August 30, 2015

SYRIZA – The Party That Was and Is

R Arun Kumar

SYRIZA, which literally means, 'coalition of the radical Left', broke, with 25 of its members of parliament and a section of the central committee, coming out to form another platform called the 'Popular Unity'. This move in fact, had immediately followed after Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece and leader of the Syriza, resigned and recommended for immediate elections. The deep divisions within Syriza after the government capitulated to the harsh conditions imposed by the troika, even ignoring the 61.3 percent vote against austerity, hastened these developments.

Tsipras' resignation was something not unexpected though he had been denying it. On July 22, he was on record saying: “The presence of the Left in this government isn’t about the pursuit of office, it’s a bastion from which to fight for our people’s interests. And as far as I’m concerned, I won’t abandon this bastion, at least of my own free will” (emphasis added). Now that he had abandoned the 'bastion', his move is interpreted as another example of the many volte face done by him and Syriza. To understand all these developments, it is necessary to have a brief, but essential recap of history.




Syriza was formed in 2004 as a platform of different organisations and mainly as an electoral alliance. Its biggest component was Synaspismos (translated as Coalition of the Left and Progress and later renamed as Coalition of the Left and of the Movements), the party to which Tsipras belongs (he is said to belong to the 'right of the Left' in the group) and which existed since 1991. Synaspismos took form after a series of splits in the communist movement in Greece. A right-wing splinter group of the Eurocommunist, Communist Party (Interior), calling themselves Greek Left (EAR) was a constituent of the Synaspismos, from the initial days. This group allied with the other smaller Left formations in the country like the Communist Organisation of Greece (KOE), one of the country's Maoist groups, the Internationalist Workers' Left (DEA), a Trotskyist group and the Renewing of Communist Ecological Left (AKOA), which was a Leftist splinter group of the Communist Party (Interior). Syriza, hence is a 'rainbow' coalition of these divergent Left groups, with a strong 'Eurocommunist' tendency.

The cadre and activist base of Syriza mainly constituted of educated wage earners, people with degrees, with strong roots among intellectuals, youth, and a small base in the working class, which gave it a distinct urban character. Of course, it also had few old cadre who fought against the dictatorship in Greece and former members of the Communist party. This social composition too played a great role in defining the character of the party and many of the decisions it had taken, both prior to coming to power and after.

Syriza, till 2012 was considered as a small party with very little electoral representation. All this changed in the elections held in June 2012, when it had increased its votes substantially and subsequently won the elections of January 2015, forming a government with the rightwing nationalist party ANEL. This turnaround was in no small manner helped by the austerity policies pursued by the respective governments in Greece since the 2008 global crisis.

Syriza promised with fiery rhetoric that it will put an end to the submission of Greece to the dictates of the troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. The political impact of the implementation of the austerity measures is that the existing two party system with the conservative New Democracy (ND) and the Social Democrat (PASOK) was exposed. Both the parties readily succumbed to the diktats of the troika and eagerly implemented the austerity measures. Of these two parties, the PASOK was most severely affected, with a large number of its support base shifting its base towards the Syriza. The ND also lost nearly 20 percent of its vote, which largely went to the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn.

Syriza's attempts to form a government in 2012 failed as it could not mobilise the necessary numbers to stitch a majority in the parliament. This failure, together with the continued imposition of harsh austerity measures, and the struggles waged by the various sections of the Greeks, catapulted Syriza to further increase its position in the parliament by 2015, where it needed the support of only one party, the right-wing ANEL, to form the government.




Immediately after the formation of the government in January 2015, it was forced to negotiate with the troika for debt package in February. The first capitulation of Syriza took place during these negotiations, where it too had accepted conditions imposed by the troika. This is the first step, where Syriza started to go back on its pre-election promises of increasing the minimum wages back to the 2010 levels, increasing the taxes on the richer classes in the society, re-instating the collective bargaining rights of the working class and other social welfare measures that were curtailed. These were in fact described as something non-negotiable by the Syriza: 'Syriza will not retreat and let itself be blackmailed the way' earlier governments were. It is precisely on these issues that it reneged on its promises.

Another major drawback for Syriza, a representation of its class composition, is that there is no clarity within the leadership on what needs to be done, if negotiations fail. While everyone agreed that breaking with austerity and the memorandum (the conditions imposed by the troika while sanctioning debt) is the only way out, there were differences on the question if this can happen within the framework of the Eurozone. This proved to be the biggest handicap for the government and Syriza, as subsequent to the referendum and contrary to popular will, it was forced to accept even harsher conditions in lieu of a bail-out.

Here it is pertinent to recall the manner in which Hugo Chavez, the late president of Venezuela proceeded. He rode to power on a popular groundswell against the IMF, World Bank dictated policies of globalisation and promised to reverse them. Severely constrained to act even within the limits imposed by the then Constitution of Venezuela, Chavez immediately explained the situation to the people and called upon them to vote for changing the Constitution. People responded favourably and voted for a change in a referendum. The constitution was subsequently re-written, incorporating many progressive clauses in it to empower the working class and other poor people in the country. Such are the tactics that need to be adopted to break the 'limitations' and lead people one step ahead from their present consciousness levels.

The Left groupings in Syriza, who broke out now, can claim that they were arguing for a break with the Euro inside the party. But, the fact is they had failed to influence both the party and the government, to take this position. Moreover, they did not take this debate to the people, who are still under the illusion of benefiting from staying in the Eurozone and with Euro. There are many more weaknesses of the 'Leftists' inside Syriza, who are a minority. They allowed the majority to shelf many of the demands that were raised when they were part of the movement against austerity. One such demand was the audit of debt, which has nothing to do with the conditions of the troika.

The 'Leftists' now claim that the entire party has become 'leader-centered', 'PR managed' and 'undemocratic'. They point to the fact that the meetings of the central committee of the party increasingly becoming rarer, closing out any forum for internal debates. They blame the right-wing majority in the party for influencing the decisions of the government and negotiations with the troika. Another major criticism that the 'Leftists' are making today is that the policy of 'appeasement' pursued by Tsipras to widen the electoral base of the party had diluted its core principals and blunted its edges to carry out struggles. This policy of 'appeasement' made them compromise with the rich oligarchic interests in the Greece society to such an extent that those who were earlier worried about a Syriza government, were now happy with it.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), from the beginning was warning the people that Syriza is a “Left opportunist party, which mutated into a social-democratic party and was chosen by the bourgeoisie to manage the crisis”. It is because of this reason the KKE stated that Syriza 'cannot implement a political line in favour of the people'. These warnings proved true.

In spite of all these warnings and analysis of the limitations of Syriza, basically due to the class composition of that party, we should not take its failure as a 'positive' feature. In fact, there are possibilities for the neo-fascist Golden Dawn to take advantage of the situation and further expand its reach, particularly in the background of the influx of migrants in large numbers and growing tensions. Moreover, it should also be accepted that the victory of Syriza gave a sense of hope and fillip to many fighting people of Europe.

While the coming elections in Greece will decide the future of that country, it is upon the Left throughout the world to study these experiences of Syriza and deduce proper lessons from it. This would help a long way in a better understanding of the present global situation, the relative strength and correlation of various class forces, the strategies that needs to be adopted in resisting imperialist onslaught, the enormous and imperative task of 'strengthening the subjective factor', the vanguard of the working class and build socialist alternative.