Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

If Syriza wins the Greek election, what will happen next?

Lisa Mittendrein and Valentin Schwarz spoke to Syriza members to explore the possibilities for a government of the left

December 31, 2014
9 min read

syriza

With Greece facing a snap general election on 25 January 2015, there is the genuine prospect of a radical left government coming to power in an EU country. Syriza, a party born from a coalition of Eurocommunists, social movements and anti-globalisation activists, is riding high.

The general sentiment among Syriza officials and activists is that they will win the election and form the next government. The party won the European election in May 2014 and achieved some significant wins at the regional elections. It has been leading nationwide polls for months, scoring 29 per cent in late December 2014. The majority-friendly electoral law allows for an absolute majority at 35 to 40 per cent of the vote, depending on the number of parties passing the threshold.

Of course, victory is by no means assured. Syriza will most likely win the election but fall short of an absolute majority. Between now and polling day the party will be blasted by a tsunami of propaganda and fear-mongering. At the time of writing, it seems likely the party will have to form a coalition to get into government.

Syriza’s problem is that it there are no likely partners: The orthodox communist KKE, which campaigned with the slogan ‘Don’t trust Syriza’ in 2012, has ruled out any form of cooperation. The ostensibly social democratic Pasok is in a deep crisis, losing many of its voters to Syriza and thus attacking its rival fiercely. It is however facing the danger of a split between the factions of leader Evangelos Venizelos and his predecessor and prime minister Giorgos Papandreou. In general, the Greek party system is highly unstable and it is unclear which and how many parties will make it into the next parliament.

If Syriza does fall short of an absolute majority, EU elites might exert pressure on all non-Syriza parties – except probably the fascist Golden Dawn and the KKE – to form a so-called government of ‘national unity’ against Syriza. The near past provides a precedent for such interference. In November 2011, then-president of the EU commission Jose Manuel Barroso orchestrated the imposition of a technocratic government led by a central banker to enforce austerity in Greece, with the support of both traditional mainstream parties, Pasok and the conservative New Democracy. Nevertheless, Syriza activists remain optimistic – and they have a history of surpassing expectations.

If Syriza forms a government…

If Syriza succeeds in forming a government then it will face a huge number of challenges on the domestic and European level. At home, it will encounter fierce opposition from big business, the austerity parties and the Greek media. Greek economic elites might use the EU’s legal framework to work against Syriza. For example, bank owners could file lawsuits at the European Court of Justice against the restructuring of the banking sector.

For Syriza itself, being in government may strain the relationship between the party leadership and its supporters and change the dynamic within the party. Syriza will have to find a balance between its two roles – first, representing a credible alternative to the establishment, and second, bringing forward a project for government. Care will have to be taken not to damage the party’s links to the social movements, and it will need to extend its presence within society to build a bedrock of support to withstand the attacks.

Greece is particularly vulnerable to pressure from external, EU elites. Instead of preventing a Syriza government through threats as they did in the Greek election of 2012 (when German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble called Syriza ‘demagogues’ and French president François Hollande ‘warned’ Greeks that other countries would ‘want to end the presence of Greece in the Eurozone’ if the party won), many within Syriza expect their European adversaries to play a more patient game in 2015. ‘They won’t do us the favour to openly oppose us. This time, if they are hostile it would be a good thing for us,’ says Andreas Karitzis, a member of Syriza’s central committee.

European elites might instead choose to let Syriza come to power and then make it fail, either toppling the left government project as soon as possible with maximum pressure or attempting to corrupt the party. The latter would ensure the continuation of the austerity agenda, but also prevent leftists and movements across Europe from rallying behind Syriza and Greece.

John Milios, professor of political economy and a Syriza MP, considers this plan to be more probable: ‘I think they will try to do with Syriza what they did with left parties in Italy, who were very left when in opposition and neoliberal when in government… That means that we need to be careful within the party. In Marxist terms, class struggles are everywhere, even inside the party. This is why we need workers to mobilise, to support the party and put forward proposals themselves.’

