Sunday, June 17, 2012

Greek election

Of course, we want Syriza to win.  This is my view, I suspect it's the view of most readers, and it's the view of most of the people who disagreed with my earlier post about Syriza.  Incidentally, it is also the view expressed by Panos Garganos of Antarsya here.  It may not happen.  Syriza has undoubtedly pulled together most of the left workers' votes.  Their votes will stack up very high in the core working class areas, and in the main urban centres, especially Athens.  But the question is how much the fear of them has consolidated right-wing votes behind New Democracy (ND).

If one didn't know it already from the Greek media, the 'secret' polls have been showing an incredible amount of volatility in the country.  Syriza have had some impressive poll leads, and their rally on Friday was huge: by far the biggest they have ever had.  Yet the impressive leads for Syriza are interspersed by polls giving ND a narrow advantage, and that has been the trend more recently.  Most recently, these polls are driving the bookies and the stock markets to bet on a ND win, with even a 1% lead giving them the fifty seat bonus they would need to negotiate a government with other parties of the Right.  The earliest exit polls appear to show a dead heat between the two main parties, with some giving ND a very slight advantage and others handing it to Syriza by half a point.  Either party, based on results like these, would probably be able to form a two-party or three-party coalition government.  Whichever party gets the fifty seat bonus will do it.  And at the moment, I think it's probably ND.

However, the fact that it has come so close attests to the power of the two main dynamics - the workers' radicalisation, which has held up against tremendous pressure, and the ruling class counteroffensive, which is being organised across the continent and not just in Greece itself.  One must not forget, with all the radicalisation that is taking place, the immense power of the European ruling classes in this situation.  The EU has a way of getting the votes it wants, particularly in those 'peripheral' societies which are historically pro-EU because membership was seen as a route to capitalist modernisation and development.  We've seen this very recently in Ireland.  In Greece, every report, every sign from activists 'on the ground', suggests that the scaremongering campaign from the media, capital and the established politicians (who are in crisis, but still not finished), is having an effect.  If nothing else, it is creating a 'camp' around New Democracy, where right-wing voters are gravitating to stop Syriza.  We have seen echoes of this in the UK coverage. 

The thrust of this scaremongering is that Syriza will withdraw Greece from Europe, and thus implicitly plunge Greece into turmoil, bankruptcy and the ‘underdeveloped’ status of decades ago.  Of course, this is bullshit, but there is a material basis for this claim.  We know very well, regardless of what the press here says, that the leadership of Syriza has no desire to organise a 'Grexit' - even if, as I think, they probably should.  As I said before, this has been the cause of an unresolved tension in their agenda.  If they are serious about revoking the Memorandum laws - and despite some ambiguous and very cautious statements from Dragasakis about no unilateral measures, etc., this is still the policy on which they are standing - then they will end up in confrontation with the EU whether they want it or not.  And the EU have made it very clear that they will not renegotiate.  I don't believe they're bluffing about this.  The head of Bundesbank laid out the rationale very clearly early this week: if Greece doesn't honour its commitments, it cannot expect funding; if it has no funding, it will have to default.  Moreover, European bankers have been saying for some time that a Greek exit might be strategically better for them.  If Greeks vote the wrong way, the EU's rulers now appear to be saying, they will force a default and exit, and inflict a vicious punishment beating in the process.  That is the material basis for the scaremongering.  In other words, it's not just scaremongering: it's a live threat, which its authors have the ability to act on.

Tsipras gave his speech on Friday, and told tens of thousands of supporters in unequivocal terms that if Syriza was elected, the Memorandum was finished.  The expectations of Greek workers are being raised well above anything that the EU can cope with.  Now, in my earlier post, I said that it was most likely that Syriza's bottom-line tactical consideration is that if there is going to be a 'Grexit', they won't take responsibility for it.  I still think this is right.  Of course, I hear the arguments of those who say that it's also a strategic consideration, as the dominant forces in Syriza are historically pro-EU, and would like to play a mediating role in which they use their electoral mandate and the strength of the class struggle to try and force the EU leadership to accept a change of strategy.  And indeed, one can well see that this is the sort of approach that the dominant forces in Syriza would like to pursue.  

The one problem with it is that the EU have made it plain every single day that they will not renegotiate, and moreover would react badly to any attempt to force a renegotiation by cancelling the Memorandum laws.  Therefore, the scenario alluded to above is, in this circumstance, something of a Bottom's Dream.  Even if Dragasakis et al are desperately hoping for some new alignment of forces - a back-room axis of Hollande and Monti - to give them a break, it is unlikely that they don't see where the dominant trends are heading.  So, the logic of their position will either force them to back down on the Memorandum, and thus destroy their raison d'etre at the moment, or enter into a confrontation with the EU that the dominant forces don't want.  And if the balance of forces in Greece continues to favour the left and the ongoing militancy, then it will be very difficult to back down on the Memorandum.  Merkel et al must understand this very well, which is why they have been framing this election as a referendum on the euro, just as much as New Democracy are, even if Syriza are determined not to.  And this is another material basis for the scaremongering: the logic of the situation is one which makes confrontation more likely than not.

So, if it comes to be this close, then that reflects something important about the balance of power between the EU and the radical Greek working class.  If a large number of workers, peasants and middle class voters are more frightened of the possibility of 'Grexit' than the certainty of austerity, in other words, that is a
real tribute to the material power of European capital in this situation. The media hysteria, and the massive withdrawal of savings, has tilted the balance in the last week of the election.  

One last thing.  If it does turn out to be a ND government, please let us not, you and I, delude ourselves.  Please let us not say 'the real struggle begins after the elections'.  I well understand the sense of this, the sense in which it is true.  And I completely agree that elections are not the most important terrain in which political struggles are fought.  But, in the context, it's an abstract and consolatary idea.  In the concrete situation, the real fight has been going on for almost half a decade, and this was a real part of that fight, and the outcome will make a significant difference to the tempo, initiative and immediate class capacities of either side.  Just because the fundamental capacity of the Greek working class is not affected by this outcome doesn't mean it won't have a formative effect on future struggles.  It's a big deal.  The difference between a political earthquake for the whole European establishment and continued (for the time being) austerity rule.  No, we don't need doom-saying; just sobriety.