Can Europe Make It?

Why Syriza is good news for Greece and Europe

The Cold War is over. Scaremongering campaigns on the part of German and European officials make no sense, as Syriza is not a threat to Europe, but a breakthrough.

Vassilis K. Fouskas
31 December 2014
Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras votes in 2014 European elections.

Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras votes in 2014 European elections. Giannis Koulis/Demotix. All rights reserved.On 29 December, 2014, the Greek parliament failed to elect a President of the Republic and the country is heading toward elections, scheduled for 25 January 2015. Syriza will win the election, albeit in a climate of scaremongering that, mutatis mutandis, resembles Greece in the 1940s and after. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Finance Minister has already warned that, "the new government [implying Syriza] must fulfil all the obligations signed by the previous one". This new type of White Terror must stop for the benefit of both Greece and Europe.

In December 1944, Athens was in flames. Clashes took place between Greek nationalist forces and the British Army on the one hand, and Greek left democratic forces of the National Liberation Front (EAM-ELAS), on the other. The clashes were confined to Athens, but all over Greece the situation remained very tense. The defeat of EAM-ELAS in Athens by superior forces, led to its disarmament in the Varkiza Agreement (February 1945), followed by a campaign of fear and intimidation, a campaign of White Terror that finally led to a bloody Civil War (1946-49) and the final defeat of EAM by the nationalist forces aided by the USA in Cold War conditions.

From 2011 onwards, and especially before and during the electoral campaigns of May and June 2011, a new form of White Terror and propaganda of fear and intimidation was levelled against Syriza, Greece's rising party of the left, on the grounds of "taking Greece back to Middle Ages by moving the country outside the EU and the EMU". Before the crucial parliamentary vote of 29 December 2014, Greek right-wing PM, Antonis Samaras, the key person responsible for Greece's nationalist stance over the issue of Macedonia in 1990-1993, exercised, together with his right-wing and "socialist" entourage, the same form of obscene propaganda, trying to scare the MPs and, by extension, the electorate away from Syriza positions.

No doubt, the same scaremongering tactics will be pursued by all pro-establishment parties in the run-up to the election contest of 25 January, which Syriza is poised to win. So is it, mutatis mutandis, the 1940s all over again? Not at all, and to the extent that it is, this time by contrast, it is going to be good for both Greece and Europe. Here is why.

The post-Civil War regime established in Greece had all the features of a semi-authoritarian, peripheral and dependent regime under Cold War conditions: its ideology was purely anti-Communist and anti-left/democratic; its political powers were drawn from its ability to treat its citizens to a good dose of fear and compulsion under the auspices of its foreign Cold War master, the USA; and its economic abilities were restricted due to a structural, pre-existent, developmental gap with the economies of the core. In other words, Greece in the 1950s and 1960s remained a relatively under-developed, semi-authoritarian state and a dependent, peripheral national formation, despite its high growth rates.

Soon, in 1967, came dictatorship, after the failure of the right-wing establishment to control the rise of the left and the refusal of Archbishop Makarios in Cyprus to surrender his independent island to three pro-NATO forces: Greece, Turkey and the UK. Thus, the post-1974 breakthrough that came with the legalisation of Communism and the formation of political forces voting for a new constitution, heralded a period that soon began to give way to new forms of economic and political dependency. The European Community began to be Greece's new financial sponsor, with the USA in the background controlling, via NATO, Greece's security apparatus.

This emergent complexity was marred by a new, two-party regime alternating in power, or ruling together in a Große Koalition, until recent times. This created an unprecedented regime of political clientelism, nepotism, corruption and wheeling and dealing, the most recent big scandal being that involving German multinational, Siemens. The collusion between big comprador interests (large import consortia) and the governing parties of New Democracy and PASOK has been colossal. The more the fusion between comprador interests and ruling parties deepened, the more new forms of authoritarianism emerged, especially with the rise to prominence of a monetarist set of policies that began prevailing in the executives of Europe and the EEC/EU itself in the 1980s (Greece became a member in 1981, five years ahead of Portugal and Spain and for geo-strategic/geo-political, rather than economic, reasons).

