Originally, Syriza was a coalition of left-wing factions in Greece with quite a diverse membership consisting of atheists, Catholics, Marxist, Maoists, and Greens. The European Union considered such a diffused constellation a “prominent evil,” but doubted that such incompatible ideological groups would ever overcome such disparate measurable differences.
In 2009,Greece faced its first tough austerity regime, when Prime Minister George Papandreou implemented a program of public spending cuts as a reaction to reductions imposed by the European Union resulting in a 300 billion Euro debt. In 2010, even tougher austerity measures were introduced and were immediately met with public outrage. The Greek people just could not stand such an assault on their living standards and public services.
In 2010, Papandreou responded with a proposed “referendum” that would institute a moratorium on Greece’s sovereign credit and debt obligations. For one shining moment, the referendum was received favorably by most parties. The referendum, however, produced a barrage of attacks from the EU and other creditors. Papandreou backed off from implementing the proposal and then promptly resigned as Prime Minister. Papandreou’s party PASOK, like previous governments in Greece, failed because of their ineptitude in handling money and credit, causing large fiscal deficits and simply governing.
The Papandreou regime began with the ideological objective of instituting democratic socialism: a radical ideological model predicated on a host of Marxist constructs. However, fervid right-wing attacks and European opposition forced an ideological change to a social democratic model of governing. So, Greek parties tended to converge around the center of the political spectrum. As the Greek economy worsened, with prolonged depressions lasting several years or more, workers and employees suffered enormous (40%) losses in income, and sharp declines in medical benefits, education and welfare payments.
The first sign of a turning tide was the triumph of the anti-austerity coalition Syriza. In 2014 , a coalition of left-wing components and its charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras, claimed a healthy 36% of the vote in the Greek general election. As an anti-austerity government, the party was to stand as an ideological bulwark against capitalist debt and bailouts. Syriza’s ascension went hand-in-hand with the descent of the previously dominant left party, PASOK, which once represented the bulk of the left in Greece in opposing the hated Troika (The European Union commission, the European Central Banks and IMF) which was held responsible for Greece’s harsh austerity conditions.
Syriza with its highly diverse ideological left-culture has its roots in the popular struggles for Greek independence and political stability. The party is especially strong in its opposition to the neo-fascist movement, Golden Dawn, whose essential features, as an extreme right-wing ideology, is evident in its openly avowed support for National Socialism in all its symbolic meaning. Established in the early 80s, the Golden Dawn Party‘s ideological objective is to defend (like other right-wing parties ) against its supposed enemies: Marxism, liberalism, and egalitarianism. Its support derives primarily from citizens who previously had backed the New Democracy, a party whose ideology ranged from the center-right to nationalistic anti-Communism.
Syriza’s victory represents the Greek people’s rejection of the devastating austerity programs imposed on Greece and Europe by the major capitalist parties and institutions. This was no ideological, European Social democracy. Its agenda was to break with neo-liberalism and austerity. It appeared to bring a type of political culture that is linked to a social, political and ideological radicalism
Syriza’s projected program for Greece in 2012, reflected a high degree of radicalism. Its demands included : nationalization of banks, audits of the public debt, renegotiating debt payments and restoration of the minimum wage, taxes on all financial transactions, mortgage relief for poor families, demilitarization, ending Greece’s military cooperation with Israel, closing of all foreign bases in Greece, and withdrawal from NATO.
So why did Syriza choose to align with a right-wing nationalist party the New Democracy (ANEL), rather than with a party with closer to its social and economic programs? Why choose ANEL, when an alliance with Greece’s communist party (KKE) would seem a more fitting ideological coalition. Or, as some of Syriza’s detractors claim, is Syriza simply a bourgeois party, based on privileged layers of the petty bourgeoisie in bed with the interest of Greece’s capitalist class and international capital? After all, Syriza needed only two seats for a winning coalition. Did the KKE simply reject Syriza?
Syriza’s capitulation to neoliberal forces will create a mood of defeatism among progressive forces across Europe. Indeed, in retrospect PASOK’s sociopolitical and economic agenda and foreign policy now appears to have been far more radical than any set of policies in the present coalition of the Radical Left. It took PASOK’s leadership about two years to capitulate to western capitalist hegemony before it converted from hard core democratic socialism to a weakened social democracy. It has taken the Syriza less than a month to surrender to neoliberal Europe and international capital. Syriza accepted an extension of the bailout agenda and capitulated to Germany’s demands for austerity and neoliberal reforms. Syriza’s capitulation will only end up strengthening the forces of the extreme ideological right.
What is to be done? Many unanswered questions remain.
It is more and more evident that historical conditions for a radical democratic socialism are lacking in Greece. As of now, attempts to follow this moribund ideological path is fruitless. Whether they are called social democracies or democratic socialist parties, the result is that these ideological formulations have mutated into Democratic Liberalism. Ownership and social control has broken down because real power has shifted from labor to owners of capital. Syriza’s divorce between theory (ideology) and practice (praxis) continues to this day, Perhaps what is needed is the establishment of a new social contract that will mediate left-wing and right-wing ideological practices, in the interest of providing relief for the Greek people.
Andrew Raposa is Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts State University in Westfield Westfield.