Reports and Campaigns
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Greece: Widespread abstention dominates general election
Mass socialist alternative must be built
On 20 September, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) was returned to power in a snap general election and is set to share power again with the right-wing Independent Greeks.
Syriza's leader, Alexis Tsipras, claims he has a mandate to continue with austerity policies in return for the third bailout deal with the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund). Is this true?
Niall Mulholland (CWI) spoke to Andreas Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI, Greece) about the election results and what it means for the anti-austerity left in Greece.
What is the main feature of the election results?
The most important aspect of the election was the very high abstention rate. Around 45% did not vote. Before the 'memorandums' (austerity packages agreed by Greek governments with the Troika in return for bailout deals) abstention ranged between 25% and 30%.
All the parties lost votes from the last election in January, even if their percentages increased this time. Syriza got 35.46% (36.34% in January) but actually 320,000 less votes. The traditional party of the ruling class, right wing New Democracy, got around the same percentage as last January (28.10%) but also lost around 200,000 votes.
The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn came third with 6.99%. And although their actual vote fell by 10,000 from January, they remain a potent danger to the working class.
The traditional social-democratic party, Pasok, trailed in behind Golden Dawn. It continued to be punished in the polls after years in government, marked by corruption and austerity measures.
Clearly, huge swathes of the electorate are alienated from the main pro-austerity parties. The election campaign was extremely flat - there has never been such a lack of interest in elections before.
How did Syriza win after causing so much disillusionment by their U-turn on austerity?
Syriza did not win on a wave of genuine enthusiasm from workers, pensioners and youth - as it did last January when it put forward an anti-austerity programme. Workers and middle class people voted for Syriza as the 'lesser evil'.
Despite winning a referendum on 5 July opposing austerity, Alex Tsipras one week later capitulated to the Troika and accepted new harsh bailout conditions.
Tsipras used left rhetoric during the election campaign and some rank and file members of the party still have illusions in him.
He was helped by the fact that the memorandum he signed up to has not yet been carried out and therefore workers have not yet felt the effects of these new cuts.
Tspiras argued that he was blackmailed by the Troika into accepting the memoranda or would have faced expulsion from the Eurozone with catastrophic consequences.
Within the confines of imposed austerity measures, Syriza will try to find the means to help the most vulnerable and attack the rich, Tsipras added.
But most workers who voted for Syriza do not have illusions in the party. They just hope that in government Syriza will not be as cruel and brutal as a New Democracy-led government.
How did the anti-austerity Left do in the elections?
Due to its sectarian and ultra-left posturing, the KKE (Greek communist party) failed to capitalise on Syriza's backsliding. It kept its vote in percentage terms, (5.5%) but actually lost 11% of the votes it had received in the January elections.
The results are also a blow for the rest of the anti-capitalist Left. Antarsya (anti-capitalist left) got just 0.85%. A quarter of its membership had departed to Popular Unity, a new formation that arose from a left split from Syriza.
There were widespread hopes in Popular Unity on the left but it failed to reach the 3% threshold needed to enter parliament. Popular Unity will probably face serious internal problems in the immediate period ahead. Its 25-30 former Syriza MPs have lost their seats and with it considerable parliamentary finances and resources.
It is true that Popular Unity had to fight its first election in difficult circumstances, when there was widespread disillusionment because of the sell-out by Syriza. But the Popular Unity leaders did not help themselves either. At the start of the campaign they treated the rest of the left quite arrogantly and acted in a bureaucratic and undemocratic way. They also overestimated how well they would poll.
As it became clear that Popular Unity faced a struggle to get into parliament, they made a call for others on the left to support them in a 'united front' but, by then, the damage was done.
Popular Unity also failed to inspire workers and youth with a clear anti-austerity, socialist programme. They correctly said 'no to the memoranda' but did not point a way forward, thereby not allaying the fears of many workers about what would happen if Greece was forced out of the eurozone.
We in Xekinima say we must refuse to pay the debt and must nationalise the banking system. This will mean a clash with the EU and exit from the eurozone.
The return to a national currency can provide a basis for the development of the economy and society but only if accompanied by the nationalisation of the key sectors of the economy under workers' control and management.
This way the economy can be democratically planned to serve the interests and the needs of the majority in society, instead of producing huge profits for a handful of ship-owners, bankers and industrialists.
What lies ahead for the Left?
The new Syriza-led government will soon run into big problems. The memorandum has to be imposed, which will lead to further impoverishment of Greek society and growing anger. And the national debt remains unrepayable. Greece will remain mired in a 'Great Depression'.
In this context more splits from Syriza are likely, moving in a left direction. For example, a new left formation stemming from Syriza, called ARC, is discussing the lessons of what went wrong with Syriza in power.
Xekinima takes part in these discussions and we also continue playing an important role in 'July 17', which aims to build a network of local left alliances, on an anti-capitalist programme.
Such initiatives and, crucially, renewed class struggle, which will bring many fresh layers of workers and young people into struggle, can lay the basis for the development of a new mass revolutionary Left, that is organised democratically. This is the only force capable of resolving the deep crisis facing Greek working people, by reorganising society along socialist lines.