Syriza supporters celebrate after the initial election results in Athens. Photo: EPA Syriza supporters celebrate after the initial election results in Athens. Photo: EPA

With Syriza’s victory comes the potential to shake off the dead years of neoliberalism – years where the left had been ruled out of existence, which are now coming to an end

Syriza won a sensational victory yesterday. The final vote was far in excess of what activists dared hope for – and far worse than feared by Europe’s elite. A third of Greeks have decisively rejected the austerity and the blackmail of the ECB/EU/IMF “Troika”. This is a victory not just for them but for the whole of Europe, just as new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in his victory speech to cheering crowds in Athens late last night.

However, the situation is fraught with difficulty. Syriza fell just two seats short of an outright majority and so has formed a government with the Independent Greeks (ANEL) on the basis of opposition to the Troika’s “Memorandum of Understanding” to impose austerity.

This is highly problematic. The Independent Greeks are right wing, approximately equivalent to Ukip, but more obviously racist. Syriza’s calculation is that they can secure an anti-Memorandum, anti-austerity majority with ANEL. They believe they can form a different majority on social issues with centre-left parties Pasok and To Potami. This is a precarious balance to say the least. And the danger of ANEL is that its presence in government will both demoralise and confuse Syriza’s supporters, in Greece and elsewhere, whilst creating a platform for ANEL to spread racism and, potentially, hold Syriza open to blackmail.

Nonetheless, Syriza’s position on immigration and racism generally is progressive and Tsipras himself was very clear prior to the election on Syriza’s anti-racist, pro-migrant stand. ANEL are lined up to take only the Ministry of Shipping. On the most temporary and contingent basis, ANEL’s support could be considered necessary and some in Syriza have argued this.

The Greek Communists, KKE, are totally opposed to Syriza and see it as little more than a tool of Brussels and international capitalism. This partly reflects a tangled history between themselves and the current leadership of Syriza, many of whom, including Tsipras, came from a split with the KKE. There is in any case absolutely no prospect of them forming a coalition with Syriza despite holding seats in Parliament.

However, it would – just – have been possible under the Greek constitution to form a minority government. It is a mark of weakness on the part of Syriza’s leadership that it was assumed not possible to steer through this process, which would have taken a week or more. What must also be ruled out is any belief that this represents a “popular front” or anything more permanent inside Greek society, as some inside Syriza have argued.

Time is short for Syriza, in any case. Greece’s current round of bailout funding expires at the end of February. This is funding needed to meet Greece’s creditors. After February, heavy repayments on this debt come due. So the most difficult period for the new government is between approximately the end of February and early autumn.

The ECB has announced a massive 1.1tr quantitative easing (QE) programme. This is similar to the Bank of England’s programme in that it means the ECB will “print” new electoral euros and use these to buy up debt elsewhere in Europe. However, without getting into the technicalities, Greece has been effectively excluded from this new support until at least July.

The ECB hopes to blackmail the new government into accepting a new deal on austerity in return for being allowed access to QE funding. This will become a more pressing challenge for Syriza after the end of February. Syriza’s new finance minister, Yannis Varoufakis has correctly argued that QE funding should be allowed across Europe, and used not to prop up banks but to invest in real social needs and to create jobs. The left should support this demand: having conceded that QE can happen in the eurozone, the opening is there with the ECB to demand it is used to support Europe’s people rather than Europe’s banks.

The situation is at least open. The danger at present is that Greece will remain isolated, and become closed: cut off by the Troika and without the prospect of friendly governments in support, elections (for example) in Spain not due until the autumn. International solidarity is therefore important; pressure applied on European governments in support of Syriza’s demands for debt cancellation and against austerity should be supported.

There is the potential now inside Europe to shake off the dead years of neoliberalism. History was declared to have ended 25 years ago, as the Berlin Wall came down. We have lived  as a result for a generation in a world where the left had been ruled out of existence. Those years are now coming to an end.

James Meadway

Radical economist James Meadway has been an important critic of austerity economics and at the forefront of efforts to promulgate an alternative. James is co-author of Crisis in the Eurozone (2012) and Marx for Today (2014).