This was written as part of Kevin’s live blogging of the post-election manoeuvres, in response to the shock many readers felt at Syriza’s coalition agreement with the right-wing ANEL (Independent Greeks). We thought it deserved a standalone post that people could come back to easily, before Kevin delivers his final dispatch — a full post-election wrap-up.
Here are some immediate thoughts. They include how we on the international and internationalist Left might respond. As well as what — in my opinion — we should say:
1) Do not cry, do not wax indignant, understand. The great enlightenment philosopher Spinoza’s advice is pertinent. Let’s understand the logic (of which I am critical). This is not a time for absolutism. But neither for being mealy-mouthed.
2) This is not a surprise. The meeting lasted an hour between Alexis Tsipras and Panos Kammenos. It was finalising things. Discussions have been underway for some time. It will not do to say this is an emergency measure caused by falling short of 151 seats. And it certainly will not do to blame the Left, inside or outside Syriza. Why?
3) As I explained in running commentary, seeking a coalition partner was never a matter of parliamentary arithmetic. It is about political logic.
4) The argument for including ANEL goes like this: we face a national humanitarian disaster. Greece faces international foes. Just as it did under the Mussolini invasion and the Third Reich occupation. We cannot face up to that with 36 percent support. The Left must broaden its base. To Potami and Pasok would weaken the anti-memorandum position. ANEL will have to stick with an anti-memorandum line. So we will strengthen the anti-memorandum hand in the negotiations with the Troika by having them in the tent. Additionally, this will discombobulate the Right. For the moderates in Syriza it also gives a counterweight to the Left.
5) (I am trying to do justice to the argument above. I do not agree with it.) This is not just tactics. It is a product of strategy. The theory of how to win hegemony this works from looks to the building of political blocs (resting on class blocs). That finds intellectual resource in a variety of traditions — communist, eurocommunist, Maoist, even variants of the Trotskyist. I can justify those claims, but not right now. Put the ideological tradition to one side. The issue is political strategy. Consider that and then you can make sense of the ideological justification which, like mathematics to the natural sciences, comes in as handmaiden.
6) How can a party of the radical Left be in alliance with that Greek Ukip? Well — the memorandum cuts through politics in Greece orthogonally (at right angles) to the Left/Right divide. It is possible to be right-wing on all the social questions and against the memorandum. ANEL may loosely be compared with Ukip. But it was formed out of a split from New Democracy on an anti-memorandum basis. Ukip in Britain is Thatcherite and struggles to articulate the mood against austerity.
7) What is ANEL? It is a nationalist, xenophobic, anti-German party. But it has not built its support — unlike Golden Dawn (GD) — on the basis of popular racism. It has built it by not being part of the coalitions which implemented austerity. That is an important distinction. But it is racist. Kammenos voted against the Pasok (when in government alone) law to grant citizenship rights to children of immigrants. Syriza supported the law. It has opposed the concentration camps for immigrants.
8) How does that pan out? Some on the Left of Syriza — many — are saying that with 149 MPs to ANEL’s 13, Syriza will “hegemonize” Kammenos. Friends from the internationalist wing of formal majority of Syriza — 70 percent of the Congress — say that. But they are worried by the move and do not like it.
9) The position of the Left Platform? Most of the Left Platform — led by Panayiotis Lafazanis — were privately more against a deal with To Potami or Pasok than with ANEL. Why? Because they share the strategy of building broad “popular alliances” shaped by what they frame as a “national struggle” against the Troika. Alexis Tsipras played with that language a lot in his victory speech last night. He spoke of sovereignty and national dignity. He did not describe the election as a victory for the Left. But it was a Left victory.
10) The anti-racist mobilisations and demands to do better than Pasok on immigration, human rights, police brutality and jailing GD therefore become even more important in providing a counter pole to the presence of ANEL in the government. Kammenos — a poster boy of the shipping magnates — is pitching for shipping minister. That ministry has been in the hands of the maritime oligarchs for the last 40 years whoever is in office. People voted for a break with the old corruption, not for tolerating it under a Left government born of hope.
11) The KKE? Its leader did not stick the boot into ANEL in his speech on election night (but rightly attacked the GD as neo-Nazis). It will lambast the government as “more of the same”.
12) The anti-capitalist Left is in a position to make a clear political explanation of what is wrong with the forming of the coalition. The clarity and strength of that argument is immediately bound up with the movements, against racism and for migrant rights especially.
13) Was there an alternative? Yes. Syriza could have formed a minority government. But that would mean being very clear that the strategy was of using all positions of strength of the Left, inside and outside government, to conduct a fight with the Right, the oligarchs and the Troika. It is perfectly constitutionally possible to form a minority government. And politically. An aggressive challenge to the minor parties to vote against the government would put them under enormous pressure. In fact, with ANEL in the coalition, the government will have to rely on this tactic anyway. For example, if it wants to propose decent measures over migrants, racism, police behaviour, LGBT equality, etc., it will have to challenge the likes of Pasok and the liberal modernising To Potami to dare vote against them, while facing down objections from ANEL. Either that or, despite the 149 to 13 balance of the coalition, the tail will wag the dog.
