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Syriza’s Greece: From a New Social Deal to an Updated Version of the Economics of Social Disaster

Syriza’s swift failure to rid Greece of the eurozone’s harsh austerity measures makes it harder for progressives across Europe.

Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza's strategy to get Europe's policy toward Greece changed has ended in fiasco. (Photo: Ververidis Vasilis /

Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza’s strategy to change the eurozone’s policy of forcing austerity on Greece has ended in fiasco, making it harder for progressive forces across Europe to convince voters that they can stand up to the neoliberal onslaught.

In Greek mythology, Cronus devoured all his children because of a prophecy that he would be overthrown by one of his own children. In contemporary Greece, it is the political elite that devours the children of its nation by robbing them of any hope of improving their lot.

A month after the last general election, it is now the turn of Syriza’s political leaders to break their promises – following the pattern of every other government that has ruled a nation of 11 million gullible people in the last half century – and destroy a society’s hopes and dreams for a brighter tomorrow.

For the uninitiated into the Greek debt drama of the past five years, Syriza came to power on January 25, 2015, on pledges to put an end to the era of austerity and the hardships that befell the majority of the nation’s people following the European Union (EU)/International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program that went into effect when Greece reached the verge of bankruptcy in early 2010, as a result of too much accumulated debt and unsustainable deficits in a foreign currency (i.e., the euro).

All previous governments up to the elections of January 2015 followed the diktats of the country’s foreign lenders, enforcing brutal austerity measures and extreme fiscal consolidation to reduce public expenditures and produce a primary fiscal surplus so the servicing of debt would be ensured. Wages, salaries and pensions were slashed by as much as 40 percent; public services and social programs were stripped to their bare bones, which included hospitals running without adequate equipment and medicine and schools functioning without heating oil in the winter months, unemployment shot through the roof (currently standing at nearly 26 percent, and over 50 percent for those 15-24 years old), poverty became a reality for one out of three people, and suicides became endemic in the early years of the crisis.

The EU/IMF duo kept lending money to the Greek governments (some 237 billion euros) so old debts could be repaid, debts that were accumulated by the political elite to keep a bubble economy going and by the oligarchs, who took out huge loans and siphoned the money out of Greece into tax havens and threatened to declare bankruptcy afterwards.

The notion that the working people of Greece somehow benefitted from that heavy government borrowing is one of the primary lies that was spread around the country by the political class itself to make average citizens feel guilty and surrender to the antisocial policies that were being implemented as part of the bailout agreement. By the same token, none of the loans provided by the EU/IMF duo were used in any form or shape to address the hardships experienced by the Greek people as a result of the draconian austerity measures.

However, the debt and the bailout loans were used by the EU authorities to run a wild social and economic experiment: turning Greece into a neoliberal laboratory and depriving the nation of all its public assets. Since the bailout agreement went into effect, labor laws vanished, allowing the capitalist class to pump to extreme levels the rate of exploitation, and all of Greece’s public assets were privatized at fire sale prices.

The only political organizations that challenged the barbaric policies of Greece’s international creditors were the Greek Communist Party, the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn and Syriza, formally known as the Coalition of the Radical Left. While lacking for much of its history a consistent ideology and a vision for social change, Syriza’s appeal among the masses began to grow after 2012 because the other political alternatives were seen as far too extremist.

Indeed, in an attempt to appeal to many different groups, Syriza’s leadership adopted a rather moderate stance on economic issues and used a political rhetoric that revolved around national pride and honor rather than the language of class politics. It opened its arms to people of different ideological orientations and built bridges with the banking and corporate community. It adopted a conciliatory stance toward the European Union and its institutions and attacked austerity as merely an irrational policy.

Indeed, Syriza’s leadership is surrounded by people who are ideologically much closer to the tradition of social democracy than that of radical political economy. The majority are academics who are completely divorced from mass struggles, such as the current Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose main form of social activism is confined to the art of blogging. In contract, much of Syriza’s base consists of activists and radicals.

In challenging the EU-imposed austerity on Greece, Syriza’s leadership did not question EU institutions or Greece staying in the euro. In contrast, it spoke of the need to provide support for a common European house, claiming that its moral and economic case against Greece’s economic catastrophe will shift the balance of forces inside Europe to its side, opening up opportunities for a change in Europe’s political economy that would in turn help to change Greece itself.

Nevertheless, Syriza’s leader did not hesitate to promise Greek voters that austerity and the bailout program would come to an end on the very same day Syriza came to power. Alexis Tsipras promised that he would secure a write-off of at least a significant part of Greece’s debt (although he no longer treated it as odious) and would reverse the bulk of the neoliberal reforms under way, including privatization. He also vowed to immediately increase the minimum monthly wage to pre-crisis levels and take direct measures to address the worse aspects of the crisis. And he would do all those things while keeping Greece in the eurozone.

Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza’s strategy to get Europe’s policy toward Greece changed has ended in fiasco. Not only has Syriza’s “new social deal for a new Greece” project been torn into pieces by eurozone’s neoliberal rulers, but Greece’s Syriza government has been forced to accept a four-month extension of the bailout agreement to secure additional funds. In so doing, it promised that Greece will fulfill all its running obligations with the international creditors (hence forget all talk about a debt write-off) and will carry out “a broader and deeper structural reform process” (hence forget all talk about the end of austerity and neoliberalism).

In a seven-page document that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis submitted a couple of days ago to the president of the eurogroup, following the extension of the bailout plan at the eurogroup meeting of February 20, the Syriza government promises to remain faithful to the EU-imposed fiscal discipline on Greece, not to reverse any privatization projects already completed, and to respect those already underway. And as the icing on the cake, it vows that any consideration for an increase in the minimum wage will be done after consultation with the euro masters.

It usually takes some time before governments renege on promises made during the campaign, but it took less than one month for Greece’s Syriza government to do so. Worse, the quick capitulation was made by an alleged party of the Radical Left, which means that the political future of the Greek left is anything but rosy. In fact, Syriza’s capitulation has had adverse effects across Europe as progressive forces everywhere will be hard pressed to convince voters that they can stand up to the neoliberal onslaught when Greece’s own Radical Left party folded under pressure like a cheap suit.

The radicals inside Syriza are already gearing up for a confrontation with the government and the party’s leadership, but one has to wonder if the course of events can be altered. Syriza’s leadership and the great majority of Greek people are committed to the euro, so hope may have to wait for yet another election.

In the meantime, the political elite will continue to devour the nation’s children, destroying their hopes for a better future with lies and deception.

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