Greece: Trying to understand SYRIZA - Paul Mason

Alexis Tsipras

Paul Mason on SYRIZA, a previously lesser known leftist political party in Greece which has surged ahead in the polls as voters have become disillusioned with the major pro-austerity parties.

This is less of a blog more of a series of notes to try and enhance understanding of who SYRIZA and its leader Alexis Tsipras actually are, and how they might behave if, as polls suggest, they become the winning party in a second Greek general election. I’ve been troubled by the lack of historical depth in most of the profiles published in newspapers; and of course my own knowledge is limited to English sources. I’ve checked this with two authoritative Greek sources. It should go up on my BBC blog soon. Get ready to hear about parties and political currents that most commentators believed were insignificant just a few years ago:

SYRIZA is an acronym signifying “Coalition of the Radical Left”. It’s key component is a party called Synaspismos, itself an umbrella group of the far left in Greece.

Alexis Tsipras is the 38 year old leader of the Synaspismos party, and rose to prominence as its candidate for the mayor of Athens in 2006. Tsipras originated from the youth wing of the Communist Party, the KKE.

Greek communism, like most of western communism after the 1970s, was split into two hostile parties: the KKE of the “interior” and that of the “exterior” – the latter denoting a Moscow-oriented party, the former denoting a Euro-communist, more parliamentary and socially liberal agenda.

Initially Synaspismos was the electoral alliance between the two KKEs. But in the early 1990s the main Moscow-oriented KKE quit the alliance, purging about 45% of its members, who then stayed inside Synaspismos with the Eurocommunists. These included Tsipras.

Synaspismos then evolved in an interesting direction. Reacting to the rise of the anti-globalisation movement, first of all the party itself became a highly diverse left umbrella group: of Eurocommunists, left-social Democrats, far leftists, and ecologists. It played a significant role in mobilizations against summits, beginning in Genoa 2001 and beyond. Meanwhile the main KKE remained a traditional Communist party, rooted in public sector and manual trade unions.

Then, in the 2004 election, Synaspismos came together with other small parties to form SYRIZA. These included a split-off from the British SWP, a split off from the main Communist Party and another group of eco-leftists.

Under Tsipras’ leadership, and invigorated by now including the entire left except the traditionalist KKE, SYRIZA grew the far left’s vote from 3.3% to 5.6% in the 2007 election – giving it 14 MPs.

The crisis which broke out in December 2008, after the police shooting of a 15 year old schoolboy led to two weeks of rioting by the youth and poor of Athens, further strengthened SYRIZA as a left pole of attraction. Though the parties inside SYRIZA remained in the low thousands of members, many young people began to identify with them – above all in a country where Marxism has massive prestige due to its role in both the anti-fascist resistance and in the 1946-49 Civil War. In addition, those migrants with the right to vote, hearing a rising chorus of anti-migrant rhetoric from the centre as well as the right, have flocked to vote SYRIZA.

Once George Papandreou’s PASOK party committed itself to supporting EU-designed austerity programmes, after January 2010, a huge political gap opened up on the left of Greek politics – which arguably forms a natural majority. Only the KKE and SYRIZA were opposed to austerity and of the two SYRIZA had a political leadership of youth, resilience and global vision.

(It is worth noting here the character of PASOK. It emerged in the inter-war years as a split from republican liberalism, and while it became a traditional social democratic party after the fall of the Colonels regime in 1974, its forms of organization, and mass base among civil servants and small business people, lead some to compare it to Argentine “Peronism” – that is left nationalism with a working class base. This affects the political dynamics the moment the PASOK leadership loses its claim to represent “the nation” in conflict with the EU.

As events pulled SYRIZA leftward, and swelled its support, one final split took place that may prove highly significant. Veteran leaders of the old KKE-interior – that is, the Eurocommunists – split from Synaspismos and formed the Democratic Left, led by Fotis Kouvelis – in March 2010. They formed a separate parliamentary group of 4 until the recent election massively swelled their numbers to 19. At the first congress of the Democratic Left, in March 2011, in an extraordinary move, the then serving PASOK prime minister, George Papandreou, attended, sat in the front row of the audience, and applauded.

Now, how to make sense of this, and why does it matter?

