Syriza's first month

Clashes in Athens

A month since its election Syriza has moved far from its anti-austerity, anti-bailout rhetoric.

It's been just over a month since Syriza won the Greek elections and formed a government. A month can be a long time in the Greek crisis and already the enthusiasm and hope that greeted the Leftist victory seems like something from the distant past. The new government's first few weeks saw a mix of action, inaction, retreat and surrender as it looked to find its feet both within the Greek state and in Europe.

The news of Syriza's victory was greeted with joy from the Left across Europe. A Leftist anti-austerity party had actually won an election and was making grand promises of changing Europe. This enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by Syriza's formation of a coalition with right-wing Independent Greeks(AN.EL). This move was not surprising as the two parties have had an informal alliance for sometime as both are firmly anti-austerity. Whilst AN.EL took the valuable Defence Ministry they have so far kept themselves in the background.

The formation of a coalition with AN.EL indicated that the main goal of the new government was to create an anti-austerity front to carry on negotiations with the Troika(IMF,EU,ECB). Syriza was elected on a promise to end the memorandums, the notorious bailout agreements through which the Greek state has been ruled for the last five years. Syriza's rhetoric started off by claiming an end to the bailouts and declaring the death of the Troika.

From this rhetorical high ground Syriza gradually climbed down over the next few weeks. The claim that Greek debt would be written off was swiftly dropped. Charismatic Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stated that 70% of the bailout agreements was actually good and he only wanted to change the other 30%. Though Syriza demonstrated its willingness to quickly back down the talks with EU leaders dragged on. In part this was likely a deliberate move by the EU in order to push Syriza to further concessions and to punish the Leftist government in the manner of a teacher disciplining a back-talking pupil.

In the end a slow bank run in Greece helped bring about a new agreement. The Troika was not dead after all but was just renamed. Syriza agreed to an extension of the previous bailout for four months, at which point a new arrangement will be made. Syriza won a few minor concessions such as a reduction in primary surplus targets and the ability to write some of their own reforms. The wording of the agreements has been changed, for instance no naming of the Troika, but other than that the extension is exactly the same as the previous government was prepared to implement. In just a few weeks Syriza has gone from ending the bailouts to extending them.

The main substantial difference between Syriza and the previous governments in terms of the bailout agreements is that Syriza will be able to implement the deal from a position of popularity. The war of words the between the government and EU leaders during the negotiations stoked national pride in a country used to its politicians meekly submitting to Troika demands. Though there are doubts about the extension, Syriza is, for the moment, a popular government and was even able to call pro-government demonstrations-an almost unheard of event in Greece. Unrest is never far away though, there are already signs that the surrender to the Troika is causing disputes within Syriza and at the moment it is not clear if the deal will be put before parliament for a vote.

One reason behind Syriza's popularity is their adept use of symbolism. The first days of the new government saw a number of symbolic gestures aimed at creating the impression of a new start. For the first time a Prime Minister was sworn in with a civil oath rather than a religious one. The fences which have surrounded the parliament building for the last years were removed. The police were restrained also. When an anti-fascist demonstration took place the riot police were told to sit back and watch while demonstrators were even allowed to paint and graffiti police buses (apparently the police were left 'confused and uncertain'), at the same event last year the police beat and chased people even onto the metro lines.

The early symbolism was meant to demonstrate a break with the past but later moves pointed to a continuation of previous practices. Syriza proposed and elected Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Republic. Pavlopoulos represents the old order of Greek politics, he was a high ranking member of conservative New Democracy and served as a government minister. Unforgivably he was Interior Minister during December 2008. His election represents a reconciliation rather than a break with the old order.

Away from symbolism and the Troika negotiations another of Syriza's actions has had a more positive impact. After another suicide in the migrant detention camp of Amygdaleza, a Syriza minister visited the infamously poor camp and ordered the release of those held there. A number of people have already been released from the network of migrant detention camps across the Greek territories and it is hoped more will be freed. Other measures may also remove the worst abuses migrants are often subjected to by the Greek state.

Other pre-election promises have so far been shelved or not acted upon. The fate of the controversial gold mine at Skouries is uncertain with Syriza seeming reluctant to act decisively against one of the only substantial recent foreign investments in the Greek state. As part of the bailout extension deal a number of privatisations are likely to go ahead rather than be frozen. The promised restoration of the minimum wage has to wait to 2016 at the earliest.

Syriza now faces the same challenge as that has faced by previous Greek governments, how to implement the unpopular bailouts and the attached austerity. Their current popularity, bolstered by various symbolic gestures, will aid them in the process. But after having spent so long waiting for Syriza to end austerity, the Leftist's swift climb down will disappoint many. On Thursday night a few hundred protesters marched through Athens and clashed with police in the first small scale riot under Syriza. While insignificant in themselves, the clashes show that not everyone is following Syriza's path.

Posted By

Feb 27 2015 21:08


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Feb 28 2015 09:26

Can I ask about the migrant detention camp situation?

