your posts

Some Notes on Syriza

By Dimitra Kotouza, 5 February 2015
Image: Varied crowd at the Syntagma Square occupation / demonstration, June 2011. Banner reads: 'everyone united never defeated'

Five notes towards averting the most ideologically polarised reactions to Syriza’s victory in Greece (mostly for those not from Greece)


1) Syriza did not win because of Tsipras’ ‘charisma’ or thanks to their winning populist political discourse. They also did not win as part of a surge in social struggles.

Tsipras is not a particularly rousing speaker, nor are most of the leading members of Syriza. Syriza is also not a ‘mass party’ akin to what PASOK had been in the 1980s.

Syriza did not win as an outcome of supporting successful and powerful movements, but as an outcome of the weakness of those movements, for which it is not responsible. The movements were not weakened by Syriza’s recuperation. The reasons for their weakness should be sought in the character of the movements themselves, which reflect the forms that the capitalist crisis has taken in Greece.

During the entire period when there was any resistance to the restructuring, it consisted of interclass, internally contradictory movements, with strong democratic demands and citizenist and nationalist tendencies, alongside weak labour struggles. These movements were ambivalent between addressing themselves to an inflexible state and developing forms of economic self-organisation, mostly for subsistence. Riots broke out alongside these movements, in support of and in contradiction to them, but not independently as in December 2008.

These were followed by the total sense of defeat after the 2012 elections. The New Democracy (ND)/PASOK government unleashed intense legal and extra-legal repression on anyone who tried to mobilise, and very violent, lethal attacks on immigrants (with Golden Dawn’s help). ND for a while was triumphally preaching that the old 'hegemony of the left' (referring to the strikes, occupations and riots that had been 'allowed' to take place over the past 30 years) was over. 1 But everyday life continued to worsen, and there was a backlash to all this, which could only be expressed via the elections.

Syriza has been very active in the movement of the squares as well as in those neighbourhood assemblies that were its offshoots. Its role in those assemblies was to run the campaign against the property tax in electricity bills, 2 organise mobilisations against privatisations, and set up some soup kitchens. But in reality the neighbourhood assemblies were in their high point in Autumn 2011, and already by mid-2012 they were declining. Syriza has also supported the anti-mining movement in Chalkidiki, 3 the ERT (public broadcaster) occupations, 4 and lots of other local campaigns, but it would be a mistake to think that Syriza led those campaigns, or that it won the elections because these movements were getting stronger. The opposite is the case. Syriza continued to gain strength as both the ‘insurrectionary’ and the demand-based ‘reformist’ strands of these campaigns had lost most of their energy. It represented a hope in the possibility that things may get a bit less severe.

Syriza's anti-austerity discourse is far less radical than the discourse of PASOK in the 1970s and ’80s, which was about the self-management of production and the socialisation of industries. Syriza supported self-managed initiatives like BIO.ME but did not actively promote a programme of nationalisation or self-management in these elections. This should be understood historically, not in terms of a deficit in ‘radicality’. In the late 1970s there was a strong grassroots workers’ movement in factories. Today there is nothing of the sort.

Despite Syriza’s unradical proposals, even much of the anarchist-antiauthoritarian milieu have voted for them. This represented a wish for some breathing space, for getting the far-right out of power and for a better treatment for anarchist prisoners (however ‘reformist’ this may sound, and hence formally inadmissible) during a low point for struggles and in a context of high levels of police repression. On the basis of human rights discourse, Syriza have campaigned for immigrants’ and prisoners’ rights, 5 and in support of Romanos' hunger strike. 6 Lawyers who are Syriza members have often defended anarchists in court. 7

Most of those who may have voted for Syriza are worried, not naïvely celebrating. Most suspect that things will not get that much better and that there is a high chance of a compromise or a disaster. But they also despise the politicians who have now lost power. They have been hearing about this impending disaster as a justification for the radical devaluation of labour and life continually over the past 5 years.


2) The ‘petit-bourgeois’ vote of Syriza must not be overestimated.

When reading class analyses by Greek academics, it is worth keeping in mind that the dominant theory of class in Greek left academia is Poulantzian (deriving from the theories of Greek Marxist Nicos Poulantzas), and defines the ‘petite-bougeoisie’ very broadly.

Here is an analysis of voter socioeconomic background and voter movement in the last elections. (Published on 1 February 2015, data provided by Kapa Research for the newspaper To Vima.) 8

What is notable from these statistics is that Syriza had its highest percentages among the unemployed, its lowest among business owners, and attracted voters from all of the other parties. These differences, however, are small. The relationship between social and ideological positions is not a simple or unmediated one.




3) Syriza did not collaborate with the right out of mere choice

Or rather, this was a limited choice that seems to have corresponded to their programmatic priority, which was to take a strong stance against the austerity imposed as part of the bailout agreement, and to demand the restructuring of debt.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was the only other left party who had any seats in parliament (PASOK and George Papandreou’s parties obviously do not count). The Stalinist tradition of this party has meant that they have never collaborated with any other left organisation since their ‘purified’ formation in 1990. They hardly ever even join mass demonstrations, preferring to hold their own rallies in separate locations. KKE has historically rejected Greece’s participation in the EEC/EU and it treats Syriza as a major enemy. It would have never formed a coalition with it.

