Left in Disarray: Syriza’s Betrayal

The leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, waves to supporters at a rally in Athens, 22 January 22, 2015.

Source: theguardian.com


Syriza’s surrender to the EU magnifies the radical left’s inability to be offer viable alternatives to the neoliberal policies destroying Europe

The Greek government’s absolute capitulation to Angela Merkel and the EU has shocked spectators from all sides of the political spectrum. After five months of negotiation, Greece gave in to draconian austerity measures in order to receive yet another bailout from the EU. The terms of the bailout are the most stringent economic demands ever placed on a country during times of peace. Greece is required to implement further privatization, rampant budget and pension cuts and all legislation passed by the ruling radical-left party Syriza has been revoked, a measure that essentially abolishes Greece’s sovereignty.

After orchestrating a shutdown of Greece’s banking system to force Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ to comply with their demands, Germany and the European Central Bank have ensured that austerity and financial deregulation can continue to destroy what remains of participatory democracy in Europe.  The decisions that will determine the continent’s economic future will continue to be dictated by Germany and implemented in the unaccountable gatherings of the Eurogroup and the European Central Bank. German philosopher Jürgen Habermas declared the bailout to be a “toxic mixture of necessary structural reforms of state and economy with further neoliberal impositions that will completely discourage an exhausted Greek population and kill any impetus to growth”.

Europeans are increasingly sympathetic with leftist causes such as banking regulations, stopping austerity and improving public services. Leftist movements must advocate for practical alternatives to austerity and heed the lessons from Syriza’s failure by actually implementing these alternatives. The troika’s vicious revenge on the Greeks for voting against austerity makes the process of an open and democratic EU look like a distant dream. Germany’s dominance over the monetary union is increasing Euro-skepticism and creating an unbridgeable divide between a fiscally conservative Northern Europe and a crisis-ridden South.

Socialist and liberal parties have gained massive popularity across the continent since the 2008 Financial Crisis. Austerity has hurt the poorest people in the continent and left the banks that caused the economic collapse immune to regulation. Socialist-democratic parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been propelled into the political spotlight because they posit themselves as antagonists to neoliberalism. They are voices of dissent in a continent that, when faced with economic desperation, saw austerity as the only path out of the financial crisis. Additionally, these leftist parties emphasize citizen engagement and grassroots organizing. As a consequence, they have tapped into the frustration of millions of Europeans who have endured economic exploitation under austerity.

Nonetheless, these leftist movements have been unable to turn their popular support into the practical implementation of an alternative political and economic system. They are able to bash Merkel’s neoliberalism with megaphones and rousing speeches, but when backed into a corner and forced to turn their liberal ideals into reality, their rhetoric turns into a receding whimper.

The Futility of Popular Demand

Syriza went against the will of its own citizens by accepting the troika’s bailout offer. On June 27, Tsipras called for a referendum on the latest ‘rescue package’ offered by the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. This dramatic measure appeared to be the latest calculated step that would force the troika to accept that austerity was no longer a possibility in Greece. By taking the offer away from the negotiation tables in Brussels and into Greece’s ballot boxes, Tsipras let the people voice their opinion over their own future.

On July 5, Greeks rejected the bailout offer and provided Tsipras with the political leverage he craved. 61% of voters signaled that further austerity would only serve to exacerbate the country’s economic crisis. Syriza’s opposition to the bailout deal had been legitimized by the will of the Greek populace. Meanwhile, the ECB maintained bank closures in place, punishing the Greeks for their democratic expression.

However, Tsipras and his negotiating team accepted a bailout deal that was exceedingly harsher than the one set out in the referendum only a week after his triumph in the referendum. Bank closures imposed by the ECB to choke the economy forced the government to institute capital controls. Syriza was helpless as Greece defaulted on its debts and the country descended into a seemingly irreversible crisis. The decision to hold a referendum in the midst of debt default and capital control proved to be political suicide. Tsipras’ opposition to austerity gained further strength but only served to infuriate the troika.  As the Greeks rejected the bailout offer, Merkel and the EU enforced their dominance over Europe with a punitive bailout that imposes further austerity and destroys Greece’s sovereignty.

