This is almost certainly not the end of 49-year-old Tsipras' political career — his talent in demagogy will be proved useful for the bourgeois class in the future — but provides us a chance to review and evaluate some major aspects of his so far contribution to Greek politics.
Tsipras appeared as a political "messiah" in the end of 2000s, in the very beginning of the capitalist financial crisis. He was elected SYRIZA's president in 2008 and became the youngest Prime Minister of Greece in 2015, making international headlines as a “radical, left-wing” political rebel determined to challenge the political and economic correlation of forces within the European Union.
Speaking at the Greek Parliament in 2016, Aleka Papariga, MP and former General Secretary of the Communist Party (KKE), had provided the most successful definition of SYRIZA, calling it “the most recessive, conciliatory and degenerated thing appeared in the course of class-struggle”, adding that Tsipras' government became a “pillar of the rotten capitalist system” (here).
Indeed, under Tsipras, SYRIZA was transformed from a small opportunist left-wing party into Greece's major social democratic pole, replacing the once-dominant Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). Reaching its electoral peak in January 2015, SYRIZA formed a coalition government with Independent Greeks (ANEL), a far-right, nationalist party, promising to get the country out of the crisis. In fact, the SYRIZA-ANEL government, which lasted from 2015 to 2019, completed a very significant job on behalf of the capital; a job that the previous governments of the conservative New Democracy (ND) and PASOK couldn't accomplish.
The pre-electoral declarations of SYRIZA about the supposed “end of austerity” and the much-advertised “clash with the EU”, were soon proved false promises. In the already existing anti-popular policies and the two austerity memorandums of the previous administrations, Mr Tsipras' government added hundreds of anti-worker laws and brought a third, even more onerous memorandum. The rhetoric about the “clash with EU austerity” and the “tearing of the memorandums” was quickly forgotten and the SYRIZA-ANEL government became an efficient implementer of lasting austerity and “balanced budgets”, which inevitably mean more cuts in state funds for Health, Education, Social Security, etc.
Within a month in the government, SYRIZA, with celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister, proceeded to the first agreement of anti-people measures with the Troika (which hypocritically was renamed as “the institutions”). This first agreement, which was actually a continuation of the existing austerity mechanism, took the name “bridge programme”.
In summer 2015, as part of an effort to deceive workers and popular strata, the government of Alexis Tsipras organized a new machination: They “set up” a false dilemma through the notorious July 5th referendum, one of the biggest political frauds in post-1974 Greek history. actually trapping the people in the logic of the “lesser evil”. Just a few weeks later, the SYRIZA-ANEL government, with the votes of New Democracy, PASOK and Potami, passed the 3rd austerity memorandum in the Greek Parliament.
After the September 2015 elections, SYRIZA continued implementing the harsh measures of the previous austerity packages, along with preparing the new ones included in the 3rd memorandum. If we have to summarize the economic policy of Tsipras' government since the beginning of its term, we must mention the following:
— Full implementation of all the anti-people, anti-worker measures of the previous austerity memorandums (2010-2014) signed by the governments of PASOK and ND, which include immense cuts in salaries and destruction of labour rights.
— Unprecedented tax enforcement against the working class and popular strata, including increase in VAT and dozens of increases in “special” taxes. At the same time, numerous tax evasion laws in favor of the big capital remained intact.
— Cuts in pensions and retirement age limits, decrease of lump-sum allowances, while through the so-called “Katrougalos law” a whole category of insurance contributions was imposed.
— The tax enforcement on one hand and the continuous reductions in pensions and social benefits on the other, led to monstrous primary surpluses. These surpluses in state budget have been a result of extreme austerity imposed on the working people. From the budget's 55 billion euros, only 800 million euros are being used by the government as part of a supposed “social policy”.
— Implementation of every project that benefits the big capital, from the destructive gold mining in Chalkidiki and the conversion of Attica into a field of profit-making large businesses (casinos, Elliniko redevelopment, etc) to the privatization of the country's airports, major ports (e.g. Piraeus, Thessaloniki), of the Public Power Corporation (DEI), etc.
The four years of SYRIZA government confirmed the fact that the implementation of anti-people, anti-worker policies go hand in hand with the intensification of oppression and police violence against the workers' movement. As an opposition party, SYRIZA was regularly condemning police brutality against demonstrators; however, Mr Tsipras' government followed the same path: Riot police attacks against peaceful protesters, teargas and flash grenades against workers, teachers, students, farmers, even against pensioners.
SYRIZA, which ascended to power through a false, hypocritical “anti-austerity”, supposedly “radical” rhetoric, became the most loyal proponent and implementer of austerity. Greek capitalists, the creditors, the EU and the US, have all praised the job of Tsipras' government in economy, congratulating SYRIZA for implementing capitalist, fiercely anti-worker reforms.
From Left-wing opportunists into social democrats
The truth is that Alexis Tsipras and his party, SYRIZA, was never against the capitalist system. On the contrary, its roots go back to the – destructive for the communist movement – revisionist trend of euro-communism. The party's predecessor, Synaspismos, had been the political refuge of opportunists, revisionists, anti-soviet leftists, euro-communists, trotskyites and others. Back in the beginning of the 1990s, Synaspismos had welcomed the victory of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, while it backed the notorious Treaty of Maastricht (Treaty of the European Union).
