The Greek Election Results

The long-awaited results of the elections for the vouli of the Hellenic Republic are in. In all media, the battle was presented as simple two-sided affair: for or against the austerity policies imposed by the Western European creditor governments and supported by the comprador classes in Greece itself. This was further complicated in electoral terms by the plurality bonus law passed in the last pre-crisis session of parliament, which awards the plurality winner a 50 MP bonus over and above their proportion of the vote. This was transparently intended as an arrangement to assure that PASOK or ND, the two dominant parties, would have to share power as little as possible and to guarantee an oligarchic identical two-party rule in the style of the United States, without having to resort entirely to plurality district-based systems. The bons hommes of ND and PASOK did not count on their support ever seriously falling below the level that would guarantee them power in this way, and yet this is what the current crisis of capitalism has achieved. At the final tally, even with the plurality bonus ND+PASOK stand together at 149 seats, just short of the 151 majority; the first time in post-dictatorial history in Greece that the two parties have not even managed a majority together, let alone separately.

The great winner has been SYRIZA, the left coalition led by Alexis Tsipras, which has beaten PASOK to second place quite handily. While the KKE barely profited from the conditions, SYRIZA and the more principled anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya did. SYRIZA is in a very strong position indeed – all the more since ND leader Antonis Samaras has already indicated being unable to form a pro-austerity coalition as formally invited to do. This puts the onus strongly on Tsipras to make the results count in political terms. Yet whether he will be able to do so can be questioned. Firstly, the division of the vote on the left clearly indicates the popularity of the notion of ending austerity without ending the existing relationship between Greece and the European Union, or even the relationship between Greece and NATO and the wider world-system. Tsipras expressly campaigned in favor of keeping the Euro and the commitment to the European Union, something KKE is traditionally against (as are most left-wing parties in Europe). However, a default for Greece, the only non-austerity option, is not likely to be borne without repercussions by the bourgeoisies benefiting from the Eurozone system – first and foremost those of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, secondary those in France and others. They will not be amenable to adjusting the austerity impositions and the deflationary monetary regime embedded in the Eurozone’s ruling agreements just to favor a debtor in bad faith. At the same time, a clause in the new EU treaty – little remarked upon at the time, but now crucial – expressly states that any Eurozone member state that decides to suspend use of the Euro thereby renounces membership of the European Union. And two-thirds of Greek trade is with EU member states; it relies on them heavily for import of machine goods for industry and agriculture, Germany not in the last place.

This puts SYRIZA and their fellow thinkers face-to-face with the paradox. To reject austerity is to default; but to default is to break the Eurozone agreement’s constraints. Only if they can diplomatically achieve the suspension or revision of those agreements can they proceed on this basis, in which they may now find a friend in the newly elected François Hollande. The fall of the Dutch government, stubborn as a mule in imposing its hypocritical restrictions on other member states, may also be of help. But I would not count on this possibility too hard, and it is hard to imagine Tsipras does either. The best way to achieve this may well be simply to call Berlin’s bluff – present them with a fait accompli of Greek default, and hope the combined pressure of the possibility of Spanish and Portuguese default and weakening of Merkel’s allies in austerity will do the trick. The only other option is to actually follow the exit to the end, and actually renounce the EU membership, reintroduce the drachma, and devaluate on the basis of a popular front programme for reviving Greek employment and making the Greek upper classes pay for the burden they have imposed on the people while evading their own share of the cost. A broad popular front programme of this kind has a chance of working, if done by a competent government not afraid to act swiftly against capital flight and using this opportunity to act against the oligarchies of PASOK and ND bureaucrats and the mercantile capital still dominant in the Greek economy. Whether Syriza is that government is not at all sure, given its internal divisions between social-democrats and socialists, and its mutual hostility with the KKE.

The great risk is that the result of this impasse is yet more elections. Under no circumstances should Syriza accept this unless at the minimum it was guaranteed the plurality bonus is abolished, so that there will be no more dependency on the rotten husk of the ND leadership. Quick elections on the exact same basis as the current ones cannot but favor the forces of the right. Already, Chrysi Avyi, as feared, has obtained 21 seats – and its leader Michaloliakis used the opportunity for a truly Hitlerite speech containing overt threats. If elections proceed without result, this puts further tension on the formal liberalism of the system without resolving its contradictions, paving the way for military coup or worse. It is no coincidence, and must be remarked upon again, that the PASOK leadership of the Papandreou government used one of its last opportunities to act as government to replace the chiefs of staff of the different military branches. Precisely the lack of public notice given to this indicates the possibility is far from imaginary. Moreover, if there are elections fought on substantial issues on how to face the crisis, this will favor the socialist approach, which is the only one that can demonstrate how the contradictions in Greece are those of capital itself. But a failure of procedure that does not resolve these problems under worsening conditions will increase the public’s exasperation and desire for Order; and this is a route historically to be feared. Already the fascists representing national capital and outraged burghers have more power than anywhere in Europe bar Hungary.

Syriza must choose its options carefully, and the left must be ready to act in alliance if and when the confrontation comes to a head, be it externally or internally. They must confront the power of the oligarchy inside and outsidethe country head on. Smaller nations, like Iceland, show it can be done – now it must be done on a larger scale. The bourgeois politicians must not be allowed to use this opportunity to stall or force an outside solution, whether by Berlin or blackshirts. As it was once said about them, so the Greeks must now say to each other: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

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