Tsipras, populist reason and necessary counter-power

Athens, September 20, Klafthmonos Square. Electoral Committee of Syriza, 06.59 pm

Just a few moments left before the Exit Poll. The eyes of hundreds of people gathered underneath Syriza’s pavilion are watching the screen. At any moment the first data may come out: a range of percentages, which may change Greece’ destiny.


August 20th “The political mandate of the January 25 elections has exhausted its limits and now the Greek people have to have their say,shortly, I am going to submit my resignation and the resignation of my government to the president. […]”.

From the screens of Greek public television Alexis Tsipras announces he’s resigning. His government has last seven months.

Both during and after the Greek Parliament’s approval of the agreement reached at the creditors meeting, Syriza is shaken by an internal earthquake. On the 21st of August, Panayiotis Lafazanis – former Minister in Tsipras’ cabinet and leader of Syriza’s “Left Platform” – makes official his exit from the party and announces the formation of a new party, “Popular Unity”, which will stand for the September’s national elections. Yanis Varoufakis – former Minister of Finance – starts to prepare his plan B, in conjunction with others European leaders and blames Tsipras for having caused a breaking inside Syriza, consequently declaring he won’t be supporting him during the next elections. Disapproving the government’s policy, the party’s Secretary Tasos Koronakis, resigns on the 25th of August, blaming Tsipras for having taken key resolutions without the party’s support. During the same days and for the same reasons, a substantial part of Syriza’s youth leaves the party.

Ten days after his resignation, Syriza seems driven into a corner. The polls predict no more than 23% of consent, 13% less than in January. The vis-a-vis framework with ND restarts (once again). The necessity of national unity government is insistently repeated. Syriza’s transversal support gained in January seems to have disappeared. Among intellectuals and political forces, fews and shy are the supporting stances in favor of the Greek leader. “We have delude ourselves, Tsipras has failed” it’s what almost everyone is saying.


The election committee explodes with shouts of joy and liberty. According to the first exit poll Syriza is still the largest party with around 30-34% support. How is that possible? The effective date arrived a few hours after. Syriza is at 35.5% of votes (7% above the ND [New Democracy]); the other political forces being stable, apart from the “Unita’ populare” which stopped at 2.8%. At half of the counted seats, it was already clear there would be a new government Syriza-Anel, as together they made the majority with 155 seats. It would go exactly like that. Lorna Roche Kelly (Bloomberg) tweets ironically “basically, this wasn’t a Greek election, it was just a really complex government rushuffle”. From May 2014 to September 2015, Greek citizens were called to the polls 4 times (once every month for 3.5 months). In comparison to the preceding 3 which recorded an average of 6 million voters, the last had just over 5.5 million.

«But really , who ever believed that a revolution would go well? Who?» (Gilles Deleuze, L’Abécédaire, 1988)

The fact that Tsipras did not start from a neutral context was an established fact. However, this awareness did not discourage a large number of reporters from doing heavy criticism, some of which ungenerous and grotesque. It seemed as if the leader of the left of one of the poorest, smallest, most in debt and most peripheral country of the European Union had failed to revolutionize the entire governance of EMU in a few months, it would be legitimate to accuse him of betrayal , capitulation and similars. It seemed easy, from our sofas, sitting on our defeats and our marginality, explaining to Tsipras what to do. Did negotiation go well? no.

” Yesterday was a bad day for Europe. The strongest have humiliated the weakest. Or we signed or we would have failed  […]”. Alexis Tsipras, 14 July

So now: how is it possible that after seven months of setbacks on the political agenda, the Greek people, especially the most vulnerable social groups and the poorest neighborhoods, young people ( 40 % among young people aged 18 to 24 ) , women ( 38% ), have again voted for Syriza, have again chosen Alexis Tsipras? Despite the internal earthquake, divisions, defeats, humiliations?

Someone has summarily motivated the choice evoking fear or resignation.

It is likely to be that there are more complicated causes.