The mainstream PASOK party split before the May 2012 election. Six sitting MPs joined the Democratic Left, while others tried to form an anti-austerity left social democratic party, led by charismatic female MP Louka Katseli. The latter disappeared without trace. But the PASOK left and its voters now co-exist with the former Eurocommunists in a fairly moderate, anti-austerity but essentially left social democratic, pro-Euro party – the Dem Left - which now has 19 seats.

SYRIZA massively scooped up the votes of leftist, progressive, socially liberal young people, as well as the trade union voters not specifically aligned with the Communist Party, to gain 52 seats.

The Communist Party itself, while growing its vote, did not break out of its traditional demographic base – manual workers, older lifelong Communists with family loyalty traced back to the pre-war workers’ movement. The KKE gained 26 seats.

In the negotiations to form a government this week the PASOK leader, Venizelos, got the Democratic Left as far as agreeing to a programme to “progressively disengage” from the Troika-imposed austerity. But they could not persuade SYRIZA to join, and without SYRIZA, the Dem Left knew it would be the captive of a PASOK/ND coalition.

As new elections loom, obviously one possible outcome is the return of voters to ND and PASOK. But the latest polls do not signal this. They signal a growth in support for SYRIZA, which is seen as a consistent opponent of austerity on the left, and which has narrative and momentum among the traditional base of all other leftist parties.

If we look at the demographics of the left, there are the following:

  • anarchist minded youth, living alternative lifestyles among the poor, who will only vote for SYRIZA or not at all. (Anecdotally, even some members of the “black bloc” were reported to have joined SYRIZA, after accepting the futility of constant rioting/counterculture.
  • Middle-class and professional workers, including many public servants who’ve been hit by tax rises, wage cuts, arbitrary deductions, loss of entitlements and job losses
  • Private sector trade unionists
  • Migrants and the urban poor
  • Small businesspeople who formerly were the base of PASOK but who have been radicalized by the tax rises, tax clampdowns and repeated heavy policing of demonstrations, and who are the most likely to be ruined by any longterm structural reform in Greece.
  • The success of SYRIZA then seems down to its ability to attract voters and activists from all these groups, eating into almost every part of the left including the old Moscow-style KKE.

    In the process of negotiations over the past seven days, Tsipras and his close advisers have further upped their own credibility by being seen to play the game of constitutional negotiations; sticking to their economic rejection of austerity stance, but in general not going out of their way to alienate, rhetorically, natural PASOK, Dem Left or KKE voters.

    In the NET poll, taken while Tsipras was making his doomed attempt to form an anti-austerity government of the left, SYRIZA scored 27% - compared to its election showing of 17% - clearly demonstrating that it had created momentum as the pole of attraction for left voters wanting a showdown with the EU. PASOK was losing ground to both SYRIZA and the Dem Left. Some KKE voters were saying they would switch votes to SYRIZA in a second election.

    When I spoke to leading members of SYRIZA in summer 2011 they were privately very pessimistic about the possibility of forming a government – even an alliance of all the left including splits from PASOK. At that time they said the most obvious solution would be an above-politics left-nationalist figure, a “Greek Kirchner” or “Greek Morales”, and that the absence of such a figure would make it impossible to form what Marxists refer to as a “workers government” – ie a radical reforming government with the participation of the far left, but limited to parliamentary means.

    Now however, the charisma of Mr Tsipras, the fear of a far-right backlash, the depth of the crisis and the seeming inability of PASOK to recover may thrust Tsipras himself into the Morales role. Of all the left party leaders he is the least encumbered by a rigid ideology, because SYRIZA remains highly diverse and internally democratic as a party. And he is tangibly a generation younger than the other leaders. (PASOK’s further problem is that its younger politicians tend to be on the technocratic right of social democracy).

    When I interviewed a SYRIZA spokesman earlier this year I explored the problem of a far-left party, which is anti-NATO etc, taking power in a country whose riot police have been regularly clashing with that party’s youth since 2008. The message was that they would be purposefully limited in aim, and that the core of any programme would be a debtor-led partial default – that is, the suspension of interest payments on the remaining debt and a repudiation of the terms of both Troika-brokered bailouts. What SYRIZA shares with the Dem Left and PASOK it its commitment to the EU social model: they are left globalists. Hence they could make any attempt to force Greece out of the Euro look, to the Greek population, like a Brussels/Berlin inititative, no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.