What I've seen is Syriza saying they want to shut the camps but as of know I believe they still function like prisons i.e. people are locked into them. Is there some reason why Syriza haven't simply ordered the gates left unlocked so they get be like really terrible hostels rather than prisons. Also I saw a figure saying 30 people had been released but as I understand there are 7000 in the system that can't be far above the normal level of release.

I've been trying to find out the concrete details of what has been implemented rather than what has been said but there doesn't seem to be much information in English out there.

Feb 28 2015 11:23

Yes, I would be interested in learning more about that as well.

Great blog post and analysis, thanks for writing

Feb 28 2015 14:11

As I understand it, Syriza have made advances. The requirements to hold a big primary surplus, that is the difference between what the state takes and what it gives, has been cut. Greece has been paying off debt from this pot. The rest of the bailout is the banks paying their own interest on Greece's debt by cycling their money through Greece. For this the capitalists want to get their hands on Greek assets cheap. Syriza have stopped the sale of the port of Piraeus. How far they will resist other privatisations is difficult to know. Syriza is proposing giving the poorest free electricity and food. So even if they can't raise wages now they can do this kind of thing. They are planning to stop banks foreclosing on defaulted mortgages and throwing people on the streets. They are reopening the state Tv station. There is talk of starting a parallel currency. The police have been reined in for the present.
The problem they have is the incompatible demands of the electorate to both be in the euro and outside austerity. This is a weak bargaining position. Perhaps it is a good thing for Syriza to have backed down from EU intransigence because that may begin to shift the electorate from its support for the monetary union. I don't know. I get the impression Tsipras fears fascism at home. Greece is on that old cold war geostrategic fault line. He feels safer from American machinations inside Europe.
If anyone is interested I'll link to a revealing public debate with Tsipras in it from 2013 where he voices his fear that Europe might descend into Fascism if capitalism fails because the Left are not in a position to take power.
Power? Where does that leave anarchists in this debate? Personally the entire Syriza thing indicates to me the failure of electoral politics. But I was overjoyed......fooled again.

l'angelo misterioso
Feb 28 2015 19:52

Syriza inaugurated the social-liberism. The alchemy of politicking will fall increasingly on the shoulders of the poor.

Feb 28 2015 20:06

Well, according to the greek media, minister Giannis Panousis has declared that the Amygdaleza camps will be abolished in a maximum of 100 days. Now, as you said there are 7000 thousand that the system can't afford, though this has not been further clarified.
The release begun last Friday, with the number already released being 75. Thirty is the number of immigrants that will be released everyday. They are transported with buses to Omonoia square in Athens, where they are finally free. Again, what will happen with these people and how society will integrate them hasn't yet been clarified.

Sources (they are in greek... xD)

Feb 28 2015 22:32

Ah thanks a lot for those links - that helps put the intentions together a bit better

Feb 28 2015 23:52
Mar 1 2015 16:51

Someone's come up with designs for the new drachma - Castoriadis on the 50 drachma note.

Mar 1 2015 19:38

Well, considering the lack of solidarity within the European Union and the pseudo-social program of Syriza the drachma scenario is "flirting" with reality more than ever. However, let's hope for the best... a united and free Europe is best for all of us...

Mar 2 2015 10:32

Unfortunate link here between Castoriadis at his worst and Fotopoulos at his worst exposing in terms of the current situation the weakness of both their supporters today.

Mar 3 2015 16:56

I have absolutely no intention starting a conflict or offending you, but the only unfortunate comment in this section is probably yours. I understand the irritation on the rather humoristique drachma comment while the topic is quite serious. I realise your disagreement with my oppinion and perception of the topic, which I expressed directly after this comment (even thouh it was very vague and short). However, I can't follow the logic of a person who judges others solely based on a single comment and, even worst, uses two great thinkers they support, in order to diminuish them. Remember that everyone (even if their political ideologies are very close) has a different oppinion on a subject.
Now, if I was unclear with my first comment, I will furthrer clarify it:
I believe that nowdays the countries of the EU are divided and competitive, as a result they struggle to manage the multi-dimentional crisis.
I don' support Syriza because they are just driven by self-success. No ideoligy, no passion, no realism, no concern about the people.They are just part of the old, corrupted greek political system. You can understand this by the fact that since they have been elected, they have done nothing. Even the liberation of the immigrants was made for the public oppinion, not humanitarian concern (and apparently this process has been delayed again). Ironically, in a recent Interview, our economic 'genius' Yianis Varoufakis revealed that the financial program is deliberately vague... really? A vague program always benefits the most powerful, in this case those who support austerity...
Why I want the euro? Because I'm pragmatist.I strongly believe in a moneyless, democratic economy, but right now priority are the 30% of greeks who are hungry. And a return to drachma won't be any help. Worst, it will agrave both the economic and the humanitarian crises even more, while it will also create a political crisis. Simply because a national currency means that the elit which has the majority of the wealth will buy the property of the lower and middle class at extremely cheap prices. Meanwhile, such an event will signify a failure of Syriza. Since New democracy has already lost, which is the next party? Golden Dawn... Greece, where democracy was 'invented', faces a fascist threat.
This is my oppinion, as I said if you disagree with it I will be happy to hear why, with logical arguments and not the use of the name of Fotopoulos to judge me, or anyone else. In the other hand, if you agree let's end this here.

