Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Syriza's Challenge to Europe

As the long political crisis in Greece, which has swallowed up the corrupt ruling parties and now the president, results in a snap election Syriza - the left opposition - are drawing tantalisingly close to power. If elected, however, they will not be operating in anything like a favourable environment. The long list of social and political problems Syriza aim to solve - the corruption of the Greek state; the moribund, dysfunctional domestic economy; the rise of the far right; Greece's welfare, debt and productivity crises - all restrict its very freedom to act. The most pressing issues for a future Syriza government, however, would stem from Europe.

A European order dominated by Berlin and deeply committed to fiscal retrenchment will do all it can to suffocate a Syriza government. Similarly, financial markets will flee the supposed Syriza threat to Greek solvency. Syriza's programme of debt reduction and renegotiation of its repayment schedule is modest enough. Its proposals for emergency welfare provisions and support for immigrants' rights are simply humane. Yet its ability to implement any of these simple policy ideas - ideas that will restore the dignity of Greece's exhausted, austerity-wracked population - is severely limited by the increasingly oligarchic, elitist European Union leadership. Among European elites, Syriza is seen as the same as any other "populist" insurgency: unenlightened and threatening to its vision of post-political, technocratic order. The real threat to this elite's Habermasian wonderland of liberated communication flows comes from its own attempt to disavow the deep inequalities of state, wealth, class, and region unleashed by its commitment to financial markets and conservative fiscal policy.

The power wielded by this conservative European Weltanschauung is real enough. Its institutions - including the European Commission and the European Central Bank - exercise a volatile and destructive combination of ideological hegemony and financial domination over subject populations. They are also well insulated from national democratic pressures by a Hayekian architecture of power developed over decades. Yet, the limitations on a Syriza government are not simple or objective - i.e. the vulgar obsession with there being "no money left to spend" - but are carefully constructed and imposed by European elites in the interests of a corrupt, monetised neoliberal order. They can be challenged - but that challenge can only be successful if the battle is taken up at a European level.

It is imperative over the next, crucial year that anyone who has felt any sense of moral revulsion at the impact of austerity; anyone outraged by the collapse in living standards and welfare provision; anyone who has felt cheated by bankers or financial markets; anyone shocked by the slow erosion of democracy by elites in Europe since the financial crisis of 2008 support Syriza in Greece now. Their long-term success is only possible if enough of the European public makes its support heard and felt. Syriza is shouldering an immense burden - the hope of a democratic Europe that truly defends human rights, dignity and welfare. It will take the better half of Europe to allow them the crucial breathing space in which to start the ball rolling. Syriza and the people of Greece cannot do it alone.

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