A Clear, Historical but Still Not Decisive SYRIZA Victory

Greek EU Elections

The Greek EU elections have produced what is clearly a historical result, not only for Greece but for the European Union as well. SYRIZA won by a clear margin of almost 4% (3.8% to be more precise), scoring 26.5% against 22.7% of ND, the governing right party. Moreover, in the municipal and regional elections SYRIZA gained an impressive victory in Attica district with Rena Dourou, though it failed to elect Sakellaridis in Athens, who lost by a small margin to Kaminis.

SYRIZA’s victory is widely discussed by the European mass media, together with Marine Le Pen’s impressive first place in France, as the two most striking and weighty EU elections results. But while important on a general level, SYRIZA’s success is even more important for the European Left. It is the first time in recent history of Western Europe that a party of the Left gains first place since 1984, when the Italian Communist Party had achieved the same, just after Enrico Berlinguer’s death. However, SYRIZA’s victory comes at a much graver occasion, when the specter of fascism, racism and reaction hangs heavily over the continent. In this connection, it is crucial in showing that there is another road for Europe apart from the turn to the ultra Right, observed not only in France but in several other EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, etc.) as well.

Yet, precisely because it is historical, SYRIZA’s victory must be analyzed in a serious way and not be idealized or overestimated. This is not only because it was accompanied by a new rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but also because, if closely viewed, it points to some weaknesses of SYRIZA, without which it could have been even larger. Moreover, the Greek EU election results show some interesting tendencies with regard to the other parties as well, reflecting underground social trends which may be relevant for other EU countries too.

We will proceed therefore to a commentary of the Greek EU elections, hoping to highlight some of these aspects. But first of all let us give the results themselves (we also cite the May and June 2012 parliamentary elections results for the sake of comparison).




May 2012

June 2012











Golden Dawn



























15 other parties took somewhere between 0.5-1.5%. They include notably DIMAR, the Democratic Left party of Fotis Kouvelis, which was smashed to just 1.2% (from 6.1% and 6.3% in the 2012 elections) and ANTARSYA, the anti-capitalist left formation, which also fared very badly, gathering just 0.7% (from 1.2% and 0.3% in 2012). Besides that around 20 more “parties” took less than 0.5% – Greek EU elections were also notable for holding the European record number of candidates, 1300, as compared e.g. with 1050 in Germany…

As concerns the regional elections, they gave 6 out of 13 districts to ND, 2 to SYRIZA (including Attica) and one to Elia (PASOK), the remaining ones being captured by various “independents”. The municipal ones brought Athens and Thessaloniki to former PASOK “independents” (Kaminis and Boutaris respectively), Piraeus to Moralis (a representative of Marinakis, the Olympiakos football team boss) and Patra to KKE’s candidate Peletidis, in its only notable result.

SYRIZA’s Victory

The first round of the Greek municipal and regional elections in May 18 displayed a very ambiguous picture. Despite the successes of Sakellaridis and Dourou in Athens, one could not speak of a coming SYRIZA victory based on it.

This in fact was the opinion of many independent commentators in the Greek Left. In a valuable analysis Andreas Payiatsos of Xekinima, in May 20th, pointed that, despite its successes in Athens and Attica, SYRIZA could not really be satisfied with the result. Payiatsos referred to the fact that SYRIZA scored well under his June 2012 result in all districts, to conclude that, against an extremely unpopular government, “SYRIZA was unable to convince… basically because it moderated its programmatic demands… something reflected in its turn in unacceptable alliances with right elements.” ((A. Payiatsos, “In front of the crucial 25 May fight: conclusions from the 18 May one.”))

Payiatsos also stressed that the other left forces, KKE and ANTARSYA, could really not be satisfied too, since they had regained at best only a part of their former influence, balancing their heavy losses in June 2012. He attributed their essential failure to their “tragic and ignorant of history approaches… we do not sully our hands by collaborating with anyone”. And he pointed to the real danger represented by the Golden Dawn’s rise in Athens and Attica. ((A. Payiatsos, “In front of the crucial 25 May fight: conclusions from the 18 May one.”))

