Greek hope is coming!

by Kostis Klimopoulos

(This is our first ILN report on the Greek situation. we invite members to submit updates and comments.)

The 26th of January 2015 for many people in Greece was a special day. It was the first time in modern Greek history when a left-wing government ruled primarily by the Coalition of the Radical Left party (SYRIZA) has assumed power. But what actually can Greek people expect from this change?

First of all we should make clear that the Coalition of the Radical Left party (SYRIZA) in Greece is not a communist party of any type. It is not a Luxemburgist, nor Marxist-Leninist, nor Trotskyist, nor Maoist, nor Stalinist, nor even a pure Euro-communist party. Contrary to the popular belief outside Greece and despite its name this party is not even radical whatsoever; it has no clear revolutionary orientation. It is a mixture of different parties and ideologies that vary from various communist perspectives to social democracy and ecology/green parties. In other words it is a party with no clear ideology and clear long-term target for the society. It advertises itself simply as left-wing party, whatever that means.

This party started initially as Euro-communist party, then merged with other various progressive parties and accepted former members of the Communist party of Greece (KKE), the historic and current main revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party in Greece, and more recently also accepted former members of the Greek Social Democratic party (PASOK). PASOK is the party, which used to be in power in Greece for many years over the past decades and along with the conservative right-wing party (New Democracy) have the main responsibility for the today economical situation in Greece. SYRIZA after all these mixings evolved to what it is today; a progressive party that includes a little bit of everything.

The question now is whether such a party can make any difference for the life of the working class people in Greece. How much socialist is this party after all?

Many people in Greece compare SYRIZA to the first years of PASOK in government back in 1981. PASOK founded based on socialistic and democratic ideas and attracted many left-wing voters as well as many progressive intellectuals and artists who actively supported the party, but after some years in power it ended up being a party serving the capitalist interests the same way as any right-wing party. There is a big concern that SYRIZA will end up the same.

The answer to the question for SYRIZA is now becoming even more complicated after it formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks, a relatively new party with roots in the conservative New Democracy party and with many nationalistic ideas in its program. SYRIZA needed such a coalition in order to achieve the required majority in the Greek parliament seats and take over the government. That was the only way for SYRIZA since the Communist party of Greece is constantly refusing to get into any negotiation with the Eurogroup and since all of the rest political parties in the Greek parliament do not support SYRIZA's opposition to the IMF memorandum agreements (bailout), signed by the previous governments.

What role can therefore play such a coalition between the left-wing SYRIZA and the right-wing Independent Greeks within the difficult times of the economical crisis in Greece? How well can this coalition perform for its primary goal, which is to negotiate the payment conditions of country's debt and to cancel the IMF memorandum? Can SYRIZA bring something more than just a little bit of “Elpida” (the Greek word for Hope) to the Greeks?

The strict austerity measures of the memorandum are the main reasons for the difficult moments Greek people have experienced over the last 5 years. These measures that are primarily targeted to save the EU banking system and not reduce the country's debt as they are supposed to; a debt which never stopped increasing. These measures have cut social benefits, raised unemployment rate and led the Greek working class deep into poverty.

However the memorandum is not the only cause for the working class suffering. A country long ruled by the two dominant pro-capitalist parties, who alternated in Government for decades since the fall of the Greek military junta in the mid 70s, is now sunk deeply into corruption and characterized by high levels of state bureaucracy. Corrupted politicians and extensive bureaucracy always operated in favor of the big capitalists in Greece, who also happen to have a full control of the media in the country. This situation gradually led to less real democracy for the people, less justice in society, more profits for the big local capitalists and the multi-national capitals via black money, less social benefits for the working class, more financial scandals involving public money and finally to a huge black hole of country's debt which is getting bigger and bigger.

The challenge for a left-wing government is therefore not only to deal with the EU for the Greek debt, but also to change entirely these problematic mechanisms of the Greek society and to consolidate the public sector. It must take actions in order to tackle the problem from the root, actions that none of the previous memoranda actually ever aimed. A left-wing government should take the power from the hands of the few capitalists and give it to the people, to restructure the society towards a more democratic way. That's the only cure for the Greek society and the only solution to stimulate the economy again, to reduce the high unemployment rates and at the same time improve the living standards for the masses.

The new Greek government is definitely a positive sign. Even though many of its members are coming from the corrupted parties of PASOK and New Democracy, it is still able to bring something fresh and at least change the nepotism status in the Greek political scene. SYRIZA's president and new prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, is a young, ambitious and intelligent person who seems ready to fight with the establishment in Greece and deal for first time with issues like separation of the Orthodox Church and state. He also promises to stop some privatizations that were arranged by the previous government, or change the conditions under those some of the privatizations were scheduled, in favor to the public benefit. He has been also promised to change conditions for many public projects as well as to make changes to the tax system. His promises include a further taxation for the big capital that so far is enjoying a special treatment from the state and to provide tax relief for the low-income families. He plans to restore to lowest wages and the lowest pensions to the pre-crisis levels and to handle out free electricity and food stamps to the poor, to decrease heat oil prices and to give back public sector jobs to many people who have lost them during the last years of the crisis. He looks ready for some progress.

However this is not an easy task. Most of those reforms are not in accordance with the troika’s (EC, IMF and ECB) bailout program and of course they are opposing many of the local big capital interests. Fighting on one side with the EU technocrats for your debt and at the same time, on the other side with the powerful local capitalists and the Greek bureaucracy, needs a stable political line that this government definitely lacks. The government also needs the active support form the vast majority of the Greek people, which this coalition for the moment doesn't have. There are still many people in Greece supporting conservatism or even extreme right-wing nationalism, while the strong Communist Party of Greece opposes SYRIZA's program as reformist.

The danger that SYRIZA will become a new PASOK misleading Greek people is always present and the Greeks who are used to expect everything from the politicians should not have great expectations and never stop struggling. However hope never dies and SYRIZA at least knows very well how to give hope.