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SYRIZA: Building on the democracy of the square

Babis Agrolabos looks at SYRIZA's history and what it has done since the elections
June 2012

With four days to go  to the Greek elections, all the signs are that SYRIZA,  the left wing coalition now turned into a party will form the government of Greece and will begin a new era, by replacing the Troika's failed Memorandum with 'a national plan for reconstruction and growth.' Journalist and Director of the Athens radio station 105.5 At Red, Babis Agrolabos contrasts SYRIZA with the two corrupt and exhausted parties that have brought Greece to its present state of collapse; he  summarises SYRIZA's history and describes how since the 6 May elections, it has been holding open assemblies with Greek voters, as a first step towards renewing Geek democracy.

At the turn of the 20th century Greeks went on to vote for a new government at a time when the country was preparing on one hand for the Eurozone, and on the other hand for the Olympic Games. On the evening of 9 April in 2000, there was a surreal image in the downtown streets and in the headquarters of the biggest parties, PASOK and New Democracy - shortly after the first electoral results, the voters of the conservative party went out in the streets celebrating, many of them in their vehicles. The most excited collaborators of Costas Karamanlis were in their party kiosk in Syntagma square and were promising jobs to the organised fans of New Democracy, who in previous days were giving out leaflets to passers-by. An hour later it was time for the co-operators of Costas Simitis to celebrate triumphantly, in the streets and on the television until the early hours.

It's been 12 years since then and the public debt of Greece has doubled, the Golden Olympic games is now a fake memory and the view of the Rio – Antirrio bridge, a so-called miracle of mechanics and aesthetics, still provokes awe, but the roads that it connects, these old asphalt ‘guillotines’, bear more resemblance to The Scream by Edvard Munch. Greek Society in the last two years doesn't know if it has to scream for its past or its future. The catastrophe that it goes through every day, with bigger and bigger intensity and more and more ruins, with the policies of dead end austerity, is not the best place for electoral celebrations.

The Left, SYRIZA, the biggest winner of the elections on the 6 May 2012 - and is very likely to be again on 17 June - did not throw a party and could not celebrate its success. The trust invested in SYRIZA by the voters leads to greater responsibilities than at any other point in the post-dictatorship period. This was obvious also during the procedure of the exploratory mandate in order to form a coalition government. No other political force would take the responsibility of a government without SYRIZA. This is the most important fact of the new political landscape. The parties that took power after the fall of the dictatorship, New Democracy and PASOK, followed one another in the government, and with their actions and their failures, have led Greece to disaster. The parties that accepted and practiced the Troika policies have demanded that the Left cooperate in a new government.

But the question remains, could Greek society accept such a cooperation? And if so, with which program, which politicians and for what reason? Or will the European partners and lenders accept the continuation of a ruling system that led Greece to the cliff, at the same time leaving corruption unbridled? And why did Alexis Tsipras, who until yesterday was seen as dangerous for the EU, become so necessary for the rescue of Greece and the Eurozone?

In the minds of the Greek people, SYRIZA was established as the most serious opposition force. SYRIZA followed all the possible options for a viable and fair solution on the debt issue and for the reconstruction of society and state, it participated in the mobilisations of social forces and provided a political frame for the initiatives against the Troika insistences.

This has become even clearer since the elections of May. Even though they had not taken the form of a classic solid party organisation, the local organisations of SYRIZA have opened the agenda that the voters made and initiated open debates known as ‘people's assemblies’. In One week after the elections the president of SYRIZA attended one of these debates, in in Nikaia close to the historic neighborhood of Kokkinia, and the people flooded the square. The same happened also during the next assemblies.

In the new political landscape, SYRIZA overcame any doubts and agreed to reconstruct itself on a new basis, by unifying the local organisations of Synaspismos, the main ‘trunk’ of the coalition, with the other components that have formed SYRIZA back in 2004. Now SYRIZA, broadened with the United Social Front, has a solid party and structural form, so that, in Sunday's elections, it will take the bonus of 50 parliamentary seats without legal complications and controversies.

