« Greece: the fight is far from over… » de Panagiotis Sotiris

Despite the signs of relief from the part of EU and IMF representatives, the results of the June 17 election reflect a society that is highly polarized along social and class lines, a society that is still facing an open social and political crisis, and that is still filled with anger. As a social and political landscape, it still resembles a battlefield, and the struggle is far from over. Whoever thinks of the future in Greece simply in terms of implementing successive waves of austerity packages, based on a simple projection of the possibility of a pro-austerity government, will soon realize that reality is always richer in possibilities.

If one looks at the electoral results, the signs of social polarization are more than obvious. The Left is the leading political force in the voters that belong to the productive ages (18-55), in wage earners, in people from working class and lower middle class strata, in people in urban areas. The Right is the leading force in the voters that belong to higher age groups (older than 55), to bourgeois and upper middle class strata and rural areas. It is obvious that people that are facing social disaster and insecurity and are reacting more in terms of anger and collective struggle tended to vote for the Left. On the other hand people who were reacting to the deterioration of living prospects in more phobic terms, or were in fear of losing whatever real or imaginary social gains they had, tended to vote more for the Right. The Right could also benefit from a deep-rooted conservatism especially in provincial Greece, where the consequences of the crisis have not been felt in the same way as in urban areas. Moreover, New Democracy could benefit from the fact that the total ‘right-wing’ electoral bloc (including both pro- and anti-Memoranda forces) was already big on May 6, thus giving it a broader initial electoral ‘reservoir’.

At the same time, the vote of the Left reflects not only the agglomeration of all different strata that protest, but also something more: the potential alliance of the subaltern classes around the forces of labour, namely the alliance of all those who have most to loose from neoliberal policies and at the same time represent the true forces of change and progress for Greece. In a way the electorate of the Left reflected the social composition of a potential ‘historical bloc’ in Greek society.

The results were also conditioned by two crucial parameters. The first is that the electoral fall of PASOK was somehow halted. Using its historical roots in social strata that have benefited from PASOK’s long identification with state power, it managed to hold more than 12% thus being able to position itself for participation to the government and acting along with the Democratic Left as a barrier to the further move of voters to the Left.

The second is the persistence of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn. With almost 7% of the vote, it managed to keep a large part of the electorate despite the much more open visibility of their violent and racist practices. Their electoral success and the way they attract voters from working class and popular strata in urban areas and conservative rural strongholds, reflects the results of a deep social, political and cultural crisis that turns discontent against a deteriorating social situation into a reactionary and racist display of violence, symbolic and real. Moreover, they have taken advantage of the deteriorating situation in urban areas, by practices that range from neighborhood watches to forms of solidarity (only for Greeks). At the same time, they still continue to violently attack immigrants and left-wing militants (these attacks still remain the main ‘rite of initiation’ for its members and the way they try to control neighborhoods). Despite their belated stigmatization by mainstream media, it is obvious than they have been boosted by the openly racist and authoritarian rhetoric of both New Democracy and PASOK, and that they will be used as a para-state mechanism against the movement.

The Left managed to have its bigger electoral result since the Civil War. Almost 32% of the electorate voted for the Left, with SYRIZA being the second Party in Parliament with almost 27% of the vote.  This reflects the results of processes of radicalization in a period of intense struggle, with people turning to the Left in the hope of radical change and getting rid of austerity.

It is true that SYRIZA came under a lot pressure because of the propaganda regarding the potential exit from the euro, which was depicted as a road to disaster, a propaganda that was reinforced by all forms of interventions and suggestions by representatives of foreign governments. But it was exactly SYRIZA’s insistence on a pro-euro position during the electoral debate that made more difficult to answer this ideological blackmail, especially since it was accompanied by a gradual sliding into a more ‘realist’ position regarding a possible ‘renegotiation’ with the EU and the IMF. The problem was that this moved the electoral debate from the opposition to austerity and the EU – IMF – ECB troika, to the question of how to remain within the Eurozone or how to negotiate a better deal, a terrain much more favorable to systemic, pro-austerity forces. I do not want to suggest that the question was for SYRIZA simply to have changed its position after May 6 in favor of an exit from the Eurozone. Rather, I want to suggest that the refusal or reluctance of the greatest part of the Left to challenge the euro and he EU for a long time, led to the Left not being able to transform collective mentalities, aspirations and fears regarding the euro. Only such a strategy, that would have been (counter)hegemonic in its essence, that would have opened during the past two years the debate on the euro and would have made evident that an exit strategy is best especially if it is accompanied by a radical anti-neoliberal program, could have helped a broader change of attitudes against the euro and would have answered this ideological blackmail.

