|Greece solidarity demonstration, London, 11 Feb 2015|
Over here the Green Party in England and Wales must be dreaming of such a result, but this really is the story of SYRIZA in Greece, the only country in the world where the citizens voluntarily attend pro-government rallies. But what does it mean for those of us in Blighty hoping that the recent surge in support for the Greens mean Natalie Bennett will be our Alex Tsipras?
It's all Greek to me
|Syntagma Square, Athens, 11 Feb 2015|
The story could begin in 1924 with the formation of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), or in 1936 when the fascist Metaxas, a charming man who liked strapping opponents to blocks of ice, suspended parliament, but instead we'll start with the end of the Second World War
|Athens 1944, Photograph: Dmitri Kessel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images|
The Greek Civil War that followed was a confused and bloody business. Often as not it saw neighbouring villages settling scores with only a pretence to political motives, but for the Greek Left it was a catharsis. Defeated and then brutally suppressed in the 'democratic' post-war Hellenic Republic, the Left spent the fifties either in hiding or exiled to island gulags. Even the hint of a return to power in the late sixties was enough to provoke a military coup and worse repression.
|Athens Polytechnic 1973, tanks getting ready to attack students.|
The KKE became legal again, but this didn't actually help them very much as, in the time honoured tradition of the Left, it was time for a split. Events in Paris and Prague in the spring of 1968 had shaken communist parties across the continent. The British Communist Party had almost ceased to exist by this point, but elsewhere the Eurocommunists were ousting the old guard. Embracing democracy they thrust themselves to the forefront of the liberation struggles of the decade.
When the seventies turned into the eighties Britain and Greece went in very different directions. Here the selfish hedonism of the sixties turned into the selfish monetarism of the eighties, but in Greece the youth who'd rebelled by listening to Greek bands playing Western rock music under the dictatorship helped to elect the country's first post-war left wing government. Andreas Papandreo's PASOK swept into office with the rallying cry "Change". A National Health Service was created, former Communist guerrillas were given pensions, the exiles returned and the generation excluded from society by The Colonels was rewarded with easy jobs in the public sector.
|Athens Polytechnic 1995, riot police get ready to attack students|
In Britain we occupied trees to stop roads, in Greece they occupied schools and universities. The Greek police were once again their usual liberal selves and there was a non-negligable body count in these actions. It was also not uncommon to see lorry loads of machine gun wielding coppers parked up in anarchist parts of Athens. It all came to a head in 1995 when 3000 people occupied the Polytechnic. (Just to confuse Brits who remember polytechnics as cut price higher education, the Athens Polytechnic is one of their top universities). The police moved in, the media, who often ended up being attacked by anarchists at demos and so weren't minded to give them good press, had a field day and when it was all over the movement was effectively dead.
|Anti-war graffiti on NATO vehicles, Greece 1999|
The PASOK government meanwhile, having employed Goldman Sachs to cook the books, had been allowed to join the Eurozone. The ruse appeared to be paying off and the country was on the up for most of the noughties. Then the Credit Crunch hit, and the Eurozone economies crashed. The centre-right New Democracy Party was in power by this time. They were unsurprisingly booted out in 2009 when George (son of Andreas) Papandreo's PASOK ran against under the slogan "there is money". Unfortunately nobody had told him there wasn't.
Unlike in Britain, the far left was still alive and well. The Hellenic Republic had its equivalent of Occupy in the Squares Movement, but the Left had shown its power three years early, in December 2008. When the Greek police shot dead Andreas Grigoropoulos, a fifteen year old boy out celebrating his name day, the resulting riots were the worst since the fall of the Colonels. Just like in 1974 students were central to the revolt, but this time the reasons were more obscure.
|Protest in front of Greek parliament, May 2011|
The KKE though had nothing to do with this. For them nothing short of a Revolution would do and they denounced the Squares Movement as nothing less than a "mechanism of the ruling class". When you see Occupy as too reactionary you are seriously left! This retreat from reality opened the door for SYRIZA who started their march to power with the anti-austerity campaigners in Syntagma Square.
Second World War united the country not split it apart and in the sixties our Left was moderated by being in power not radicalised by oppression, and I guess that's nothing to complain about.
SYRIZA may be a new party, but the continuity of the Greek Left is contained within it. When Tsipras lays a wreath at a memorial to Greeks killed by the Nazis it links the present crisis to a historical struggle whilst Caroline Lucas visiting a wind farm doesn't.
|Manolis Glezos, still fighting at 91|
SYRIZA obviously owes its election to government to the scale of the disaster that overtook Greece after the Credit Crunch. Britain may not have lost 25% of its GDP since 2008, nor do we have to bring your own drugs when we go to hospital, but the same factors that have pushed mainstream voters into the arms for the far left are playing out here; the descent of the underclass into utter poverty, the collapse of the Middle Class into working poor, the destruction of the public sector and the flight of the lucky 1% who can afford it into their gilded cages out of the big cities, and into private schools and hospitals. It's all our happening here too, just a little slower.
But whilst SYRIZA may well be the response to this in Greece, but we mustn't jump the gun in assuming it's the solution. Tsipras sometimes sounds like he's the next of the Papandreo dynasty. "Change" or "there is money" could have been his mottos this time around, and the reason PASOK has been wiped out is because the riposte to both was "there wasn't". SYRIZA's Green credentials are also rather thin. A belated change of policy to Eldorado mine project and some warm words on Climate Change and ecosocialism, but that's it.
Despite that they are clearly better than the alternatives though. However if we think a British SYRIZA is inevitable we may be disappointed. The Greek Left isn't back so much as it never went away. In the UK it was buried years ago.
Britain, Europe and indeed the world need an alternative to rapacious capitalism, unsustainable consumerism and unjust austerity, but ultimately liberation is something each country must build for itself, not a franchise we can buy into.