The last week before the May 25 elections, however, saw an improvement of the situation at least with regard to SYRIZA. During the next few days the SYRIZA dynamic we had pointed in our previous articles developed strongly. Indeed, all polls after May 18 showed SYRIZA ahead, by a margin fluctuating between 2.5 and 4.3%. SYRIZA’s percentage moved between 25 and 30%, while ND’s was between 21% and 26%. This was a new finding; former polls averaged at a 2% margin in favor of SYRIZA, a few of them even showing ND ahead.

SYRIZA’s victory came thus to be considered almost certain by most people during the last week, a fact in no way diminishing it. The difference however was quite uncertain, and it turned out to be close to the highest expected point. This fact made SYRIZA’s victory clear and unquestionable, foreshadowing a positive outcome in the national elections too.

However, the way SYRIZA’s victory came about, by a dynamic of the last moment, points also to some problematic aspects of its victory. Notably, before the first round of May 18 and throughout the last week all polls showed an unusually high percentage of undecided voters. While a more close study is needed here, it seems that SYRIZA’s victory was greatly due to the fact that the undecided left and center-left voters swung in big numbers during the last few days towards SYRIZA, while right and center-right dissatisfied voters did not vote for ND, preferring other parties. This means that a part of SYRIZA’s voters is not very closely tied with it, while ND may be able to attract in the coming parliamentary elections some of its own political audience that turned its back to it this time.

The result of the Greek EU elections itself is a clear demonstration of this possibility. The two ruling parties, ND and PASOK, lost together 11.3% of the electorate, divided to a 7% loss for ND and a 4.3% loss for PASOK respectively. Moreover DIMAR, a breakup party from SYRIZA which had participated for a year in the government, lost a clear 5%. Yet, with the ruling parties suffering big losses, SYRIZA just managed to approach its June 2012 percentage, staying 0.5% below. Even if one takes the sum of the Left, including KKE and ANTARSYA, it turns out being just 1% above their June 2012 sum. This means that SYRIZA and the Greek Left as a whole were unable to attract any significant part of this mass of wavering people. They flowed to the largely apolitical Potami, to the ultra-Right (Golden Dawn and LAOS) and many smaller parties.

Yiannis Tolios, an eminent representative of the SYRIZA Left, admits in a first commentary of the results that SYRIZA’s failure to raise its percentage when the two governing parties suffered such serious losses, should be a cause for serious thought within SYRIZA. He considers that “apart from organizational weaknesses and its still small grounding in Greek society, a negative role was played by the weakening of SYRIZA’s radicalism in the period from the 2012 elections until now”. As a result, “the scaremongering [of the government] came off well… the disapproval against the coalition government parties benefited greatly smaller parties.” ((Y. Tolios, “The first conclusions of the elections.”))

It is true indeed that during the last days before the elections scaremongering on the part of the government and its friendly media reached unprecedented heights. A SYRIZA victory was presented like a national danger, a prelude to destabilization and ruin. ANT1 television, the flagship of governmental propaganda, went even so far as to equate SYRIZA with Golden Dawn, systematically presenting both as equally big threats to democracy. However, SYRIZA’s inner weaknesses clearly lessened its ability to effectively counter that propaganda.

SYRIZA’s failure to augment its vote has been utilized by the ND-PASOK spokesmen to argue that the result was not really a SYRIZA victory at all. They also made use in this respect of some statements made by Alexis Tsipras, like his slogan “We vote in the 25 – In the 26 they go!” and his appeal to the Greek people to turn the vote to a referendum against the government. The Greek people, they conclude, did not respond to these calls.

These claims can be considered only as half true at most, since they ignore the specificity of the European elections. Indeed, one can assume that, had the election been a national one, SYRIZA would have attracted at least an additional 2-4% of the electorate, thus approaching 30%.

But it is here precisely that problems begin for SYRIZA, even if we view the result solely from the narrow electoral view of gaining a parliamentary majority. In contrast to ND, SYRIZA cannot count to other parties supporting its government, even in a half-hearted way. With KKE denouncing SYRIZA as an opportunistic pawn of the system and DIMAR being smashed, the only remaining possible, and rather unreliable, ally is Potami. This means that SYRIZA will have to take well above 30% in the coming elections, so as to be able to claim a self-reliant majority. However, this just does not come out of the EU elections result as a realistic possibility.

