The deepening Greek crisis – and need for debt cancellation

Photo: Mehran Khalili
SYRIZA pre-election rally

By Nicky Dempsey

The outcome of the Greek election means that the population will face further attacks on its living standards and that the economic crisis will be prolonged. SYRIZA, the only party that might have been able to form an anti-austerity government, came second with less than 3 per cent of the vote behind the victorious New Democracy. Given the Greek system of 50 top-up seats for the leading party and with the support of both the traditional social democrats of PASOK and from the Democratic Left (a rightist split from SYRIZA) the new government will have a large majority in Parliament. Whether it will be able to form a stable government is another matter.

Winners and losers

The election centred on who would form a government, parties for or against the ‘Memorandum’, the Memorandum of Understanding between a previous Greek government and the Troika of the ECB, EU and IMF which imposes deep cuts in the living standards of ordinary Greeks. This was well understood by the population as a whole, if not by all political forces. So the array of smaller parties that registered some proportion of the vote in the May general election nearly all lost votes. They were largely seen as irrelevant as the political situation polarised around the leading parties, led on the right by New Democracy ad on the left by SYRIZA. The seven parties with parliamentary representation achieved between them 81 per cent of the vote in May. This rose to a combined 94 per cent in June as protest fringe votes gave way to the question of who would form a government.

The biggest increase in the vote was recorded by New Democracy, which rose by nearly 11 per cent in the polls. This reflected the success of the campaign to polarise the election around the issue of in or out of the Euro or even the EU. In effect, the population was bombarded by propaganda from the mainstream and state media in alliance with leaders of the Troika, Greek business interests and the leaders of all the pro-Memorandum parties. Polls repeatedly show a very large majority of Greeks in favour of both continued membership of the Euro and the EU so the campaign relied successfully on scaremongering tactics that Greece would be ejected from the EU, and that all EU funding would be withdrawn.

This fear was also reflected in the low turnout in the poll, to under 62.5 per cent, itself a fall from May and way below the 75 to 85 per cent recorded in previous Greek democratic elections in the period since World War Two until the current crisis. The population is being intimidated from opposing the austerity parties. But the low turnout means that less than a third of the electorate voted for the parties forming the new coalition government.

The leadership of SYRIZA was able to dominate the smaller anti-austerity vote with its determined opposition to the Memorandum. Its support rose between the May and June elections slightly less than New Democracy, by just over ten per cent. This was largely at the expense of the other forces on the Left. PASOK and the tiny Antarsya each lost one per cent and the biggest single loser was the Greek Communist Party the KKE, which lost four per cent. It is likely that the two per cent lost by the Ecologist Greens was also to SYRIZA, not least because of the strong ecologist/Green components of the radical party of the left.

In all cases, these parties lost out because the prolonged struggle of the Greek workers and social movements has created a radical minority who wanted a government who would break with austerity. After the May election it was clear that this could only be by calling for a vote for SYRIZA. But it remains a radical minority, with the entire anti-austerity left vote just 20 per cent of the electorate.

This belies the notion that anything like the overthrow of the Greek state is currently on the agenda. It is the ruling classes of Greece and of Europe who refuse to go on in the old way- they are on the offensive. The radical minority would mainly like to return to the old way- to the conditions of relative prosperity before the Memorandum was imposed.

In addition, despite the strenuous efforts to channel all rightist forces towards ND, the fascist street fighters of Golden Dawn saw no dip in their vote and maintained just under seven per cent of the vote, amid an increase in violent racist attacks.


The economic and social crisis can only deepen while the austerity measures remain in place. The Troika is insisting that the pace of cuts is increased, after the lull between the elections. This is despite the fact the crisis is broadening and deepening across Europe, with Spain and perhaps Italy the next in line to succumb to the direct impositions of the Troika.

SYRIZA is well placed to lead the anti-austerity forces in mobilisation against the worsening effects of the cuts and of the continuing crisis. This will increasingly need to include a defence of immigrant and other communities against attacks from Golden Dawn. Emboldened by their election showing, Golden Dawn may also be used to break up trade union, social and other demonstrations and meetings.

It is clear that the crisis will be a prolonged one. The geographical spread of the financial aspect of the crisis, drawing in ever-larger countries may force the hand of the Troika to provide the necessary funds to prevent it spreading. But there is no prospect that they will reverse course on austerity. This is a crisis of capitalism which the working class and its allies are being made to pay for.

SYRIZA’s election programme begins with a pledge to suspend debt interest payments. This is correct, as the Greek economy and society is sinking under the weight of debt. Solidarity with those struggling against austerity in Greece means raising the call for the cancellation of the Greek debt, especially in the large creditor countries, France, Germany and Britain.