austerity regime. That remains to be seen. Some activists on the left in Greece have warned that Tsipras has already moved towards the centre in anticipation of his election win.
But it is workers’ long resistance to austerity in Greece that has propelled Syriza’s rise. Let’s hope all those who have fought so militantly, striking in the face of every attack, will gain renewed confidence from tonight’s win. It is their future resistance in the workplaces and on the streets that will matter most as the political temperature rises in Greece.