To put it in a slightly different way, SYRIZA’s problem is that it achieved its clear victory at the bottom rather than the top level predicted by the polls. Had it been a 4% victory by 30-26, then it would have been potentially decisive, for it would show a majority dynamic. As things stand now, clearly this is not the case.

This means that SYRIZA will have to rethink and elaborate further its strategies, in order to attract at least a part of the dissatisfied strata that did not trust it this time. Clearly, this will greatly depend not only on retaining its radicalism, but also on its capacity to show a more unified picture to the people, convincing them it possesses a viable program and is able to govern.


KKE and ANTARSYA were defeated in the EU elections, KKE having a bad and ANTARSYA an almost destructive result.

With just 6% of the vote, KKE cannot really be satisfied. This result is 2.5% below its May 2012 result and 2% below its result in the 18 May regional elections. It is just 1.5% above the June 2012 result, which was its historical low since the 1928 elections, when, being in the midst of a severe crisis, it had taken 1.4%.

KKE leadership tried to present their result as a success, even speaking about a “recovery” of their percentage. There can be no doubt, however, that in a parliamentary election they will again fall to a level similar to the one of June 2012.

Needless to say, the KKE leadership refused and still refuses to derive any lesson from its self-destructive course. After the 18 May elections they issued a declaration calling for abstention and negative vote in municipalities and districts without a communist candidate in the second round. To justify that, they even equated SYRIZA with ND and PASOK.

To their honor, most KKE voters disobeyed their leadership voting for SYRIZA’s candidates, as did SYRIZA’s voters for the KKE ones, this playing a great role in the KKE candidate’s victory in Patra. However, this singular success cannot hide the fallacy of their policies, nor change their overall defeat. Their Central Committee decision after the elections, denying that any step was made in advance and presenting SYRIZA as the reserve of the system, was a monument to blindness and hypocrisy. They will undoubtedly insist on this sectarian line, as admitting its mistake after having pursued it for at least two decades, would be equivalent to admitting their bankruptcy.

ANTARSYA, for its part, clearly paid for its failure to collaborate with Alavanos’s Plan B.

ANTARSYA’s result in the regional elections was not bad, amounting to just above 2%. However, it was buried in silence by the media, not only TV channels but newspapers too, even the “progressive” ones. Many of its candidates were deliberately attributed to other parties, the result being that ANTARSYA almost was not heard in the first round of 18 May. It was definitely not heard at all in the second round, receiving just 0.7% and taking 18th place, one position below “Panathinaiko Kinima”, the “party” of Panathinaikos fans, the well known Athens football team. Plan B did even worse, taking only 0.2%.

ANTARSYA has issued a statement “On the EU elections result” with some self-critical notes, recognizing “weaknesses” in their “political proposal… in the alliances policy… [and] in the structuring of ANTARSYA.” ((ANTARSYA on the EU elections result.))

However, we think, ANTARSYA clearly went off the rails before the elections, during 2012-14, with its failure to recognize the fragility of its bonds with the people. The essential task during that period was not to forge any great anti-capitalist programs, but to make ANTARSYA known to the people. This demanded on its turn the cooperation with SYRIZA in the 2012 elections and with Alavanos in the present ones – the last one being what we call in chess a “forced move”, the only move allowing one to stay in the game. Any self-criticism avoiding an open recognition of these facts will of necessity be shallow, leading to a perpetuation of the present intellectualist and verbally revolutionary traits in ANTARSYA’s structuring and politics. However, even a correct and deep self-criticism is not sure to solve its problems, because time is a decisive factor in a period of crisis, and too much time has been lost and spent unproductively until now.

Golden Dawn on the Rise

The rise of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazis was definitely the second most notable thing after SYRIZA’s victory. With many of its leaders in jail, Golden Dawn was able not only to hold its forces, but to achieve a significant rise of 2.4%, becoming the third party of the country. This is clearly a serious cause of alarm for all anti-Nazi democrats and activists, while strengthening, on the other hand, the audacity of the neo-Nazis.

