Greece goes Left with Syriza

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Greece has a new government, a left government headed by the 40-year-old charismatic Syriza party leader, Alexis Tsiparas. Syriza managed to secure 149 seats of 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament at the General Election held on 25th January and for the first time in a long time, Europe’s hope for a better future has turned towards the left. To understand the importance of Syriza, it is necessary to understand Greece and the current state of deep economic crisis that has plagued the country for the past years since the economic crisis of 2008 and more importantly it is necessary to understand neoliberalism because the popularity of Syriza and other leftist parties in Europe is directly influenced by the harsh economic conditions brought down on those countries by their ruling elite under neoliberal economic programs.

Neoliberalism, is an economic doctrine that has roots in the American Economist Milton Freidman’s thought that free market forces acting without any interference by the government is the best possible way to manage the economy which means under neoliberalism everything and everyone is defined under the terms of free market forces. In the simplest terms it means to allow capital and market into areas which had been otherwise, driven by a sense of public good. This means privatization of everything from education to water, stagnating wages, cut backs on minimum wages. Neoliberalism is an assault, a counter social revolution against, every economic and political right that the people won for themselves starting from the French Revolution.
When the global economy collapsed in 2008, due to the crisis in deregulated markets, the cost of the crisis, which should have been paid by the wealthiest who created it, was shifted to the working classes. While in Latin America, neoliberalism had already wreaked havoc, destroying economies and welfare states in Chile, Brazil and Argentina, the inroads it had made to Europe was considerably less when compared to the rest of the world. It was in the 1990’s that neoliberal reforms started in Europe, especially in Greece and it was around this time the initial organizational framework for Syriza was established, a collation of the radical left.

However in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, Greek economy collapsed and went into debt default which the Troika, the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and European Central Bank used as the most opportune moment to impose austerity measures on Greece in negotiating its debt, which in turn took the country into a deeper economic crisis. Five years later, Greece in now in ruins, with 1.3 million people – 26% of the workforce – without a job (and most of them without benefits); wages down by 38% in 2009, pensions by 45%, GDP by a quarter; 18% of the country’s population unable to meet their food needs; 32% below the poverty line. This is the state of Greece after five years of intense neoliberal reform, majority of the population are struggling to maintain minimum living conditions.

This situation is not unique to Greece, many Southern European countries, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, even France are in dire straits and the popular mood in Europe is turning left. Syriza and Tsiparis ran for the General Election on January 25th on the platform of ending austerity policies and re-establishing the welfare state and workers’ benefits, hardly revolutionary slogans for a radical left but it definitely is a serious blow to the Troika’s plan to deepen austerity in Southern Europe as the way out of the economic crisis.

IMF adjustment packages, or structural adjustments as we call it, is something that every country in debt is very familiar with. These packages were intensely applied to Latin American countries in the first stages of neoliberalism, starting from Chile and going on to Brazil and Argentina. In her brilliant book, ‘The Shock Doctrine’, Canadian political critique, Naomi Kline elaborates the devastation caused by neoliberalism in Latin American countries. She also develops the idea that IMF, the World Bank and other international debt institutes, European Central Bank in the case of Greece, hunts on weak economies, to impose austerity measures and neoliberal economic reforms. These countries are absorbed into a vicious cycle of debt and dependency on debt is used to impose cuts on public expenditure and social welfare services, like education, pension and healthcare. Kline uses the metaphor of a cancer in relation to this process, “‘Cancer’ is already a violent discourse. When you diagnose a country with cancer whatever treatment you go with is justified, it’s necessarily lifesaving. That’s the whole point of the cancer metaphor. Once you have that diagnosis, you, as the doctor, are not culpable for the negative effects of the treatment”, she explains in a recent interview. When a country is in shock, whether it is out of an economic crisis or a natural disaster or even a political coup staged by USA, as it was in Chile, these higher forces of capitalism moves into the country and transforms the economy to fit their goals, which always contradict the people’s welfare and wishes.

The reaction by European elite to a possible victory of Syriza in Greece is illustrative of the fact that what neoliberalism fears the most is democracy and popular uprising against it. In the language of revolutionary politics, winning a general election is hardly radical or revolutionary. However, in the build up to the Greek election, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor was devising plans to remove Greece from the European Union in case of a Syriza win. Democratic elections it seems is not the flavour desired by the European elite. Syriza’s win comes as an epic win, a brave choice by the people of Greece to reject austerity measures imposed on them and to choose an alternative to poverty that has been raging in the country.
Even with clear signs of popular support, the fear mongering against Syriza claimed that a win for extremist leftists would mean an exit from Europe for Greece and subsequently chaos in the country. In a brilliant answer to the question with regards to what a Syriza win would mean for Greece’s future in the European Union, its young leader, Tsiparis says these words “First off, I think that we should be more worried about what will happen if Greece does not change course and continues being the guinea pig for the neoliberal policies that have been implemented to supposedly address the crisis”. Tsiparis is adamantly putting people’s interests in the frontline and posing the needs of a country stricken by austerity opposed to the needs of technocratic European elites who see easy prays in the people.

What the European elite fear the most about this victory is that Syriza and its anti-austerity, anti-fascist tone has the potential to resonate in the Euro zone with several other left coalitions and parties using similar slogans against austerity. Among them, Syriza’s Spanish counterpart, Podemos has the most chances at success under the leadership of its very energetic leader, Pablo Iglesias. If the left can score similar victories in Europe, for the first time in the post war period, the winds will turn towards the left again and people’s politics will be restored. Syriza with its massive volunteering groups and grass root organizational structure is already, putting a people’s politics on the table. Perhaps, the strength of these organizations of the left lies in its ability redefine politics as something that is actively participated and decided by the people. Syriza is awakening the left in Europe and in the process is awakening its people.

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