    So, for example, speaking on condition of anonymity a one of SYRIZA’s MPs told me today: “The austerity programs don’t work and we have to persuade our European partners about it. SYRIZA is a responsible political force, it’s in favour of a new paradigm without rejecting the Euro. What SYRIZA is rejecting is the actual monetary policy of the Eurozone; we want to reform the ECB. We have to seize the opportunity: in Europe now there are more voices in favour of the need for growth, less austerity; the Hollande election in France may change things, creating a new framework. Greece could benefit from this, but only if there is a government in Athens with the political will to radically change things.”

    If, in the next election, SYRIZA scores 26% it would get about the same number of seats, under the vote redistribution rule, as ND got this time – say just over 100. If, on top of that the Dem Left vote holds up, with about 20 seats, and the Communists retain their 26 seats, that is very close to the 150 they would need for a majority.

    It is being rumoured that SYRIZA may soon transform itself into a single party and extend membership to a far left group called Antarsia (which gained 1%) and the Louka Katseli group from PASOK which failed to gain seats, and the Eco-Greens, who polled below 3%. That would extend its reach even further both to its right and left.

    Even without a majority, a SYRIZA-DL minority could attempt a legislative programme that relied on the abstention of some of PASOK’s remaining MPs, tacit “non-opposition” form the KKE, and, paradoxically, the non-opposition of the right wing anti-austerity party Independent Greeks (conservative nationalist). One current obstacle to this is the KKE’s historic enmity to SYRIZA and indeed the entire rest of the Greek left.

    Whatever the outcome, the above explains how a combination of historical factors, the position of the EU and a demographic radicalization of young people propelled one of the furthest left parties in any European parliament to within a few steps of forming a government; and provoking a showdown with the EU that would doubtless see Greece’s suspension or exit from the Euro.

    At the same time it explains that the resulting government may, in effect, be little more than a left-social democratic government, despite its symbology and the radicalism of some of its voters. By forcing the mainstream parties into positions where they could not express the will of the majority of centrist voters, the EU may end up destroying the Greek party system as it has been shaped since 1974.

    Originally posted: May 12, 2012 at Paul Mason News

    Posted By

    Juan Conatz
    May 13 2012 01:53

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    Comments

    Chilli Sauce
    May 14 2012 11:46

    Thanks for posting this Juan.

    So are there Trots in Greece?

    Chilli Sauce
    May 14 2012 12:45

    Do we know if they have much activity or influence? It's just that Mason paints of a Greece with a very active left and it doesn't mention any Trot groups. Unless, of course, some of them are Trots and he just hasn't mentioned it as such.

    Mike Harman
    May 14 2012 13:32

    Well he mentions one:

    Quote:
    Then, in the 2004 election, Synaspismos came together with other small parties to form SYRIZA. These included a split-off from the British SWP
    Chilli Sauce
    May 14 2012 13:45

    fair point.

    Entdinglichung
    May 14 2012 14:58

    the Greek Trotskyist movement and its left communist breakaway groups never really recovered from the killings by Nazis, Fascists and Stalinists 1941-1949, in the early/mid 1930ies, the Greek "Archeio-Marxists" were probably the strongest group of the International Left Opposition ... some are in Syriza (DEA (Ex-SWP), Xekinima/CWI, Kokkino), some in Antarsya (SEK (SWP), OKDE-Spartakos (USFI)), some are on their own (OKDE (Ex-USFI), EEK (CRFI)) ... some Greek Trotskyists or Ex-Trotskyists like Pablo-Raptis or Castoriadis played a major part abroad

    Django
    May 14 2012 17:32

    Interesting stuff. I'd like to know more about Greek anarchism though, what kind of initiatives there are outside of the black bloc / insurrectionist people who we all know about. Has there been much of an attempt to build a social base by anarchists in Greece?

    Mark.
    May 15 2012 12:24

    A throwaway, but probably accurate, assesment of Syriza in an interview with Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis:

    Quote:
    I would caution anyone who reads too much into the titles of parties like the Radical Left [i.e. Syriza]. The Radical Left Party is not that radical. If anything, it is, more or less, where the socialist party used to be 10 years ago. So it’s a centre-left party in reality, with some radical elements that are, more or less, marginalised within it.

    Varoufakis is a left social democrat who I think is fairly sympathetic to Syriza, so this comment wasn't necessarily intended as criticism.