Without the slightest wish to underestimate neo-Nazi danger, we may note, however, that their result, positive as it is, is not as impressive as they had hoped. With 9.4% they are well ahead of their 2012 result of 7%, but well below the 18 May 16% result of Kasidiaris in Athens and 11.1% of Panagiotaros in Attica. Moreover, one should take into account the fact that just one year ago, before the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, polls regularly showed percentages of 15% for the Golden Dawn. It can be said, therefore, that the neo-Nazi growth, without being stopped, has been somewhat arrested, temporarily at least. As Yiannis Tolios rightly remarks in the same commentary, Golden Dawn “was strengthened… [yet] lost its initial impetus.” ((Y. Tolios, “The first conclusions of the elections.”)) This is not an insignificant aspect of the situation, since Nazism cannot really become too threatening with a moderate, step-by-step rise. As the original Hitler experience has shown, it can prevail only if it grows like a malignant cancer, with accelerating metastases.

There has been some discussion in the Greek Left whether the prosecution of the Golden Dawn leaders has in the end benefited or done harm to the cause of fighting the neo-Nazis, by turning them to heroes, etc. In our opinion, the first is the case, since the revelations made sensitized many indifferent people to the neo-Nazi danger and have shaken somewhat the fanaticism of a part of their following. However, it will be a great illusion if one believes that Nazism can be successfully fought with such legal means; what they can really do is just limit and postpone the danger for a while. It is up to the movement, the only agent capable of smashing Nazism, if this time is used properly.

Another subject of discussion which arose recently is whether we should view the Golden Dawn voters as misguided people or conscious supporters of neo-Nazism. This debate arose after SYRIZA’s president, Alexis Tsipras, called them “misguided people” in a speech he made. This was attacked with uproar by the ND and PASOK leadership as a winking of the eye to the neo-Nazis, with the purpose of gaining votes. In our opinion, however, Tsipras made an essentially correct statement with regard to the majority of Golden Dawn voters, who succumb to neo-Nazi demagogy as a result of their desperate situation. Their resulting inability to think clearly makes these people vulnerable to Golden Dawn alms made with capital money and prevents them from recognizing the contrast of its policies with their deeper interests. Regarding them as conscious neo-Nazis would mean in effect to accept that Golden Dawn’s base is immune. While systemic parties may do so in order to hide their responsibility for the neo-Nazi rise and their inability for genuine anti-Nazi action, the task of the Left is to organize work in neighborhoods etc., in order to free people from neo-Nazi influence. It is here only that some criticism may be made to the loose stance taken by SYRIZA.

The elections results gave two more signals which should be cause of alarm about the ultra-Right danger. First, the “comeback” made by LAOS, the more “orthodox” party of the ultra-Right. The 2.7% it received may not be impressive, but is not negligible. Second, the success of all media and business representatives that took part in the municipal elections (Moralis, Beos, Gletsos, Psinakis). They both offer proof that the people’s resistance to reaction and its representatives has been weakened as a result of their despair. So, if the rise of neo-Nazism has been somewhat arrested in an immediate sense, the long term danger still remains.

The progress of anti-Nazi organization in the degraded neighborhoods and the tightening of SYRIZA’s bonds with the anti-Nazi movements will be crucial in this respect. But a certain role will be played by current developments, to follow soon, like the course of the judicial process against Michaloliakos and the rest of the Golden Dawn gang.

The Other Political Parties

Other political parties, including those of the government coalition, had mixed results. Let us take a look at them:

  1. ND, the main governing party, with a loss of about 7%, suffered a clear defeat. It was not a destructive defeat, especially if one takes account of the municipal and regional elections as well –ND secured 6 out of 13 districts– but it was a heavy defeat nonetheless. This has caused significant turmoil and crisis in its ranks. A government restructuring is discussed already. It is expected to take place in one week or so, rumors saying that the main victim will be the unpopular minister of Economics Yiannis Stournaras.

  2. In contrast to ND, PASOK has managed to come out of the elections a shade better. It suffered, of course, serious losses of about 4%, but still avoided the worse, which was a 5-6%, predicted by many polls just one month ago. It seems that the dilemma put by its leader, Venizelos, that a very law percentage of Elia would mean the collapse of the government had some impact on the electorate.

