After a massive vote in Greece against austerity
Can the Syriza party deliver on its promises?
Muffy Sunde
volume:  
volume 36
issue 2
April 2015
imagestuff

Athens, Jan. 25, 2015: Syriza supporters cheer wildly as exit polls announce victory in national parliamentary elections. Photo: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA

Banksters demanding debt payments have been hammering at Greece for years. When visiting there in September 2013, I was shocked at how government cuts had devastated the Greek people. And it’s much worse now.

Three in five Greeks live in poverty. Pensions have been slashed by 60 percent, creating a homeless crisis among seniors. Youth unemployment is 70 percent and among women it’s 50 percent. Add to that the closure of most of the national healthcare system and skyrocketing food and housing costs.

Greece’s misery is one of the many crises of international capitalism rocking the economies of Europe’s southern countries — Spain, Portugal, and Italy. The Jan. 25, 2015 election was being closely watched by wary capitalists, overly hopeful leftists, and up-and-coming fascists worldwide.

Capitalism needs debt. The current crisis was born in the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and European Commission, determined to collect on loans they imposed on Greece in the first place. Their austerity measures resemble the ruinous reparations thrust on the German workers after World War I. Debt totals — largely caused by military expenses during The Junta (1967-74) and infrastructure for the 2004 Olympics — are being covered by more loans at interest rates that guarantee they’ll never be fully paid off. All of this money owed is blamed on “over-generous” public services and the “lazy” workers that provide them.

Actually, not one Greek worker, retiree, or immigrant made these loans. But their high income taxes grab close to 50 percent of their wages and pensions to pay them off.

So-called experts claim the European Union is a progressive force but many Greeks want out because it does them no good. They are right. The EU was created to enforce the rules of capitalism, which protect the super-rich at the expense the have-nots.

To force the impoverished to pay for their own oppression is common capitalist strategy everywhere. In Ferguson, Mo., for example, Blacks are targeted for multiple driving infractions, forced to pay heavy fines or thrown into debtors’ prisons. This revenue pays police salaries and the debts of small cities.

Syriza’s true colors. Infuriated by seven years of economic battering and exhausted by dozens of one-day general strikes that didn’t reverse the cuts, Greeks voted for Syriza, a coalition of social democrats (i.e., kind-of socialist capitalists) and some leftists. Why? Because Syriza promised to cancel the debt to European banks and to halt the austerity programs.

Syriza’s leaders stopped mentioning their own platform just before the election, campaigning instead on restoring the Greek “nation.” Calls for negotiations with the European Union replaced demands for canceling the debt. The day after the elections, Syriza entered into a coalition with the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, which demands the deportation of immigrants, is anti-Semitic and homophobic, and closely tied to the Greek Orthodox Church. Syriza rewarded ANEL with control of national defense, an alarming reminder of the vile military junta dictatorship of the ’60s and ’70s.

Pandering to ANEL’s nationalism clashes with Syriza’s pledge to stop raids and deportations of immigrants fleeing war. Syriza’s promise to close the horrific detention centers has morphed into renaming them “hospitality centers.”

Then Syriza agreed to an extension of austerity, including privatization of even more public property. Greeks demonstrated on Feb. 25 in huge opposition. This did not stop Syriza from agreeing to sell off the Port of Piraeus, headquarters of Greece’s giant shipping industry.

The Greek Left did not unite in an openly socialist campaign. Although the revolutionary left coalition ANTARSYA was on the ballot, many of its constituent organizations supported Syriza. Socialist Alternative’s Greek affiliate campaigned for Syriza, saying victory would have a liberating effect on workers. So did the International Socialist Organization.

One revolutionary Marxist I met with in 2013 said recently, “Syriza is moving rapidly to the right and … constantly undermined any mass mobilization in the last two years.”

Countering fascism. Fascism, an ultra-right, political mass movement that arises out of deep impoverishment is on the rise in Greece. It can only be stopped by a working-class counter movement. Greek leftists and progressives and unions have a serious job ahead of them.

Golden Dawn Party (GD) is an openly neo-Nazi group that attacks immigrants and murdered an anti-fascist rapper just before I arrived in 2013. GD won over 6 percent of the January vote and holds 17 seats in Parliament. It pursues immigrants, queers, Jews, trade unionists, feminists — scapegoating anyone who organizes against systemic bigotry. GD thugs have a huge corporate sponsor in the Greek shipping industry. The party opposes any increase in taxes on the rich and supports tax exemptions for shipping magnates and the Orthodox Church.

Greece has a healthy anti-fascist movement, led by immigrants and leftists, and has answered the demobilization of Syriza with angry protests against government and fascist attacks. Communists must prioritize building this into a mass, anti-capitalist movement that defends victims, popularizes socialist demands, and explains fascism’s roots in the profit system. This is critical to forging a genuinely revolutionary party that deserves the votes of the beleaguered people of Greece.

• Stop the cuts and restore all jobs and social services to pre-austerity levels.

• Cancel the debt.

• Nationalize the banks and the shipping industry under workers control.

• For a united front to stop Nazis.

• Open the borders to immigrants fleeing war and starvation.

• Greece out of the EU, build a united socialist Europe.

To send feedback to the author, write to muffy_sunde@yahoo.com.

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