    Mark.
    May 15 2012 23:02

    Athens News journalist saying the same kind of thing on twitter:

    Quote:
    I've only found 5 MPs of the 52 Syriza MPs who come from far-left parties. Synaspismos is not far left.
    Mark.
    May 19 2012 10:42
    mons
    May 21 2012 12:19
    Quote:
    It is not between nations and peoples," he says. "On the one side there are workers and a majority of people and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It's a war between peoples and capitalism … and as in each war what happens on the frontline defines the battle. It will be decisive for the war elsewhere.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/18/greek-leftist-leader-alexis-tsipras
    But apart from that rhetoric, he quotes Keynes, etc.

    Entdinglichung
    May 23 2012 09:53

    http://www.okde.gr/?p=1084

    Quote:
    It is clear that SYRIZA better expressed the sentiment that basically is predominant –for the moment– in the popular masses, that is of seeking a solution through the elections, possibly inside the European Union. On the other hand, of course, it objectively expresses the militant feeling of the masses, their will to get rid of the pro-memorandum forces, the lust for unity of the left forces and maybe for a left government or for an alternative to the barbarity of the system.
    Mark.
    May 25 2012 00:32
    mons wrote:

    But apart from that rhetoric, he quotes Keynes, etc.

    I think that's what it's about really, a kind of neo-Keynesianism vs. neo-liberalism.

    From a discussion on Yanis Varoufakis's blog

    Quote:

    Question: who is Euclid Tsakalotos?

    Varoufakis: A good colleague of mine at the University of Athens, recently elected member of parliament for the Greater Athens constituency.

    Ya. He’s with Syriza and apparently a key economic adviser to that party. I just heard him interviewed (somewhat hostilely, of course) on the radio here in the U.S. and he spoke with a pronounced British accent. Any information on his bio, CV, publications, beyond the very limited amount I could find with a quick google. It seems like he would be an interesting character to get to know under the circumstances…

    So I've done a quick google myself and come up with these links, which I suspect say quite a lot about where Syriza is coming from:

    Articles by Euclid Tsakalotas from the Greek Left Review

    Greek Left Review wrote:

    Euclid Tsakalotos is a professor of economics at the University of Athens. He is a member of the central committee of Synaspismos and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA)

    A Different Strategy for Greece and Europe

    Three Myths Concerning the Greek Crisis

    A couple of academic papers (pdfs)

    Contesting Greek exceptionalism within the European crisis

    Greek economic crisis

    And an Australian TV interview on May 15

    From the transcript:

    Quote:

    EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: And to discuss the Greek crisis I was joined a short time ago by Euclid Tsakalotos, economics professor at the University of Athens. He was elected to parliament in the May six elections as a member of the left coalition SYRIZA party, and he's considered a close confidante of leader Alexis Tsipras.
    […]
    Look, if we assume that the deadlock can't be broken and Greece will go to the polls again, given you've got only 17 per cent of the vote so far, how do you increase your share of the vote? What is it that you offer to voters as an alternative to austerity?

    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, we offer a different program based on very different social and economic priorities: income redistribution, social welfare. We really have a program the old labour parties and the social democrats used to have, who used to represent labour on a program of jobs, on a program of wages and pensions and social welfare. We'll be going to the European Union should we win the election, or win it as part of a coalition, and really ask for what Germany gained in 1953 when it had a debt problem. It gained a Marshall plan, it gained some cutbacks in the debts, and it also gained - and this is very significant - that countries like Greece and Spain and Italy and Portugal should only pay back their debt, if and only if they have the growth and exports to justify repayment. In other words, our creditors are not our first responsibility. We do not want not to repay all of our debt, but we're only willing to pay that debt should the economic and social conditions allow for it. At the moment the Eurozone is at risk, not because of the Greek radical left - it's at risk because it has an architecture, a financial and economic architecture that is evidently unable to deal with the crisis in the eurozone, and we think part of the solution is a change in that architecture.

    EMMA ALBERICI: Let's dissect what you've just said one bit at a time. The Marshall plan that you talk about post-war was all about rebuilding economies devastated by war. It's generally agreed that the problems with the Greek economy are self-inflicted. I mean, the damage in Greece was that you borrowed too much - you'll find it hard, won't you, to convince your neighbours in Europe that profligacy makes one eligible for charity?

