Greek Left Leaders Betrayed The Working Class. Conservatives Won A Landslide

The ascendance of the right in Greek politics shows how a left without strong class politics is a losing proposition.

Greece’s conservative party New Democracy won another landslide victory in the country’s second election in just five weeks, trouncing Syriza, the so-called radical leftist party, by an even wider margin than in the first election. New Democracy finished by almost 23 points ahead of Syriza, a result that allows the conservatives to control 158 seats in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Moreover, the result of the June 25 Greek elections makes New Democracy “the most powerful center-right party in all of Europe,” as its leader and prime minister for a second consecutive term Kyriakos Mitsotakis aptly noted in the aftermath of his party’s historic victory.

Why are the conservatives so popular in debt-ridden Greece, and what lessons can be gained for the left worldwide from the electoral collapse of Syriza? Political scientist and political economist C. J. Polychroniou discusses these questions with French-Greek journalist Alexandra Boutri in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

Alexandra Boutri: Immediately following the results of the Greek parliamentary elections of May 21, which saw the conservative party of New Democracy win by an astonishing 20-point margin over the radical leftist party Syriza, you published an essay titled “The Rise and Fall of Greece’s Radical-in-Name-Only Syriza Party.” Well, in the repeat election on June 25, Syriza lost to New Democracy by an even bigger margin. Are you surprised at all by the electoral results? For many people, I suppose, it is still hard to explain the implosion suffered by Alexis Tsipras’s party when only eight years ago it was the governing party.

C. J. Polychroniou: I am not in the least surprised by the even bigger margin that New Democracy won over Syriza. If anything, the only surprising element in the evolution of Greek politics over the past 15 years or so was Syriza’s meteoric rise to power. We know of course that politics is always dynamic, but it’s hard to find another case in contemporary European history where a political party of any ideological orientation rose to power when it was struggling 10 years earlier to win just 4 percent of the vote.

What was even more surprising in this development is that Syriza was hardly a political party per se. It was more of a protest political organization that included many different factions of the Greek left, all under one roof. However, it evolved very quickly once the balance of power started changing in its favor. Within a year or two before its rise to power, Syriza, under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras, transformed itself into an inclusionist populist party after having successfully tapped into the anti-austerity anger that had spread across different segments of the Greek population on account of the notorious bailout programs that had been signed in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Greek/euro crisis by the nation’s two mainstream parties, the socialists (PASOK) and the conservatives (New Democracy) respectively. Yet, it took Alexis Tsipras only a few weeks after coming to power in 2015 to capitulate to the demands of the deeply hated troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and eventually to sign a third bailout agreement that extended Greece’s status as Germany’s de facto colony.

But Greek voters, especially those on the left, do not in general have short memory or faulty perceptions. Not only did they not forget Syriza’s betrayal, but they also did not miss how incompetent its leadership had been when it came to overall governance. Tsipras and his inner circle aligned themselves with big capital, ignored the working class, squeezed the middle class as much as they could and proceeded with massive privatization schemes — all in order to satisfy the international creditors.

In May 2019, Syriza lost the national elections after having lost both the European and local elections. It paid the price for having become another mainstream party. But what may have sealed its complete downfall was that during the time it was in opposition it engaged for the most part in outrageous, petty politics (such as attacking the prime minister’s wife, for example, and saying that the country was being run by a junta!), thus failing miserably to act as the main opposition party. The ruling party’s policies went largely unchallenged, and voters could not find in Syriza a convincing alternative consistent with the values of the left.

In light of the above, it is anything but surprising that in both the May and June elections, Syriza suffered big losses even in working-class districts of major urban centers. Indeed, Syriza is the only party of the left in the last 40 or so years to have lost support in the traditional working-class districts of Greece. I am also not surprised at all by the fact that Yanis Varoufakis’s MeRA25 party, which was established in 2018, failed to make it into the parliament. Varoufakis may be very popular abroad but remains extremely unpopular with Greek voters of all political persuasions.

However, what is quite surprising to me about these elections is the low voter turnout (slightly over 52 percent), which continues to drop to a new historic low. Not only that, but like in many other parts of the world, the Greek youth is shifting to the right for solutions to today’s societal problems. This is a truly discouraging development, and I am not sure what it will take to turn things around. In this context, what is even more disturbing is the fact that far right parties have made a comeback in Greece less than three years after party leaders of Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi political organization, were convicted of being part of a criminal organization and sent to prison. Three far right parties, with a combined total of nearly 13 percent of the popular vote, have won seats in Greece’s next parliament. This was the most shocking surprise of the Greek legislative elections that took place on June 25.

My understanding is that Greek society is fairly conservative and that the party of New Democracy has a rather miserable record when it comes to respecting democratic values and human rights. If this is so, why is Mitsotakis’s government so popular?

You are right on both counts. Greek society is indeed quite conservative to this day and democratic and human rights have received acute blows under Mitsotakis’s New Democracy government, which is mainly composed of neoliberal hacks and traditional authoritarian right-wingers. But that’s not an odd combination. Ever more increasingly, economic neoliberalism needs political authoritarianism in order to carry out its so-called reforms.

Conservative social orders maintain and reproduce themselves not on their own but rather through the planned execution of specific policies and practices carried out by the ideological apparatuses of the state. In the case of Greece, the media and the church play vital roles in the depoliticization of the public and the reproduction of culturally conservative views and attitudes respectively. Media ownership in Greece is in the hands of a few media magnates (mainly industrialists and shipping tycoons), each of whom owns scores of media outlets even though demand lags way behind supply. For international news, Greek mainstream media rely on foreign sources and partnerships with foreign newspapers. The domestic news tends to be largely sensationalistic in nature and scope, with heavy emphasis on celebrities and lifestyle. Naturally, none of the mainstream media outlets are advocates of a progressive socio-economic agenda. They are all in favor of economic liberalization policies and extol the virtues of the free-market system while their owners maintain deep ties with the state, which of course go beyond the media industry (direct state funding and various forms of indirect subsidies) and extend into their primary business activities. As for the Greek Orthodox Church, which has a strong presence in every geographical region of the country, it has always been close to conservative and right-wing ideologies and practices. Read more

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The Struggle For Environmental Justice In Africa

The framework of our civilization is premised on the destruction of the planet.

