There are historical moments when the normal rush of events comes to a standstill. These are often occasions when the usual relations of power are reversed, the mighty humbled, and the poor and needy uplifted.
So it was in Greece on 5 July 2015. The scale of the victory of those campaigning for OXI—no to more austerity—must have exceeded their wildest expectations.
Greece has, in relative terms, the largest radical left in Europe. It has been hardened in struggle—against Nazi Occupation and Civil War during the 1940s, against the monarchy in the 1960s, against military dictatorship in the early 1970s, against neoliberalism and austerity ever since.
But the OXI score of 61.3 percent went way beyond the normal boundaries of the left. This was a vote that reached deep into Greek society.
And it was achieved with the European and local ruling classes and all the private media in the Yes camp, with a campaign of fear that started when the European Central Bank (ECB) forced the closure of the Greek banks.
What we saw was what the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci had in mind when he wrote about hegemony—the revolutionary left developing the political and organisational ability to offer leadership to society at large.
And there’s the rub. For the architect of the referendum, Alexis Tsipras, is no Gramsci. He called the referendum to get himself out of a hole.
The Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, backed up by the “Institutions”—the ECB, European Commission, and International Monetary Fund—was unrelenting in its demands for more austerity.
Meanwhile the governing party, Syriza, was divided over how to respond. Brussels was sniffing around the parties of the centre in the hope of constructing a government of “national unity” with the Syriza right wing.
It is a sign of the political ineptitude of Syriza’s enemies that they had apparently tapped Yannis Stournaras, governor of the Bank of Greece, to head this government.
Their humiliating defeat in the referendum has blown away these plans. It will also increase Tsipras’s authority over his own party and give him more bargaining power with the Eurogroup. All in all, this has been a brilliant manoeuvre.
But is it more than that? Tsipras’s record is that of tactical improvisation rather than a coherent strategy.
This was evident on Tuesday of last week when he briefly threw things into confusion by writing to the “Institutions” accepting almost all their demands. Now he has given the Eurogroup a peace offering in the shape of the head of his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, whom they loathed.
This doesn’t bode well.
There’s no sign that the European Union (EU)—and above all its key leader, German chancellor Angela Merkel—will reciprocate. They’ve been humiliated too, but then they have been in the past by referendums in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland. Contempt for democracy is inherent in the noble European project.
The Greek masses asserted control of their destiny last Sunday. To make this more than a fleeting moment they will need to continue, and to demand that their government draws the logical consequences of the No victory.
This means breaking with the eurozone, taking permanent control of the banks, introducing a new currency, and using the power of the state to keep the economy running.
Firms that threaten to lay off workers should be nationalised under workers’ control. These measures are no longer socialist utopia—they are a practical necessity.
To implement this programme the No campaigns in neighbourhoods and workplaces must carry on.
We’ve seen divisions on the left weaken, as activists from Syriza and the Anticapitalist Front Antarsya worked together around the referendum, and Communist Party voters largely ignored their leaders’ foolish call to abstain.
The greater the self-organisation on the ground, the greater the power of the No camp to counter the chaos the EU is trying to inflict, and to overcome the government’s vacillations. By their actions, those in the radical left in Greece have created an unprecedented opportunity.
They must seize it and make history.