“Greece is turning the page,” SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras told an ecstatic crowd on January 25. The radical left party had just come first in historic elections in Greece with 36.3% of the vote.
“Greece leaves behind the austerity that caused its destruction. It leaves behind fear and intimidation; it leaves behind five years of humiliation and grief. Greece advances with hope, with dignity and steady steps towards a changing Europe.”
The news from Greece has spread hope around the world.
The victory comes on the back of ongoing social struggles by millions of Greek working people. They include the “movement of the squares” (the Greek version of Occupy), dozens of general strikes and many battles by working people and others for their rights, against state repression and against the (still-present) threat of fascism.
The people dancing on the streets of Athens in joy at SYRIZA's win are those who made SYRIZA's win possible — ordinary people who have suffered under the austerity measures imposed by the Troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
It was a victory shared by the left across Europe and the world. Representatives of left groups — including Socialist Alliance — descended on Athens to join the celebrations.
By the end of the year, SYRIZA could be joined by Podemos in Spain — a new anti-austerity party that emerged out of Spain's mass movement that is ahead in the polls.
Since the global economic crisis broke out in 2008, the capitalists and their government representatives have sought to make working people bear the brunt of the crisis. The Greek people, in particular, have been made to suffer.
As a result of austerity measures, unemployment has risen to 31% (about 50% for youth), and 20% of those who have jobs still live under the poverty line. Suicides have risen dramatically.
The victory for SYRIZA is the first big breakthrough in the popular resistance to what is, in reality, a brutal form of class war.
We know the struggle has only just begun. Unsurprisingly, the rich and powerful are far from impressed at losing control of the Greek government.
When the new SYRIZA government, just days after forming, announced a wide-ranging series of anti-austerity measures — from blocking privatisations to raising the minimum wage and reinstating sacked workers — Greek markets tumbled.
We can expect pressure to be increased against Greece's elected government in many forms — including economic blackmail and corporate media campaigns based on lies.
We only have to look to Latin America, where left-wing governments in recent years have faced ongoing campaigns of destabilization, to see what lies ahead.
We know that, whatever the corporate media and economics “experts” tell us, the question of Greece's debt is not a question of Greek “laziness” or a bid to dodge responsibility for their actions. The debt is a weapon that has been used against Greece's people to protect the profits of big private banks.
SYRIZA has every right to call for debt relief. Greece's public debt was accumulated by former corrupt governments, in the context of Greece's rich oligarchs paying little or no tax.
The people made to bear the brunt of the austerity imposed in the name of debt repayments are those who are least responsible for the debt — the poor, weak, sick, jobless, working poor and small businesspeople.
Renegotiating Greece's debt is crucial to reversing the human catastrophe caused by austerity. Every victory in Greece against austerity sends a powerful message to victims of capitalist austerity everywhere — we don't have to accept this, there is an alternative.
We know this is not simply a struggle of Greece's people. It is the struggle for all the victims of austerity — who are being made to pay for the capitalist system's crisis — across Europe. Beyond that, it is a struggle against the deeply unjust global system.
We offer our support and solidarity to SYRIZA and Greece — their struggle is part of our struggle, part of the global struggle for a new world that serves people and the planet, not corporate profit.
[Stuart Munckton is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Sydney and on of the editors of Green Left Weekly]