The age of extremisms
There are some similarities between left wing and right wing extremist movements. They may become clear if Syriza will be able to form a government. The far-left party’s victory in anticipated parliamentary elections on Sunday 25 is almost certain, unless there is a big surprise. This is the forecast of many observers, including the Greek-American Stan Draenos, the political analyst, and biographer of former Socialist premier Andreas Papandreou (1919-96). This, of course, is a vote of protest. Austerity measures imposed by the Troika (ECB, EU and IMF) have not worked for six years of recession. Greece suffered a 25% fall in productivity, and the unemployment level is at 26%. At least 30% of the population lives in misery.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, intends to remain in the Eurozone. However, his Keynesian economic program cannot be implemented "without violating the agreements of economic policies sealed with creditors," says Draenos. He takes into account a European Union, where a free market without any State intervention gets the blessing by the powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Draenos says, however, that he "needs to be convinced that Tsipras is the solution." Here is another obstacle: in case Syriza cannot form a new government within three days, the second most voted party, certainly the conservative New Democracy of the incumbent Premier Antonis Samaras, will attempt to forge another alliance. If the ND also fails, it will then be the turn of the third-most voted party, either the social-democratic To Potam (The River), or the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (Chysí Avgí).
In this context, the "domino effect" will have an impact on left wing and right wing extremists across Europe, notes Draenos. For example, both the National Front and the Left Front support Syriza, in France. A contradiction? No, says FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen. "This is about people fighting against EU’s totalitarianism." For Le Pen, although Syriza wants to keep the euro, the important thing is that they are against EU’s austerity policies.
CartaCapital: What do you make of Tsipras as a politician?
Stan Draenos: Just over 40, the honey-voiced Tsipras is articulate, self-assured, and likeable. But he is not a commanding figure. He has yet to demonstrate to the public his leadership capabilities. His inability or unwillingness to bring into line Syriza’s confrontational and, at heart, euro-skeptical Left Platform party faction raises questions for the undecided voters critical to a convincing Syriza win. With Tsipras unable or unwilling to impose party discipline, many swing voters remain uncertain about what a Syriza government would look like.
CC: What makes Syriza, and not Golden Dawn, the party with higher chances to win the elections?
SD: Golden Dawn’s attachment to violence, now a matter of public record, is repulsive to the vast majority of Greeks. Moreover, with several of its MPs in jail on criminal charges, Golden Dawn had difficulty in mounting an effective election campaign. Its voting support appears to have fallen to its hardcore base of around 5%. For its part, Syriza has roots in the progressive, socialist narrative that emerged with the 1974 fall of the military junta, and it resonates with a far larger audience.
CC: Tsipras says he does not want Greece to leave the Eurozone. However, he wants a different Europe, not one that imposes austerity programs via the Troika. Can Greece keep the euro and at the same time implement Keynesian policies?
SD: Syriza has still not convincingly explained where it will find the funds for the 12 billion euro “end-of-austerity” program it is promising voters. Without a different Europe, Syriza cannot implement fiscally expansive Keynesian policies without violating policies agreed to with Greece’s creditors. But even if it could, Keynesianism in one country is a questionable proposition when it is part of a free-market economic community. As Andreas Papandreou pointed out decades ago, a Keynesian stimulus to consumer demand would likely be absorbed by imports from other countries which produce the goods that Greek consumers want—and which Greece’s economy does not provide. To be effective, Keynesian policies would need to be integral to a European Union-wide program, say, a new Marshall Plan. And nothing like that is in sight as a near-term prospect.
CC: The economist Thomas Piketty, who defends Keynesian policies, said that the problem is not Tsipras but Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
SD: Spain has suffered a much longer period of high unemployment. This phenomenon rightfully remains the most flagrant reminder that the victory of “capitalism” over the “existing socialism” of the Soviet Union (as well as social democracy) has itself failed. Something is wrong with an economic system that cannot provide adequate levels of employment. Piketty may be right that Merkel is the problem, but I have yet to be convinced that Tsipras is the solution. To its credit, however, Syriza has at least managed to start a new conversation.
CC: With which parties could Syriza form an alliance?
