The results of the Greek general election have exploded like a bombshell in the face of the ruling class.
The parties that had supported the “technocratic” coalition government headed by former banker Lucas Papademos suffered a crushing defeat.
Back in 2009 these parties controlled 266 of the 300 seats in the Greek parliament. Now they are down to 149 seats between them. And even this figure is misleading, as it includes 50 seats given as a “bonus” by the electoral system to party with the largest share of the vote.
Pasok, the Labour-type party that had won 44 percent of the vote in 2009, won less than a third of its previous result with 13 percent. The conservative New Democracy (ND) is down from 33.5 percent to 19 percent. And the far-right Laos party will not be represented in this parliament as it fell below the 3 percent barrier.
The swing to the left was huge. The combined vote for all left parties was 872,000 in 2009. Now it reached 2,115,000—33.75 percent of the total.
These are unprecedented heights for the left. We have to go back 54 years to find a previous example.
In 1958 the United Democratic Left (EDA) polled 25 percent, and that electoral success unleashed a massive wave of working class struggle into the 1960s.
It took a military coup in 1967 to crush that dynamic. This time the movement is stronger and the outcome can be different.
This is not some “superficial” electoral radicalisation. It comes on the back of a series of struggles stretching back to 2008.
In December of that year there was a youth uprising in Athens after police shot down a 15 year old school student.
In 2010 and 2011 we had 17 general strikes in Greece against attempts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU) to impose harsh austerity measures.
The activists that are at the heart of the electoral swing to the left are fighters experienced in strikes, occupations and strong demonstrations confronting police violence.
That explains the course of the election campaign. When the election was called, both Pasok and ND were hoping to blackmail voters into supporting them. They claimed that a vote for the left would lead Greece out of the eurozone and into an economic wilderness.
Opinion polls at the time showed that the main beneficiary of the swing to the left was the most moderate section of the left, the party of the Democratic Left. Instead of softening up, however, support for the left hardened with the radical left, Syriza, gaining ground.
In the end Syriza polled nearly 17 percent, the Communist Party (KKE) 8.5 percent, the Democratic Left 6.1 percent and Antarsya, the anti-capitalist left, 1.2 percent.
Antarsya did not make it into parliament because of the 3 percent barrier, but it trebled its vote from 25,000 in 2009 to 75,000 now.
The only dark spot in the results is the success of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which received almost 7 percent and 21 MPs.
Many people were not aware that they were voting for Nazis, as Golden Dawn posed under the guise of opposition to austerity and the left was slow in pointing out the truth.
The neo-Nazis also benefited from a viciously racist campaign by ND and Pasok, both of which targeted illegal immigrants.
Tory leader Samaras promised to “reconquer” inner cities by sweeping away immigrants. And Pasok’s minister of public order, not to be outdone, started rounding up immigrants into detention camps.
So the left in Greece has to step up its anti-Nazi campaign at the same time as it escalates the fight against austerity.
It is very likely that the political crisis will lead to fresh elections in a few weeks as the old coalition partners cannot form a government.
The “troika” of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank face the prospect of increased instability in Greece at a time when the economic crisis is deepening.
For working class militants there is the opportunity of turning the electoral advance of the left into stronger resistance to the cuts.
The troika had set a new round of cuts worth 11 billion euros as an immediate target after the election. The prospect of stopping this is now wide open.
Panos Garganas is the editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker's sister paper in Greece