Greece day 4: A New Democracy struggle and the struggle ahead

So after four days campaigning in Greece, the elections are over and I’m headed to Brussels, where a vital vote on ACTA will take place at the International Trade Committee. I watched the election results with some members of Xekinima, the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Greece, before going to the Synaspismos (the biggest organisation in Syriza) offices where big crowds were gathered.

Although there were a few nailbiting moments, like when the first exit polls came out that put New Democracy’s range of votes only 0.5% higher than Syriza, and with rumours circulating that Syriza might just do it, in the end the private polls circulating over the past days were accurate and ND beat Syriza by about 2.5%.

The mood at the Synaspismos offices was mixed. On the one hand, Syriza had come so close to becoming the first party and potentially being able to form a left government, meant there was a certain disappointment. But on the other hand, there was celebration at the massive vote of 26.9% that Syriza received, which represents a huge increase of support of 10% since last month’s election and over 22% since the previous election! This demonstrates how quickly left parties can grow in public support in certain conditions.

When the outcome became clear, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, rang the leader of New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, He congratulated Samaras and informed him that the responsibility for forming a government now lies with New Democracy, whereas Syriza will lead the opposition. This is undoubtedly the correct approach, and any pressure from PASOK to join a ‘national government’ in order to provide PASOK political cover must be resisted. Of course, the whole notion of a ‘national government’ is a fraud – there can be no government which puts forward both austerity and socialist policies or which represents both the interests of bankers and working people. Afterwards, Tsipras arrived at the party headquarters for a very short press conference and then moved on to a nearby square, where over a thousand people gathered in good mood for another short speech.

Although PASOK initially declared it would not join a government without Syriza’s presence, I think it will be pressured to do the ‘responsible’ thing for capitalism in Greece. Nonetheless, they will also try to trap Democratic Left (Dimar) into the government, and it currently seems that Dimar will join, which demonstrates the sell-out character of that party.

The marginal victory of the campaign of terror against the Greek people is likely to be pyrrhic and may be extremely short-lived. The stability promised by New Democracy in the election campaign will not be delivered, and there will be a continuation of harsher and harsher austerity measures. The Eurozone crisis will deepen and it is likely that Greece will find itself outside of the euro, even with a ND government. The focal point of struggle will move back to the streets and workplaces as workers respond to the renewed austerity attacks.

The left, in particular Syriza, is in a strong position to lead and organise this resistance and opposition, given its enhanced parliamentary position and public profile. If it does so, the incoming government can be defeated and can probably be brought down within a relatively short space of time. An election in such circumstances is likely to favour Syriza massively and it could well be in government within a year.

The continuation of Syriza in opposition will allow some time for a full discussion on what programme to advocate. This will be a vital debate and may be quite polarised, as some of the newer arrivals from PASOK attempt to shift the party to the right, while others, such as Xekinima, correctly emphasise the need for a full socialist programme to deal with the problems facing Greek society and economy. Given the deep nature of the crisis, any illusion that the rule of capital can be maintained, while more ‘social’ measures are implemented, should be dispelled in this discussion. Syriza needs to flesh out a programme for repudiating the debt, immediately nationalising the banks and key sectors of the economy under democratic workers’ control, and a democratic plan to redevelop the economy.

The other party now likely to be convulsed by a major internal debate is the Greek Communist Party (KKE). The drop in the KKE’s vote from 8.5% to 4.5% will provoke a major discussion and opposition to the leadership’s sectarian approach to Syriza. By refusing to implement a united front approach with Syriza, while making criticisms of Syriza’s leadership and programme, the KKE missed a big opportunity to engage with millions of people moving against austerity and towards socialist policies. The reports from the ground suggest that many KKE members, activists and supporters are deeply unahppy with this approach.

The other notable and worrying feature of the election is the vote for the fascist Golden Dawn. They maintained their vote at 6.9%, despite exposing their character with daily assaults on immigrants around Greece and their MP’s attack on KKE and Syriza MPs on a TV programme. This result will embolden them to continue their attacks and with a new government committed to implementing the memorandum programme, they can probably be expected to experience further growth.

With hundreds of dedicated activists and now a wider support in society, they are a real menace. Of course, the majority of their voters are not fascists, but are people affected by the crisis, in particular small businesspeople, who accept the easy answer that immigrants are the problem and who see Golden Dawn as an anti-establishment force.

The Left in Greece must now take this threat seriously – which means joint work now to stop the fascists in their tracks. The left parties together (Syriza, KKE and Antarsya) should take the initiative to form anti-fascist committees in every neighbourhood – bringing together left activists, and community and trade union activists. These committees could wage a campaign of education, explaining the pernicious anti-democratic and anti-worker nature of fascism. They could also take up and campaign on the issues that the fascists thrive on, such as the inadequate provision of housing and public services. In addition, defence committees are needed, to be able to protect immigrants, gay people and left meetings and activists from attack from these emboldened fascists.

The KKE in particular, with its base of thousands of working class activists, could play a particularly important role in combating this threat and should take an initiative in a non-sectarian way. If the left does not take this threat seriously and respond to it now, the problem will only grow greater.

Although Syriza did not win the elections this time around, their massive vote does herald a new period for left parties in Europe and in the so-called peripheral countries in particular. As the crisis and struggles deepen, there will be big opportunities for the left to grow.

All eyes will rightly be on Greece as the crisis deepens. People in Ireland and elsewhere should provide active solidarity and support for those struggling against Greek austerity and capitalism. In addition, each stage of the crisis in Greece should be studied and discussed – because in many ways it is a window into our own future. Above all, the best solidarity that we can give to the suffering Greek people is to develop movements in Ireland and across Europe that can defeat austerity policies and put socialist change on the agenda.