Left strategy in the Greek cauldron: explaining Syriza’s success

Michalis Spourdalakis


Fear and hope were the two dominant sentiments generated by the unprecedented recent electoral advances of the radical political coalition of the Greek left, Syriza. On the one hand there was fear of the established hierarchies of capital, the profit-making forces within Greece and abroad, as well as of important geopolitical interests. It was a fear that became more explicit after the May 2012 election (when Syriza had already tripled its vote to 16.9 per cent from 4.6 per cent in 2009), when the prospect of winning the June election seemed quite realistically to be around the corner. It was then that the international institutions displayed their concerns and fears about the rise of the left to power. This could be seen in their hinting at certain concessions with regard to Syriza’s programmatic claims while at the same time waging a cheap propaganda war that intervened directly in the electoral campaign, alongside a degree of scaremongering by domestic business, intellectual and media elites that appeared to be inspired by the darkest sides of McCarthyism. The hope Syriza’s advances inspired, however, in good part counterbalanced all this. Against the backdrop of the ongoing dramatic consequences of the austerity policies, with new social calamities a daily experience, Syriza appeared more and more to be the only viable hope for an alternative way out of crisis. In fact, given that part of Syriza’s plan was based on challenging both the predominance of neoliberalism and the democratic deficit in the European institutions, this feeling of hope spread among progressive forces on the continent, and beyond.

The goal of this essay is to contribute to a better understanding of Syriza so its experience may constitute a fruitful as well as inspiring case from which to draw lessons for socialist strategy today. To this end, after some general comments on the latter I will turn to the Greek case, beginning with the left’s evolution after the fall of the Junta in 1974, and especially its development since the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ in 1989. I will then try to show why Syriza’s strategy was so successful as compared with other parts of the left movement, attempting to point out the characteristics of its strategy that may help overcome long-lasting disputes on the left and/or discover ways out of the impasse that the current crisis has imposed upon us. I will conclude with an outline of the challenges faced by Syriza, and more generally by the radical left in Greece in the current conjuncture, which are in fact similar to those faced by socialists worldwide.

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