Thursday, 5 February 2015

Syriza is Greek for Hope

“Tis not enough to help the feeble up, but to support him after.” Timon of Athens.

I have been ill with a nasty chest infection but that has not stopped me having a smile on my face. Put there by two remarkable events. As a Black Country bloke I was chuffed that the poor relations of Black Country football, Walsall FC, at the 127th attempt have finally made it to a Wembley final.

Who cares what the trophy is or who they play. If any town needs a lift it is Walsall. Economically they have never recovered from the manufacturing jobs slaughter of the Thatcher years. It’s not much but it’s great that the dispossessed get a day in the sun.

The other is the news from Greece. Despite everything Syriza have won the election. This is the most important election victory in Europe for the left in the Neo-Liberal era.

The fact that such a movement has been necessary represents the total failure of European Social Democracy. The only thing that is keeping it alive is inertia. No longer a movement it has sold its soul to neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative politics.
The great SPD in Germany are supporting Angela Merkel!  Mario Renzi the PM of Italy and leader of the Democrats, is described as the Tony Blair of Italy. In Spain PSOE has fallen from grace due to economic mismanagement and corruption.  The mighty PASOK reduced to a rump. And as for Francois Hollande and the French Socialists what a disappointment! 

It looks na├»ve now to assume that social democratic parties would take a strong stance in defence of their working class supporters. Whilst the rich get away with murder the Social Democrats mutter incoherent pathetic austerity-lite policies, desperately trying to sound “responsible”, policies that tinker around the edges (the Mansion Tax!) in fear of upsetting the ruling elite.

An elite that gets richer on the backs of those below, by cutting wages, slashing benefits, crushing unions, avoiding tax and by diverting a huge proportion of our national wealth to financial speculation.

They have also used their wealth to reshape the policy world we hear their words in the voices of Mandelson, Blair, or Milburn everyday on how we should dilute and moderate demands that are already so feeble as to be meaningless.

What is on offer here?  Well the difference between a future with George Osborne or Ed Balls seems to be choice in the method of execution. Osborne offers the hangman’s noose. Whilst Balls offers us the slower method of being garrotted.

The end result is of course the same. For the traditional far left too has failed. Even in states with large Communist and Workers Parties they have little traction with the electorate, the IU in Spain, the PCF or the KKE have made little headway.

People are crying out for change and yet there is no voice for the food bank user or the bus passenger, for the zero-hour contract worker, in short for the victims of the cruel hoax that is austerity.

This pain has been expressed by the rise of the nationalist, populist rightwing UKIP, but whose fault is this. I fear the Labour Party has been insensitive to the pain of those disorientated by globalisation or hurt by austerity. Labour’s tragic reaction to the Scottish Referendum shows that it is incapable of renewal.

Thank goodness then for Syriza, whatever happens now they have already changed the game. Alexis Tsipras is breath of fresh air. What they have achieved, I know in remarkable circumstances, is amazing. This is a study in effective leadership. In understanding the situation and building an effective response. The press have patronised and underestimated him and the movement at every turn.

This is not a one man band either. After studying maths and statistics, Greek Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis received his economics doctorate from Essex University. He was a Fellow at Cambridge, Lecturer at Sydney University before returning to Greece as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens. He describes himself as an “accidental economist”. I wonder what this makes George Osborne?

The solidarity model of party organisation is also one we can learn from. Some complain that they do not use the “left-wing” politics playbook. As if our methods have go us anywhere.

As Paul Krugman points out if anything the problem with Syriza’s plans is that they are not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity may not be enough to create the growth they need but the Greeks are not yet ready to leave the Euro.

“Still in calling for major change, Mr Tsipras is being far more realistic than officials who want the beating to continue until morale improves. The rest of Europe should give him a chance to end his country’s nightmare.”

My fear is for a Labour election victory on a small share of the vote with its present policies. That would lead to disaster. We have failed to change their policies from within. Pressure now needs to come from without. The way we can help both Labour and Syriza is to stop our bickering on the left and build our own anti-austerity party. I know we are not Greece but if they can pull together thirteen parties surely a UK Syriza is the best way “to support him after”.