Since the mobilitation of Syntagma square, in 2011, the Greek movement has acquired/has taken on a growing force, until they exploded in the OXI demonstrations. Syriza had the merit to be part of it dialectically from the beginning, and it tried to institutionalize the revolt. For an important part of the movement, Alexis Tsipras became its symbol. At the same time the Greek people truly felt, for the first time, capable of producing power, materializing one of the theses of the Italian operaismo of the early 60’s: the struggle , the self-organization of the movement was building the institution.

From Syntagma Square mobilizations of 2011 the Greek movement has taken on a growing force , until they explode in the demonstrations OXI. Syriza had the merit to be part dialectically from the start and tried to institutionalize the revolt . For an important part of the movement, Alexis Tsipras became its symbol . At the same time the people greek felt really and for the first capable of producing power, materializing one of the theses of Italian operaismo of the early 60s: the struggle, the self-organization of the movement was building the institution, a government that is direct expression of the anti-austerity fight of those years.

Tsipras ‘s leadership and the strength of the movement had the same fundamental importance, that tension produced a historic victory, and this endowment of consensus, expectations and hope had clearly not yet gone.

There is another hegemonic element that allowed Syriza to resist the hurricane, something that has to do with the bare flesh of those who live in the Greek working-class districts. Again it is a conjunction: movement- institution. In recent years Syriza has increased dramatically its credibility among the weaker sections of the population thanks to the practices of mutualism. Free health centers, drugs distribution, self managed soup kitchen. Measures from the the bottom to solve immediately concrete problems: eat and nurse.

As ruling party Syriza approved in March a bill of the cost of 200 million Euro per year ( against the advice of the EC that described it as “unilateral act “) with which free electricity , monthly benefits and food stamps to cover food expenses will be guaranteed to 300,000 poor families. In the post-war scenario that is going through Greece, they are measures that can not be forgotten.

So what!

What happens when a constituent power become constituted? Historically, for the left, this step has always meant a reduction of strenght, a loss of radicalism, a gap between the demands of the institutions and those of the square. In Greece, for a moment, something else has happened: the tension between leadership and movement seemed miraculously to continue. During the first very difficult months of government, Syntagma Square was filled several times to support Tsipras, to sustain itself.

There was a fall, vertical, strong, after the peak reached with the July OXI demonstration and the subsequent agreement slash coup d’etat. Was it enough,though, to break the association between Tsipras and that movement? The elections have shown that the Greeks still identify themselves in Tsipras, and they did it in the most difficult possible moment. There is an element of caudillism in this consensus? Probably. Is it bad? Not necessarily if Tsipras does not lose sight of the political horizon and if the movement does not cease to produce mobilization.


 « The government must consult and agree with the institutions all the bills in the relevant areas , adequately in advance of the spread of the proposal in the public or Parliament.

 With the exception of measures for humanitarian crises , the greek government should review all the measures introduced since 20 February 2015, in order to amend them , turning back on a number of objectives or clearly identifying equivalent compensation for the rights guaranteed by these new laws». (Agreement between the Government and creditors Tsipras , 12 July).

The negotiations have gone badly and some mistakes were probably made, but the outcome of a similar political struggle could only be the product of an effective strength of the parties involved. From January the 1st we were already aware that the international capital was stronger than any syriza’s government, and yet Tsipras still chose to fight in the minefield of what Ulrich Beck has called the German Europe, thus the outcome of this battle depends solely on how the European left (in a broad sense) will be able to articulate a political, economic and productive alternative to neoliberalism. The content of the Memorandum is dull/hard and affects the right pillars of society as envisioned by Syriza but nothing is static and even that document is only the plastic representation of July’s correlation of forces: an establishment, which felt under attack by oki’s mobilization and thus reacted by firing mortars; nevertheless Syriza has already proven being able to resume sovereignty through the humanitarian crisis law and even the Memorandum contents can be renegotiated from time to time, as long as you’re willing to use enough strength. But such counter-attack should encompass national borders and European movements should start to realize large-scale mobilizations and to merge. The owners must be frighten once again.

Black fade out

Music: Theodorakis – Tis dikeosinis ilie

[Translation by Daniele Iannello e Giacomo Puliti]

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