The whole of Europe's pro-austerity elite will try and scare and intimidate the Greek people into not voting the left wing Syriza into office. We have been here before writes Chris Bambery
"The whole art of Conservative politics in the 20th century is being deployed to enable wealth to persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power."
That was how Aneurin Bevan described the Tories approach to elections. It describes equally well the attitude of European and American elites to the forthcoming general election in Greece.
That election, scheduled for the end of January, will demonstrate all the ways the Western powers can intervene into the electoral process to achieve the result they desire. In this case to try and scare and intimidate the Greek people into not voting the left wing Syriza into office.
Those of us active in September’s independence referendum were on the receiving end of such shock and awe tactics – a Yes vote we were told would mean higher food prices, lost pensions, removal of European citizenship and a plague of locusts, but that will pale by comparison with what is coming the way of the Greek people.
The strong man behind European wide austerity, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said within hours of the Greek parliament failing to elect a new president and thus triggering an election that the country must stick to agreed economic “reforms” (austerity in plain language) regardless of the results of the election.
"These tough reforms are bearing fruit, they have no alternative," Schäuble said in a statement - the first official government reaction of the German government to developments in Athens.
"New elections change nothing in the accords struck with the Greek government" for an international bailout of the debt-mired country, he added.
Within hours the International Monetary Fund said that financial aid to Greece was being suspended until a new government is formed.
"Discussions with the Greek authorities on the completion of the sixth review of the program ... will resume once a new government is in place, in consultation with the European Commission and the European Central Bank," IMF spokesman Gerry Rice explained.
We have been here before. Greeks can remember that in 1944 Winston Churchill ordered in British troops after the Communist led resistance had liberated the country to re-install the monarchy, arming former Nazi collaborators, and provoking a military confrontation with the left.
When the British looked like loosing he ordered the RAF to bomb Athens only to be saved when Moscow ordered the Communists to lay down their guns (Stalin stuck by the partition of Europe with Churchill which allocated Greece to the British sphere of influence).
A couple of years later the British and the Americans helped the right when civil war broke out and in 1967 Nato approved the military coup which installed a dictatorship which lasted till 1974.
But in terms of helping get the right result in an election I want to look back to Italy in 1948 when Washington feared the Communist and Socialist alliance, the Popular Democratic Front, were set to win a general election. In the final weeks of that campaign Time magazine warned that victory for the left would take Italy and the “Free World” to “the brink of catastrophe.”
The CIA would later admit to giving $1million to the Christian Democrats and other parties opposed to Communist “totalitarianism”. The true figure was probably nearer $10 million, an enormous sum in 1948.
The USA provided the script for the election campaign that made it a Cold War contest in which Stalin was the effective leader of the Popular Democratic Front , whose victory would lead to the rapid installation of a dictatorship. The fact that the Communists and the left had been the mainstay of the war time resistance to Nazism and Fascism, fighting a dictatorship, was swept under the carpet.
Italian Americans were encouraged to write to friends and family back home with lurid warnings of what would befall them if they voted left. Churches, corporations, the American Legion helped pay the costs of air mailing Italy while the Committee to Aid Democracy in Italy produced half a million picture postcards illustrating the gruesome fate awaiting Italy if it voted for “foreign dictatorship”.
All told 10 million postcards and letters were sent from the USA impacting greatly in rural Italy where peasants still saw America as the promised land.
Special church services praying for the Pope’s deliverance from Communism were broadcast to Italy as were messages from Italian American housewives, Italian war brides and stars such as Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper.
Under the terms of the Marshall Plan Italy, devastated by three years of war, was receiving food aid from the USA. Voters were now warned this would stop if the left won the polls.
US and British warships were prominently anchored off Italian ports and in the final days of the campaign Time warned that “The US should make it clear that it will use force, if necessary, to prevent Italy from going Communist.”
The dire warnings from across the Atlantic were echoed by the Pope and big business in Italy itself. The left’s support began to slip and on election day the Christian Democrats took 48 percent of the poll and to the shock of its supporters the Popular Democratic Front took just 31 percent.
Incidentally, the British Labour Party pitched in denouncing their Socialist Party cousins for joining an alliance with the Communists.
In the run up to the Greek election we will be told that the Greeks are feckless and work shy who borrowed beyond their means and deserve to pay the price. We should remember they have had austerity foisted on them by the unelected “Troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The result is that the economy has shrunk by a quarter in the last five years, youth unemployment stands at over 50 percent and living standards have slumped by 30 percent. The Troika even insisted on imposing an unelected government of “technocrats” on the country.
Now they are told they are free to vote as they like as long as its in favour of austerity!
For Syriza the challenge is to stand firm in the face of shock and awe because it's not just designed to scare the voters but to intimidate them into backing away from its opposition to austerity.
Stand firm and they can win. Back off and the other side will taste blood and come back for more and more.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.
More articles from this author
- Armoured cars and tanks and guns: the real story of the Irish troubles
- Bye bye Richard Leonard: the decline of Scottish Labour continues
- Ready to die for Ireland one way or another: the rebel Countess
- The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War - book review
- First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy - book review
- Radical Scotland and The Fight for Scottish Democracy - book review
- Tory shambles boosts support for Scottish independence