Apart from that, this new group cannot be the sum of individual opinions. And in the present situation it could be not just an arithmetical operation without political dynamics. In the last two years, during the governments of Papandreou and Papadimos, it has become clear that the arithmetic operation of social demands leads to automations. For every failure in the tax system, the people that always paid, the beasts of burden, were called to pay again. And the result was negative for the people of labour and the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners, underpaid workers, Greeks and immigrants.

This linear, watertight structure of the political system cannot go any further. This was insisted on by the ‘Aganaktismenoi’ (Resentful) gatherings. These gathering were diffused everywhere, in the Athenian suburbs and in the other cities of Greece, and their overtone is still strong.

However, the demand for democratic participation in the decision making is surely not going to be satisfied in open assemblies. But still, it is another step towards the institutional reconstruction of Greece, the expansion of democracy and the deepening of political social rights. It could be considered as another expression of the dialectics of spontaneity and organisation, in the way that Roza Luxemburg stated it. Or even more simply, by comparison with the description of the Chilean writer and former student leader Luis Sepulveda in his last book, of what happened in the Salvador Allende era, when the economic elite abandoned the country, even though Chile had a democratically elected government. Sepulveda recalls how he and his fellow students took over and reopened an aviary. This was more or less the way that a neighbouring factory, which produced food for birds, begun to operate again. Until the time the production line was organised again, many funny things happened, dozens of eggs were lost and the hens almost revolted. However Chilean society at that time provided many well-developed examples of democratic and economic reconstruction, in the same way as do all countries that face a similar crossroad.

Greek society, in the pursuit of a new democratic and economic organisation, has a crucial advantage - it is located in a democratic environment. And even though many problems and imperfections occur in the European edifice, the societies of European countries can point out those voices that defend the democratic principles of Europe. If there is something putting the EU in danger, it is not the Greek Left and its perspective of becoming a leading political force with the support of the people. The danger exists on the other side, in the fanatics of unbridled markets and the idealists of fear. Or to paraphrase the consideration of Hobbes on the middle ages, the danger comes from the worship of a market, that cannot stand democracy. In  these circumstances SYRIZA is the only hope.


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Jordi Salvat i Alabart 14 June 2012, 13.52

Well said!

I just hope that the Greek voters don’t allow themselves to be frightened by the powers of the central-european plutocracy.

Democracy in Europe has been shrinking more and more, ever since Felipe Gonzalez similarly (and successfully, alas!) scared my fellow Spanish voters into voting for joining NATO.

It is time someone puts the people back in front of the moneys and begins the restoration of democracy in Europe. I wish I had a Tsipras to vote for here in Spain.

Michael Kenny 15 June 2012, 20.23

As the author correctly points out Syriza is no danger to the EU. It does not challenge Greece’s EU membership or even Greece’s use of the euro. Tsipras has been to France and Germany and has received the “benediction” of those countries’ leaders. There has, though, been a concerted campaign in (in particular) the British media to use Syriza as “useful idiots” to destroy the euro or at very least, stampede Greece out of it, but I don,t believe either Greek voters or the Syriza leadership are so stupid that they would let themselves be manipulated in that way. Through the low value of the euro, Greece has generated an ongoing boom for the eurozone, but that low euro is a disaster for Britain. If Britain cannot destroy the euro or stampede Greece out of it, causing its value to soar, Britain will probably be forced to take the first step towards adopting the euro itself, namely, the laying down of a fixed exchange rate, as Denmark and Switzwerland have already done. That explains, I think, the almost hysterical British press campaign.

J_750 30 June 2012, 02.52

There was a limit to how far Tsipras could reasonably go and still attract the support Syriza needed. It was very close and although Syriza came short their rise has really been the story of the election.

The situation in Greece is dire. There’s no doubt fear was a factor in how the vote played out. The fear factor certainly figured into the outcome of the Irish referendum on the fiscal treaty.

Democracy is under threat but survival concerns are a priority for many… it remains to be seen at what price.

Comments are now closed on this article.

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