Now that Syriza has prevailed in the Greek elections, a new field of battle has emerged: the political maneuvering before debt-relief negotiations. Syriza’s decisive victory is sending some richly deserved shock waves through the citadels of finance capital and their partners in government, especially in Europe.
Not since the 2008 financial crisis have neoliberal policies and politicians suffered such a stinging public rebuke – through democratic elections, no less. The financial establishment and leading politicians around the world want nothing more than to staunch the damage. They clearly wish to isolate the new prime minister and undermine his party’s leadership. They would also love to kill in the cradle many socially minded initiatives that Syriza plans (protections against home foreclosures, restoration of pensions, basic healthcare, etc.).
Hence the fierce media propaganda war now underway to defame Syriza and lock in a negative set of images and ideas about it. I keep hearing the term “radical left” a lot (funny, the press never called austerity politics a program of the “radical right”). British Prime Minister David Cameron recently warned, “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainty across Europe” – as if that hasn’t been the case for years.
There are also many attacks on the coalition government as unprincipled and expedient, particularly after Syriza made a coalition government with ANEL (a conservative party whose acronym translates as “independent Greeks”). ANEL is socially conservative but it is also extremely hostile to big capital and the current banking system. It is more radical than Syriza in that it wants to nationalize banks and throw out the Greek oligarchy.
I thought it was telling, in its account of the elections, that the New York Times gave the last word to the neoliberal Peterson Institute for International Economics. A fellow there counseled Greece to move to the political center because “it would show that these protest movements ultimately recognize reality – which is that they are in the euro, and they have to play by the rules.” Otherwise, he warned, “things could get a lot worse. Very, very quickly.”
“Play by the rules,” “face reality” – or things will get “a lot worse.” Worse than the slow-motion social disintegration that austerity is already imposing on the Greeks? Such advice is darkly humorous in light of the rule-breaking, reality-defying audacity of banks, financial institutions and investors.