Is This the End of Austerity?

The victory of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in the parliamentary election of January 25 in Greece was greeted with joy, or at the very least enthusiasm, by many who oppose the austerity measures of the capitalist governments here in Canada. It is very likely that this enthusiasm will soon encounter disappointment, if not anger.

Greece is certainly one of the countries, if not THE country where the so-called “austerity measures” has been applied with more rigour since the 2008-2009 crisis. The masses have suffered on every front, while the country’s leaders applied, one after the other, all of the recovery plans required by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which never ceased threatening to “put the country into bankruptcy.” Today, the official unemployment rate is over 25%, and almost as many people (23%) find themselves in conditions of extreme poverty.

Greece was also where the resistance to crisis measures resounded loudly and in the streets, with a level of militancy that seriously undermined the institutions of the Greek bourgeoisie. That a party promising to end the austerity measures was elected is certainly a result of the force and extent of this movement—a movement that the state apparatus and the traditional bourgeois parties never succeeded in crushing or co-opting.

Some adjustments will presumably be implemented, which may alleviate the suffering of the masses. The new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has pledged to implement a number of measures that could go in this direction; he also said that his government won’t apply the latest conditions imposed by the IMF and the ECB. However, the same Tsipras also committed to continuing to repay the giant debt owed by the Greek State, although it hopes to renegotiate the terms.

The fact is that it is not Tsipras who pulls the strings, despite his party’s success in securing a slim majority in the Greek parliament (by making an alliance with a small right-wing party). As a capitalist state member of the European Union, Greece can’t bypass the fundamental trends that more than ever characterize the world imperialist system—a system in which there are fewer and fewer crumbs to redistribute to the working masses and no more space for what has been called the welfare state.

What SYRIZA wants—if its leadership really wants to do so—is essentially to convince the “troika” (the ECB, the IMF, and the European Union) that it would be advantageous for them to make a few concessions and provide funds to finance some social programs, at least in the short term, in order to prevent the crisis and the resistance it generates, the latter of which would eventually undermine the interests of big capital. SYRIZA may succeed in realizing a few of their promises, but failing to challenge the power of the Greek bourgeoisie and the domination of imperialist powers means that new attacks on the working class will inevitably happen—sooner than later.

Actually ending the austerity measures would require that we put an end to the capitalist system itself. Meanwhile, the partial victories that we can win––and for which it is necessary and legitimate to continue to fight––would require that the working class and the popular masses organize themselves independently from the State and from the parties that aspire to manage them.