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Syriza - Greek for hope

The fight is on for an alternative to neoliberalism. In the first of a regular series of reports from Greece, Kevin Ovenden explains the significance of this month's Greek general election

In an imaginative venture of practical solidarity Philosophy Football are funding well-known progressive journalist Kevin Ovenden to go to Greece and report exclusively for Counterfire on Syriza's campaign alongside other radical media outlets from the USA and Australia.

For the first time in more than three decades a European country might elect a left wing government opposed to the bankers' economic orthodoxy of bottomless state welfare for the rich and austerity for the rest.

The general election in Greece on 25 January is already reverberating across Europe's capitals and finance markets. The prospect of a victory for the radical left Syriza party, which is ahead in the polls, sent the euro currency to fresh lows.

The snap election is itself a symptom of the all encompassing crisis of the Greek political class as it tries to stick to the ultra-austerity memorandum agreements and other conditions set in return for access to Eurozone cash to manage service the country's debt.

The governing coalition - of the Tory New Democracy with the social democrats of Pasok as junior partners - failed to get the 60 percent support of MPs in parliament for its nominee for the largely ceremonial office of President.

The relatively stable two party system which contained the insurgent movement of the 1970s following the overthrow of the military junta in 1974 is finished.

Pasok: zombie Blairism

Pasok is but a zombie political party. When its founder Andreas Papandreou fought and won the 1981 general election on a platform of some significant reforms he could attract a hundreds of thousands people to his closing rally. The mighty social democratic party now resembles a family heirloom neglected and beggared by Papandreou's son and other successors, who presided over a Greek version of Blairite dissolution.

Its place has been taken by Syriza - the coalition of the radical left. Greece is unique in Europe in having relatively unbroken traditions of worker and student militancy from the mid-1970s to today. Despite the vicious austerity measures of the last five years, the social movement - and as a consequence a large and variegated Left - have not suffered the kind of defeat experienced by, say, the miners in Britain or car workers in Italy.

The policy platform of Syriza echoes Papandreou's a generation ago. But with social democracy wedded to the Blairite "third way" these polices are articulated, and could be enacted, by a radical left party which does not have readily to hand the array of party management tools built up by the British Labour Party over decades in taming the Left.

Syriza was formed out of a coalition, with the largest part coming from the historic Eurocommunist trend of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which was the main party of the Greek working class until the 1970s.

The "orthodox" KKE survives and has its own MPs. There is a large anti-capitalist and radical left which is embedded in social struggles and has had some electoral impact also.

The variegated picture of the Greek Left has left some foreign observers bemused. Unfortunately for a few too many it has led to rehearsing the drama of the debate and argument within Greece in a rather two-dimensional, indeed farcical, performance in places which have neither its immense social resistance nor the deep left wing traditions.

The unified position of European big business and governments should shake us from such childish pursuits.

The Greek right - which includes now a significant Nazi party, Golden Dawn - is invoking the imagery of the civil war which followed the liberation of the country from Hitler's occupation. In a shameful episode, the wartime British government helped sow the seeds for the bitter war against the Left which led to mass exile and the banning of the Communist Party for decades.

European leaders are insisting that whatever the vote by the Greek people, Greece will remain in the euro with no revision of austerity measures which have wiped out a one year's production of the last five.

All manner of pressure is being exerted on the Left, on Syriza and its young leader Alexis Tsipras.

The starting point for those who hold to progressive change in this time of economic savagery, wars and racism is not knowingly to reach for some poor historical analogy to justify claims of inevitable betrayal and defeat in the face of that pressure.

Rather, it is to stand foursquare with the mass of people in Greece, with the Left and against the capitalist assault on what could be a Syriza-led government in February.

There are, naturally, huge debates about the way forward - what compromise is valid; should we oppose the austerity even if it means financial isolation and being out of the euro; is there a capitalist way back to "normality" or is this crisis the new normal?

For the movement across Europe as a whole to take part meaningfully in those debates we need to move practically and with unity of purpose to do what we can to meet the the big business and Right's offensive against the Left and democracy in Greece.

Dispatches from hope

T-shirt, Syriza: Greek for hopeThese despatches from Athens over the next three weeks are a contribution to that practical solidarity. It has been made possible - indeed it was the brainchild - of the Philosophy Football social enterprise. The scope of Philospohy Football's work has outgrown its original purpose, to produce T-shirts.

As well as stylish, sartorial interventions into the field of football, sport and politics, Philosopohy Football is now a significant force contributing to the development of a collaborative, Left political culture.

So the Greek government fell; international capital mobilised; the Greek Right threatens disaster and a civil war atmosphere; Philosophy Football produces a poignant and snazzy T-Shirt - and that's how I'm being funded to go out to Athens, within 24 hours producing the kind of political reportage the mainstream media won't be providing on the significance and challenge of Syriza.

It is an imaginative act of solidarity. Much more than a gesture. It is practical and part of the wider movement of the Left.

Ours is a movement of hope. Huge challenges face working people in Greece, their organisations and Syriza. But the fact that a fight is on for an alternative to neoliberalism, when socialist ideas were meant to be buried, is a cause for hope for us all. I look forward to reporting on it.

Please support this venture. Kevin's reporting is funded by the sale of 'Syriza: Greek For Hope' T-shirts , get yours from Philosophy Football

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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