The Radical Left Party of Greece, known by the acronym SYRIZA, won 36.3% of the electorate, a total of 2,246,064 votes, in the recent Greek elections. This sweeping victory of a left-wing party in Europe became possible by the incredible suffering inflicted on the populace of Greece, in particular the least fortunate of Greece, by Germany under the guise of the European Union (EU). In the wake of the global recession Greece’s public debt skyrocketed as unemployment increased to more than 20%, levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In response to this crisis successive Greek governments agreed with the European Union to establish an economic regime based on the concept of austerity, a policy that advocates a significant reduction in government spending and increases in taxation in order to pay down its debts, so that at some future date investors would once again take the risk of loaning the country money. Unfortunately, such policies have a tendency to result in a vicious circle whereby reduced government spending in a time of high unemployment means that no one is spending money, thus further exacerbating an already damaging lack of demand for goods and services, and the inevitable layoffs that result in greater unemployment.
But this crisis was not some miraculous accident, a fluke lightning strike to the economic security of Europe and the world. This was a deliberate decision to take advantage of a situation in order to bypass the traditional obstacles to bourgeois “reform” of a modern, European, welfare state. The kind of “reform” that includes eroding public pensions, unions, and other aid to working people, as well as the expansion of privatization and deregulation. All of the suffering that the Greek people have undergone in the last six years in hopes of climbing out of the hole they had not dug could easily have been prevent had the European Central Bank (ECB) engaged in a policy similar to that which the United States began after the financial collapse. All the ECB would have had to do was to purchase a sufficient amount of Greek debt to keep interest rates low enough to maintain a reasonable, and repayable, public debt burden. Instead, the ECB, to the benefit of the economically stronger European nations such as Germany, chose to impose austerity, shrink the Greek economy, forcing its debt, and the interest rates on that debt, to explode. And, of course, this is excluding from the conversation the entire reason the economic collapse was precipitated in the first place.
It is in this context that a political party such as SYRIZA was able to seize hold of popular anger and ride it to victory. SYRIZA has advocated a four pillar national reconstruction plan: “confronting the humanitarian crisis, restarting the economy and promoting tax justice, regaining employment and transforming the political system to deepen democracy”. Their immediate goals in ameliorating the crisis so many average Greek working people are facing includes policies such as free electricity and meal subsidies provided to 300,000 households currently living beneath the poverty line, guaranteed housing numbering in 30,000 apartments with subsidized rents, the restitution of the Christmas bonus to over 1.25 million pensioners, free medical care, prescription drugs, and public transportation cards for the long-term and uninsured unemployed, as well as a reduction in the consumption tax on heating and automobile energy.
Other policy proposals include: restoration of the minimum wage, a cessation of prosecution against debtors with no income as well as an end to the confiscation of bank accounts, primary residences, and salaries. An abolition to the mandatory 50% down payment on outstanding debts as a requirement in order to attain a hearing in court will be adopted with a judge determining the eventual down payment within a 10-20% limit, depending on the individual circumstances of the individual debtor. SYRIZA is also planning to restore the 12,000 Euros income tax threshold; a tax on large properties, and a greater number of tax brackets to ensure that taxation is progressive; debt relief through the restructuring on non-performing loans, and cessation of foreclosures on properties worth less than 300,000 Euros; a prohibition on the sale of loans to financial institutions that are not banks, and the creation of a public bank; restoration of the institutional systems designed to protect the employment rights of working people like collective bargaining, arbitration, prevention of mass layoffs, unjustified layoffs, and the renting of employee. Another key aspect to the program on which SYRIZA won the election is a re-commitment to democracy. New democratic institutions will be created: people’s legislative initiative, veto, and referendum, as well as reductions in the ability of Ministers of Parliament to receive immunity. Strong steps will also be taken to reign in tax evasion and the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes.
There is so much to admire in the program on offer by SYRIZA. Unfortunately, much of the Left seems unimpressed, even hostile to the efforts underway in Greece to alleviate the widespread suffering of working people. The criticisms range from complaints about SYRIZA working with sections of the ruling class who oppose austerity measures as a solution to the crisis, to charges of collaboration with reactionaries analogous to, “Russia in 1917, when the Kerensky government collaborated closely with the reactionary military before being overthrown in the October Revolution; in 1927 in China, where Chiang Kai-shek led a massacre of his allies in the Communist Party; in the 1930s in Spain, where the Popular Front paralyzed the working lass and enabled Franco’s victory”.
While it is true that SYRIZA seeks to work within the confines of the capitalist electoral process it is untrue that SYRIZA’s intention is to “develop an economic policy aimed at creating the best conditions for capitalist exploitation”. Offered as evidence of this argument, and evidence of a “pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist” agenda, have been benign, meaningless statements from American President Barack Obama on his interest in working with the newly elected government of Greece, and this quote from Greek Deputy Prime Minister Giorgos Dragasakis, “The Greek economy has many opportunities, our government is interested in attracting new investments …We are preparing a long list of projects and investment opportunities.” Apparently, certain sections of the Left believe that the real class character of SYRIZA as a bourgeois fraud will come to the fore as the interests of their true masters enter into direct conflict with the interests of a truly independent Greek, and international, working class.
This has been one of the biggest problems of the left since the end of the Cold War. A complete disinterest in the practical application of radical left politics in favor of sectarian diatribes on the value of socialist, revolutionary purity. While the left-wing intelligentsia of Europe and America sits around in office buildings, university campuses, and wherever else they spend their waking hours propagating these “revolutionary’ litmus tests real people are still starving, freezing, slaving, and despairing. Movements like SYRIZA, making real differences in people’s lives, are the first steps toward a broader international solidarity for a new kind of economy that works for the majority. What exactly has the Left accomplished in the last forty years beyond being transformed from one of the most powerful actors in world politics, establishing unions, labor rights, environmental protections, the welfare state, and so on, to having almost no influence whatsoever as the Right marches onward in a war to unravel all that has been achieved? The crisis of the working class, and the crisis of the Left are interconnected, and one cannot be saved without the other.