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Could Syriza's Success Mean a New Boldness for the International Left?

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Exit polls just released have Syriza and New Democracy almost neck-and-neck in the Greek elections. Although there is no chance of Syriza achieving clear majority, it will be the most successful showing for a hard-left party (I disregard terms like "extreme-left" or "far-left" as a attempt to try and equate it and the "far-right" as two sides of the same coin) in Europe since Francois Mitterand's socialists came to power in 1981 with the Communists in tow. Syriza's radicalism is not quite the rise to power of revolutionary communism that many commentators (both on the left and the right) would like to make out - as if to prove this, you can read the World Socialist Website whinging about Alexis Tsipras' "right-wing policies" here. The KKE Greek communist party has also refused to cooperate.

A translation of Syriza's policies by a Canadian paper set them as follows:

  • A moratorium on debt servicing.
  • Negotiations for debt cancellation, with provisions for the protection of social insurance funds and small savers.
  • A pan-European tax on wealth, financial transactions, and profits.
  • Nationalization/socialization of banks, and their integration into a public banking system under social and workers' control.
  • Immediate reconstitution of the minimum wage, and reconstitution of real wages within three years.
  • Immediate reconstitution of collective labour agreements.
  • The introduction of direct democracy and institutions of self-management under workers' and social control at all levels.
  • Speeding up the asylum process. Abolition of Dublin II regulations and granting of travel papers to immigrants. Social inclusion of immigrants and equal rights protection
  • Large capitalist property is to be made public and managed democratically along social and ecological criteria. Our strategic aim is socialism with democracy, a system in which all will be entitled to participate in the decision-making process.

Syriza's policies have probably more in common with Michael Foot's Labour party than with Lenin... and for democratic socialists, that's no bad thing. It means that a victory for Syriza will be registered as less a revolutionary cry and more as a sign to other democratic socialists parties who were held hostage by the right since the 1980's that they can be bolder in their approach - particularly if Syriza is seen to be successful.

What we are hopefully seeing here is the final rejection of the neo-liberal consensus that we have maintained since the 1980's. The supposed failure of Keynsianism and the Bretton Woods system in the 1970's was the mandate for introducing the harsh, uber-capitalist policies of Milton Friedman and Friederich Hayek. 2008 should have been the mandate for finally rejecting them - it has only been the fact that power has been so vastly accumulated in the top of society, in a domineering over-class that has used scare-mongering tactics to keep us believing in their self-serving diatribes, that we have stuck with these policies for so long after they almost brought the world economy to the brink of Economic Armaggedon (there's a phrase that's been thrown about a lot today). Now, the left is once again in ascendence, as it was after WW2, and people can again talk about the failure of the free market without being accused of being fantasists or radicals. 19% of men in Greece are unemployed, as are 26% of women. 24% of people are unemployed in Spain. We complain about a mere 8% in this country...these are all figures that trigger the rise of Keynsianism and the policy of full employment in the first place.

Ideas which were once commonplace - which then became radical - may now become commonplace again. Nationalisation could be a word thrown about the place again without it being the other most socially unacceptable "N word" in modern society. In the UK, both Respect and the Green Party have policies of re-nationalising the railways - a move which would lower the burden on those on lower incomes. And of course, the nationalisation of the banks should be brought back on the table - properly, this time. Even Vince Cable has considered the idea of turning RBS into a public investment bank - why not go the whole hog and turn RBS and Lloyds into the kinds of public utilities they're supposed to be, by taking them into full public ownership and control, or mutualisation? Maybe if Syriza manages this, as it claims to want to, it will no longer seem such an out-there idea.

Of course, the paranoid fear which has been instilled in the left since the their supposed failure in the 70's still lingers - which is why the Labour Party is still afraid of being seen as anti-business, distances itself from the trade unions who created it and feel compelled to bring up the "good things" Margaret Thatcher did rather than pointing out her flaws - flaws which have led us to this juncture. This interview with Jon Cruddas, Ed Miliband's new policy chief (and avowed fan of Hugo Chavez) did give a wee spark of hope...

As parties on the centre-left and hard left seem to be gaining ground all over Europe, it looks more and more possible that the solution to the Eurocrisis could eventually be based around a new system of invasive fiscal policy, debt negotation (i.e. cancellation) and new economic consensus which takes power out of the free market and puts it back in the hands of government and the people. A pipe dream, maybe - particularly since the volatility of the international banking, which has incurred a minimum of new regulation in spite of the crisis (although this could be about to change) means that any radical policies would result in capital flight and economic chaos.

Syriza's victory is far from assured - although with Pasok refusing to join any coalition without Syriza, New Democracy will have no chance of a majority either - but as the best showing the left has had in ages, it could be a sign of better things to come.