Yannis Stouraitis: SYRIZA’s coming and the time to overcome our fears

Nana Isaia, "Two Naked Women" Nana Isaia, "Two Naked Women"
Yannis Stouraitis
SYRIZA’s victory in the recent Greek national election, a historical moment for the Greek Left, was mainly the outcome of a conscious strategic choice. The party’s electoral campaign was built on the achievement of a generous debit-haircut as the only way out of the endless recession for the Greek economy. At the same time, it emphatically rebuffed the need to communicate a thoroughly prepared backup plan of disengagement from the EU (the so-called plan B) in order to employ it as a means of pressure in the negotiations. A leftist argument against this choice claimed that the absence of a plan B would undermine the effort to effectively bargain the desired debit-haircut. If the triumph in the national election fully vindicated the party’s electoral strategy, the currently unravelling negotiations do not preclude the possibility that the latter argument may prove correct.

In this context, two issues need to be raised. The first, concerns right-wing criticism of the new government’s negotiatory strategy stemming from the lines of the opposition parties of New Democracy, PASOK, and To Potami. The second, concerns a marginalized line of reasoning in public discussion, which emerges from the consistent criticism of SYRIZA’s position towards the EU by the anti-capitalist Left (ANTARSYA) and the Greek communist party (KKE). Regarding the first issue, even though the negotiation process is still at the beginning, many from the right-wing block are keen on foreseeing a dead-end and declare that the new government has only two choices: Either to retreat from its initial position – accept a new austerity package from its EU partners – or to lead the country to bankruptcy and the consequent detrimental disengagement from the Union. This political attitude reveals the anxiety caused by SYRIZA’s determined negotiatory practices to those Greek politicians and political analysts who under the rubric “negotiation” mainly understand the obedient acceptance of dictated austerity packages. One needs to ask, however, what could be the expected gains from such an oppositionist strategy at this historical political juncture.

A possible scenario is that the right-wing block is expecting humiliation of the new government after the negotiations – it will finally be compelled to accept a full-scale austerity package. This would then allow them to deconstruct SYRIZA’s symbolic capital and ask for a new general election in a short time. It is, however, questionable that they will be able to succeed in this, considering that public opinion in Greece is highly perceptive and appreciative of SYRIZA’s sincere and determined effort to achieve a new deal with the EU-partners as well as to militate against corruption in the interior. According to an alternative scenario, they hope that the intransigent reaction of the EU will radicalize SYRIZA’s attitude in the course of the negotiations. This would deprive the party of popular support under the threat of an imminent disengagement and cause the government to fall due to immense pressures. Such thinking results from an overconfident political analysis secluding any possibility that the Greek people might dare to support a policy of disengagement under any circumstances.

This brings me to the second of the aforementioned matters. The critical voices of the Greek anti-capitalist Left are for years now raised against a dominant viewpoint which posits that there can be no future for Greece outside the EU. This viewpoint pervades the political imagery of Greek (neo)liberals as well as public discussion. As mentioned above, it was fully endorsed by SYRIZA’s electoral campaign in the effort to seize power – a choice that obviously reinforces the current, shamelessly blackmailing attitude of Brussels. This said one should not lose sight of the fact that, in principle, it is the teleological narrative of neoliberal capitalism’s historical prevalence that determines this blackmailing attitude. This narrative allows no space for utterances that propose a future for debt-ridden countries other than that of austerity policies of full-scale privatization of the public resources – policies leading incrementally to the economic enslavement and pauperization of the working classes as well as to the elimination of small-scale family business.

It is in this context that SYRIZA is now called to undertake the difficult task of verifying the role of contingency in history by subverting the professed teleology of the triumph of reactionary policies in Europe. Whether the Greek leftists can succeed in this task by transforming the EU from within, it remains to be seen. If this proves not to be the case, however, we can still be optimistic that SYRIZA’s victory may become a catalyst for the emergence of a new vision of political action towards the radical democratization of the Greek and perhaps other European societies. Before the coming of the Greek leftists to power, the dominating tyrannical question in the minds of common people in Greece and elsewhere in Europe was whether there could be life outside the EU. Now, the terms of the negotiation process, which unravels in live-stream on their home screens, have already incited many of these people to seriously question whether there can be a future within EU.

This means that an intransigent reaction to SYRIZA’s moderate proposal to pay back the creditors without killing the debtors – a solution for both the Greek and other European countries – may after all expose the EU to the people as a political and economic structure that fully disavows Western Europe’s social-democratic legacy. This is, to my view, SYRIZA’s major achievement. It shows that those pulling the strings in Brussels should not be afraid of what may happen to the EU, if they concede to the moderate plan of the Greek Leftists. Their greatest fear should rather be what may happen to it, if they do not. In other words, their negotiatory strategy should seriously take into account the possibility that a ruthless humiliation of SYRIZA’s social-democratic vision by the negotiations may trigger the end of the common people’s fear.  
Yannis Stouraitis is a full-time researcher and adjunct lecturer at the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Vienna
  • Translated by: Iraklis Oikonomou
  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!