Greece is in a deep economic and political crisis for the last 5 years. One of the consequences was that presidential election process at the end of 2014 failed after three rounds in parliament. This led to the dissolution of parliament and early elections. Throughout these rounds Syriza blocked the presidential election process forcing parliament and the government to an early election. And Syriza came out the winner of the elections held on 25 January.
Syriza succeeded in achieving 36.3% vote rate and 149 seats. While New Democracy Party got 27.8% coming second after Syriza, PASOK was nearly wiped out by a mere 4.7%. And the fascist Golden Dawn Party got 6.3%, which shows that, though it received some blows and was checked in recent period, it has managed to keep its fascist base in its behind. And the Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE) which received 5.5% fell far behind of what it achieved in recent years (at one point it came near to 10%). Having failed to win 151 MPs for a single party government, Syriza went on to form a coalition government with The Independent Greeks, a right-wing bourgeois party.
The teeter-totter system PASOK at one edge and New Democracy the other, which had been established after the fall of the fascist junta in 1974, received a heavy blow in 2012 elections. And with the last election this system has broken down for good. What collapsed in fact is PASOK which has been the so-called left side of this system. Although it was wiped out of political arena, with splits and weak electoral support slightly above the election threshold, it is not possible to say the same thing for the pro-system/conformist left mindset it embodies. The worn-out PASOK is replaced by Syriza. The working masses suffocated by neo-liberal offensives and austerity policies, and radicalised youth with its eruptions in recent years rallied behind Syriza.
Syriza not a threat to capitalist order
The masses squeezed by capitalist crisis have great expectations from Syriza as it promised an alternative to them. These expectations brought Syriza to power, but they will be the reasons for Syriza to see the same masses turn their backs to it in the near future. Since Syriza has nothing to do with “radical left” except the phrase “Radical Left” in its name. Since its very beginning it has not been a socialist party but a bourgeois left (social-democrat) party. [*] Since then this feature of it has become more and more apparent. As the days of power came near, it increasingly shifted towards right to give messages of confidence to the native and foreign bourgeoisie and also to the Greek petty-bourgeois electorate and placed itself more into the capitalist order.
In order to channel the outrage of the masses directed against system parties in power, Syriza employed traditional left rhetoric (to what extent this rhetoric is socialist is an important matter to be discussed separately) at the beginning, but now it begins to go down the road of freeing itself of these burdens. It began with aiming at NATO membership, EU membership, usage of euro as the common currency, IMF programmes, foreign debts, and now it “takes steps back” on all these issues. Tsypras is busy visiting the US and European capitals pledging loyalty to international bourgeoisie and begging for a chance to let him give a try. The issues such as leaving NATO, EU or euro zone, refusing to pay the foreign debts are not on his agenda any more. All these items have now left their places to a revising the terms of foreign debts and some loosening of austerity policies.
This is exactly the reason why election results did not cause big fluctuations in European markets. Compared with the events in 2012 we see that the reaction of European stock exchanges is far from a panic. Syriza is surely not the first choice of both the European and Greek bourgeoisie that can be embraced wholeheartedly. The tension between Syriza and the EU is a tension between Syriza and the German government in the first place. With the last crisis the German bourgeoisie has consolidated its hegemony over EU and imposed economic programmes it wished on weaker EU members. Yet, looking at the disputes Germany has with Britain and France it is not easy that it will achieve what it wants. The German bourgeoisie which had hardly managed to make other countries accept austerity programmes does not wish to encounter any setbacks in this and it also does not wish the picture of stability it had established to be marred. It is of priority for the German bourgeoisie to save the credibility of euro and ensure stability in getting the returns of credits.