  3. Potami (River) obtained a decent result, which was however quite lower than that predicted by polls when it was announced. Stavros Theodorakis, its leader, who had put a bottom limit of 5% before the elections for the party to continue, said they will go on to participate in the national elections.

  4. DIMAR was practically annihilated, causing an open leadership crisis in its ranks, which will unfold in the following days.

  5. ANEL, the anti-Memorandum Right, did a bit better, securing a MEP, but its result (3.5%) is quite poor, prescribing an unavoidable further decline.

  6. Ecologist Greens who had a MEP, were also practically smashed, receiving just 0.90%. This has partly to do with a split that recently took place in the party, its other piece receiving about 0.5%.

  7. LAOS, the “non-Fascist” ultra-Right Greek party of George Karatzaferis, had a partial revival after its wreckage in June 2012, securing a modest 2.7%. In fact, LAOS served as an antechamber for Golden Dawn in the past, still including many open racists and Hitler admirers like Kostas Plevris, a notorious Greek anti-Semite. It will find it difficult therefore to present itself with a distinct role now.

  8. Other small parties did not go well. They moved around 1%, that being the case with the populist Right “Union for the Country and People” (1%), the neoliberal Bridges (0.9%), EPAM (the populist pseudo-Left of Kazakis, 0.9%) etc.

We cannot deal with all the implications of these trends, so we will limit ourselves to noting just two points.

First, the results significantly confirmed the tendency to limit the number of political poles, to the two main and a few secondary ones. Clearly the resulting system is not dipolar but rather a multipolar one, ND’s and SYRIZA’s sum being less than 50%. ((This contrasts sharply with the 1981-2012 period, when, with ND and PASOK taking about 85%, only KKE could be considered as a third pole.)) However, smaller and occasional parties where hit hard by the vote. It is not accidental that while some 15 parties secured between 1.5% and 0.5%, none of them was able to create a dynamic of becoming a mass party. Clearly, in a time of grave crisis, despite a certain amount of dispersal, it is difficult to sustain many similar parties, like Elia, DIMAR, Ecologists, etc. The stronger party naturally gobbles up smaller ones, just as a trust swallows ruined and weaker companies.

Second, the demise of DIMAR and the Ecologists Greens has already sparkled discussions about a restructuring of the Center-Left, which apart from the forces mentioned, includes Potami. There is much talk presently in the systemic Greek press about the formation of a third pole, between ND and SYRIZA. However, the difficulty of Potami coming to terms with Elia, prescribes a splitting of other forces between Potami and Elia as the only realistic implementation of such a restructuring. Naturally –and unfortunately– a part of DIMAR and PASOK may turn to SYRIZA, a fact exemplified by the decommissioned former prime minister’s Papandreou statement that PASOK should orientate itself towards a coalition with SYRIZA.

It should be noted of course that the crisis of the so called “Center-Left” is not just a result of bad or corrupt leaderships. At a deeper level, it is due to the fact the unprecedented capitalist crisis has made it impossible to satisfy the interests of the middle strata who were its traditional supporters. These strata being destroyed by the party they invariably had voted, PASOK, and not seeing any prospect of recovery by voting a similar party like DIMAR, naturally turn to other directions (to SYRIZA their radical elements and to Golden Dawn their reactionary ones, with confused people vacillating or turning to colorless formations like Potami).

Therefore, the prospects of a Center-Left restructuring will be meager, as long as the crisis continues. ((One should remind here the similar decline of the Center and Social Democracy and its allies in Germany, during 1929-33.)) Sensing this, Venizelos made today (May 28) the proposal to abolish the 50 seats bonus which the present electoral law provides for the first party. However, this sinister proposal, made not out of any concern for justice but in order to prevent a SYRIZA majority and gain some more seats for his party in the next elections, was turned down for the time being by ND, since they too hope to attain first place…

SYRIZA’s Future Prospects

Up to now we have discussed SYRIZA’s prospects, and the prospects of the broader Greek Left, chiefly on an electoral level. However, SYRIZA has not just promised to form a government. It has promised to use governmental power in order to introduce significant social change. Will it be able to accomplish that?