    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, as you know, in the 70s and 80s we had a third world debt problem, and eventually the creditors realised when you lend too much, half the problem is with the people who borrowed, and half the problem is with the banks that lend too much. And that's why we had the Brady bonds, and we had an international solution to the debt crisis of the south. So we're saying something very similar. It's all very well saying that it's just the Greek people who have been profligate but there's a crisis in Spain and in Portugal and in Italy, and part of the problem was the banks made an awful lot of money during those periods, and now that they're not making money the rest of society is socialising their losses. Quite frankly, that isn't capitalism, is it? It's not a capitalist solution that every time the banks don't make money and make losses, the rest of society pays for it. Thus we think that to get out of this crisis we have to have a very different banking system that invests in the real economy; we have to have growth, Germany cannot get out of this crisis if it doesn't expand its economy - it's no longer a small open economy, and it can't run its macroeconomic policy as if it doesn't care what's happening in the south. If it continues to do so, as many economists in the Financial Times and the economists in the New York Times have said, the eurozone will collapse, and it will collapse because of bad German economic policies and a bad architecture that cannot deal with the recession.

    EMMA ALBERICI: All that aside, would you agree that Greece - if we look at just Greece for the time being - there might need to be some cultural shift in your country that there can't continue to be an attitude that says paying tax is an optional measure; and also this idea that people are entitled to a pension in their 50s, where virtually everywhere else in the world we wait until our 60s?

    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: You're listening a little bit too much to the creditors' point of view. But that having been said, you're quite right. Nobody in the left in Greece suggests that we should go back to the pre-2008 situation. You're quite right, we need to expand a taxable base. We need to have important reforms in the public sector, we might want to make the public sector more public and not be a field for private interests and private gain. We have a big program which is not a return to the pre-2008 program. We were very critical of the model of development that was based on lending and big projects in the pre-2008 period, so you're actually preaching to the converted. But, on the other hand, we also need a model that has a regulation of the banks, that deals with social inequalities, that deals with regional inequalities - and that is what the Greek left is saying. And we're appealing to progressive forces in Spain and Italy and France that there is no reason why the eurozone should always be the eurozone of Merkel, why it should always be the eurozone of the banks, why it should always be the eurozone that restricts democracy, that doesn't allow peoples to vote on alternative policies - which says more or less you can vote for anything you like as long as you vote for what Merkel and Schauble says is right. That can't be a permanent just equilibrium for Europe.

    EMMA ALBERICI: The Germans have a very persuasive view and that is that money talks. The Germans have put something in the order of $600 billion into the stability fund - the financial firewall, so...
    [...]
    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: There's two issues there. The first issue is that Germans have not put any money into Greece which they're not profiting from. Even German newspapers you will read and understand how much profit they've made from loans to all the southern European economies. Not just now in the crisis but before the crisis as well. The second issue is that after every crisis of capitalism - in 1929, in 1974 - we never returned to the status quo. All these arguments that we're hearing - that we must go out of this crisis by reducing wages, reducing the public sector - we heard in the 1930s, and no economy in the 1930s got out of a recession or reduced its debt-to-GDP ratio through austerity. It was true then, it's true now, and unless there's going to be a settlement that will have to be imposed on Schauble and on Merkel, and by what I see in German election results they're losing ground, and people are discussing euro bonds, they're discussing a different European Central Bank, they're discussing a very different macroeconomic strategy; the discussions, the debate has opened. I will just tell you what very many leader articles and opinion makers have been saying in the main financial papers: the eurozone will either change in a more progressive direction, or it will collapse - and it will not collapse because the Greek left got 17 per cent of the vote, it will collapse because it didn't understand what the economics of monetary union are and that you cannot reduce your debt through recession.

    EMMA ALBERICI: Mr Tsakalotos, they're tough words you speak, but the fact remains that the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank have sent you a very clear message - you being Greek society. The $170 billion bailout money is not negotiable: it comes with conditions and conditions of severe austerity?

    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, because I'm a professor of economics and I've studied economic history, negotiating positions can change when the balance of forces change. Obviously, I wouldn't expect Merkel and Schauble to say anything else before negotiations, but if the peoples of the south change the balance of forces, difference social forces come to the fore - as they did in the 50s and 60s. In the 50s and 60s, after the recession of the 30s, no economist who had been saying these things about the necessity of austerity was in power. They had all been marginalised because people came back after the war and said and, "We will not return to the devil's decade of recession, unemployment, hunger marches; we can do something better". And we're in this situation again. We can do something better. And if Merkel and Sarkozy and the others don't understand that, I think they will have to understand it when the balance of forces changes.