Agent of the In...
Mar 3 2015 17:47

So if they were part of the "new, fresh, moral Greek political system", you would support them?

Agent of the In...
Mar 3 2015 17:49

Favourite thinkers (from Phantom's profile):
Takis Fotopoulos, George Orwell, Noam Chomsky, Malcom X, Olof Palme, Che Guevara

And you call yourself a social anarchist!

Mar 3 2015 19:12

Costas Lapavitsas - To beat austerity Greece must break free from the euro

It does strike me that both sides in Syriza are offering versions of left social democracy under austerity. With or without the euro austerity is still going to be there.


Paul Mason - Greek European deal: where are we?


Interesting article here on Cyprus's experience with the troika in 2013

S. Artesian
Mar 4 2015 13:55

To beat austerity, Greece must break with Syriza. All other concerns are secondary.

Mar 4 2015 17:15

I'd have to say that's a pretty juvenile bit of sloganising there, SA.

The only problem the Greek working class has is the "betrayal" of an insufficiently Marxist party? Really? Are we back to Trotskyism again? Surely we can do better than that?

I'm tempted to say that Syriza are more symptom than cause. Symptom of the weakness of the Greek working class. A weakness that is not just internal, but also an effect of the complete lack of any effective cross-border solidarity between European working class national fractions. To take just one example, the intransigence of Merkel, Schauble, the ECB et al, is only politically possible to the extent that the majority of the German working class tacitly accept the reactionary propaganda emanating from their local bourgeois media about the need to punish "those lazy Greeks".

The idea that the Greek working class simply need to have the scales lift from their eyes and dispense with their socialdemocratic Syrizan illusions to discover their power to transform the power dynamics of EU constituted power (how? by rioting?) by their own hand, is untenable.

S. Artesian
Mar 4 2015 19:15
The only problem the Greek working class has is the "betrayal" of an insufficiently Marxist party? Really? Are we back to Trotskyism again? Surely we can do better than that?

I did not say that. I don't think Syriza betrayed anything. It is what it always has been, a party committed to "saving" capitalism from what it considers to be "excesses."

Nor did I say anything that all the working class of Greece needs is to "have the scales lifted from its eyes."

The point of what I was saying was to make it clear how irrelevant the issue of the euro, or belonging or leaving the Eurozone truly is. The issue is class struggle. Greek capitalism with the drachma, in or outside the EU, is Greek capitalism and will require the very same reforms that are inherent to the 2012 Master Financing Facility Agreement.

Propping up straw men so you can knock them down is the juvenile activity.

I guess I've written about 15 articles on Greece in the last month; none of which speak of betrayals or "false consciousness" or lifting scales or any of that hogwash.

Practically, the steps to be taken in Greece are:

1. agitate for the "reform package" to be submitted to parliament for approval and enactment
2. agitate for a "no" vote on the submission of the package, recognizing that such a no vote will precipitate a vote of confidence in the Syriza government
3. agitate for a "no" vote on confidence in the Syriza government
4. agitate for an immediate repudiation of the sovereign debt in its entirety.

Those steps seem to me to eminently practical, immanent to the conflict, and necessary for uniting a class in its conflict with the bourgeoisie.

I don't believe for one second the bullshit that says the majority of the working class, German or otherwise, believes the stuff about "lazy Greeks." Somewhere I recall reading about trade union bureaucrats coming out in opposition to the "reforms" imposed on Greece.

S. Artesian
Mar 5 2015 05:15
Mar 5 2015 10:24
S. Artesian wrote:
Practically, the steps to be taken in Greece are:

1. agitate for the "reform package" to be submitted to parliament for approval and enactment
2. agitate for a "no" vote on the submission of the package, recognizing that such a no vote will precipitate a vote of confidence in the Syriza government
3. agitate for a "no" vote on confidence in the Syriza government
4. agitate for an immediate repudiation of the sovereign debt in its entirety.

But surely steps 1-3 are irrelevant if they don't lead to step 4?

In which case the sloganised version should really be:

"For Greece to beat austerity they must repudiate the debt, all else is secondary"

But even then, we've already agreed that "default and exit" drachma option is not going to give the Greek working class the power to escape the imposition of austerity by global monetary forces. Without going the whole hog and doing a "crash-stop" demonetisation/communisation of the economy. So even this second attempt is a transitional demand really.

S. Artesian
Mar 5 2015 22:21

Exactly, and the key, and the truth, is in the transition. Soviets were the concrete expression of transition, and of, IMO, the workers' united front. All power to the soviets really can be seen as a transitional demand-- one that was gutted by the Bolsheviks in substituting the organization of a party for the organization of, by, and for, class.

Mar 6 2015 00:36