Not European left’s historic moment
Syriza’s speaker at Left Unity’s conference expressed unbounded optimism, but, says Micky Coulter, such hype is dangerous
Not short on over confidence and empty rhetoric, Marina Prentoulis of Syriza, declared: “We have to understand that the moment we have a left government in Greece this will be the victory of the left across Europe and across the world.” Casting a knowing glance at the Communist Platform bloc seated directly in front of her, she admitted: “I know that for some comrades this ‘new left’ does not sound very promising.” But then she rounded on such doubters, demanding we should all spend less time contemplating past revolutions or engaged in idle daydreams, and more time getting out there and - well - winning!
The vehicle for our victory is, of course, Left Unity, which comrade Prentoulis considers a “sister party” of Syriza due to its ‘broad’ character, encompassing as it does a variety of different political tendencies. But the real key, according to our comrade, is to maintain our unity and the unity of all such broad left parties, wherever they may be. No matter how coded by the euphemistic talk of achieving “social justice”, the hope of working class advance and “the victory of the left across Europe and across the world”, combined with appeals to the natural and powerful desire for unity, will always play well in front of any leftwing swamp.
This was all very exciting, of course, and apart from the Communist Platform bloc, the applause given to comrade Prentoulis was generous, if not rapturous. But such a level of unwarranted hype is more dangerous than anything else when it cannot be lived up to. The general election in Greece must be held by June 2016 and may be called as early as February 2015. If Syriza comes out on top and forms a government, yet fails to advance working class power, that will not represent a victory for the left across Europe, whatever temporary morale boost it may at first provide. In the longer run we should instead be expecting the demoralisation that occurs when broad parties turn out, even under whatever mass pressure can be expected from the Greek working class, not to be committed to social transformation.
A Syriza government is almost guaranteed to be far more moderate than soft left observers contend and the party is obviously coming to an accord with the Greek and European establishments - in its present predicament between either continued austerity or ‘drachmageddon’, it feels that there is, in fact, no alternative to such ‘moderation’.1 It is this which will be Syriza's lasting legacy across Europe. And if such a conclusion is unavoidable for even the model left party, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
A Syriza government is likely, but not inevitable. In the party’s favour the latest polls have reported its support at a new all-time high of 35.5%.2 According to the Left Futures blog, this would, if elections were held tomorrow, provide Syriza with 150 seats in the 300-seat Greek legislature.3
What transforms a sturdy but far from overwhelming 35.5% potential vote into half the seats is, of course, the anti-democratic 50-seat top-up for whichever party receives the largest single vote. Needless to say, minority support provides no basis for working class power. If (if!) Syriza were still committed to its more radical policies from the recent past, the party would face immense opposition.
There is not only the 64.5% of voters who will have sought to deny the party the right to govern, but also the familiar state and extra-state actors for the current order: police, army, courts and magistrates, business executives, bankers, whatever remains of the Greek middle class or its embittered former members, not to mention the street thugs of Golden Dawn - all on top of the more or less instant economic dislocation, capital flight, inflation, etc that would greet such an eventuality. A Syriza committed to running capitalism will be pushed into an open confrontation with the working class and therefore its own electoral base. Hardly a positive example for left parties in other countries.
For its part the governing conservative New Democracy party and its allies will be hoping that the marginal reduction in unemployment over the last quarter and the equally marginal growth of Greek GDP can continue in a positive direction until the election. They are also seeking to find a way to score a definitive political victory by ending the bailout programme (or appearing to) earlier than scheduled - ideally before the election. The coalition parties themselves will no doubt also have modest plans for whatever measly amount of money they can afford to throw at key sections of the electorate - all ‘results’ they will attempt to portray Syriza as threatening.
We can now maybe look upon the stress that comrade Prentoulis placed on the need for unity slightly differently - it will indeed take discipline, no matter how displaced, for Syriza to be maintained in office on such a programme of accommodation.
I would like nothing more than for comrade Prentoulis to be right: for Syriza to be the model we seek to emulate, for working class power to be imminent in Greece, allowing a revitalised and internationalised European left commanding powerful parties across the whole continent, and for the victory, at last, of ‘social justice’. Far more likely any Syriza government will be a government of crisis, a government threatened by the army, the courts and Golden Dawn on the one side and on the other the forces of the working class and the authentic left.
1. ‘Process of accommodation’ Weekly Worker October 30 2014.