It is good to see the consternation caused by SYRIZA’s success in Greece’s 2015 elections among neoliberal policy makers (and their media publicists) at both state and transnational levels in the EU. A politically effective and grounded left programme against austerity regimes and their underpinning ideological principles has been awaited for so long that this opportunity – this evidence of a popular mandate -- for realising it can only be greeted with the highest expectations. Of course the tide of mandates frequently change and opportunities are often lost; however it eventually pans out, current expectations and (hopefully) rethinking are to be embraced and savoured as this is written.
A few issues have surfaced in this regard which are, I feel, worth considering further by those who are savouring rather than actively denouncing or cautiously neglecting this turn. I don’t mean the issues which are foregrounded everywhere – how may the debt conditions be renegotiated/rewritten, what can a “grexit” mean, how will this affect the fortunes of other rising left parties in EU states (especially in Spain). The issues I have in mind are smaller, of less immediate moment, and perhaps in some sense also larger.
1. SYRIZA’s agreement with the Independent Greeks party (ANEL), and the consequent appointment of Panos Kammenos as Minister of Defence, appears to have drawn little comment from those this posting is addressed to. A 2 seat shortfall from majority for SYRIZA necessitated this alliance, bringing ANEL’s 13 seats to prop up the government. At one level, here’s a stark demonstration of how difficult left and liberal-left alignments find it to reach compromise agreements among themselves, and how stubbornly they prefer to be divided even if ideologically not miles apart. SYRIZA, itself a coalition of a wide range of groups and independents, had other seemingly obvious partners to negotiate with: To Potami (17 seats), PASOK (13 seats), Communist Party (KKE, 15 seats). The unbending pro-European stance of the former two and the rigid dogmatism of the latter might be responsible – and those evidently proved wider divisions to bridge than reaching out to the fairly far right agenda of ANEL. Perhaps this should be understood as yet another symptom of that old bugbear of left political alignments: “factionalism” within its own ideological fold.
2. Or, maybe, this has to do with “appeasement” of right-wing voters in the Greek electorate. Of the main parties: SYRIZA more than doubled its seats since the last elections in 2012 and gained 78 further seats; To Potami gained 17; KKE gained 3. And: New Democracy lost 53 seats; PASOK lost 20; ANEL lost 7; Golden Dawn lost only 1. Seen in this cursory fashion, the swing doesn’t seem especially from the far right. Perhaps SYRIZA felt a need to court former ANEL voters especially, and no doubt psephologists connected to SYRIZA had deeper insights.
3. The more interesting consideration is the extent to which SYRIZA and ANEL might actually share ideological common ground. This seems obviously to rest in their anti-austerity stance and opposition to the conditions laid by the Troika, which clearly has superseded all other differences for the moment. It is worth pausing on the depth of this common ground: is this an area of shared conviction in the same way for both? On this, a thought or two later below; before that, registering the differences that have been superseded by this common ground seems expedient. To those attune with SYRIZA’s ideological leanings, the differences from ANEL are self-evident if the latter’s announced core policies are kept in view – the “red lines” that ANEL firmly stands by. These were laid out succinctly by ANEL MP Marina Chrysoveloni in November 2014:
To participate in the next government ANEL must first ensure that we meet certain basic conditions, the "red lines" of our Movement, which we have presented clearly to the Greek people. These concern in particular:
- National issues: We cannot participate in a government that would sell out the name of Macedonia, or agree to a new Annan Plan for Cyprus. We are opposed to the “kosovization” of Thrace and the relinquishment of the sacred rights of the Greeks of Northern Epirus.
- The relations between Church and State: We believe that Orthodoxy centered on Greece should be preserved and protected, especially in a time when Orthodox Christians are persecuted internationally by jihadists and other extreme anti-Christian forces.
- Illegal immigration: We ask for the abolition of "Dublin 2" and the return of irregular migrants to the countries from which they entered Greece.
ANEL’s strong anti-EU rhetoric is coterminous with strong nationalist sentiment, underpinned by a notion of who is authentically Greek (with religious and ethnic provenance) and who foreign – with increasingly wider wedges driven between Greeks and other Europeans and non-Europeans. The “red line” on illegal migration might appear to overlook EU citizens from other member states in Greece, though the policy of withdrawing from the Dublin Regulation is effectively a withdrawal from EU law in this regard. But like so many right-wing groups, being opposed to “illegal migration” (therefore being anti-“multiculturalism”) here is really being anti-immigration per se on the basis of an essentialist notion of Greekness (how far apart are ANEL’s and the Golden Dawn’s understanding of Greek as opposed to foreign?). The ANEL MP quoted above has also expressed anxiety about the presence of legal immigrants in March 2014, not to speak of possibly accommodating the putatively illegal. With regard to immigrants it is apparent that SYRIZA’s policy is poles apart from ANEL’s: the appointment of Tasia Christodoulopoulou as Minister of Migration, and her plans, is a statement of intent. But that begs the question: what sort of intent is announced by the appointment of Panos Kammenos as Minister of Defence? Does it suggest stronger nationalistic fervour in the role of the military in and for Greece? How does that reflect on foreign policy beyond the EU?
4. That brings us to the common ground between ANEL and SYRIZA: being anti-austerity and combatively against EU policy since the unravelling 2007 financial crisis. ANEL’s position is this regard is more or less confined to rhetorical invective, carried by essentialist nationalism. It is unsurprisingly possible to obtain more of a sense of the intellectual content of SYRIZA’s position in this regard (after all, many academics in there). Of the texts I have come across, Heiner Flassbeck and Costas Lapavitsas’s Against the Troika: Crisis and Austerity in the Eurozone (Verso, 2015 – released to coincide with SYRIZA’s victory) seems to articulate what might be the thinking of SYRIZA at this juncture. A persuasive argument is laid out here about the neglect of development measures across the monetary union while giving free-play to nation-states to manage their economies; about the manner in which Western European states have taken advantage of this situation at the expense of “peripheral states” like Greece – especially Germany’s aggressive “beggar thy neighbour” policy, operated through wage deflation and using the common market to its advantage while domestic consumption dropped. With the Greek crisis in mind, the options for a left government of renegotiating/rewriting debt agreements, leaving the EU with or without support from the union, adjusting domestic tax policies and growth projects, and so on are examined succinctly and well. The arguments radiate out of the central conundrum of EU arrangements: that transnational aspirations signified by the monetary union are contradicted by accepting the national precedence of member states at the same time, whereby nation-states act within the union as autonomous and competing economic entities. This means that the heavyweights can bully and exploit and drain resources from the peripheral states.
Unfortunately, the articulation of this argument in Flassbeck and Lapavitsas (2015) – and possibly in SYRIZA’s thinking – is itself structured along the lines of national precedence. So, the argument focalizes Germany as villain and Greece as victim; the main oppositional position of left governments is considered in terms of managing the economies of peripheral countries as independent satellites; and ultimately the only fall-back option seems to rest in withdrawing from the EU (which reads as withdrawing from transnational possibilities altogether) into national consolidation. In the short term, this might seem logistically inevitable; but as a long term vision, the thinking could have extended to reformulating the pragmatics of transnational aspirations (within and beyond Europe) from a left perspective and against merely national(ist) consolidations. That could entail activating left alignments across and against nation-centric and Eurocentric thinking; recognising neoliberal politics and financial operations as instrumentalizing but not confining itself to nationalities; contemplating socialist principles in larger terms.
As it stands then, if this structure of thinking is indicative, perhaps it isn’t difficult to understand why ANEL can be a component in the SYRIZA government.
Suman Gupta, February 2015