Throughout the last five months, Greece had used the possibility of a Grexit to demand compromises from its creditors. Shockingly, plans for leaving the Euro were never actually considered by the Syriza even as the referendum results proved that the Greek people were prepared for a radical solution to the debt crisis. Despite an electoral mandate and support from anti-austerity sympathizers around the world, Tsipras choked at the pivotal moment. His government’s acceptance of everything it stood against demonstrated that Syriza’s radical credentials are generous at best.

Crucially, his surrender to Merkel and the troika explicitly went against the wishes of the Greek people. The referendum which was meant to herald a shift in the austerity debate was rendered insignificant only days after it took place. Syriza now finds itself in the same role as its predecessors in ignoring the misery of its citizens while bowing unconditionally to its creditors.

Beyond a Rock and a Hard Place

The “no” vote vindicated the European Left’s opposition against Germany’s neoliberal dogma. It proved that Greeks, like many Spaniards, Portuguese and Italians, had had enough of privatization, higher taxes, diminishing pensions funds and public sector cuts. Merkel’s economic agenda for Europe has been incapable of stabilizing the continent’s economy. Instead, it has empowered ultranationalist and neo-Nazi political sentiment while leaving financial markets free to reign in profits at any means necessary.

Ultimately, Tsipras and his government attempted to achieve two objectives that were ultimately irreconcilable, achieving an equitable solution to the debt crisis and keeping Greece in the Euro. He went against his campaign promises because he was unwilling to implement truly radical and transformative change. No contingent plan was ever in place for a Grexit, forcing Tsipras to suffer “mental waterboarding” at the hands of Merkel and the Eurogroup. He was incapable of standing firm even as his citizens backed him to resist the creditors’ oppressive demands.

A democratic solution within the Eurozone proved to be impossible. The absurdity of the creditors’ demands was acknowledged even by the IMF, which conceded that economic growth would only be possible if debt relief was imposed. Inevitably, the will of the Eurozone to humiliate a left-wing government was too strong to oppose. A compromise with Greece would have further incentivized anti-austerity movements across the continent and would have brought German dominance over Europe to an end.

Syriza’s rise to power opened the doors for leftist movements to re-enter mainstream politics in Europe. Their popularity, along with Podemos in Spain, heralds a new opportunity for anti-austerity movements to be at the forefront of the creation of a less unequal, more democratic Europe. However, the troika’s punitive stance towards Greek democratic expression makes it difficult to foresee this ‘perestroika’ occurring within the parameters of the EU.

Syriza and Podemos have already taken significant strides to propel the political left into modernity. They have transformed socialist rhetoric, aligning it not only to the working class, but also to the middle class that was and continues to be damaged by the systematic inequality brought on by neoliberalism in Europe. Socialist and liberals are still demonized by conservative elements that dominate European politics, but they are finding support amongst citizens who do not relate to or engage with their political representatives.

Nevertheless, if the Left wants to capitalize on the rising public support towards their movements, they must turn away from Syriza’s persistent political errors. At a time of crisis, Europe requires a variety of policy initiatives from all sides of the political spectrum. Only then can it ensure participatory democracy among its union’s member states. Decrying a passionate rallying cry against the injustices of austerity is insufficient; if the Left wants to survive, it must act according to its principles.


Gabriel Funari

Gabriel Funari

Associate Editor, Latin America at InPRA
Gabriel Funari  is a Brazilian by birth and an internationalist by circumstance. He has lived in the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany and the UK prior to attaining an International Studies degree at American University in Washington, DC. Passionate about Brazilian politics, Latin American regional integration, New Left movements and post-colonialism, he aspires to challenge conventional narratives surrounding international politics and seeks to contribute to the crucial issues of our times through vibrant dialogue and debate.
Gabriel Funari

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