Rise of Syriza

February 8, 2015

The success or failure of Syriza will determine the type of new Europe we will get a few years down the road

Rise of Syriza

Syriza-led Greek government has confronted the Troika -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF -- over terms of the bailout programme as was widely expected. In a further proof of its intention to widen the anti-austerity debate to the rest of Europe, the new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, has been on a whistle stop tour of the European capitals to rustle up support for his alternative bailout plan.

These quick-footed moves came on the heels of a snap election held on 25 January.

As predicted the Greek radical left party, Syriza, won the election and quickly formed the new government. At 149 seats, two short of a majority, Syriza has formed the government with right-wing Independent Greeks party. Though both parties are polar opposites ideologically, they share strident anti-austerity agenda.

Syriza has won election on an anti-austerity platform which advocates reversion to mild Keynesian economic policies oriented towards enhancing employment, halting privatisation. Despite its sensible and pragmatic agenda, the party has been dubbed far-left in the mainstream European press which beggars belief.

Syriza’s home-grown and pro-people solution is different from the one peddled by the widely hated Troika. There is almost across the board consensus in the country that the Troika has dumped excessive loans on Greece (Greece’s debt went up from 124 percent to 175 per cent of the GDP between 2009 and 2014). This has resulted in extraction of punitive interest from Greece which has stunted growth besides causing immense misery to its people.

As part of its election-winning agenda, Greece’s new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has refused to engage with the Troika and instead is reaching out to the EU governments to hammer out a humane solution which preserves the Euro as well as spurs economic growth.

Syriza’s well thought out plan has received wide-spread support from economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. The US president, Barack Obama, has also approved the Greek case for debt relief and economic growth.

Part of Syriza’s appeal is also derived from the fact that there is a decided orientation within its ranks towards social mobilisation and radical politics which falls outside the spectrum of existing social democratic politics.

The Syriza government’s position is simple: Greece wants to invest its surplus into growth strategy rather than diverting it into ever mounting interest payments. As for the debt, Greece wants a partial debt write off, coupled with relaxed terms for repayment. This has a precedent in history: Germany was offered debt relief and relaxed payment schedule after the Second World War as was Britain in relation to its US debt. Now these are entirely sensible and historically backed suggestions to resolve the Greek tragedy with minimum hardship to its people and minimal prospect of euro-exit.

Yet the Troika and the German government would have none of it. This has set the stage for tense negotiations ahead between the Syriza-led Greek government, the troika and the EU’s new hegemon -- Germany. Beyond these tense and fraught negotiations, however, Syriza’s electoral success and its anti-austerity growth formula of a new hopeful and humane way out of the banks-imposed austerity has hit chord within wider Europe.

Another left-leaning political party, Podema, is already copying Syriza programme and tactics in Spain. There are strong indications that Podema is gaining ground in opinion polls and may end up being one of the largest parties in the elections due to take place in December. This might be a game changer for the left in Europe which has so far shrunk from taking a radical line on ideology-driven austerity drive which has ravaged Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. In this sense, Syriza has tapped into a rich seam of political possibilities for the left in Europe which it can ignore at its own peril. If the Troika does not tone down its austerity mantra, the likelihood of resurgent left parties is promising. Here the meteoric rise of Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras serve as an inspiration.

The rise of Syriza has been spectacular in recent years. Formed from the coagulation of wide array of left groups, Syriza, a coalition of the radical Left came up in the Greek political scene by performing spectacularly in the 2012 elections. Besides the various left groups, the party has also built alliances with various social movements springing up all over Greece in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This inclusive approach worked well for the left in both Bolivia and Venezuela where coalition with longstanding social movements were crucial to the left’s renaissance in the continent.

Parliamentary elections in Greece

The upshot was Syriza’s dramatic transformation from a fringe party to the party of the government within a short space of a few years. Part of Syriza’s appeal is also derived from the fact that there is a decided orientation within its ranks towards social mobilisation and radical politics which falls outside the spectrum of existing social democratic politics.

Syriza’s radical and social mobilisation agenda is quite plain from the lineup of ministerial portfolios (Notable is the absence of women cabinet ministers which should be remedied sooner rather than later). The new cabinet has a rainbow of social movement activists, left group and intellectuals represented in it. The key post of finance minister has gone to Yanis Varoufakis, a radical economics professor, who has dubbed austerity politics as fiscal over-boarding.

Whether Greece would succeed in its new good euro agenda remains to be seen. To a large extent this depends upon German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has stood firm behind the discredited Troika so far. This means difficult days ahead for Syriza where the new prime minister will have a hell of a job in squaring his election pledges with the interests of the Troika and the EU bureaucracy. No wonder, one of the key advisors to the Greek government, Costas Lapasitvas, a noted economist, has appealed for EU-wide solidarity and support for the Greek government efforts to humanise the harsh austerity regime being imposed on the reluctant European countries.

There is too much at stake not only in Greece but in the rest of Europe.

The success or failure of Syriza will determine the type of new Europe we will get a few years down the road. Syriza has outed this fraught contest between neo-liberal and social Europe out onto the European street.

Rise of Syriza