On the deal between Syriza and ANEL

Greece has a new Government. After the euphoria of Syriza’s stunning victory yesterday, came the disappointing realisation that they had to form a coalition to govern, and that that coalition would be with the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL). Kevin Ovenden, who has covered the election in depth, offers some immediate thoughts.

Photo: greekreporter.com
Photo: greekreporter.com

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 mealymouthed.

2) This is not a surprise. The meeting lasted an hour between Alexis and 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 – in 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 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 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 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 last 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, 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

a) developing the resistance and movements of hope where we are
b) seriously and 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 – an not just the comfort of those who agree with us.
c) placing a premium upon fraternal and intelligent political arguments. The aim is to convince, not to denounce.
d) 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.


  1. What a dreadful contribution…ANEL are led by a hard racist and anti Semite. One can stand with Syriza against the ruling class etc without going along with this alliance with racists . And no amount of euro communist twaddle gives it any credence.


    This is a tactical alliance not alteration in principles. A strategic change would require the principles on which Syriza exists to be abandoned. After only a few days in office, it seems bizarre to claim that such a position has been adopted. Syriza has promoted the idea of substantially reducing the debt burden placed on the Greek people by the Troika of European Union, European Central Bank, & IMF. This cannot happen immediately requiring a policy of negotiation to reduce it. It is unlikely it will be abolished; it cannot simply be wished out of existence.

    These are fluid times and new entities, especially Syriza, are constant forming and re-forming. It will be a period of short-term coalitions as issues and classes work themselves out. A strategy of building alliances to achieve the central core principles as defined in the Thessaloniki Programme. Coalitions to broaden the base of support are not surrenders of principle. To date, there is no reason to assume otherwise.

    The coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL) does arise out of parliamentary arithmetic. After all, there are others who could have become possible coalition partners. Syriza was short by one member of an outright majority and required another member to become the speaker. This was a victory for the working class of which Syriza is now its chosen representative. International capital’s preferred representative is the New Democracy party, however, Pasok and To Potami also have ambitions for that position. ANEL is essentially a party of the petty bourgeoisie that have also been victims of the austerity drive.

    There are no direct analogues with this type of political formation because petty bourgeois parties of this type do not exist in the UK. This is why a comparison with UKIP is of little use. However, such parties have arisen and do exist on mainland Europe. Undoubtedly, all these kinds of harbour individuals and segments that are anti-migrant, anti-Semitic and many other repulsive characteristics. But ANEL is not founded on these principles and is just as affected by the processes of secular modernisation that have affected everyone else. However, it is an alliance with the petty-bourgeoisie that has suffered by international capital’s actions. That is why it is a substantial alliance. But like all petty-bourgeois groupings, it can only exist on the basis of either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. It has no real independent political existence.

    Despite the enormous sufferings of the Greek people, it is clear that they do not wish to leave either the Eurozone or the European Union. There is a fear that leaving either would make circumstances even worse. Syriza has recognised that. It will only be by experiencing the hostility and opposition of the EU, IMF, Germany and others that such a sentiment can arise. Perhaps that may become a possibility. But it must be seen as necessary within the Greek people before such a feeling gains any political currency. Currently, it is not present. This is why the autocratic dogmatism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) isolated it from building on the enormous anger that exists.

    Professor Leo Panitch summed them up well saying they, “are nationalists [who] refuse to accept the humiliation and the torture, the economic torture that was being visited on the Greek people… not left nationalists, but right nationalists, in the sense that they have been very critical of the free flow of immigration inside the E.U. and critical of the extent to which immigrants are present in Greece and, they would say, taking jobs from Greek people. In that sense, insofar as that matters much,”1 Adding, “I don’t think it’ll have a great influence, in fact, on the cabinet in that respect, because the cabinet contains more people who have taken a very good line on immigration.” The Greek cabinet of around forty has only one senior member from ANEL as Defence Minister and three another junior ministers. ANEL are very clearly the minority partner.

    Could Syriza gave become a minority government daring all others to vote against much wanted legislative reforms? It is a possibility but all opposition can easily claim to be voting against reforms because either they cost too much or are irrelevant to the needs of Greek people. This unfortunately carries a lot of weight during a crisis as severe as the current one. Moreover, it makes more sense to have a binding commitment from forces who have an interest in the outcome that Syriza desires at this point. But, most importantly, Syriza as a new untested force must show the Greek people that it has the will to seek power. An abstentionist approach, at this time, would do more damage to Syriza than holding office in the face of hostile opposition.

    In capitalism, debt and the other side of the coin credit, have enormous importance. Debt is not just a number; it is a process. Simply declaring that debt will be defaulted upon makes future loans more difficult and costly. To escape from debt often requires more debt to build the necessary resources base and growth. It is a difficult balancing act. Imposing debt has been a feature of capitalism for some time. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the forced loan under the Nazi occupation is still an important issue with the Greeks. While much can be done to lessen the pressures of austerity, these will take time even if the will is present.

    Perhaps the biggest achievement the Syriza government can make will not be in addressing austerity but in dismantling the Greek oligarchy and its stranglehold over politics and the economy. There are very few oligarchies currently in Europe with as cruel and as violent an outlook as can be found in Greece. Their better integration into global capitalism’s institutions principally the EU and NATO has done little to tame them. They are not only tax avoiding ship owners and bankers but police and armed forces with a history that stretches unbroken through two post war coups , a civil war and the occupation. Syriza will need pursue policies similar to Hugo Chavez performed in Venezuela in November 2001 to begin the process of dismantlement of their power. This may become the task for which Syriza will be best remembered.

    1. http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13071&updaterx=2015-01-28+01%3A16%3A04

  3. This January 25, 2015 marks the ushering in of what is hoped to be the world’s first genuine but non-DOTP “workers government” since the Popular Front in Spain. However, this January 25, 2015 also marks the ushering in of what the inter-war social democracy hoped to be the “labour revolution.”

    Indeed, ever since discussions on “workers governments” resurfaced, I can’t help but think why criticisms of this Comintern framework, such as those found in the Weekly Worker, did not compare it to what the renegade Kautsky wrote about coalition governments comprised predominantly of parliamentary “democratic socialist” forces. This is something which not even Chile’s Salvador Allende had, but now which Greece’s Alexis Tsipras has, not least because of the efforts invested in service-oriented solidarity networks.

    As a comrade told me, there is not just public support, but public pressure on the party to take responsibility. However, the political and economic conditions aren’t there for the push towards scrapping private property relations. Coincidentally, this week also marks the ushering in of the world’s first Communitarian Populist Front since the Chartist movement and Paris Commune of the “working class” in Britain and France, respectively, with SYRIZA working with the anti-fascist, stridently anti-austerity, but right-populist Independent Greeks to break away from the class collaborationism of Popular Fronts and sheer hypocrisy of United Fronts.

  4. I posted the link below because I think it contributes to the debate about how we, as revolutionaries, can relate to the Syriza/ANEL coalition.


    I think the ANEL, as a right-wing trojan horse, is a real danger if Syriza doesn’t live up to the hopes of those who elected them. The risk, as I perceive it, is that they manage to shift the debate further towards nationalist rhetoric. While I doubt they will have the success of UKIP in doing so, the ease at which UKIP has appropriated the anti-austerity mood in the UK is a warning to the left in Greece.

    Greece has gained Syriza and lost Demis Roussos. If there’s a lesson in there somewhere I’m not sure what that is.


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