To Potami may have seemed like another possibility. This is a new moderate liberal party which is against corruption and promotes ‘strengthening laws and institutions’, accountability, meritocracy, opportunities for private entrepreneurship, reconnection of university education with the needs of business, social enterprise, and social welfare 'with budgetary responsibility': certainly not left-leaning, but close to Syriza in terms of things like secularism. However, To Potami has been opposed to Syriza’s declaration that they would not comply with the bailout’s ‘national commitments’. Before the elections, To Potami left open the possibility that they could join a coalition with ND and PASOK, which ANEL unequiveocally refused. To Potami is also ambivalent towards gold mining in Chalkidiki, which both Syriza and ANEL have strongly opposed. Finally, ANEL and To Potami have both declared that they would never collaborate with each other in the same coalition government.

4) The Independent Greeks is an anti-austerity offshoot of New Democracy

The Independent Greeks (ANEL, ‘Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες’) is a right-wing nationalist anti-austerity party. Their party senior membership mostly consists of ND defectors, who seceded when ND began to support the bailout agreements. However, the tendency currently dominant in ND is also far right, in some cases not so far removed from Golden Dawn in terms of lineage. ANEL are part of the broader rightward shift of the Greek right. Anyone familiar with the reputation of its leader, Kammenos, would diagnose his move to set up a new party as opportunistic rather than ideological.

In 2012, ANEL took a hardline stance on immigration, but they seem to have toned it down as they discovered their inability to differentiate themselves from ND and GD, and as their potential collaboration with Syriza started to become a real prospect. Since then, ANEL have been less vocal on immigration than on austerity and national sovereignty. It is hard to find much concerning immigration in their recent programme. They have an anti-imperialist semi-conspiratorial discourse, which they try to officially distinguish from antisemitism, paying respect to holocaust victims on their front page, which of course may not mean much. This discourse is similar to, and has probably been inspired by, that of the conservative section of the movement of the squares.

Kammenos made the following pre-election statements with regard to the lines the party would draw on immigration in a coalition with Syriza, trying to appear slightly more moderate than ND and GD, while still making the point that immigrants must go:

Regarding illegal immigration, [Kammenos] stated that during his term as Maritime minister not a single life had been lost, adding that the life of a human being ‘is equally important, regardless of who this person is’ and emphasising that ‘illegal immigrants must be given, without violence, and without an attitude in the style of Voridis [far-right New Democracy MP] and Golden Dawn, the option of moving elsewhere where they can live; here—this is not possible.’

He emphasised that international law should be enforced, and Turkey should accept them back, ‘or Dublin II should be abolished; we should give papers to immigrants so that they can go to Western Europe.’ 9

ANEL will probably become more vocal on immigration if and when Syriza tries to pass any legislation on immigrants’ rights and citizenship, which they may avoid doing for this reason. It will be difficult for immigrants to benefit from this new government, although immigrants in detention camps are known to have celebrated Syriza's victory.

While Syriza cannot so easily be said to have collaborated with 'fascists', they have collaborated with a nationalist, traditionalist right-wing party which has equated the bailout with a loss of sovereignty. On this last point, the great majority of the Greek left agrees, because they are nationalists too. For a sufficient critique of nationalism, in this case, however, one has to also take into account the lineage and differences between left (anti-fascist / anti-imperialist / secularist) nationalism and right-wing (anti-communist / traditionalist / religious) nationalism in Greece. Their coming together under this government has a precedent: the movement of the squares.

5) Syriza is another manager of capitalist reproduction

This is a critique often voiced by anarchists and the ultra-left. But is it not obvious? The question is the organic link between the logic of the movements themselves and this outcome. Was there a potential for anything else, and, if it existed, how was it thwarted? Suggesting that movements declined because they were duped by populist charismatic leaders and promises of a social democratic paradise is too simple an explanation.


Dimitra Kotouza is a researcher on crisis and movements in Greece and a member of the Mute editorial collective.



1 For a brief, descriptive leftist account see Andreas Karitzis, ‘Moments of the political strategy of the “Third Memorandum” government of Greece’.

2 'Greeks take a stand against unpopular property tax', BBC News, 22 December 2011.

3 Deepa Babington and Lefteris Papadimas, 'Insight: Gold mine stirs hope and anger in shattered Greece', Reuters, 13 January 2014.

4 Elinda Labropoulou, 'Greek riot police storm headquarters of former public broadcaster ERT', CNN, 7 November 2013.

5 'Who was Shehzad Luqman' (translation), Eleftherotypia, 18 January 2013.

6 Helena Smith, 'Jailed Greek student Nikos Romanos’s family fear son will be "martyr"', The Observer, 6 December 2014.

7 Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis, 'Comment is Free: In Greece, things move fast – except justice for Kostas Sakkas', The Guardian, 4 July 2013.

8 Lambros Stavropoulos, 'Who made Syriza's victory' To Vima, 2 February 2015 [in Greek].

9ANEL: We will enter parliament – Lines drawn in a coalition with Syriza’, To Vima, 21 January 2015 [In Greek].