by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson
A great change has taken place in European politics. The left is back.
SYRIZA has won a great victory in the Greek general election. We celebrate their victory and applaud the leadership that has brought the party to power.
For the European left and the wider anti-austerity movement it is necessary firstly and loudly to state that ‘this changes everything’: it is a time of the greatest significance and opportunity.
It became clear in the final days of the campaign that SYRIZA was headed for such a momentous victory. Their rallies across Greece – in town squares, factories and universities – were thoughtful and inspirational. The working class was making its mind up about SYRIZA. Now it has decided and the results are clear – this is nothing short of an overwhelming expression of the people’s will for change, by and for the people.
And that popular will extends far beyond Greece, across Europe and beyond, embracing millions looking to this victory for hope, signified by the hundreds of international supporters in Greece for the election. One of that number, Paul Mackney from the Greece Solidarity Campaign in Britain, reported thus on SYRIZA’s final rally:
“The atmosphere in Athens is electric. There is a rumbling in the air. It’s the winds of change bringing in a European spring. The forces of austerity are cowed by the mass support for SYRIZA as displayed at their final rally on Thursday night. Enthusiastic supporters listened and cheered in turns to an upbeat speech from Alexis Tsipras at the end of which he introduced Pablo Iglesias of the new Spanish Party Podemos to the crowd. Iglesias repeated the Leonard Cohen lyrics from the loudspeakers which said ‘First we take Manhattan and then we take Berlin’.”
The European left is reborn in Greece – and it’s clear why and how: SYRIZA stands with and for the resistance of the people of Greece to austerity. Its rise mirrors that struggle. It has won the confidence of the people through its principles and its practice. That is the lesson for the left.
The new government faces many problems but with the election of SYRIZA so too does the Troika. The question of the debt and its repudiation is the new government’s first business.
The Greek debt is unsustainable and everyone from Tsipras to Draghi knows this to be the case. The debt will not be paid. This creates an existential crisis both for the European Union and its currency. In the run up to the elections billions of Euros left Greece. This capital flight, which will intensify in the days ahead, threatens the entire Greek banking system. The Troika is threatening to withdraw its emergency lending assistance to the Greek banks – without which they will collapse.
This is the battle line for the new government. It is determined to end the debt slavery imposed on Greece and its plans to do so will have a positive impact for people across Europe. SYRIZA is calling for an international debt conference on the model of the London conference of 1953, which wrote off 50% of Germany’s debt and extended the repayment period on much of the rest. The Troika should accept the reality that the debt will never be repaid and agree to this process. In that event they may well face demands from Portugal, Ireland and Spain for a similar deal. These demands must be supported by the movement across Europe, for they represent a shift in the balance of forces, a reassertion of the interests of the working people and the beginnings of defeat for the extreme austerity agenda.
That is no doubt a future too terrible for the Troika to contemplate. Although there are some voices in the financial world arguing that Greece should be given a breathing space and that the country should be given some debt relief and an extended repayment period, most senior figures – such as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – are insisting that the debt must be paid in full and on schedule.
This is the first point of conflict between the new government and the Troika. This is a political battle with high stakes. Some 80% of the Greek population wish to remain within the Eurozone – whether that is possible remains to be seen.
But this conflict will take place in a new political context – a new reality created by the election itself. The fact that the people of Greece have rejected the politics of fear and opted for social and political change has generated hope. This hope has brought the people – and especially the youth – back onto the streets and it is important that they stay mobilised. This mobilisation will strengthen the hand of the government and the impact of that will extend far beyond the borders of Greece.
For what happens now in these debt negotiations is of the utmost importance for the working class movement across Europe. All of our futures are at stake. This is not only a national struggle in Greece but a class struggle across Europe, the sharpest expression of which is in Greece – the weakest link in the capitalist chain. We must stand with the people of Greece by building a European solidarity movement that supports this debt write-off and which organises against neo-liberal austerity measures across the continent. The slogan “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” – takes on new power.
The Greek people will not be left to fight alone. We need to dispense with those armchair warriors who are waiting for SYRIZA to slip so they can pass judgement. There are important discussions to be had around the question of the future of the European Union and the Eurozone – and of capitalism itself – but the price of entry to those discussions must be through the building of the solidarity movement itself. History will judge harshly those claiming to be socialists if they stand to one side at this crucial time.
In Britain we are in a powerful position to offer support, thanks to the work of the Greece Solidarity Campaign. The TUC, through its general secretary Frances O’Grady, has expressed solidarity with the new government. Over the next days, weeks and months we must take that message of solidarity into the trade union and wider movement. Solidarity delegations, expressing the widest possible political and social support for the new government, must be organised. The social solidarity work pioneered in Britain by the Medical Aid for Greece campaign, working with the Solidarity 4 All campaign in Greece, must be strengthened and extended, giving backing to the new forms of popular organisation at grass roots level. These are amongst the most important developments of the anti-austerity struggle. A European conference will be organised in 2015 to bring together the solidarity and anti-austerity movements across the continent.
There is no doubt that the Greek general election victory opens a new period for the European left. The election of SYRIZA will give renewed strength to our own anti-austerity movement and to the increasing support for political forces which are challenging austerity and breaking open the Westminster establishment. We must welcome these developments and embrace the new political possibilities. Should we fail, then we should understand that there are forces of reaction that are ready to act. In Greece the fascists of Golden Dawn will step forward and similar organisations exist and are growing throughout Europe. But this is not their time – and we must work together to ensure that time never comes again. From Left Unity, we pledge our support to our sister party SYRIZA, and to work with the left across Europe, in solidarity to advance this victory and bring it home. In decades to come, let it not be said that we were found wanting at this great moment.
This is a time of opportunity for the left and we should seize it with both hands. The victory of SYRIZA can be, to quote Tsipras, the spark that sets the field of socialism alight. This is our time.
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