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What would a SYRIZA victory mean for the movements?

  • January 4, 2015

Movement & Mobilization

The upcoming elections in Greece may bring the left to power. Will SYRIZA win? What happens next? And what would a SYRIZA victory mean for the movements?

The forthcoming elections of January 25 in Greece bring the possibility of a left-wing government closer than ever. This article aims to briefly explain the various electoral scenarios, as well as present some estimates on the impact of a potential SYRIZA victory on the Greek social movement.

Question 1: Will SYRIZA win?

SYRIZA, or the “Coalition of the Radical Left,” is currently leading the polls in Greece with 28-32%, holding a (seemingly safe) 3-5% margin over the right-wing New Democracy. Two elements make SYRIZA officials and supporters optimistic about retaining (or even expanding) this margin: first, the traditional tendency of last-minute voters to align with the expected winner; second, the extreme polarization of the socio-political scene, which might oblige anti-government voters to choose Alexis Tsipras’ party over the alternative options.

Yet, SYRIZA’s right-wing opponent still holds a formidable weapon in its arsenal: the so-called “terror campaign,” a coordinated effort to focus on potential negative consequences on the economy and society should the Left come to power. This campaign worked perfectly fine during the June 2012 elections. It still enjoys ample support from several mainstream media, EU bureaucrats and governmental officials all over Europe.

Therefore, the reader should not be deceived by the rush of international media to appoint Tsipras as the “next prime minister of Greece.” A SYRIZA victory is highly probable, but by no means certain.

Question 2: Let’s assume that SYRIZA wins. What next?

That’s a tricky point. It’s not enough for SYRIZA to merely win the elections. They would also need to secure a parliamentary majority (151 out of 300 members). The “good” news is that the Greek electoral system provides an outrageous bonus of 50 seats to the first party. Still, SYRIZA would need to get at least 36% (perhaps even 38%, depending on the other parties’ performance) in order to form a majoritarian government. If it fails to do so, the alternative options are truly horrible.

Given the fact that the only other left-wing parliamentary party, the Greek Communist Party (KKE), has explicitly stated they would never support a “government of the left,” all the other potential allies for a coalition government are flanking SYRIZA from the right. There is no need to mention how a moderate governmental fraction could weaken Tsipras’ position inside the country, as well as during the crucial negotiations with the troika of creditors (EU, IMF and ECB), due to start the day after the elections.

Question 3: OK, let’s assume that SYRIZA wins and secures a parliamentary majority. What next?

No one knows. Not even Tsipras. It will largely depend on (a) the willingness of the troika to negotiate a different agreement framework; (b) the extent to which the new government will understand the urgent need to undertake a series of (even symbolic) measures that will restore hope to the suffering population; and (c) whether SYRIZA officials will prove able to efficiently run and reorganize a corrupt and deficient state, amidst an extremely hostile media environment.

A point that needs to be clarified is that, despite its name, SYRIZA’s program is not radical at all, at least in terms of economic issues. Proposals such as the incentives for “green development,” the relaxation of property taxation, increased public investment and food stamps for the extreme poor might have been dismissed by the European social democratic parties of the 1970s as “too moderate.” In the current European context, though, which is monopolized by the obsession of austerity, even SYRIZA’s neo-Keynesianism seems to represent some sort of radical rupture.

Additionally, for what concerns social and political rights, SYRIZA’s stance is clearly progressive (for the standards of Greek society). The party is also rather movement-friendly, as we’ll see below. Overall, one could reasonably expect that a wind of change will, indeed, blow through society in the event of a left-wing government being formed. Whether this wind will prove to be a slight breeze or a hurricane is a question that remains open.

Question 4: What do the movements think about a potential victory of the Left? What are their perspectives in the post-election era?

During the last two years, the Greek movement has produced significantly fewer impressive mobilizations compared to the 2011-’12 period. Many attribute this to a broadly diffused expectation that could be summarized in the following sentence: “Everyone is waiting for SYRIZA to come to power.” This is also related to the fact that the 2011-’12 protests produced minimal concrete outcomes. Therefore, many activists chose to devote themselves to smaller scale actions (such as neighborhood-level interventions through the social solidarity structures, or the anti-fascist struggle), where movement activity stands a higher chance of having a direct impact on people’s everyday lives.

It should be noted that SYRIZA is not a movement party, at least not in the sense Podemos is in the Spanish context. SYRIZA is particularly weak in traditional social movement milieus such as the unions and the universities. Yet, many among its members and (even high-ranking) officials come from grassroots movements or still maintain contacts with street-level politics.

It is therefore reasonable to expect that a left government will initially assume a friendlier stance towards the movements compared to the extreme oppression all mobilizations met during the crisis period. This is particularly important for the more militant activists (social centers, squats, anti-fascists) who may now find the much-needed time and space to regroup and reorganize. Generally speaking, some sort of re-organization in terms of action repertoire and re-orientation in terms of agendas and claims will be almost mandatory for everyone.

The price movements will have to pay is their unavoidable co-optation by a government that will be offering no revolutionary perspective whatsoever. Greece has a very negative tradition in this respect: during the early 1980s, the post-dictatorship movement was literally devoured by the newly elected, then, social-democratic PASOK government. Many expect a repetition of this sad era, whilst the more optimistic hope that today’s turbulent situation will not allow for sinister relations between activists and the state to expand beyond an unavoidable minimum.

Question 5: How about the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn?

Golden Dawn is currently polling at around 5-6%, very close to their 2012 performance (6,9%). In 2013, before the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, they were exceeding 10%. The majority of their leaders are in prison and their militants have disappeared from the streets, thanks to the anarchists’ courageous anti-fascist resistance. They do maintain, though, their electoral and discursive influence among a worryingly significant part of Greek society.

It is impossible to make any predictions on how Golden Dawn will develop in the future, yet everyone agrees that a most important turning point will be the outcome of the leaders’ trial, scheduled to start in Spring 2015. Given the ridiculous degree of dependence of the Greek judicial system on the political elite, whoever is in power by then will be directly related to the trial’s outcome.

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Markos Vogiatzoglou

Markos Vogiatzoglou is a researcher at the European University Institute.

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