The struggle for environmental justice in Africa is complex and broad. It is the continuation of the fight for the liberation of the continent and for socio-ecological transformation. It is a fact that the environment is our life: The soil, rivers, and air are not inanimate or lifeless entities. We are rooted and anchored in our environment. Our roots are sunk into our environment and that is where our nourishment comes from. We do not see the Earth and her bountiful gifts as items that must be exploited, transformed, consumed, or wasted. The understanding of the Earth as a living entity and not a dead thing warns that rapacious exploitation that disrupts her regenerative powers are acts of cruelty or ecocide.

We bear in mind that colonialism was erected on the right to subjugate, erase, or diminish the right to life and the right to the unfettered cultural expression of the colonized. In particular, the colonized were dehumanized and transformed into zombies working for the benefit of the colonial powers. Ecological pillage was permitted as long as it benefited the colonizers. This ethos has persisted and manifests in diverse forms. Grand theft by the colonial forces was seen as entrepreneurship. Genocide was overlooked as mere conquest. Slavery was seen as commerce. Extractivism was to be pursued relentlessly as any element left unexploited was considered a waste. What could be wasted with no compunction was life. So most things had to die. The civilizers were purveyors of death. Death of individuals. Death of ecosystems.

Thus, today, people still ask: What would we do with the crude oil or fossil gas in our soil if we do not exploit them? In other words, how could we end poverty if we do not destroy our environment and grab all it could be forced to yield? We tolerate deforestation, and unregulated industrial fishing, and run a biosafety regulation system that promotes the introduction of needless genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by doing so, endanger our biodiversity and compromise our environment and food systems.

Plunder is presented as inescapable and desired under the cloak of foreign investment. Political leaders in despoiled regions offer ease of doing business, tax holidays, sundry lax rules, and other neocolonial governance policies.

The reign of exploitation and consumption without responsibility has driven Africa and indeed the world to the brink. The current civilization of death seeks ready investment in destruction through warfare and extractivism rather than in building resilience and adapting to the environmental changes that result from corporate and imperial misadventures.

We are in a reign in which condescension is the hallmark of multilateralism. The collective action needed to tackle global warming has been reduced to puny “nationally determined contributions” that add up to nothing. Rather than recognizing and paying a clear climate debt, we expend energy negotiating a loss and damage regime to be packaged as a humanitarian gesture. Pray, who negotiates what is offered as charity?

Today, Africa is facing multiple ecological challenges. All of these have resulted from the actions of entities that have seen the continent as a sacrificial zone. While the world has come to the conclusion that there must be an urgent shift from dependence on fossil fuels, we are seeing massive investments for the extraction of petroleum resources on the continent. And we must say that this investment comes with related infrastructure for the export of these resources out of the continent in a crass colonial pattern. A mere 1 percent of the labor force in the extractive sector in Africa are Africans. A mere 5 percent of investment in the sector is in Africa. More than 85 percent of the continent’s fossil gas infrastructure is for export purposes.

The shift to renewable energy brings the same old challenges to Africa. Extraction of critical minerals for renewable energy is done without prior consultation with and consent of our people. The continent’s environment is being degraded just as it has been with the extraction of oil, gas, gold, diamond, nickel, cobalt, and other solid minerals. The array of solar panels and wind turbines could well become markers of crime scenes if precautionary measures are not taken now.

Are we against renewable energy? No. They provide the best pathway toward ending the energy deficit on the continent. However, this should be pursued through discrete, autonomous, and socialized ownership schemes.

While the world knows that we must rebuild our biodiversity, what we see is the push towards more deforestation in Africa and for monoculture agriculture, all of which are against our best interest and that of the world. A sore issue, land grabbing has not disappeared with the coming innovations.

As Chinua Achebe writes in his classic 1958 book Things Fall Apart about Eneke the bird, “Since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” For us, until the despoilers of our environment halt their destructive acts, we will intensify our resistance and never give in to their designs. We believe this conference will not only break the yoke of colonialism but will also puncture the hold of coloniality. Our book, Politics of Turbulent Waters, is one of the tools toward these ends.

Every African nation should:

– Commit to issuing an annual State of Environment Report to lay out the situation of things in their territories.
– End destructive extraction no matter the appeal of capital.
– Demand climate debt for centuries of ecological exploitation and harm.
– Require remediation, restoration of all degraded territories, and pay reparations to direct victims or their heirs.
– Support and promote food sovereignty including by adopting agroecology.
– Adopt and promote African cultural tools and philosophies for the holistic tackling of ecological challenges and for the healing and well-being of our people and communities.
– Promote and provide renewable energy in a democratized manner.
– Recognize our right to water, treat it as a public good, and halt and reverse its privatization.
– Recognize the rights of Mother Earth and codify Ecocide as a crime akin to genocide, war crimes, and other unusual crimes.
– Ensure that all Africans enjoy the right to live in a safe and satisfactory environment suitable for their progress as enshrined in the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.

Author Bio:
Nnimmo Bassey is the director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), and a member steering committee of Oilwatch International.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. This article is an edited version of a speech the author delivered at Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Conference with the theme ‘Advancing Environmental Justice in Africa’ held in June 2023 in Abuja, Nigeria.

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