Trying to understand Syriza. Un model de structurare.

Greek-polling-data-showin-008Syriza: 27.7% (up from 16.78% in last Sunday’s election)
New Democracy: 20.3% (up from 18.8%)
Pasok: 12.6% (down from 13.1%
Independent Greeks: 10.2% (down from 10.6%)
KKE: 7% (down from 8.48%)
Golden Dawn: 5.7% (down from 6.97%)
Democratic Left: 4.9% (down from 6.1%)

Un model de structurare – Syriza. Nu ma refer la ideologia lor ci la modul in care au pornit ca o alianta de 12 grupuri, ajungind initial cu greu la 4%, apoi au crescut constant primind noi grupuri si activisti, functionind tot ca alianta de grupuri. Abia dupa ce au depasit 17% s-au topit intr-un partid. Acum sint cel mai mare, cel mai puternic partid din Grecia, la un pas de a schimba istoria. Au pierdut la mustata ultimele alegeri, poate au avut pozitii prea radicale (nationalizarea bancilor si eliminarea bazelor nato) dar sint de ani de zile intr-un proces de maturizare On 6 May 2012, when Syriza won 17 per cent of the vote in the general election, most activists were stunned. After all, three years ago the alliance had only just scraped past the 3 per cent barrier to parliamentary seats, with 4.7 per cent. By 17 June, when the second election saw Syriza’s vote rise to 27 per cent, members had begun seriously to imagine their coalition in government. Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, was founded in 2004 following the success of a new generation of young activists from the left-wing Synaspismos party, including Alexis Tsipras and Andreas Karitzis, a key political coordinator, in taking over the party leadership. This generation had been formed through the alter-globalisation movement of the first decade of the century. The young activists and intellectuals who helped to found Syriza were from the first generation that rejected capitalism after the fall of the Soviet Union, and who came to the left independently of any ‘actually existing’ alternative. Their involvement in movements and struggles was part of a process of developing an alternative rather than promoting one that had already been worked out. Karitzis: ’I believe you need state political power but what is also decisive is what is you are doing in the movements/society before seizing power. Eighty per cent of social change cannot come through government.’

Roots of change: After 7 years of slow growth, when the latest forces of change converged on Syntagma Square, Syriza members were there too. There they helped to build the movement, not to recruit to the party, to push a line or take control. This principled immersion in the movements, led many people to decide that Syriza was the instrument they could trust to help them rid Greece of the memorandum. ‘Syriza was always with us,’ says Tonia Katerina from the Open City coalition. It was a sentiment I heard again and again. When Tsipras declared that Syriza was prepared to form a government to stop the memorandum and break the old ruling order, he linked anger with hope. The parliament stands some distance back from Syntagma Square. Syriza was committing itself to open up a two-way channel of power and energy from the squares and society to parliament and back.

Politicised solidarity: In its work outside parliament, Syriza gives a high priority to supporting and spreading networks that in effect systematise the customs of informal mutual support that are deeply rooted in Greek society. Some begin with neighbours coming together to help others with greater need. Others involve solidarity kitchens linking with food producers; doctors and nurses responding to the crisis in the health system by creating medical social centres; support for actions against electricity cut-offs; legal help in courts to cut mortgage payments. These solidarity networks, in which Syriza is only one participant among many, are run on an explicitly self-managed democratic basis. ‘We persuade people to participate, to become organisers; we explain that solidarity is an idea of taking and giving,’ says Tonia Katerini. The networks are not a substitute for the welfare state. ‘People are facing problems of survival,’ explains Andreas Karitzis. ‘We cannot solve these issues but we can be part of socialising them. These solidarity initiatives can be a basis for fighting for the welfare state. For example, medical staff involved in the social medical centres also fight within the hospitals for resources and free treatment. The idea is to change people’s idea of what they can do – develop, with them, a sense of their capacity for power.’ In this way consolidating Syriza’s vote is also about a deeper preparation for government: ‘If we become the government in a few months time people will be more ready to fight for their rights, to take on the banks and so on.’ A common focus in all this activity is how to turn the electoral support for Syriza into a source of self-organised social power for change, as well as to build on it as the electoral path to government.

Old challenges, new openings: In the formation of the new party, a shared priority is to create, as new MP Theano Fotiou puts it, ‘a structure for the people to always be connected to the party, even if they are not members of the party, to be criticising the party, bringing new experience to the party’. Syriza will receive €8 million (almost triple its present budget) as a result of its electoral success, and each MP is allocated five members of staff by the parliament. Out of the five staff allocated to MPs, two will work for the MP directly. One will work for a policy committee and two will be employed by the party to work in the movements and neighbourhoods. A third of Syriza’s MPs are women, who have been elected on a proportional system based on open lists. So they have been voted for on the basis of their local leadership. They made it clear at that first parliamentary meeting opened by Alexis Tsipras that women’s equality cannot be put on hold. New sources of radicalism are also evident within the trade unions. The dramatic collapse of the old political order is producing a potential earthquake in the unions, whose structures were closely tied to the old parties of Pasok, the KKE and New Democracy. The consequences for Syriza of these changes and the development of radical independent unions in Athens especially, where more than half of the population lives, are not yet clear. But they open up the possibility of a strong grassroots trade unionism that could in turn reinforce the radical character of Syriza, especially if and when it is in government. Finally there is the international challenge, as it is clear for Syriza that the memorandum cannot be reversed by national resistance alone. The most effective form of solidarity across Europe would be to learn from Syriza how to build in our own countries new kinds of political organisation that are sufficiently open and loose to enable all those people who desire an alternative to capitalism based on values that many of us describe as socialist, but without a precise model in mind, to become a powerful and popular political force.

Trying to understand Syriza

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 mobilisations 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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, and 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.

9. 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.

10. (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 organisation, 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.)

11. 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 four 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. He sat in the front row of the audience and applauded.

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

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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 ranging from centre-left social democrats through to communists and Trotskyists
  • Migrants and the urban poor
  • Small businesspeople who were formerly the base of Pasok but who have been radicalised by the tax rises, tax clampdowns and repeated heavy policing of demonstrations, and who are the most likely to be ruined by any long-term structural reform in Greece.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. 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).

24. 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 is 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. 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 partiy 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 radicalisation 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.

Despre Alex Imreh 0742-669918
Acest articol a fost publicat în Green Party și etichetat . Pune un semn de carte cu legătura permanentă.

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