The reason Syriza is not favoured much on the bourgeois front is not that it threatens capitalist order, but essentially the fact that it wants a change, or at least a moderation, in the already agreed economic-financial policies of the German government and thus most of the EU. Since the beginning of the crisis which has been called the “euro zone crisis,” a political party came to power for the first time in one of the EU countries that reject austerity policies at least in its promises. The EU bourgeoisie and the German bourgeoisie in the first place are worried that Greece example could boost similar tendencies in Italy, Spain, Portugal and even France that are struggling with the crisis. We should remember to note in this context that the debate between Germany and France about whether “austerity programme” or “growth-friendly reform programme” has not been ended and that Syriza is playing for these kinds of cracks.
This concern of the bourgeoisie is surely not misplaced, as capitalism is passing through a crisis of historical importance on a world scale and there seems to be no way out in the short term. Such a period when fragility is increased and the bourgeoisie is hardly keeping the balance on a knife edge means that the bourgeoisie’s space of manoeuvre has dwindled.
However, to exaggerate these concerns and hesitations and assert that the bourgeoisie has a great fear from Syriza would be attributing it features that are far too beyond it. Still it has nothing to do with seriousness to use this exaggerated “fear” as proof of counting Syriza within socialist ranks or even within the camp of revolution.
The bourgeoisie and pro-system/conformist left
It is an established fact that the bourgeoisie does not like left-wing parties in general. The monopoly bourgeoisie always favours right-wing parties that advocate measures to direct all resources to them and bring about increased profits for them. But this does not mean that the bourgeoisie would not come to terms with pro-system/conformist left parties or that they would never clear the way for them. On the contrary, pro-system/conformist left has gone to the rescue of the bourgeoisie at most critical moments and acted as an instrument of creating expectations among the masses and of soothing their rage. Pro-system/conformist left, bourgeois left or the so-called social-democracy has nowhere and never been the initial step of revolutionary breakthroughs, but, on the contrary, used as a safety valve for breaking and smoothing down revolutionary breakthroughs.
It is not a new thing that the bourgeoisie clears the way for bourgeois left parties and even reformist socialist parties at times of rise in mass movements. In such situations the bourgeoisie could support them underhandedly in a parallel effort to hammer and mould them, trim “extremities” inside, invite them to “leave the world of dreams and come to the world of realities,” bring them to a “reasonable and realistic” line. We have seen such collusions many times wherein the bourgeoisie gives credibility to them by criticising these political movements in public, speaking of “concerns,” “nervousness” and so on. These are for manipulating the public perception. Real and concrete policies however are set forth and determined in those meetings held behind the scenes.
We have witnessed many examples of this at times of crises. Leaving distant past aside, let us remember the wave of excitement and the expectations raised during the placement of so-called “socialist” Hollande to the top of the state in France. Remember the so-called left governments placed in the seat of power at times of crises in South America beginning with Argentine and those ex-guerilla-turned ministers and presidents during the last decade. Remember the kind of Morales, Chavez who employ socialist language talking about “socialism of 21st century”. More importantly, remember what the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) and its famous leader Lula have done despite the immense potential they unearthed, the large masses they moved into action, and that they once had openly defended the goal of socialism.
PT was such a party that its foundations were built by socialists, revolutionaries and vanguard workers who waged an underground illegal struggle for many years against the military dictatorship in Brazil. And Lula, as one of the most militant leaders of a militant workers generation, became the leader of the party which was founded after the fall of the dictatorship. After talk of socialism that continued for 20 years from 1980s to 2000s Lula became head of state and from then on the power in Brazil has been in the hands of this party. Under its rule Brazil speedily climbed to the upper steps of the ladder of imperialist-capitalist pyramid and Brazilian toilers became poorer. Last year, millions of toilers took to the streets, clashed with the police, and lost many among them, for higher wages, increase in public spending for education and health against this so-called socialist government.
In discussing the cost of reformism to the class movement one should never forget the hammer of fascism that was cast in the head of the reformist-socialist Allende government in 1973 in Chile. For this experience proved in a most bitter way that, once you are in power, shying away from taking fast, bold and determined revolutionary steps at moments of deep crisis opens the way for fascism. It is useful to examine again and again the experience of Chile nowadays when Syriza plays with the left expectations of the masses.