    EMMA ALBERICI: I think it's Hollande now you will be dealing with, not Mr Sarkozy. But at what point do you countenance a Greek exit from the Eurozone?

    EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, we're not actually proposing a Greek exit. We're proposing different kind of proposals for economy and society which are good for Greek people and for the peoples of Europe. We have no intention of leaving by our own accord monetary union, and as very many economists have been saying, the eurozone cannot withstand a Greek withdrawal. It's rather like adultery. Once you've done it once, the temptation to do it again is greatly increased. If they throw Greece out, investors will know that Portugal or Spain or Italy will be the next, and the eurozone - this is in professor Krugman's blog of this week - once Greece go, the probability of another country goes is very, very strong, and that's what gives us bargaining power against what the Germans are saying and against what the IMF is saying.
    […]

    Edit: Australian TV again, a talking heads type program with Euclid Tsakalotas, Costas Lapavitsas and others. The difference in coverage between Australia and the UK is interesting, but then Australia isn't directly involved in the eurozone crisis and there are a lot of Greeks living there.

    ocelot
    May 24 2012 15:22

    from above

    Quote:
    ...the problem was the banks made an awful lot of money during those periods, and now that they're not making money the rest of society is socialising their losses. Quite frankly, that isn't capitalism, is it?

    This "it's just not capitalism!" trope (about the socialisation of the bank losses, being "unfair") is made much of by right-wing bailout critics in Ireland, like David McWilliams, Shane Ross, etc.

    The general "jobs and growth" versus austerity (aka "fiscal consolidation or discipline", by advocates) is what the so-called left have fallen into here, as well. The United Left Alliance (SWP + SP, a marriage made in hell) have the town covered in posters for a NO in the Fiscal Compact treaty referendum here, which are all basically - against austerity, for jobs & growth. All pretence of anti-capitalism has gone out the window. You could say they've moved from "Vote Labour with no illusions" to "Vote for us with no illusions" roll eyes .

    Mark.
    May 27 2012 09:29
    Mark.
    May 27 2012 00:26

    Tsipras interviewed before the May 6 elections

    Mark.
    May 31 2012 23:36

    Time interview with Tsipras - This is longer and more interesting than the others I've seen.

    jacobian
    Jun 1 2012 08:53

    Jesus Christ that interview intro is embarassing.

    Juan Conatz
    Jun 1 2012 08:57

    Which one?

    Mark.
    Jun 3 2012 09:58
    Mark.
    Jun 4 2012 09:13

    Kathimerini interview with Tsipras

    Kathimerini is a fairly serious conservative newspaper, maybe the Greek equivalent of the Times or Telegraph.

    Quote:

    “We are not under the delusion that the people who voted for us are all ideologically sided with the left,” Tsipras told Sunday’s Kathimerini. “To a degree, our success is due to the succession of mistakes made by our opponents: They openly supported a memorandum that leads to catastrophe and then they led the country to new elections when they could have formed a government, hoping that the responsibility would be chalked up to us.”

    .

    Yanis Varoufakis on the eurozone crisis and voting for Syriza

    There's an argument within this that could be paraphrased as something like 'ignore Syriza's manifesto promises and pay attention to what their economists are saying, along with the political and economic realities. It's safe for the political centre to vote for them, in fact it might be the only way to save the eurozone.' The view from the Keynesian centre-left.

    Quote:

    […]
    To conclude, Europe’s peoples are being marched into a catastrophe. They know that this is their predicament. They can see their march is leading them off a mighty cliff. But they are too afraid to veer off, in case they are beaten back into line, in case they get lost in the woods, for reasons that sheep know best. However, the only way this hideous march can end is if someone summons up the courage and does it. And steps out, showing the others that this march can stop and must stop – for everyone’s benefit. Who is that someone? We, Europeans, do not have many options. As I wrote above, the Irish people had a chance but did not take it. In two weeks, the Greeks have their chance. Voting for Syriza would offer us (and by ‘us’ I mean all Europeans) a chance of this circuit-breaker. A chance to say: Enough! Time to change course in order to save the Eurozone, so as to prevent the Great Postmodern Depression which lurks once the euro-system fragments formally. 