SD: It is not a matter of polls, but of political relations among the parties. There is no way Tsipras could collaborate with the Socialist Evangelos Venizelos (PASOK), a person Syriza has demonized, and whom many in the party would like to see in jail. As for Stavros Theodorakis (Potami), he is open to speaking both with Syriza and with New Democracy. However, Theodoraskis would oppose Syriza’s stated positions on the debt as being hazardous to Greece staying in the euro. It is hard to see how Syriza can accept compromising over its strategy regarding Greece’s lenders in order to earn the additional 5-10 seats it may need for a parliamentary majority. Here is what is gaining some interest as possible scenarios. First, without parliamentary majority, Syriza gets the mandate to form a government. It fails. Second scenario: Syriza goes to New Democracy; it fails. Third scenario: Tsipras’ party goes to Potami, which proposes a grand coalition, a unity government. It fails. Fourth scenario: The President of the Republic holds a national council of party heads: Potami’s proposal becomes the basis for a government of national unity. If that does not work, there would be new elections in 30 days. The fact remains that Syriza has been steadily moving away from the possibility of forging alliances. Negotiations for a campaign alliance with the more moderate Democratic Left broke down. Syriza has also rejected allying, post-election, with any parties implicated in the austerity policies of the past six years. Instead, Tsipras has been making symbolic appeals for support from two anti-EU parties, the old-line Communist Party and the far-left Antarsya (Mutiny), largely in hopes of eroding their voting base. Another scenario in play is that advanced by the small, ultra-nationalist rightwing ANEL (Independent Greeks). As Syriza, ANEL was favorable to early elections. The two parties have maintained friendly relations based on their shared opposition to the lender-imposed austerity and reform program. However, ANEL may not gain the necessary 3% of the popular vote to enter Parliament. Faced with the prospect of coming in as first party, but without enough seats to win a vote of confidence, Tsipras is stressing to voters the need to vote for Syriza so as to give it a stand-alone parliamentary majority. To do this, Syriza will need to receive 36% to 38% of the popular vote, thereby winning the 50-seat “bonus” Greece’s electoral law gives to the first party. Recent gains in the polls indicate that this will be difficult, but by no means impossible. We could well end up going into a second round of elections, despite the public’s nearly universal desire to avoid them. The reason? A second round may further wreak havoc on the country’s economy, and its ability to deal with debt obligations looming in July and August.
CC: Do you believe in a domino effect triggered by Syriza in countries such as Spain, where Podemos is ahead in the polls of legislative elections this year, and in other countries with parties such as Front de Gauche in France, Die Link in Germany, etc.?
SD: Certainly, a Syriza victory would serve to rally other European political forces opposed to German-dictated austerity. But it should also be remembered that those forces include right-wing, euro-sceptic ultra-nationalists like Marine Le Pen. To be sure, center-left governments in France and Italy find themselves at odds with Germany over austerity. But they show no signs of standing in solidarity with Syriza’s program, which includes, not only a major debt write-down, but also repeal of public and private sector reforms and a relaxation of fiscal discipline. Tsipras cites a possible Podemos win in the Spanish elections at the end of 2015, as well as a Sinn Fein win in the Republic of Ireland in 2016, as evidence that Europe is changing. But what will happen to Greece in the meantime? Like it or not, Greece has no access to financial markets. It is totally dependent on the Troika lenders, whose program Syriza rejects, to meet its 2015 sovereign debt obligations.
CC: Doesn’t the Tsipras voter differ from Le Pen’s voter?
SD: In Greece, the anti-immigrant vote is largely on the right. The “connection” between Syriza and France’s National Front is the growing public opposition to the European “Establishment,” both due to failed European policies on the economy and on immigration.
CC: You said that center-left European parties such as François Hollande’s Socialist Party and Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party do not approve Syriza’s anti-austerity program. But didn’t these followers of Blair’s “Third Way” not disillusion their voters? What is more, some critics argue that the political party is dead, anyway. They believe in horizontal (direct democracy), not on vertical politics (party politics) as in the times of Papandreou.
SD: Well, the political party may be “spiritually” dead as an adequate vehicle for something we could call democratic political life. However, that is still, formally, how parliamentary democracy operates. Interestingly, Greece’s Potami, criticized by the other parties for not having a clear ideological identity, is exactly an attempt to create a new kind of politics. Potami wishes to transcend somehow the “left-right” political spectrum that has its historical roots in the French Revolution. That is their attraction to voters, despite Potami’s apparent shapelessness. We shall see what new they can introduce into politics as a small party in parliament.