14) We are at the beginnings of this process. Not the end. There will be much more of this kind of thing. We must prepare for it and calmly understand and explain. Tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner: to understand all is to excuse all, goes another maxim. It can lead to that. But it should not. There is a debate. Some genuinely believe this to be a correct policy. I am one of those who does not. There is nothing wrong in friends of the Greek movement and Left saying so. And if you do think so, you should say so.
15) But we don’t want to demoralise people? No, we must not. The Left depends on hope and we must approach this — as all the future questions — from the standpoint of how we develop hope. That rests on deepening the impact of the electoral success in Greece and the breach it opens up over austerity and, whatever the political machinations here, over racism too.
16) So we should make our case from the standpoint of:
- Developing the resistance and movements of hope where we are.
- Seriously acknowledging that these are major questions of strategy. That means debating them through and not foreclosing the argument with outraged indignation. It also requires talking to those from other traditions — with other viewpoints — and not just the comfort of those who agree with us.
- Placing a premium upon fraternal and intelligent political arguments. The aim is to convince, not to denounce.
- Taking account of the big lines of division — with the Right and with the elites imposing austerity. The argument against putting ANEL in government is that it weakened the front on those battle lines. That has to be shown.
Concretely, a massive and unified display of opposition on the international day of action on 21 March, which originated in Greece, against racism and fascism and for migrant and Muslim rights is now a date which all on the Left should bookmark and take action on.
There will be much more too. But we should approach it all in this spirit.
Who is Panos Kammenos?
He began his political career in the New Democracy student youth in the early 1990s. The young Tories had a particularly macho and thuggish reputation back then.
He was in one of the two gangs — the Rangers and the Centaurs — who dominated the youth organisation. Not the same as fascist street fighters. But physical with the Left, on the far Right of the party and a lot more of a problem on campus than something like the loathsome Bullingdon Club at places like Oxford in Britain.
For British friends of a certain age, they were like a physical force Monday Club.
He graduated into the ranks of the New Democracy parliamentary party. He remained on the hard Right. He became particularly close to the shipowners, who together with the media barons (and united with them by marriage), constitute the backbone of the oligarchy that has robbed the Greek people blind for decades while imposing dynastic rule when it can.
He split from ND when the party flipped over from its opportunist anti-memorandum position to support the austerity bailouts.
He has seen MPs defect. Rachel Makri was taken on as a Syriza candidate in this election. The lines of division Syriza over that — and muted nature of the opposition to the move — indicated a path which leads to where we are now.
Kammenos is a kooky conspiracy theorist (with added anti-semitism to boot). For example, he maintained that the vapour trails left by passenger jets were in fact chemtrails the kind left by low-lying crop-spraying and comprised a soporific drug which had made the Greek people go along with a new German occupation of their country.
So that’s Kammenos.
Is it constitutionally possible to have a minority government?
The Constitution states that a government can be formed when the president of the democracy (the President) is satisfied that a party leader has the support to win a vote of confidence in the parliament.
Clearly, if you have an absolute majority or you go to the President, as Tsipras did today, with a formal coalition deal that takes you over 151 seats, then the answer is but a formality.
What if you go and say you have close to 150 (you constitutionally must have over 120 to govern alone) and inform the President that you have agreements from parties not to vote against you or that you’re confident you can win a confidence vote? The Constitution refers to the President being satisfied. And legal commentary weighs in on saying that you explain to the President the support you have for a confidence vote (reporting that people will not vote against you) and you just go ahead with the vote, which you win by simple majority of those voting.
On election night a couple of old stiffs in Pasok — such as Pangalos (who yesterday admitted to voting ND!) — tried to claim that the law was in fact unclear. They were slapped down. Including by figures on the Right of the party such as Loverdos.
So: the whole weight of the legal commentary and political opinion is that it is a simple matter to form a minority government. None of the party leaders who on election night said Greece’s problems were too big for one party in government to solve them even hinted that a minority government is unconstitutional.
Politically, of course, people would find it intolerable if a party with 149 seats was prevented from putting a confidence vote.
(I am leaving aside the party dynamics which pretty clearly show that it is very easy to see a minority government not being brought down because parties cannot vote it down for fear of destroying their own bases.)
I’m indebted to two lawyers, one whose PhD is in Greek constitutional law for the discussions that informed this piece.
P.S. if you want the articles of the constitution and legal commentary, dicta and obiter, then I my two colleagues are more senior colleagues charge just €600 an hour. Let’s not tie ourselves up in knots. And let’s not indulge the likes of Pangalos by giving him credence. The issue is political. The constitutional matter is secondary, and settled.