    Should we be afraid of Syriza’s ‘ultra-leftism’? My answer is a resounding No. I recommend that (even those who have Greek amongst their languages) you do not read their manifesto. It is not worth the paper it is written on. While replete with good intentions, it is short on detail, full of promises that cannot, and will not be fulfilled (the greatest one is that austerity will be cancelled), a hotchpotch of  policies that are neither here nor there. Just ignore it. Syriza is a party that had to progress, within weeks, from a fringe political agglomeration struggling to get into Parliament (at around the 4% mark) to a major party that may have to form government in a few short weeks. It is, in important ways, a ‘work in progress’; and so is its unappetising Manifesto. No, the reason it is safe to take a gamble on Syriza is threefold:

    First, because it is probably the only party that ‘gets it’; that understands (a) that Greece must stay in the Eurozone (despite the latter’s obvious failures), and (b) that the Eurozone will not survive unless someone forces Europe to put an immediate halt on this “march off the cliff of competitive austerity”. 

    Secondly, because the small team of political economists that will negotiate on Syriza’s behalf are good. moderate people with a decent grasp of the grim reality that Greece and the Eurozone are facing (and, no, I am not part of that team – but I know the ones I am referring to).

    Thirdly, because, in any case, a vote for Syriza is not going to establish a purely Syriza government. No party, including Syriza, will be in a position to form a government outright. So, the question is whether Europe is better off with a government in Athens which includes Syriza as a pivot or one which is supported by discredited pro-bailout parties, with Syriza leading from the opposition benches. I have no doubt whatsoever that Europe’s interests are best served by the first option.

    Edit: according to one of the comments for that blog post there's press speculation in Greece, whether accurate or not, that Varoufakis would be offered a position in a Syriza-led government.

    Kathimerini has a report on who is planning to vote for who that analyses the shift in voting intentions away from the smaller parties. It suggests that people that who voted for the anti-memorandum parties on the right, the Independent Greeks (a split from ND) and Golden Dawn (neo-nazis), are switching to Syriza rather than New Democracy.

    Quote:

    SYRIZA’s post-election momentum is clearly stronger, not only than that of ND, but also in comparison with the pre-election trend seen working in its favor during the final two weeks of the run-up to the recent ballot. After the May elections, this social current has taken on the characteristics of an electoral leap and now constitutes a phenomenon that is precisely described by the term ‘structural break’. With regard to party preferences, the widespread electoral current in favor of SYRIZA appears to be broadly diverse: It absorbs a considerable segment from the general pool of Communist Party of Greece voters, the majority of voters of small formations of leftist protest (ANTARSYA, leftist groupings not represented in Parliament, NO, Ecologists Greens), but also the greater portion of the right-wing anti-Memorandum protest (Independent Greeks, Golden Dawn). Lastly it has also attracted a stream of voters who had chosen to abstain in the elections of 6 May.

    ocelot
    Jun 6 2012 11:27

    Time for a quick backpedal?

    Grauniad

    Quote:
    Alexis Tsipras, the radical leftist leader who has unnerved leaders both in and out of the euro zone by vowing to "tear up" the bailout agreement Greece has signed up to with the EU and IMF, has stunned political observers with a decision to meet G20 ambassadors in Athens this morning.

    Five days after the head of the Syriza party pledged to "cancel" the memorandum outlining the onerous terms on which Greece receives cash injections from foreign lenders, he has taken the unexpected step of "explaining" his policies with representatives from each of the G20 countries stationed in Athens. As I type, Tsipras is locked in closed door talks with the ambassadors at the Zappeion conference centre. Could the 37-year-old firebrand be changing his spots? The news has been received as nothing short of a volte-face by political observers.

    "There is a clear change of strategy by Syriza," veteran commentator Nikos Evangelatos told Flash radio. "The change of line is more than obvious from the daily statements of leading party cadres on the party's economic program."
    [...]
    Yiannis Dragazakis, the leftist MP widely credited with drawing up the coalition's economic program, went as far as saying that Syriza's fiscal policies were not only "flexible" but would take into account "daily reality."
    "We [in Syriza] are not talking about unilateral actions," he said referring to fears that, if in power, the party would automatically revoke the bailout accord. "On the contrary, we recognize that we have an institutional inter-dependence in the European Union and as such we don't speak about unilateral actions but about renegotiating everything – except if we are forced to act unilaterally."
    [...]
    a senior party member said it was essential that ambassadors from the [G20] bloc "understand we are not a threat."

    Shorty
    Jun 6 2012 12:42

    Running for election on a promise to renegotiate the terms? Where have I heard that one before? tongue

    Mark.
    Jun 26 2012 00:08