Finally, let us give another example from Greek history. In 1981 PASOK led by Papandreau got 48% and came to power with pledges of “democratic socialism”. At that time neither Greece nor the world was in a deep crisis as now and the USSR was still “upright”. Although all conditions were favourable the bourgeois left creed PASOK betrayed the working classes by its line and today it came to the point of being swept away from political arena. It is significant that that part of the Greek bourgeois media which celebrated the election victory of PASOK those days now celebrates Syriza’s victory with their headlines. While we have before us the experience of old PASOK and Lula’s Workers Party which sold itself as the socialist party of the working class, could it be acceptable to cherish Syriza which neither puts an emphasis on the working class nor the goal of socialism?
Great expectations, impending disappointment and dangers
Most of the left today prefers emotions and excitement instead of real and concrete political analysis when it comes to Syriza. Carried away by a similar storm of emotion and excitement during the Gezi movement reformists cling to similar arguments instead of drawing lessons from the experience: “The world will not turn pink just because Syriza has won, nor Greece will be introduced into socialism. They do not have a magic stick. But there is hope. This is only the beginning… Are not there aspects of Syriza to be criticised? Surely there are! These will be expressed in due course. But today is the time to share the joy. For how many times one can witness the victory of the party one supports? This victory gave all the oppressed, toilers and peoples the hope and confidence that ‘we can win’. Can there be a greater gain?” (İbrahim Varlı, Birgün, 27/1/2015)
These lines reflect not only the ÖDP line (Freedom and Solidarity Party) to which the writer belongs, but also the approach of the prevailing reformist tendency: a mood of feast and an unbridled, immeasurable, fanciful optimism. Expressions such as “a victory with worldwide repercussions”, “victory of the people” are the mildest ones to say the least among these kinds of interpretations. And those who talk of Syriza as “the party of the people” or “a revolutionary popular party” or at least place hopes on the possibility of Syriza turning in this way are a multitude. While a wide range of left from pro-system/conformist left to reformist-socialist left extend their love and regards to Syriza and its young leader Tsipras, those who take Syriza as example, talk of creating Turkey’s Syriza are innumerable. There are plenty of references to Che Guevara (“Che-pras”) or questions asking if Tsipras is to become a new Chavez! As if Chavez is a revolutionary leader! It seems that rising left fists of pro-system/conformist politicians who sell themselves as left suffice to make reformists feel like children in a candy store.
Here is the plain picture: whoever lost hope in socialism, proletarian revolution are now tailing after winds of change within the system to be brought about by Lulas, Chavezs, Morales’ Tsipras’ (even Hollandes, Obamas). Having lost hope in revolution and become reformists they never give up foisting even the slightest crumb of reform and even hopes for reform as revolution.
There are reformists who are more cautious trying to avoid exaggeration on the face of it. With their ostensibly deeper analyses they cherish the illusion that these kinds of leaderships, though unwillingly, may have to take socialist steps. In the framework of these illusions they assume that these leaderships will face the choice between revolution and order, and hope that the choice will be revolution. While thinking all these, they do not want to be disturbed by the fact that those pro-system/conformist leftists such as Tsipras are not less able to make such analyses and will not let themselves fall into such a dilemma and that they have already made their choices in favour of the capitalist system. To underestimate the wisdom of the bourgeoisie would end up in new disillusionments and liquidation.
The most annoying thing is that in every case this situation is portrayed as if happening for the first time. Every time they try to obscure the common features of reformism with talk of “but this time it is different”, “this party has such and such peculiarities”, “conditions of that country are different” etc.