Since the beginning of the capitalist economic crisis in Greece, the transformation of SYRIZA into a social democratic party was accelerated. Between 2010 and 2014, the party of Tsipras adjusted its programme, steadily abandoning radical positions and adopting a more pro-EU stance. From the “clash with the EU and creditors”, SYRIZA moved towards the “negotiation within the EU framework”.
In the beginning of its first governmental term, SYRIZA was already devoted to the stimulation of capitalist development, while it was promising that its development plan would benefit both the working class and the large businesses. Promoting the slogan “humans above profits”, SYRIZA was spreading illusions to the masses that capitalist development can lead to positive results for the working people as long as a “left government” is in charge of the policy. This theory has been proved a blatant lie and consists nothing but a deception against the workers.
A “standard-bearer” of US-NATO imperialism
During the 2015-2019 term, the government of SYRIZA was proved the most loyal promoter of the US-NATO interests. Without exaggeration, Mr Tsipras' government deserves the title of the “standard-bearer” of imperialist interests in the broader region of Eastern Mediterranean.
As Greece's Prime Minister, Tsipras signed all NATO agreements, defended the euro-atlantic alliance's expansion in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, agreed and promoted to the establishment of even more US-NATO military bases in Greece (including the expansion of the existing ones, such as the Souda U.S. Naval Base) and provided assistance to the US army during the imperialist attacks in Syria. Under the SYRIZA-ANEL government, Greece became even more involved in the dangerous plans of US-NATO in South Eastern Europe, within the context of the euro-atlantic alliance's aggressive strategy against Russia.
Within this framework, SYRIZA played a leading role in the accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM, now known as Northern Macedonia), especially through the “Prespes Agreement” on the so-called Macedonia name issue. Mr Tsipras' government signed strategic economic and military agreements with the state of Israel, while it supported – and still supports – a divisive “solution” for the Cyprus Issue, under the auspices of NATO.
The “left” of SYRIZA became an apologist of the imperialists and tried to “whitewash” the role of the US-NATO and EU in the consciousness of the Greek people. On that point, the hypocrisy of Tsipras' government surpassed all limits: With one hand SYRIZA was laying wreath to the Polytechnic anniversary (the November 1973 popular uprising against the US-backed Junta) and at the same time, with the other hand it was signing Greece's complete serfdom to US and NATO.
The KKE has been totally vindicated
From the very beginning of SYRIZA's electoral rise, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was the only political power which, actually and honestly, exposed the real nature of Alexis Tsipras' party. Back in 2012, various leftist and reformist forces in Greece, including SYRIZA, exercised immense pressure to the KKE, in an effort to extort its collaboration with a future “left government”. Both bourgeois and opportunist media attacked the KKE for its refusal to join a left political alliance under SYRIZA.
The KKE has insisted – and insists – on the position that every version of capitalism is barbaric and that no bourgeois government can exercise a pro-people, pro-workers policy within the framework of capitalist economy. The Communist Party of Greece correctly rejected the “sirens” of opportunism to support a left coalition government based on a “minimum program”; History herself has shown that such “programs” do not cause a rupture in the bourgeois political system but, on the contrary, they are helpful for the system's regroupment.
The KKE exposed the actual political character of SYRIZA as an opportunist party that was rapidly transforming into social democracy's major pole. Since the beginning of the capitalist economic crisis, hundreds of articles in “Rizospastis” and the “Communist Review” have provided thorough analysis of SYRIZA's programme, exposing its contradictions, fallacies and deceptions.
The position that the Communist Party of Greece kept all these years has been fully vindicated by the political developments. The Party's firm refusal to succumb to the pressure in order to participate in a bourgeois government alongside SYRIZA, is without any doubt a very significant legacy, not only for the KKE itself, but for Greece workers' movement in general.
Hope lies in the workers-people's organized struggle
|KKE's rally in Athens on 21 June 2023.
Through the experience of SYRIZA, the ruling class of Greece wanted to send the message that “nothing can change”, that “class war” is fruitless and, therefore, “class collaboration” is needed.
However, the truth is very different. The four years of SYRIZA administration destroyed any illusions. The perception that a bourgeois government can exercise a pro-people, pro-workers policy within the limits of the capitalist system has been totally bankrupted. A major lesson that comes out of the SYRIZA experience is that the rotten exploitative system cannot be managed or reformed in favor of the workers' interests.
The Greek communists, the KKE, successfully predicted the course that SYRIZA would follow, fought consistently against the illusions spread by Mr Tsipras and his political company, stood up to the challenge of keeping intact the flame of class struggle and managed to organize the struggle of the labour movement.
The proletariat in Greece, Europe and all over the world must learn from the bitter experience of SYRIZA and choose the way of total rupture with the capitalist system, against the power of monopolies, for the overthrow of capital's dominance, towards the socialist-communist future. There are no political messiahs - Only the people can save the people.
* Nikos Mottas is the Editor-in-Chief of In Defense of Communism.