Left commentators and critics of SYRIZA invariably agree that it will depend on whether SYRIZA will keep in the course of events its Left radical program and physiognomy that secured its mass support in the 2012 elections. Voices from the Right, on the other hand, claim that SYRIZA should become “logical”, abandon its “false radicalism”, etc., as the only chance of realizing its aim to form a government.

The Greek EU elections have given some direct as well as indirect testimony on the question who is right.

An interesting and quite positive aspect is that most of SYRIZA’s elected new MEPS are cadres more or less connected with the movements. Glezos, the resistance hero, came first well ahead of others, with Sofia Sakorafa, the former PASOK MP who moved to the Left opposing the Memoranda after 2010, taking second place. Equally significant is that fourth and fifth position was taken respectively by Kuneva and Katrougalos: Kuneva is the immigrant activist who had been murderously attacked in 2008 for fighting for her rights, while Katrougalos, a university Law professor, also took an active part in the legal fight against the Memoranda. On the other hand, official party representatives did not thrive in the election, with the significant exception of the popular parliamentarian Papadimoulis, who came third. Hountis, SYRIZA’s only MEP from the 2010 election, who belongs to the Left Current, is presently 7th, ((Non-election of Hountis, an experienced party functionary, will be clearly a mishap for the Left Current and for SYRIZA as a whole too.)) his election being extremely doubtful, and Milios, the SYRIZA majority’s economic specialist, just 9th.

These results clearly speak in favor of the Left course of SYRIZA, as a condition of retaining the people’s support. They testify to the fact that any specific adjustments should not overturn but rather develop its core features of 2012.

SYRIZA’s weak spot, explicitly recognized by Tolios, will be found here. It lies in the fact that its bonds with the people and with mass organizations (trade unions, student unions, local government, etc.) lag remarkably behind its electoral influence. This was not only shown in the municipal and regional elections, where the population largely preferred to vote for the “traditional and trusted” representatives of the ruling parties. It has been shown also in the trade and student unions elections, where SYRIZA still remains much weaker than KKE. In the May elections in the universities, PKS, the student union of KKE, took about 20%, as compared with a humble 6% of SYRIZA’s youth. Similarly, the KKE newspaper’s circulation, Rizospastis, despite its boring contents, is still ahead from SYRIZA’s Avgi. For a party which aims at social change these weaknesses may prove fatal, since the ability to overcome resistance depends strongly on developing enduring bonds with the people and being able to mobilize them.

Although SYRIZA did make some improvement steps in the present municipal and regional elections, they are clearly inadequate. In this respect the failure to elect Sakellaridis was a significant one, since it would had given the party control of the municipalities association. With Sakellaridis doing his best, the narrow gap of his defeat ((Sakellaridis lost by a 1.5% margin, 48.5-51.5. The same was the case with Patsiantas, SYRIZA’s candidate facing Beos in Volos. One should mention in this respect the wretched role played by the KKE abstaining in the second round, since both candidates would have a very good chance to win if KKE had expressed support.)) suggests that SYRIZA might have won with another, more prominent candidate.

But the real problem with SYRIZA does not lie in any specific failure. It rather lies in the lack and delay of overall improvement in its mass organization. This in fact has serious causes, in its weak bonds with the industrial working class, traditionally adhering to KKE. However, with careful steps these defects could at least be partially corrected, gaining some worker and trade union support so as to make SYRIZA more coherent. As things stand now, the opening of the party, necessary as such, may have ugly side effects in it being conquered by various careerists, former PASOK representatives, etc.

All that being said, SYRIZA’s victory remains nonetheless historical. It opens broad prospects not only for SYRIZA but for the whole of the European Left. Facing weaknesses will determine if these prospects are realized, but before that it was essential that they appear on the scene. The fact of this victory coming in a period of ultra-Right rise underscores its importance even more.

If, as we had said in our first article, the Greek situation resembles a riddle, than it may be added that the riddle was solved by the Greek people in SYRIZA’s favor. But it was solved with a result that in some respects resembles a Pythia’s oracle. It can be read and interpreted in various ways. Only practice will show if its promise is fulfilled.

Christos Kefalis is a Greek Marxist, editor of the journal Marxist Thought. Read other articles by Christos.