In a purely Cold War manner, the systemic parties managed to contain the fragmented Greek left, which briefly rose to some prominence in 1989-90, when PASOK lost power amidst a series of scandals. The fall of Communism took its toll on the Greek radical left, but it soon re-grouped and created a stable political force winning 4% of the vote, aside from the traditional Greek Communist Party (KKE), one of the last vestiges of Stalinism not just in Europe but in the world.


Some argue that the rise of Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) is the result of the extreme austerity policies implemented in Greece by the two ruling parties as a consequence of the debt crisis. This is only partially correct. The debt crisis and the austerity that followed destroyed the middle classes and pushed people to the extreme left and the extreme right, but the recruiting process of the extreme right of Golden Dawn has been contained, whereas Syriza's influence has increased with the passage of time. Today, opinion polls give it top ranking. Moreover, no splinter group or leadership coming from the matrices of the two ruling parties has managed so far to amass any considerable political force.

One explanation remains outstanding in explaining the rise of Syriza to prominence, namely, the deep ideological roots of the spirit of the Greek democratic resistance against Nazism and nationalism in the 1940s, roots passed on from one generation to another, of which not just the Greeks but the whole of European civilization must be proud. What is happening today should not be seen by EU leaders as a call for the recapitulation of the 1940s project to defeat the left that provided the backbone of resistance against Nazism in Greece; rather, it should be seen as a blessing, opening the way for profound changes both in Greece and Europe against the dominance of neoliberal financialization and the anti-inflation bias presided over by Germany.

The Cold War is over. Scaremongering campaigns on the part of German and European officials make no sense, as Syriza is not a threat to Europe but a breakthrough. Syriza's programme advocates a substantial write-off and renegotiation of the bail-out agreements, accompanied with what is called a "development clause". Leaning towards a Keynesian, rather than a monetarist, approach, Syriza opts for balanced rather than surplus budgets, and advocates a return to the minimum wage and a relief programme for all affected by the crisis in order to stem the humanitarian fall-out. It also advocates a fair taxation system and a breaking of the nexus between corruption and comprador interests, although we have not yet seen a concrete reform programme concerning institutional renewal and re-organisation of Greece's dilapidated state machine.

Elements of this programme should include a generous de-centralisation of the state strengthening the weak periphery, bringing into the heart of it the taxpayer and not the corrupt comprador element with its political networking, complexities and clientelist networks.

In all, this is a modest and reasonable programme from which moderate left and democratic socialist forces across Europe would benefit by letting themselves being steered clear of the monetarist consensus of the centre in which German anti-inflation interests and policies have the upper hand. Before the bail-out austerity agreements were implemented, Greece's debt to GDP ratio was at 125%; today it is at 174%. Unemployment was at 9%; today it is at 27%, whereas youth unemployment is at 65%. Why then should demand-led policies be an anathema for Europe's rulers?

To this end, socialist forces throughout Europe, especially in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the Labour Party in the UK, should support Syriza in its titanic effort to win the election of 25 January against the obscurantism of the falling, failed and corrupt regime that has been governing Greece not just since 1974 but since December 1944. "Two Karamanlises" of the Right-Wing New Democracy party and "three Papandreous" of various Centre-Left parties have ruled Greece from the 1940s to the present day. It is now time for those dynasties to go home. But there is also something else that should not go unnoticed.

In the past, as Lenin famously wrote in his State and Revolution, socialists used to say that Nazism and fascism were embedded in, and emanated from the state's conservative machine, which should be smashed in the transition to socialism. Today, the phenomena of extremism and neo-Nazism have their roots directly in the market fundamentalism of ruling elites and neoliberal financialization. Rampant market forces feed xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism across Europe, and the wilder the supply-side policies are the more the likelihood that we will see the emergence of strong neo-Nazi parties.

The Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans is a remarkable geo-strategic frontier for Europe, especially as regards population movements on the ground. Europe needs Syriza and Greece to produce a balanced policy on migration and illegal migration, cultivating solidarity with Asians and Africans, instead of hostility and civic conflict. That is an additional reason why Syriza must be supported by all democrats across Europe. This would be the real victory of the left against neo-Nazi forces, opening the road for more substantive social democratic changes across the continent and beyond.                          

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