In the view of Karitzis, the European elites will rely on the austerity regime established in recent years through new institutions and contracts. ‘They will accept us, negotiate with us at the beginning. They will say: “Let’s see what you can do. There are rules you cannot violate, there are agreements you should respect.” They are confident they created a situation since 2012 that no government can change.’

But Syriza will certainly try. One of the first actions of a Syriza government will be to demand a reduction of public debt in Greece and Europe through an international debt conference. European governments and institutions will probably enter negotiations without making any concessions. Karitzis says, ‘They are convinced that we will eventually compromise, that time is against us, so they won’t be too hostile in the beginning.’ Giorgos Chondros, director of Syriza’s department for environmental policy, expects negotiations to drag on for a while. ‘We will not only have to fight the Greek elites, but also the European ones. This makes our situation much more difficult. We’ll need the support of movements in the whole of Europe.’ John Milios anticipates ‘psychological warfare’ from EU elites and creditors.

Greece will most likely violate some of the provisions of the EU’s deficit rules. ‘There is no doubt that the numbers we see about Greek government accounts, the banks’ asset books, are all forged,’ Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics and Syriza advisor, says. The true state of public finances will probably come to the surface soon after a Syriza government is instated.

Prepared for bankers’ blackmail

Party figures argue that for economic reasons the Eurozone cannot afford to kick Greece out. European elites could, however, exert pressure in other ways. They could trigger a bank run inside Greece. They could tarnish the image of Greece as a tourist destination. The European Central Bank (ECB) could stop returning profits from interest on Greek government bonds. Less structural funds for infrastructure projects like roads might be awarded to Greece – according to Varoufakis, the rules concerning these funds have been loosened in the past to support the current Greek government, meaning they could simply be applied more strictly to harm a Syriza government.

Investors in Greek government bonds have been reassured by ‘winks’ from Berlin and the ECB, suggesting that should Greece not pay, the debt would be covered. Varoufakis warns that ‘they might as well do the opposite to increase financial pressure on a left government.’ All of these measures would damage Syriza’s ability to deliver important promises to re-establish free access to healthcare, increase the lowest pensions and introduce rent subsidies.

Possibly the most serious strategy would be for the ECB to threaten to stop providing liquidity to Greek banks. Varoufakis describes this as a ‘nuclear weapon’ which could bring the Greek banking sector down almost immediately. It would be extreme, but not unthinkable: In December 2014, the ECB threatened to effectively cut off Greek banks unless the government complied with Troika wishes. Varoufakis is convinced that a Syriza government must be prepared for this form of blackmail if it is to last long enough to negotiate a new deal for Greece.

Despite all these challenges, there is still optimism among Syriza members. Although many consider it possible that their government could last only for a few weeks, they say their chances are better today than they would have been in 2012. They see fractures within the neoliberal bloc that they can try to exploit, like the ECB’s fear of deflation, the position of Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi, and the recent conflicts within the French government. By getting into government and implementing first measures, Syriza hopes to accelerate existing debates, especially within European social democracy and the trade unions.

‘The main idea is to support society’s self-confidence, to fight the idea that we are totally dependent on somebody else and that we cannot make our own plans as a people,’ says Alexandros Bistis, Syriza’s main campaign coordinator. For Andreas Karitzis, European societies are in danger of accepting that they are not free to decide on economic policy. ‘There are historic times where you have to fight for your values, like democracy, liberty, dignity,’ he says. ‘We should try to give hope to people.’

Lisa Mittendrein and Valentin Schwarz are activists with ATTAC Austria and are part of a solidarity campaign with the Greek left. This article is based on research for their report With Greece for Europe: Why we need to support the Greek left now, which can be downloaded free.

In Britain the Greece Solidarity Campaign is organising in support of the Greek left and movements.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite


1,891