The election of Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece, expected though it was, has sent shock waves through those states now imposing austerity upon their populations. With the newly-formed Podemos party bursting onto the scene in Spain too, resistance to austerity is beginning to take tangible political form in parts of Europe. It is important, however, to remember two things.
Firstly, it was mass struggle and resistance that created the conditions for the emergence of these parties - street protests, occupations and general strikes in Greece, and the indignados and their occupation of the squares in Spain. Consequently, nothing would be worse for the Greek masses than to believe that as Syriza is 'their party", strikes and street protests should be put on hold. Syriza came to government on the back of these struggles and it will be the movement against austerity that will drive Syriza forward, simultaneously showing the forces of the right that the party retains mass support. It will be up to those smaller parties - like Antarsya - and trade unions to the left of Syriza to give a lead to the most militant.
Second, the battle against austerity has to be simultaneously a fight against racism and anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant scapegoating. In countries where the left has not taken up this work, or even worse, made concessions to Islamophobia, as in France, the far right Front National makes gains. Anti-Muslim, anti-immigration movement PEGIDA in Germany and the still threatening Golden Dawn in Greece, plus fascist demonstrations in the Ukraine, show that the far right remains a clear and present danger. If the fascists and racist anti-immigrant parties like UKIP in Britain succeed in persuading workers that foreigners, immigrants and Muslims are to blame for their suffering, rather than the bankers, the bosses and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the same game of divide and rule will demobilise workers and blunt their ability to resist.
This necessity to combine these struggles makes Syriza's coalition with the Independent Greeks, ANEL, all the more problematic. ANEL is a nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-German party. It is on the right on all the social questions, from immigration to LGBT rights. It has been compared to UKIP, although there are important differences. It was formed out of a split from the Tory New Democracy on an anti-memorandum basis - opposition to the Memorandum of Understanding, the contract which binds Greece and other countries into the bailout packages and cuts in public spending enforced by the Troika - the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. Crucially for Syriza is ANEL's opposition to the Memorandum and to the austerity packages. Other parties like To Potami and Pasok would weaken the anti-memorandum position, and the Greek Communist Party the KKE has adopted a crazily sectarian position of refusing to negotiate with Syriza. So by a coalition with ANEL, Syriza secures an anti-austerity, anti-memorandum position, even if ANEL is led by bigots, homophobes and anti-Semites.
True, Syriza could have formed a minority government, but, as Kevin Ovenden points out in his report on the election, that would have meant being clear that the strategy was to use all points of strength of the left, both inside and outside parliament, to fight the right, the oligarchs and the Troika. It would have been perfectly possible constitutionally & politically to operate as a minority government on a bill-by-bill basis, challenging the minor parties to vote against the government and thereby putting them under enormous pressure. In fact, with ANEL in the coalition, Syriza will probably have to do just that anyway, if it wishes to propose decent measures on migrants, racism, police brutality, LGBT rights etc
To understand Syriza's lining up with ANEL, we have to look at the Eurocommunist politics of Syriza's leadership. The precursor of Syriza, Synapismos, emerged in the late 80s as a coalition, with the two Greek communist parties, the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Greek Left, the successor to the eurocommunist Communist Party of Greece (interior), as its largest constituents. As the USSR disintegrated, the KKE suffered splits and purges and left the coalition. After that, in 1991, the other parties in the coalition and the renewing part of KKE decided to convert the alliance into a political party, which had varying degrees of success. In the legislative elections of 2004, Synapismos and the smaller parties formed the Syriza alliance.
In a wider context, Eurocommunism symbolised the retreat of communist parties from revolutionary politics, and away from ideas of international revolution. This included a greater emphasis on the notion of 'socialism in one country' and ideas of a cross-class 'national interest'. Some Greek activists have argued that Syriza would, even if it had a majority, have sought a coalition with ANEL, since the leadership has a long term project to win over the anti-austerity right in an attempt to unite the 'nation'. This is a move away from class politics, away from the identification of the battle against austerity with working class struggle. Real class divisions are dissolved in the idea that governments rule in some mythical 'national interest', rather than being the organising committees of the ruling class. At some point, as Syriza attempts to represent the interests of workers and the poor, these contradictions will become apparent. The real problem about having a coalition with ANEL is that, as has been said, the struggle against racist scapegoating is an integral part of the movement against austerity. Syriza may well find itself in conflict with its erstwhile partners in government sooner rather than later.
None of this, however, is meant to detract from Syriza's massive achievement. For the first time possibly ever, a coalition of the hard left has been elected in Europe, after mass struggles brought down the existing government. This is a great step forward in the battle against austerity, although far from marking the end of anything, it marks the beginning in Europe of a new phase of struggle on a higher level. Capitalism's usual method of dealing with left reformist governments is to attempt to co-opt them, &, if that fails, to economically mug them by investment strikes, capital flight & in this case the IMF sucking all the money out of the economy. To which the answer has to be: I thought they'd done that already. As a last resort, there is always the military option, regarding which the Greek state has form. Tsipras was born three days after the bringing down of the Greek military junta that had lasted from 1967 - 1974.
Socialists discovered after the Russian Revolution of 1917 that you cannot have socialism just in one country, and it's the same here. Without the spreading of the struggle against austerity to other European countries, and the emergence of mass movements that can propel other radical socialist governments into power (or should I say 'office'), the tasks facing a Syriza government will be made all the harder. As has been mentioned, the phenomenal growth of Podemos in Spain is hugely encouraging, and the 'hollowing out' of the major political parties across Europe opens up opportunities for smaller parties. This can benefit the left, as we see in Spain, Greece, Ireland and elsewhere, or the right, as the FN in France, or UKIP in Britain. Even here in Britain we can see the possibility of the emergence of an anti-austerity alliance between the Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the Greens. What is urgently required here is a credible socialist formation which can contest elections in opposition to austerity and also to capitalism. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition is a small movement in the right direction, but is still 'a work in progress' which needs to draw in wider forces within its ranks.
We cannot just be passive cheerleaders for Syriza. It is our responsibility to the Greek comrades to struggle to bring down our own despicable austerity-mongering governments and ensure no space is given to scapegoat immigrants, Muslims, the disabled and the poor. If the left and the anti-austerity movement across Europe can raise its game and mobilise its forces effectively, we can take the struggle onto a whole new level, and in doing so defend the electoral gains already being made in Greece and possibly soon in Spain and Ireland.