Moreover, the current political and ideological balance of forces in the EU makes it evident that we cannot base a radical left-wing strategy on the assumption of EU solidarity or a progressive turn. Even with the change in France, it is obvious that there is not going to be a major move away from the embedded neoliberalism of the European Project. Whatever reforms have been suggested lately, such as the banking union, the fiscal union, the introduction of Eurobond, and even the increase of transfer payments are always accompanied by the insistence on structural reforms, austerity, labour flexibility, reduced sovereignty, and privatization. In the case of Greece this is fully inscribed in the terms of the loan agreement and the obligations attached to it. That is why only the political preparation for a break with EU can be the starting point of a radical left politics.

The Communist Part (KKE) suffered a great electoral defeat, which was also an open condemnation from the part of the people of the Left of its tactics. It had never had such an electoral result since the 1930s. Although the strongest left-wing party in Greece in terms of card-carrying members, and with deep roots in popular strata, it paid the price of its separatist line, its insistence that nothing can change for the better in the short run, and its millenarian conception of ‘people’s power’ as the only solution. Had it chosen a different path, for example by entering the debate on a possible government Left and insisting on the necessary anti-austerity, anti-capitalist and anti-EU demands a transition program must include, the whole debate would have been different. But for the leadership of KKE all forms of cooperation with other currents of the Left and any kind of Left Front can only lead to right-wing turns and defeat. However, for the first time, it seems that there is going to be a more open debate and questioning of the central line within KKE’s ranks.

ANTARSYA, the front of the anticapitalist Left, also suffered a great electoral loss, coming under great pressure from SYRIZA. However, it should be noted that for ANTARSYA the decision to participate in the June 17 election was based not on the possibility of a good result, but on the need to stay within the electoral debate and to insist on the necessary left program (especially in contrast to the ‘realist’ turn of SYRIZA’s leadership), presenting a program based upon the centrality of the exit from the euro, the stoppage of debt payments, nationalizations and the immediate repeal of all laws dictated under the terms of the loan agreements with the EU-IMF-ECB ‘Troika’, as the starting points not only for an immediate amelioration of living conditions but also for the productive reconstruction the Greek economy in a non market and non profit-oriented direction.

A new government is currently being formed in Greece, through the collaboration of New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left, the last party having made an about-face regarding its previous commitment not to form a government only with New Democracy and PASOK. Although the new government will have parliamentary majority, it still represents less than 50% of the electorate. Despite its pledges to ‘renegotiate’ the terms of the bail-out agreements, it is more than obvious that it is going to be an aggressive and authoritarian pro-austerity government, especially if we take into account New Democracy’s far-right turn in the electoral campaign. Although the Media tend to present it as a long term solution (even though no one refers to a full four year mandate), it is going to be an unstable government. It will have to face all the consequences of the deep crisis of the economy, in light of the global economic crisis and the acute crisis of the Eurozone. At the same time the conditions for new social explosions and social unrest are evident. Greek economy is in recession since 2008 this will certainly continue into 2013, meaning that Greece will go through a dramatic 6-year contraction. Traditional motors of growth such as tourism are in deep crisis. Official unemployment is at 22,6%, unofficial estimates refer to 1,5 people unemployed, more than 500.000 workers have faced long delays in their payments, all forms of social disaster are evident from hospitals without vital supplies to a rise in suicides. Therefore the new government will soon face both the deep contradictions of its economic policies and the hostility of a society that has by now an impressive experience of struggle. The disappointment from the failure to overthrow the pro-austerity parties will not last forever. Moreover, the fact that even now the traditional parties of government (PASOK and New Democracy) do not take more than 42% of the vote, in contrast to their erstwhile total average of 80%, along with the strengthening of the Left, especially if we take into consideration the deep social divide this is based upon, mean that the political crisis and the inability of the bourgeois parties to have a hegemonic strategy, are still the determining factors of the conjuncture.

All these make even more urgent the discussion for the strategy and the tactics of the Left. Simply waiting for the eventual fall of this pro-austerity government underestimates both the damage it can inflict on society, the consequences of defeat and desperation, and the danger of anger turning into individualized despair. We need all the collective forms of struggle and solidarity that can answer the new wave of austerity but also rebuild the confidence of people in the ability to win and have radical social change. At the same time the question of the Left-wing alternative must be more openly debated. The electoral result should not be read as a justification of ‘realism’ and a less radical program. On the contrary it was this ‘realism’ that moved the debate into a terrain more friendly for systemic parties. It is more necessary than ever to insist on a more radical approach to questions such the euro and the debt. It was not ‘realism’ that helped SYRIZA have such impressive electoral results, but a whole sequence of intense struggles, a process of radicalization of society, and the fact that it dared to speak about the possibility of a left government. A society in struggle is a society much more open to radical proposals, much more ready to accept a program of social change.

For more than two years Greek society has been the testing ground for aggressive neoliberal social engineering but also a laboratory of struggle, collective experiences, and radical proposals. It has the potential to become not only the symbol of resistance, but also an example of a radical alternative. The fight is far from over…

[1] Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social theory, social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology of the University of the Aegean. He can be reached at psot@soc.aegean.gr.

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