The truth is that Syriza is neither a beacon of hope nor can offer a solution to the most urgent problems of the working masses. It is another name for playing with the hopes of the working masses, tying them to the existing order by sowing illusions. It is the one to blame for future disillusionments. Moreover, this situation in Greece points to dangerous prospects. Greece is in the grip of a very deep economic-social and political crisis. And the cost of playing with aspirations of the masses would be very dearly in such moments of deep crisis. Broad masses are almost at the point of struggling for survival and for them it is foreign powers (EU, EU Central Bank, IMF) to blame and not the capitalist system. In case Syriza turns out to be disillusionment for the masses as it has come to power with claims to stand up to these foreign powers of capital, this would strengthen the hands of fascist forces that maintain a demagogic language against EU. The following lines in which we pointed to danger of fascism as the price of putting off the revolting Greek masses with reformist illusions are still relevant:
“It is of vital importance to try to form a united front of the working class instead of losing time by relying on quests for alliances with this or that section of the bourgeoisie. … It is possible and necessary to mobilise broad working masses engulfed in misery by the crisis together with all the oppressed layers (immigrants being victims of fascist terror, ethnic and religious minorities, gays, etc.) on the basis of a revolutionary programme of action in which democratic and socialist demands are coupled in a logic of transitional demands. … The fundamental question in Greece today is to put forward a proletarian revolutionary line that would clearly take aim at capitalism. … the fact that the parties that act in the name of left do not offer an anti-system solution on the basis of a revolutionary programme, and flounder in reformist quagmire could make the masses expecting a radical way out from the crisis surrender to fascist demagogy or retreat in face of fascist terror. Unless socialist movement takes a bold step forward on the basis of a revolutionary programme, the price of this crime would be a growing fascist movement.” (Oktay Baran, Yunanistan’da Faşist Tehdit Büyüyor [Fascist Threat Grows in Greece], MT, November 2013)
On the basis of all these, let us conclude with laying bare a few important points at the risk of repeating some of them:
It is impossible for Syriza, which represents pro-system/conformist left, with its programme and methods, to meet the expectations of Greek workers and youth. It would not be fortunetelling to predict that Syriza will be squeezed between its promises and the reality of capitalism, and act in the direction of what the Greek bourgeoisie and imperialist bourgeoisie dictate.
Let alone subsiding, the political crisis in Greece has potentially become more explosive with this election. When the raised great expectations are dashed, the masses, in case they do not retreat, will polarise in the ranks of revolution and counter-revolution. The leaderships to lead the ranks of counter-revolution (Golden Dawn etc.) of this polarisation are present on the political arena in an organised way, but there is no political subject around able to lead the ranks of revolution.
With its sectarian and reformist policies, Greek Communist Party (KKE) is not a candidate for such a subject. In the face of a possible fascist escalation, KKE, as in the past, will not go beyond acting as a tool for containing the most advanced sections of the working class within the order and restoring bourgeois parliamentary system in the name of anti-fascist struggle.
Those who lose hope in revolution and socialism and find Leninist concept of party outmoded, cite those parties such as Syriza, Podemos, Rifondazione and embrace the rhetoric of “unconditional unity of the left”. While this rhetoric does not help the workers movement advance along revolutionary lines, it sets barriers to a revolutionary recovery to the extent it creates confusion among vanguard workers and youth with revolutionary feelings.
A big failure awaits those who have gone into euphoria of victory at formation of government by a pro-system left party in a country which is most squeezed by the crisis at a time when historical crisis of capitalism reigns. This development, let alone helping proletarian revolutionaries, makes their task much more urgent, burning and vital.
[*] See our previous assessments about Syriza: İlkay Meriç, Yunanistan’da Reformizm Tuzağı [The Trap of Reformism in Greece], MT, June 2012; İlkay Meriç, Yunan İşçi Sınıfı Reformizmin Kıskacında [Greek Working Class in Grip of Reformism], MT, March 2012; Oktay Baran, Yunanistan’da Faşist Tehdit Büyüyor [Fascist Threat Grows in Greece], MT, November 2013.