Syriza came to power on the back of an impossible pledge – namely, to end austerity whilst keeping Greece within monetary union. The party’s pre-election Thessaloniki Programme promised to write-off most of the country’s €330 billion public debt through a European Conference. They also promised €4 billion in public investment, the creation of 300,000 new jobs and a rebuilding of the welfare state. Politically, Syriza is committed to remaining within European Monetary Union (EMU) in an effort to democratise it. As a heterogeneous organisation with roots in Euro-communism, Syriza wants to move towards socialism through the existing institutions of the European Union. Instead of setting out to smash the capitalist state and exit the euro, they are trying to prise them open from the inside out. This is not an insurrectionary strategy based on mass struggle and workers councils. Rather it is one that emphasises the building of a dominant (hegemonic) block with parliamentarians in the vanguard of the struggle. One of their leading thinkers, Stathis Kouvelakis, recently defined it as “seizing the state from outside and inside, above and below”. Economically, their policies are best described as left-wing Keynesianism. Here the idea is to use the state to engage in public investment projects whilst redistributing resources through progressive taxation. If successful, the results of this process should be twofold. Firstly, the great humanitarian crisis should start to be relieved. Secondly, the economy should be freed from the current spiral of debt and deflation through higher levels of ‘economic demand’. This strategy basically amounts to saving capitalism by ending neoliberalism. In the words of Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, we must remember “capitalism’s inherent failures while trying to save it, for strategic purposes, from itself”.
The problem for Syriza is that none of this is remotely compatible with the intentions of European capitalism. Since the early 1980’s, the European project has been hardwired with neoliberalism to ensure that profits and political power are accumulated by capitalist elites. Syriza may have costed their proposals in line with EU rules, but they are not taking cognisance of the ‘real politik’ of the European project. Even if they wanted to, the European elites could not allow Keynesian expansionary policies. European capital has worked hard to institutionalise neoliberal policy making, with the likelihood of them suddenly changing tack negligible at best. Be-that-as-it-may, the EU elites are actually out to smash their opponents. Syriza’s election represented genuine hope for millions of people across the continent. If they are seen to be successful, the effects on worker’s organisations in other parts of the Eurozone would be transformative. For this reason, the Troika are determined to crush Syriza regardless of the wider effects on Greek society. Focusing on changing the EU from the inside out therefore becomes an extremely dangerous strategy, particularly if Syriza are not mobilising the Greek working classes in sufficient numbers to support them.
What has happened since the election?
From the outset Syriza presupposed that they would be able to negotiate. Specifically, they assumed that support for expansionary policies would be forthcoming in other depressed regions of the Eurozone (France and Italy in particular). Failing this, they believed that the capitalist elite could never afford to let them leave (a so-called Grexit). Unfortunately, the Troika have so far had other ideas. During the first weeks of their tenure, Syriza immediately found themselves on the back foot. First off, the European Central Bank blocked liquidity for the Greek financial system. Thereafter, the Troika strategically withheld €7.2 billion from a previous bailout to force Syriza into another memorandum. Greek capital has also played its part, evacuating billions from the country’s banks, whilst steadfastly refusing to pay their taxes. Safe in the knowledge that the Greek government would soon run out of cash, the Troika have been incredibly aggressive. Meanwhile, Syriza have crossed many of their previously stated ‘red lines’. On February 20 they signed a four month extension of the hated memorandum, effectively relinquishing debt write-down as a policy position. Debt reduction remains an aspiration, but has quietly been dropped as a red line issue. The problem with this is that Greek debt currently stands at a whopping 180% of GDP. Without some way to write this down, Syriza will be forced to implement the austerity they were elected to reverse. Piraeus Port has already been earmarked for privatisation, despite assurances that this would never happen. Syriza have also accepted neoliberal labour market reforms, delayed payments to struggling pensioners and cancelled payments to low paid workers.