“The vicious circle of austerity is over” — Alexis Tsipras
The stunning victory of the leftist party, SYRIZA led by youngish Mr Alexis Tsipras in the general elections held in Greece on Sunday last is intellectually stimulating and potentially a game changer in European, and why not, world politics. The party has been elected on an “anti-austerity” platform i.e. against the prescriptions which until that fateful Sunday had been raised almost to the status of a religious dogma (quasi elimination of welfare spending, drastic reduction in salaries and pensions of civil servants, massive privatisation and sell out of state-run enterprises).
A dogma which was presented as the inevitable and ONLY solution to the now long-drawn social and economic crisis in Greece and in the rest of the Euro-zone.
SYRIZA has been elected to power with, among other things, a clear mandate from the people to carry out a massive debt relief programme (partial writing off, longer maturity and lower interest rates) which will at last give some breathing space for the government budget to take care of the most pressing social issues of unemployment, poverty and near disappearance of the middle classes. This will inevitably lead to a head-on confrontation with the most conservative and inflexible fringe of the European establishment including the likes of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel or the British Prime Minister.
In line with the arguments which he developed during his electoral campaign, Alexis Tsipras’s first words after his party won 149 out of 300 seats were: “The vicious circle of austerity is over. It would be replaced by a politics of hope, solidarity and cooperation.” He has thus confirmed his avowed intentions of taking the “unholy troika” of the EU-IMF-European Central Bank frontally by challenging the “dogma” of austerity policies imposed on his country over the past six years.
This victory of the left/democratic party is all the more remarkable and pregnant with lessons for other left parties all over the world, when one considers that only five years ago they managed to rake in only 4.6% of the votes during the previous elections. The consistency and commitment of the leaders of the Party to their strategy in spite of a campaign of fear and disinformation engineered by their adversaries has come to fruition.
What of the performance of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the traditional socialist party of Greece which ruled the country through the 1980s and not least during the post 2008 crisis? At best they tried to mitigate the worst effects of austerity but chose to apply the same medicine of “structural reforms” and bail-out programmes (mostly of banks which had sent all caution to the winds by overstretching their leverage in the pursuit of greed and huge bonuses for their directors). This had finally left the country with a public debt of 175% of GDP in spite of five years of extreme hardships for the population. The PASOK has hardly managed to survive with a dozen or so seats secured and less than 5% of the votes cast.
Like so many other “socialist” parties in Europe they were quick to surrender under the assault of the financial powers that be and adopted the same and in some cases even more extreme “austerity” policies that are peddled by the Conservative parties on the political right. These traditional social democratic parties have lost all political clout ever since they seem to have run out of ideas and offer no hope to the long-suffering voters.
Under these circumstances one of the most underrated benefits of the emergence of leftist political parties like SYRIZA is that they are recuperating a large fraction of those who in despair with the ruling regimes would have otherwise certainly gone to swell the ranks of the populist and extremist right-wing parties. (The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party obtained 6.28% of the votes in the Greek elections with 17 seats in the new Parliament.)
The potential for the results of the elections in Greece to become a real game changer lies first and foremost in the signal which it sends to voters in other European countries. The leaders of the PODEMOS, the leftist party in Spain, which espouses the same policies of defiance against the Troika (IMF-EU-ECB) as SYRIZA, were present at the last rally organized by the latter before the elections. The same PODEMOS (left-wing political party, founded in 2014 by Pablo Iglesias) who are already riding high in the polls for the elections due later this year in Spain are bound to gather even more wind in their sails after this momentous victory of their peers and allies in Greece.
Interestingly in a recent interview on Canal +, Thomas Piketty, the French political economist and author of the internationally acclaimed book ‘Capital: In the Twenty First Century’, whom one can hardly classify as an extremist, has argued that the victory of SYRIZA in Greece is one of the best things which could have happened to Europe in the present circumstances.
What is intellectually stimulating in this victory is that a party, which has challenged the prevailing dominant discourse imposed by the Conservative right for decades, now has come to power on an alternative platform. Yanis Varoufakis, the Athens professor of economics and potential Minister of Finance, has promised to “end the humanitarian crisis through the introduction of welfare programmes, the tackling of the anti-social oligarchs and not least renegotiating the economic policies with the Eurozone.”
This is of course anathema to the ruling establishment which is bent on defending tooth and nail the interests of a small group of overly outsized (too big to fail) global financial institutions whose owners see themselves as no less than the new “masters of the Universe”.
It will be very interesting to observe how the global coalition of financiers and their minions react to what will inevitably be construed as a frontal attack on their total worldview. Let’s hope that Tsipras’s Greece is not Salvador Allende’s Chile although the conservative German newspaper Der Spiegel did describe what happened in Greece on Sunday last as “eurohorror.” Democrats beware…