Thursday, 22 January 2015

What Greece shows Scotland

Tomorrow represents the last working day before Greeks go to the polls on Sunday for the third general election in thirty months. The scene is set in the central Omonia Square in Athens for a massive rally tonight of the Coalition of the Radical Left - the SYRIZA - which is hot favourite to emerge as the clear winner on Monday morning. Current polling suggests that it may even pull off an SNP-style win against the entire political establishment, winning more seats than every other party combined. 

Regardless, it is inconceivable that whether at the head of a majority government or in coalition, Alexis Tsipras, a forty-year-old civil engineer who was born in Athens only hours after the collapse of the Greek fascist regime, will not be appointed Prime Minister. 

The latest poll, for Action 24, shows the SYRIZA on 32,4% against the incumbent liberal/conservative Nea Dimokratia on 28,9%. This is anticipated to translate to the SYRIZA winning around 142 seats in the Voulí ton Ellínon, slightly short of the 150 seats needed for a majority of 0. 

To Potami, a centrist party is third on 5,1% with the neo-Nazi Chrysí Avgí on 5%. The KKE communists are on 4%, the PA.SO.K on 3,6%, Anexartitoi Ellines on 2,6% and To Kinima bringing up the rear on 2,4%. 

Parties which receive less than 3% of the vote are ineligible to enter the Voulí. 

It is hard to underestimate the genuine joy and hope that this is giving to us on the radical European Left. It may not be an exaggeration to say that for many of us, our entire hope for the future rests with the SYRIZA. If they can beat their political system, defeat the political establishment, then why can't we?

The striking thing about the numbers above, incidentally, isn't that the radical Left has made the breakthrough. It's the lads looking up at the communists. The PA.SO.K isn't just some bam party like the Liberal Democrats or something - it is the near-hegemonic social democratic party of Greece. 

In the fifteen general elections since the fall of fascism, the PA.SO.K has emerged as the government in nine of them. For more than half of the entire years of democracy, the PA.SO.K has governed the Hellenic Republic. It is the Greek political establishment, with families being steeped in the tradition. The surnames of the current PA.SO.K great and good are resonant with memories of those of the past.

And now it is within a margin of half a percent of being swept from the Voulí. 


Firstly, the PA.SO.K - the acronym stands for the All-Greek Socialist Movement - decided in the mid-1990s that it needed to 'modernise' itself. In this 'modernisation', it alienated itself from the working and lower-middle classes of Greek society which had previously been its bedrock of support. 

Secondly, the PA.SO.K began to be viewed by the public as lazy, corrupt, oligarchic, closer to the millionaires than the millions, and with a sense of entitlement to govern Greece. They became identified with the United States military objectives.

Thirdly, they reacted to falling popularity by a series of leadership challenges and changes. They were so convinced of their entitlement to govern that losing support must clearly mean that the electorate just didn't like the leader. If the party is always right, then it must only need a change of leader to regain popularity. From having had two leaders in three decades, they moved to having three leaders in eight years.

Fourthly, the austerity measures brought to Greece by the global economic crisis have been astonishingly harmful to normal Greeks, destroying jobs and hammering the poorest with public service cuts, while insulating rich Greeks from the worst effects. The PA.SO.K is identified with austerity, having voted with the conservatives to implement it. 

Fifthly, in order to preserve the Greek Establishment, and to protect what they saw as the natural order of events, the PA.SO.K entered into a wildly unpopular coalition arrangement with the conservative ND. This conglomeration of the two rival parties in a two-party system was overwhelmingly viewed by Greeks as ND and the PA.SO.K trying to 'game' the system and cheat the electorate.

If I was Scottish Labour, I'd be looking at those five issues. I'd be realising we've already made the first four mistakes and are well along the way to making the fifth. And I'd be explicitly promising in my manifesto that under no circumstances would I go into coalition with the Tories after the general election. Because when you're irredeemably tainted in the eyes of almost half the electorate - 41% of Scots polled say they'd never consider voting Labour again - because of your collaboration with the Tories, you really don't want to give the other half the last straw they need to ditch you. 

