The Greek election campaign entered its final week with two important events overshadowing the strategies of the old ruling parties.
The crisis in Spain and popular anger against neo-Nazi attacks have thrown the plans of conservative New Democracy and the New Labour-type party Pasok into turmoil.
The leaders of both these parties placed the dilemma “the euro or the drachma” at the centre of their campaigns. The focus of their electoral propaganda has been to paint the left as “the party of the drachma”—Greece’s former currency before we joined the euro.
They claim that confronting austerity will lead Greece out of the eurozone. They argue that a return to the drachma will bring about an economic catastrophe worse than anything we have seen so far.
There were problems with these claims right from the start. In Greece the economy has shrunk for five years in a row. Unemployment has increased threefold and wages have been cut between 25 and 35 percent.
All of this—exactly the definition of economic catastrophe—has happened under the leadership of New Democracy and Pasok governments. So leaders of those parties have promised to renegotiate the terms of the austerity memorandum they signed with the European Union in April.
Antonis Samaras of New Democracy and Evangelos Venizelos of Pasok have stressed a “change of climate” in Europe since the French presidential election. They are trying to give their promises some semblence of credibility.
What with the talk about eurobonds, there is now a window of opportunity to soften the terms of the memorandum. And, Samaras and Venizelos say, that needs skillful and responsible handling, not the confrontational tactics of the left.
But the crisis in Spain has blown this reasoning out of the water. The chances are that the terms of the memorandum for Greece will not be improved but worsened as Spain drags the eurozone deeper into trouble.
New Democracy leader Samaras is particularly exposed. He had rushed to hail the election of conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy in Spain last year as evidence that parties of the right can handle the crisis better.
Now his embrace of Rajoy has become an embarrassment. Samaras tried to deal with this by shifting the emphasis of his campaign to “law and order”. He is desperate to attract votes from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn by imitating some of their rhetoric against “illegal immigrant criminals”. But this tactic has come up against a wave of anger at neo-Nazi attacks.
The more Golden Dawn is squeezed the more they resort to outrageous attacks.
Last week their spokesman violently attacked two women MPs, Liana Kaneli of the Greek Communist Party and Rena Dourou of the Syriza radical left coalition, live on TV.
It happened on the eve of anti-fascist demonstrations called by Keerfa (United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat) and other anti-racist organisations across Greece.
The result was that the demonstrations were big and angry, attracting national and international attention. In an election campaign where party political open air rallies have been rare, these protests registered a mass anti-Nazi current.
All these events are keeping up the momentum of radicalisation to the left.
Workers’ confidence is growing. Hospital workers in central Athens struck to defend jobs and services in the cancer and municipal hospitals. The caretaker government was forced to back down for the moment to avoid an escalation of action during the election campaign.
Opinion polls are banned at this stage of the election in Greece. But from informal leaks we learn that Syriza is leading in the final stretch.
The Greek Socialist Workers Party and the Antarsya anti-capitalist coalition to which it belongs have been central to the struggles feeding this left turn. A strong result for Antarsya in the election will enhance this role. But we understand that many militants who respect Antarsya’s role as organisers in the movement will nevertheless vote for Syriza to stop New Democracy.
We must work with all these activists to make sure that a victory for the left in Sunday’s election translates into victories for workers against the bosses.