A brief reminder. In January 2015 Paul Mason proclaimed on his Twitter account: "come to Athens – the revolution is happening". It is 2018 now, and three years later it is Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, who is ecstatic: "You did it! Congratulations to Greece and its people on ending the programme of financial assistance." What happened?
After nine years Greece has finally emerged from the eurozone bailout programme. The bailout has cost €289bn but now Greece can borrow at market rates once again.1 Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza and the Prime Minister of Greece, has declared a “day of liberation” in a speech on the island of Ithaca laden with nationalist and mythological overtones, he declared that “Greece has lived through its own odyssey, including €65bn of austerity measures...”2 Despite all the rhetoric however, this is hardly a success story. Greece still needs to repay its debts – fiscal austerity is on the agenda until 2060.3 Even without the prospect of another financial crisis, the future looks bleak. But this was not always the case. Back in 2015 the election of Syriza was touted by the left as a victory against neo-liberalism. Commentators from Owen Jones and Laurie Penny to Paul Mason joined the chorus. So did sections of the far left. The SWP called it “a long-awaited breakthrough against the ruling class agenda of austerity and repression”4 , the SPEW claimed the election showed how the “austerity elite can be beaten”.5 Similar headlines dominated left wing publications across the board.
Entering a governing coalition with the right wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) was the first sign of things to come. Then, in July 2015, came the bailout referendum. At the time we argued that whatever the result, the referendum was a “trap, because it proposes alternatives that are not alternatives”, that it was “a farce designed to get the working class to identify with Syriza’s failed reformism.”6 Lo and behold, despite the victory of the “NO” vote, that same month Tsipras accepted the third bailout package from the European Union. As usual, the left, after helping Syriza win in the first place, now screamed “capitulation” and “betrayal”, and a split in the party and fresh elections followed. It was all in vain however, as Syriza remains in power up to this day with Tsipras at its head. The genie was out of the bottle.
Anti-Austerity or Anti-Capitalism?
Syriza came to power under the banner of anti-austerity only to carry out another round of austerity (at this point one may rightly have flashback to the 1981-1995 presidency of François Mitterrand in France). Instead of delivering on its promises, Syriza launched auctions of repossessed properties7 , tried to set up a €66m weapons deal with Saudi Arabia8 , has “mainly failed in its, admittedly very demanding, task to orderly shelter and register” refugees9 , has been blamed for the scale of the recent wildfires10 and the list could go on. To win the election Syriza had to leech off the energy, hope and enthusiasm of the 2010-12 anti-austerity movement, it built its ranks upon the corpse of that movement. Scattered resistance still continues under its government. There were general strikes in November 2015, May 2016, May 2017, December 2017, and May 2018, over austerity, cuts, pensions and tax changes. There have also been many instances of local direct action (such as when refugees occupied the party’s office in Lesbos11 ). But, indeed, the future for the Greek working class looks bleak. The only way out for all of us lies in the resurgence of workers' self-organisation on a global scale. A resurgence which would challenge the rule of capital. The whole Syriza episode demonstrates once again that putting hopes in any allegedly reformist parliamentary party is just an illusion. We have to rely on our own capacity for struggle which ultimately creates a real political force to unite workers round a common programme against the whole capitalist system.
Rather than look at the reality in front of them (already in 2013 Yanis Varoufakis, briefly the Greek Minister of Finance, declared that his aim was to “save European capitalism from itself”12 ) the capitalist left across the world preferred to fool itself and its followers that Syriza was the alternative. The past three years have killed that illusion, but no lessons have been learned. The subject of Greece has mostly disappeared from left wing headlines, and the avid Syriza cheerleaders have simply washed their hands of it. The left has now moved on to greener pastures, pinning its hopes on other “socialist” celebrities, the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. The working class of Greece however, disillusioned and beaten down, is still bearing the consequences of Syriza’s victory. (Further pension cuts and increased taxes are due in January.) If one thing is clear, it is that neither the left nor the right has the answer to the ongoing crisis of the capitalist system.
23 August 2018
- 1Greece emerges from eurozone bailout programme bbc.co.uk
- 2Tsipras declares 'day of liberation' after Greece exits bailout reuters.com
- 3Lessons For The Eurozone From The Greek Debt Crisis forbes.com
- 4A new day for Greece and Europe socialistworker.org
- 5Syriza victory shows austerity elite can be beaten socialistparty.org.uk
- 6On the Greek Referendum leftcom.org
- 7Greek notaries begin 2-month strike ft.com
- 8Pressure on Greece to scrap arms deal with Saudi Arabia theguardian.com
- 9After One Year in Government, Syriza and Greece Are More Isolated Than Ever huffingtonpost.com
- 10Greece wildfires: authorities blamed for high death toll theguardian.com
- 11Refugees occupy Syriza party office in Lesbos aljazeera.com
- 12Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist theguardian.com