Interview by David Broder
mid the bad results for the Left in the European elections, the Greek outcome was particularly poignant. In the last such contest in 2014, Syriza rode the revolt against austerity to become the largest single party, in its final step toward national office. Five years later, in last month’s election, it finished ten points behind the right-wing New Democracy. And where once Syriza promised to spark change throughout the EU, it is now the best student of the neoliberal dogma “There Is No Alternative.”
After four years of slashed pensions, sell-offs of state assets, and even a right-wing turn on foreign policy, Syriza is now also set to lose office. Indeed, not only did Alexis Tsipras’s party enforce an even harsher austerity than its predecessors ever dreamt of, but as snap general elections loom, it is set to become an exhausted opposition to a sharply reactionary New Democracy government. Polls for the July 7 vote suggest the conservatives have a massive lead, and could even secure an absolute majority in parliament.
The hollowing out of Syriza’s base is the expression of disappointment and despair. But there are also signs that some of its voters are turning to left-wing alternatives. Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’s MeRA25 party achieved a particularly creditable result in the European contest, less than four hundred votes from electing a member of the European Parliament. As Greece heads to a fresh general election, MeRA25 hopes to elect its first members of parliament, offering a platform for its call to replace austerity with Europe-wide investment.
Jacobin’s David Broder spoke to Varoufakis about the effect of Syriza’s defeat on the wider European left, the prospects of a realignment of EU politics, and MeRA25’s own plans for a “political revolution” in Greece.
DB: Almost all left-wing parties lost votes in the European elections, no matter what their strategy regarding the European Union (EU). For this reason, many analyses of the result have focused on more general obstacles, invoking the “death of the populist moment,” the stabilization of the EU, or indeed the lack of left-wing governments able to challenge its current policy balance. Such readings would all suggest a window of opportunity has closed. Do you think this is the case, or are there still openings?
YV: It is undoubtedly the case that a large window of opportunity has closed — and it was closed here, in Greece, in 2015. Millions of Europeans looked with hope to this country, and it was Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza government (elected that January) that had the responsibility for keeping that window open, and for opening it up further for others. What these millions wanted a break from was not even true neoliberalism, but what I would call bankruptocracy — a new regime in which the greatest power was wielded by the most bankrupt bankers.
Tsipras’s surrender in July 2015 closed that window of opportunity. And there’s no sugaring the bitter pill — the European elections were a complete catastrophe for progressives. Yet at the same time, we should also be clear that there is never a final victory or defeat. New windows are always opening up.