by David Peel
The neoliberal strategy of austerity has suffered its first serious reverse in the election of Syriza to power in Greece. However, the euphoria at that victory on the Left has been strangely muted, almost as if, like the Greeks, we cannot bring ourselves to believe it.
Perhaps we have felt this to be a peculiarly Greek phenomenon, even a Southern European thing. After all, Podemos in Spain seems to be heading in the same direction. Even the doyen of late capitalism, Alan Greenspan, has made similar recent observations. Alongside his prediction of the death of the Euro, he noted it could never work without European political harmonisation. And this he thought inconceivable, because of the differences between Northern and Southern peoples and states.
Our reaction might also have been muted here in Britain, because of our own coming general election, where not for the first time, politics watchers are convinced no political party will win outright and that we face unstable coalition, and possibly even a second general election.
As I write the betting is on a Labour-led government, with Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru as partners. The partners, if they stick to their anti-austerity principles, may temper Labour’s furious, aggressive and passionate belief in austerity. They will not stop it. In any face-off with Labour and its brutal manipulative spin machine, one or more of the partners may blink and go for ‘some’ cuts, not ‘no’ cuts. You can imagine the pressure. Here in Norfolk, at the county council to narrow the focus further, Labour has been running an austerity budget in an unspoken, largely unexamined and unique ‘rainbow alliance’ with UKIP.
It means anything can happen after May.
In Greece, the first shock to all in the anti-austerity movement was Syriza’s decision to go into coalition with the anti-immigrant and nationalist Independent Greeks. On the Left, there was a sharp intake of breath. Subsequently, and in meetings in Norwich, UK Syriza representative, Marina Prentoulis, reserved her special condemnation for the KKE, or Communist Party of Greece, which she furiously denounced for its socialist purism in not entering a coalition with Syriza.
Of course she is right, but I think there is just as much antipathy for the KKE in Syriza, and that might have coloured the negotiations. What I am saying is that a coalition deal could and should have been brokered, but both sides had their reservations. What I am also saying is that the British Labour Party’s hunger for power and power for its own sake — because unlike Syriza, it has little to offer the suffering millions in this country — means we could see coalition shocks here too. Hell, if Labour and UKIP can climb into bed at Norfolk County Council, it will do it with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
The Right in Greece, like the Right in Britain, share many objectives and ideas. They both believe that Europe is a problem, and nationalism is the answer. Both are unashamedly patriotic, both stand for Christian family values, both oppose immigration and in particular multi culturalism. There are differences of course, but both are also patient. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP is looking for a foothold in Government. Panos Kammenos, former shipping minister, and leader of the Independent Greeks has found one, courtesy of a coalition of the radical Left. Anything is possible.
The Right sees the road to power as a staged process. In Greece, that means when all centrist responses to the capitalist crisis have been found wanting, the next most apparent and compelling response is from the Left, in this case, Syriza. If Syriza fails, and the Right believes it will, then the Greek people may turn in frustration and despair to the Right, with the Independent Greeks forming a bridge to a new government following a new election, this time embracing the unthinkable, Golden Dawn.
In many ways, the victory of Syriza has masked the fortunes of Golden Dawn.
It came third in the Greek elections with 17 seats in Parliament. Strong in Athens and the south, this is a Party which lost out to Syriza and the Independent Greeks because while they kept their unwavering focus on the austerity crippling their country, Golden Dawn did not. Golden Dawn however is strong on the ground in impoverished communities and even among elderly Greeks who remember the Second World War. It is watching and waiting, believing Syriza will not deliver in these communities, and further, will be forced into inevitable retreats and compromises, faced with an intransigent EU.
The anger at there being no tangible immediate improvement in millions of impoverished people’s lives, and the fury at a compromise which the Right will portray compellingly as a national humiliation and grotesque betrayal, could fire the starting gun on a new insurgency in the streets, from the Right, and a state of civil war.
The looming threat of prison for Golden Dawn’s leaders is not a threat at all, it is a gift. The Right will need outside help, and will get it. There is no doubt the United States and its puppet EU governments are looking on Greece and Syriza and the effect they are having on the stumbling European capitalist economy, with grave concern. This is a country with a history of military intervention in politics. The Right remains very strong in the armed forces, the security services and police. Neo-con hawks believe Greece is ripe for further destabilisation, from the Right. Ukraine’s collapse and turn to the Right is a model.
Austerity is the crisis of capitalism. It is more fundamental than any crisis we have suffered since the 1930s, and it is very much like the 1930s. All of us on the Left must unite, and build our forces because the lessons of history are stark. If we do not, then fascism may triumph, and with it will come not just civil war, but world war.