Many leftists have been overjoyed that an anti-austerity party won the general election in Greece. For the left, including those in the UK, Syriza’s victory is seen as a turning point in Europe against economic policies based on harsh cuts. But is it?
SYRIZA (‘Coalition of the Radical Left’) started off as an alliance of various reformist left-wing currents. Its programme was very similar to Pasok, a socialist coalition of the 1980s. In fact, a large part of the old Pasok leadership is now in Syriza. Alexis Tsipras took over as Syriza leader in 2008, as the party was moving away from reformist ‘Eurocommunism’ to build a relationship with the grassroots social movements that had grown in Greece against austerity. As it was developing a presence on the streets and joining the large ‘square protests’, the party also increased its influence in trade unions, especially the public sector, and organised among university students. It quickly positioned itself as a last hope for change for the social movement.
Syriza will now be the political wing of a repressive State apparatus - the police, the army, the judiciary - that is historically riddled with right-wingers and fascists. It has already formed a coalition with a right-wing anti-immigration party and will continue to make compromises to stay in power. As the party is quite small with 35,000 members, around 10,000 will be moved into government positions in an attempt to counter the right-wing, well away from the grassroots initiatives that carried them into office.
Greek radicals with longer memories will remember that after Pasok was elected it rapidly dropped the radical programme that helped it to power. In any case, it was all but wiped out in later elections. Now here we are again with more leftist promises from Syriza. As one Greek anarchist Spyros Dapergolas remarked about the importance of people sticking to grassroots organising, “Everything else is a recipe for failure, disappointment, loss of time, and, of course, political and individual corruption ... what power and state always create.”