Behind Syriza’s Landslide: A “Note from Afar” on the Greek Elections

by Stathis Kouvelakis

January 29, 2015

Editor’s note: these comments were written before the results from the election. The analysis remains valuable.

I’ll make a few brief remarks on the Greek election campaign and the situation within Syriza, in order to help overcome the frustration of not being there. I reckon these comments are relatively ‘cool-headed’–distance allows for that, at least.

Supporters celebrate Syriza’s victory.

  1. The signs I’m getting from friends and comrades, in both Athens and the rest of Greece – corroborated by ‘local’ surveys (for the regions and major cities) – are all pointing the same way. It looks like there’s a wave of support heading Syriza’s way this Sunday. In the working-class districts of Athens the Right faces an utter rout. Meanwhile, outside the capital whole chunks of the right-wing electorate are now breaking for Syriza, following former PASOK voters. There is a calm atmosphere in the country, but at the same time real expectation is mounting. The conditions are ripe for a dynamic to build behind Syriza.
  2. From a political point of view the Greek bourgeoisie and its political representatives are stunned and voiceless. All their hopes of heading off Syriza rely on Europe’s leaders–and ruling classes. For their part, the line seems clear enough: it is the politics of the ‘iron cage’, seeking to shut down a Syriza government as quickly as possible. The spearhead of this effort is the attempt to force Syriza to request an extension of the current ‘assistance programme’, which runs out on 28 February. Such an extension would allow continued financing, and thus for the debt to be repaid, but also implies continuing with the current policy and the country being subject to Troika discipline – perhaps under mildly reworked terms.
  3. That’s the context for the ECB decisions on ‘quantitative easing’ that was announced a few days ago. The inclusion of Greece in the public debt-buying programme requires that it accept an ‘assistance programme’ (the bonds to the Greek debt are considered as ‘junk’ and don’t fulfil the conditions of a standard buyback), and it will not happen before July, when Greece will be ‘reviewed’ to check its results. This means that until then, Greece will have to continue repaying its debt, including the 7,5 billions of repayment due in July and August. As the existing budgetary surpluses are clearly insufficient and the country doesn’t have access to international markets, this in turn is practically conditioned to an extension of the current ’assistance programme”. Fundamentally, the same goes for the ECB giving its authorisation for Greek banks to access liquidity through the ELA mechanism. It has to be renewed every 15 days and requires the continuation of the ‘assistance programme’ (as we see, now you’re not meant to say ‘Memorandum’, but ’assistance programme’). But the substance remains the same: the ‘iron cage’ of debt peonage and austerity politics has to remain untouched.
  4. Syriza’s intentions faced with these difficulties (which in their broad terms were wholly predictable) are unclear. The main thrust of its election campaign has been to ‘reassure’ the moderate and undecided voters on which it’s been focusing. Syriza has spread the image of a ‘Europe that’s changing’, indeed at high speed as suggested by one of the campaign tv adverts, and which is prepared to accede to its demands. In recent days statements coming from Syriza leaders – particularly its main economists (Dragasakis, Tsakalotos) but also Tsipras’s ‘right-hand man’ Nikos Pappas, who is head of his personal staff – suggest that Syriza would agree to requesting a ‘technical’ extension of the current ‘assistance programme’ in order to ‘allow time to negotiate’. They make no mention of the conditions that would be placed on this so-called ‘technical’ extension, however.
  5. So here we have a tangle of contradictions, which in their different ways define Syriza’s trajectory and the Greek situation as a whole. Already between the two elections in May and June 2012, pretty much the same Syriza figures (above all Dragasakis) distanced themselves from the party line and rejected the idea of ‘unilaterally’ cancelling the Memorandum. At that time Dragasakis made some fatuous distinctions between a ‘political’ rejection of the Memorandum and a ‘juridical’ one, this latter amounting to ‘unilateral actions’ which he repudiated. Such statements were very costly for Syriza at the time, in that they gave the impression that the party had kept its plans intentionally vague and thus suggested that it would capitulate on the decisive questions. But ultimately in 2012 his wasn’t the line that prevailed. What about now? That’s perhaps THE essential question.
  6. While being perfectly aware of its contradictions, we should not have the slightest hesitation in laying our hopes on not simply a Syriza victory, but a Syriza landslide. For three reasons:
    • Such a victory would give it a parliamentary majority and prevent any possibility of an alliance with buffer formations, which are the system’s pawns in trying to force a Syriza government to make concessions.
    • Such a landslide would give confidence back to the most conscious layers of society and would allow for popular mobilisations to get going again. That, of course, is the key variable. Ultimately that will be the barrier against the temptation to retreat or give in.
    • Finally, such a landslide would have a very significant international impact. On the governments, and on the whole social and political Left that’s rightly placing its hopes in Syriza and which wants to support Syriza in its struggles.

We can never say it enough – what’s at stake on Sunday is enormous, it’s of truly historic proportions. It would be the first decisive break with neoliberalism in Europe. And an extraordinary opportunity for the ‘Left of the Left’ to shake off the curse of its worst defeats – the battles that it lost without a fight.

So we are left with only one option: dare to fight, dare to win!

Stathis Kouvelakis is a member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA and of the Left Platform in the party. These comments were written shortly before SYRIZA’s historic victory in the January 25 election, and previously published on Verso Books blog. Kouvelakis was also interviewed by Sebastien Budgen for Jacobin (see “Greece: Phase One,”, where he offers an in-depth picture of SYRIZA and the currents and debates inside it, and you can read his post-election commentary here.

