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Movements and elections, from Greece to Canada

Faline Bobier

August 17, 2015

As we head into this federal election campaign there are some instructive lessons for activists and those on the left who want to see a radical change from the last 10 years of Stephen Harper and the Tories, in the trajectory of Syriza’s left-wing government in Greece.

The Harper government has shown itself over the last ten years to be the enemy of women, Indigenous communities, union members, environmentalists, immigrants and refugees, veterans, seniors—in fact, the vast majority of the population.

Recent revelations about the PMO’s office (and most likely Harper himself) being well aware of the $90,000 payoff to disgraced ex-Senator and Tory hack Mike Duffy are the icing on the cake of Tory corruption and venality.

With the unexpected victory of the NDP in Alberta and the fact that federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is leading in recent polls, this election could see an NDP government in power federally for the first time in Canadian history. This is an outcome much to be desired and there are many people in ridings across the country who will work tirelessly during this election campaign to try to make this dream a reality. Any socialist worth the name should be on the side of those working and hoping for an NDP victory, since the NDP is the only party not wholly owned by and representing the interests of big business and capital.


But if we look to recent events in Greece and the trajectory of the left-wing ruling party Syriza, there are lessons to learn for activists in Canada. Just recently Greek MPs (including a majority of Syriza members) voted to accept a “bailout” from Greece’s international creditors with conditions that will only further hurt and impoverish Greek workers and the poor. It is the third “memorandum” of austerity to be imposed on Greece since the financial crisis.

As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in The Daily Telegraph after the memorandum was accepted: “The cruel capitulation forced upon Greece after 31 hours on the diplomatic rack offers no conceivable way out the country’s perpetual crisis. The terms are harsher by a full order of magnitude than those rejected by Greek voters in a landslide referendum a week ago, and therefore can never command democratic assent.”

This comes only a few weeks after Syriza leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras exhorted Greeks to reject exactly the sort of austerity terms that the new deal he will impose demands of Greece and its people. He is now leading the attack not only on Greek workers and their families but on the left within his own party.

This contradiction comes from a flawed political strategy: Tsipras and Syriza’s hope from the beginning was to negotiate better terms for Greece within the framework of the Eurozone and the euro. Panagiotis Sotiris of Antarysa (a grouping of the anti-capitalist left in Greece) explains it this way: “The euro is a whole set of institutional political and monetary arrangements that in a certain way sort of creates like an iron cage of austerity from which it is impossible to escape if you accept its terms.”

Some members of the Left Platform inside Syriza have been vocal in their criticisms of Tsipras and this latest deal. But what is needed now is more than a focus on Tsipras and his betrayal. It is not a question of this leader or that inside the party, but of reaching outside Syriza to the broad layers of Greek workers, students and the poor who voted ‘No’ to austerity and to other sections of the anti-capitalist left.

It is fundamentally the years of strikes and struggle on the ground in Greece that made it possible for Syriza and Tsipras to come to power in the first place and it is only in the strengthening of those struggles now that there can be any hope of rejecting the politics of austerity and misery for the vast majority in Greek society.

Orange wave

Likewise here in Canada the NDP’s current popularity is a result, not of better leadership, but of the wave of struggle and activism that began importantly with Idle No More. People are frustrated and angry with 10 years of Tory rule which have trod on democracy, the environment, workers’ rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights and much more.

But really fighting to defend those rights and to gain lost ground will not be achieved simply by electing Mulcair and other NDP MPs. It’s clear even in the first weeks of the campaign that Mulcair’s strategy of carefully controlling candidates who will be allowed to run for the party is about trying to appeal to some mythical “middle” in order to gain power.

So, potential NDP candidates who have made statements supporting the Palestinian struggle or who voice open opposition to pipelines or the tar sands, are prevented from running or strongly criticized by the party leadership.

This is a wrong strategy. Those looking to the NDP for hope in this election include the same people who have demonstrated against the destruction of the environment and on Indigenous land from Palestine to Turtle Island, who opposed Bill C-51 and austerity. They do not want more of the same, or a slightly watered-down version of more of the same. The NDP leadership needs to show at least as much courage as the people who are working to elect them.

But more importantly, activists cannot see electing the NDP as the end game. Any of the changes we hope to see will only come from the strength of our movements pushing for that change from below.

Join the public forum Election 2015: How do we stop Harper? Monday August 24, 7pm at Steelworkers Hall (25 Cecil St), Toronto

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