The PA.SO.K is just about to neatly demonstrate that there is no right to exist for a party which betrays its support base, and the SYRIZA is going to be there to ensure that they benefit from its collapse. 

Anyone who read Chris Mullin's excellent novel A Very British Coup will be quite aware of what is going to be done to Greece over the next months and years. Make no mistake: it is very much in the best interests of the European political establishment, who have stolen our European Union and transformed it into a protectorate of big businesses, that the SYRIZA government fails, falls, and falls hard. 

Any attempt by Dr Tsipras to renegotiate the terms of a bailout contract so onerous that even Mike Ashley might think twice about it will result in the combined weight of the Bundesbank-dominated ECB landing squarely on the stomach of the Hellenic Republic. There is even the chance that, far from a Grexit, we may end up with a Grexpulsion, pour encourager les autres. This may be the best thing to happen to Greece. The ability to revalue and devalue the Drachma might be the thing which pulls the Greek economy out of this moribund state from which there appears little exit as long as it remains under the control of the Bundesbank and the ECB, with bailout conditions closer to war reparations than a loan. 

And should the SYRIZA fall slightly short of a majority, the pressure put on the other Greek parties for a Grand Coalition - to put a cordon sanitaire around the radical Left - will be irresistible. There will be promises made to them and there will be threats. In the darker recesses of my mind, I sometimes entertain the thought that the SYRIZA might fall short by x seats, and that the PA.SO.K may have x + 1 seats. I genuinely would not like to bet on which side they would fall. And it's perhaps worth noting that former PA.SO.K leader and prime minister Giorgios Papandreou is now the leader of To Kinima.

The ultimate irony, of course, would be if the KKE had enough seats to put a radical Left party into government in Europe for the first time in three generations, and chose not to because the SYRIZA isn't ideologically 'pure' enough. 

The pressures which will be placed on Greece's structures in the event of a SYRIZA victory are going to be extraordinary. I do not rule out, for instance, that Greece will be expelled from Nato. Frankly, I don't expect that the Greek people - as opposed to the establishment - will be at all sorry to leave. There was strong opposition within Greece to Nato's bombing campaign against fellow Orthodox in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And with Greece no longer under the same military command as the Turkish Republic, the Greeks may very well find that they may no longer have the same European Union and Nato support as they once did over Cyprus, part of which remains occupied by Turkish forces.

Look at the panic of the establishment when, only last year, an insignificant region on Europe's extremity threatened the established order. The bullying started with the American president and ended with all of the major banks and big business. Don't think it won't happen again. 

That isn't, however, a reason not to hope for a SYRIZA victory this weekend. Quite the opposite, in fact: if the SYRIZA wins despite the bullying, and if it succeeds - and in Greek terms, success will be not doing worse than the current government, which would not be difficult - then it makes it that little bit easier for the radical Left to spread. When we look to our comrades abroad, we are going to look to successful ones. 

Enrique Iglesias, the president of Podemos, the Spanish equivalent of the SYRIZA said tonight that if we can take Athens we can take Madrid. 

I go further. There are scheduled elections soon in Spain, in Ireland and in Scotland. All countries which have been absolutely shattered by the depression, and all of them with a massive working class which has been utterly betrayed by the main social-democrat party - the PSOE in Spain, and Labour in Ireland and Scotland- choosing to back austerity instead of the workers.

If we can take Athens, we can take Madrid. If we can take two countries which were fascist regimes well within living memory and transform them into successful socialist states, then perhaps we can take Ireland too, where Sinn Féin is polling at numbers almost certain to propel them into government in Dublin, and if we can take Athens, Madrid and Dublin, we can certainly take Glasgow. 

The European establishment is right to live in terror of us. Because for the first time in my lifetime, the radical Left is setting the agenda. We are on the front foot. We are asking ''why'', questioning every structure in modern Europe. ''Why'', we ask, ''must the railways be run for a profit for private companies?''. ''Why'', we ask, ''does there have to be a presumption that the State should not own and built houses?''. 

On Monday morning, the Red Flag may fly over Athens. This is a great day for the radical European Left. I wish Dr Tsipras and his new government all the very best, and I look very much forward to visiting a socialist Greece later in the year. 

No comments:

Post a Comment