For additional reading and other perspectives, we suggest “The Tasks for the Left After SYRIZA’s Victory” by the International Workers’ Left (DEA) current within the Left Platform of SYRIZA, and “The Results of the Greek Elections” by the Central Committee of the Greek anti-capitalist organization ANTARSYA.


One response to “Behind Syriza’s Landslide: A “Note from Afar” on the Greek Elections”

  1. Alan MacDonald Avatar
    Alan MacDonald

    Greece is the birthplace of democracy and America is the new world birthplace of democratic revolution against EMPIRE — we are brothers in solidarity.

    From a far broader (and far more important) perspective, “Syriza’s Historic Win Puts All People On Collision Course with EMPIRE” — and that will lead to real progress for the first time since this Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE has taken over the US as its nominal global HQ.

    This Disguised Global Capitalist Empire, this ‘Empire of Chaos’ (as Pepe Escobar calls it), this ‘Empire of the Global Elite’ (who control all looted and horded wealth and nearly all governments), and this highly integrated (but well hidden) six-sectored; corporate, financial, militarist, media/propaganda, extra-legal, and dual-party Vichy-political facade only ‘posing’ as our former country has taken-over, ‘captured’, and now almost fully “Occupies” the super-power formerly known as America (along with many developed capitalist aligned imperialist countries and transnational corporations, banks, and organizations), and which Empire much more effectively, guilefully, and deceitfully ‘disguises’ itself than Hitler’s earlier (and mere wannabe European) Nazi Empire tried to disguise itself in Vichy France during the Second World War (of empires), is for the first time since the attempted counter-culture revolution of the 60’s (which was crushed by the Empire) about to encounter the re-igniting of a sizable left/progressive revolution right within part of the Empire — right within the European sector of the Empire HQed in our country.

    Not only other northern and central European ‘subjects’ of the Empire, who as ‘subjects’ and ‘subjected’ to austerity by the Empire, but even the dulled-down, deluded, and propagandized American ‘subjects’ of the austerity, wars, looting, spying, tyranny, environmental torture, and multiple other CRIMES of this Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE are being urged to support our Greek compatriots —- as other American colonial ‘subjects’ of the British EMPIRE supported their fellow revolutionaries in Concord and Lexington Massachusetts.

    We American ‘subjects’ of this newer and far better Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE almost 250 years later need to TAKE THE LEAD in Revolting against the Global Elite Empire which is so clearly and universally oppressing all the people of the world as ‘subjects’ rather than citizens of a New World Order of EMPIRE (a New World Empire) — of austerity, of wars, of deceit, of spying, of oppression, of tyranny, and inexorable serfdom if we don’t act together and in solidarity with all similarly oppressed people of our world.

    Perhaps, and hopefully (unlike Obama’s false hope for change), we can all be inspired and enlightened by the first European people —- since we have not been by the brave patriots of the Arab Spring —- to finally realize that, “First the Empire came for the Egyptian revolutionaries, but we were not Egyptian, then the Global Empire came for the Libyan revolutionaries, but we were not Libyan, but now the Disguised Global Capitalist Empire is coming for Europeans” (and soon American ‘subjects’) —- and then it will be too late.

    Perhaps 2015 will be the start of a new “Revolutionary Summer” in America?

    “The British ministry and the Continental Congress were, in fact, looking at the crisis from different ends of the same telescope in ways that accurately reflected their contrasting political assumptions. The British approach was decisively imperial, top down from George III, through Lord Germain, to all those converging ships and men. The American approach was decidedly republican, bottom up, dependent upon broad-based popular consent from that enigmatic entity called “the people.”

    To repeat, nothing so sweepingly democratic had ever been attempted before, for the quite sound reason that a poll of the people was almost assured to produce a muffled or divided response or, worse, a chaotic cacophony.

    What seems most historically significant, at least in retrospect, is how true each side was to the core values it claimed to be fighting for. It was the coercive power of an EMPIRE against the consensual potency of a fledgling (democratic) republic. History seldom provides pure embodiments of such contrasting political alternatives, but in the summer of 1776 they were both on display” [caps added]

    Ellis, Joseph J. (2013-06-04). Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence (pp. 49-50). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    More than anything else, at least a core vanguard of Americans must focus like a laser on understanding, diagnosing, educating people, and ‘exposing’ the Disguised nature of this Global Capitalist Empire disease – this cancerous tumor that mus be non-violently ‘excised’ from our body politic and our world:

    For as Zygmunt Bauman hauntingly puts it, “In the case of an ailing social order, the absence of an adequate diagnosis…is a crucial, perhaps decisive, part of the disease.”13

    Berman, Morris (2011-02-07). Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (p. 22). Norton. Kindle Edition.

    “The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures from dominant groups around the world to resolve problems of global capitalism and to secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In this regard, “U.S.” imperialism refers to the use by transnational elites of the U.S. state apparatus to continue to attempt to expand, defend, and stabilize the global capitalist system. We are witness less to a “U.S.” imperialism per se than to a global capitalist imperialism. We face an EMPIRE of global capital, headquartered, for evident historical reasons, in Washington.” [caps added]

    Robinson, William I. (2014-07-31). Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (p. 122). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.