A United Syriza Moves Closer to Power
The man who promises to end Greece’s austerity binge and reinvent European socialism for the 21st century edged closer to power, after the radical left Syriza coalition of 14 parties merged into one unified bloc to fight future elections. Alexis Tsipras, the coalition’s leader, was elected head of the new party with 74 percent of the votes cast by 3,412 delegates.
Syriza won 71 seats in last year’s June elections, putting them as the second largest party in the parliament, but 80 behind a majority. The remarkable rise of the radical left to within reach of electoral victory is akin to Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labor Party merging with the SWP, Communist Party, Trade Union, and Socialist Coalition and every other fringe leftist group in Britain to overtake Labor as the main party of the left.
Should Syriza’s dramatic rise as a new radical left party continue—and should it win the next set of elections (planned for 2016, but potentially much earlier)—the global left will watch with intrigue as a genuinely socialist government attempts to wrest itself out of IMF-imposed austerity and break the neoliberal consensus. For this reason, the ex-SWP author Richard Seymour has called this a “valuable step in a pedagogical process.”
The hypothetical questions of what the radical left could really achieve within a neoliberal Europe, whether they could reverse austerity with any success and whether they could act as a sovereign and socialist government under the pressures of global neo-liberal institutions like the IMF and EU, may all soon find answers.
Rather than continue the current austerity strategy, Syriza promises to make those responsible for the crisis pay for it. Michalis Spourdalakis, professor of political science at Athens University said, “Syriza’s rationale and discourse is based on an analysis that the crisis is…a by-product of the global capitalist crisis.”
This bold attempt to take on global capitalism on the national level would involve, according to Syriza’s head of economic strategy, Yiannis Milios, clamping down on tax avoidance, raising taxes on Greece’s wealthy elite, and workers taking over production—running it in the long-term interests of all stakeholders, rather than the short-termism of foreign investors.
While there is a range of opinion on what Syriza could achieve, most leftists agree that sticking to the IMF-charted course into economic oblivion is the worst option. The institution’s track record of “one-size-fits-all” neoliberalization of struggling economies is well known, and even top establishment economists have made their criticisms heard. Most notable of all, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has said the IMF, “champions market supremacy with ideological fervor” and he holds the IMF responsible for a systemic failure to deal with economic crises and, in most cases, exacerbating them, as it is doing in Greece.
Stiglitz’s widely-read Globalisation and its Discontents follows the actions of the IMF since the “purging” of the Keynesians in 1982 and their replacement with free- marketeers like William Clausen and Ann Krueger. He discusses how IMF-imposed privatization and trade liberalization in Russia after communism led to the GDP being halved in 9 years, while poverty increased tenfold to 23 percent.
Similarly, contractionary fiscal policies imposed on Argentina in 2000 led to deepening the recession, while the application of the same textbook neo-liberal medicine after the 1997 East Asia crisis led to a 20 percent fall in real wages in the countries concerned. Stubbornly concerned with fiscal conservatism, the IMF cut food subsidies to the poor in Indonesia, supposedly to support a recovery.
Stiglitz’s controversial slap-down of the IMF is ubiquitously cited, but he has his critics on the left. Economist and geographer David Harvey has pointed out that the IMF’s disastrous record, being continued in Greece, is not “merely the case of erroneous theory gone wild but a massive and deliberate upwards redistribution of wealth and a consolidation of class power among corporate and financial elites.”
Of course, Stiglitz wouldn’t concede this “conspiratorial” theory, as he was President of the World Bank, Chief Economic Adviser to Bill Clinton, and a member of the establishment himself. You might well play down the cynical neoliberal objectives of the IMF if you’re a part of that destructive system, but the record Stiglitz lays out begs the question he doesn’t dare ask who benefits from such flawed policies? The same record Stiglitz damns is being repeated in Greece. Imposed by the Troika of the IMF, EU, and European Central Bank, the first bailout of €110 billion came with terms, demanding that Greece privatize €50 billion of its economy and impose “structural adjustments” in line with neoliberal economics, such as €28 billion spending cuts to “trim the fat,” like social security, and other things people rely on.
It appears to some that Greece had no choice, but to swallow the IMF’s medicine or they would have undergone a massive default, withdrawn from the Euro at huge cost, reintroduced an undervalued drachma, and then only been able to borrow at high costs due to poor credit ratings. What the neoliberals at the IMF have done is to place a gun at the head of the Greek political establishment and demand they privatize their railways, ports, water, and energy utilities or face disaster, civil war, or revolution.
The bailouts in Greece have had their beneficiaries, but only for the multi-national companies buying up state assets at cut prices, as happened in Russia’s “Wild East” years, the decade of IMF privatization that created Putin’s toxic mix of a mafia police state and crony capitalism. The Guardian reports Russia’s Gazprom—believed to be part-owned by the multi-billionaire autocrat Putin—has moved in on Greece’s national gas corporation, Depa, with a series of bids. Putin has recently called for developing countries like Russia and the other BRICS to be given more voting power at the IMF, although given Gazprom’s newfound capacity for vulture capitalism in Greece, we can be sure Putin wants the IMF to remain as rigidly neoliberal as ever.
The second bailout of €130 billion was conditional on 50,000 public sector redundancies and tax raises and was put through by the national unity government of center-left PASOK and center-right New Democracy.
There are rumors of future bailouts, which might contain future privatiza- tions for hungry corporations, but for the Greek people it would be best to avoid any further “structural adjustment.”
The effects so far have been dire. A 2 percent drop in GDP, 20,000 people homeless, and the UN warning that IMF cuts may threaten human rights. Austerity has left 10 percent of Greeks in poverty, with unemployment and youth unemployment rates of 22 percent and 60 percent. It has given rise to the Nazi Golden Dawn, which polled at 10 percent last year, while democracy has come under greater threat with the closing of the state broadcaster and the militarization of central Athens whenever a member of the Troika flies in to review austerity’s reign of error. This is the devastation that Syriza is seeking to reverse. Its radical program will rely on making the Greek elite pay, but how much can they achieve when supranational institutions like the EU and IMF hold all the cards and the chips? A socialism of the 21st century in Greece remains a pipe dream—but one the global left desperately want to see come true.
James Elliott is a freelance journalist whose writings have appeared in the Huffington Post, Counterpunch, and Left Foot Forward. This article was first posted on New Left Project.