Sparsh Pandya, BA South Asian Studies
The European political zeitgeist has undoubtedly been gripped by austerity. This is not an illogical phenomenon by any means – since the 2008 financial crisis, harsh austerity measures have been carried out by governments all over Europe. These measures have been facilitated by the ‘Troika’ – the International Monetary Fund, European Union and the European Central Bank. These austerity measures have perhaps been felt most in the weaker economies such as those of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. As a corollary, anti-austerity and parties on the left have gained major ground, and there is no greater example than the historic victory of Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece. On the 26th of January, Alexis Tsipras assumed office as the Prime Minister of Greece, having got there on a firm stance of anti-austerity and nationalisation-orientated policy.
It is important not to view the victory of Syriza, or the similar rapid growth of Podemos in Spain, in isolation. In these times of transnationalism and globalisation, it is important to see working class issues from an international perspective. It is my view that only through international workers’ solidarity can radical parties and leaderships be built in countries such as Britain.
Britain is, of course, in a different situation. While the government’s austerity measures have had incredibly negative impacts on worker conditions and social welfare, it has managed to avoid making these impacts as acute as those in Spain and Greece. But one must not oversimplify the issue and forget to recognise the enormous wealth that the UK is sitting on as a result of its historical and arguably current imperial pursuits. Having said this, it is certainly not the case that Britain cannot see a similar phenomenon. The increase in the casualization of labour, the privatisation of national industries and the crumbling of the welfare state are all examples of issues which trouble and mobilise workers.
These issues can only gain resonance, however, through the rise of a truly representative leadership. In Britain we see a crisis of leadership with regard to the traditional party of the working class, the Labour Party. It has become a joke, with political betrayals occurring on a regular basis, from the era of New Labour, continuing through to today. Coupled with this is the loss of representative leadership within trade unions, where we see a prevalence of opportunist, careerist leaders who repeatedly capitulate to compromises at the cost of the workers they supposedly represent.
What arises from all of this is a great deal of political apathy and disenchantment concerning the status quo. We have all seen, if not read, the work of Russell Brand who correctly sources this apathy in the political establishment of this country. This elite has no interest in true democratic representation and is otherwise occupied with keeping multinational corporations – which operate entirely from a profit motive – happy. Brand views the rise of Syriza as a ‘new politics’ and has rallied his fans to push for a British equivalent of the party. “If we had a party like Syriza in Britain, I would vote for it,” he said. “I would urge you to vote for it. What this is an opportunity for us to bully, galvanise, push political powers into representing us properly.” Perhaps this is the direction politics will have to take, as what is very clear is that political apathy is being rapidly replaced with a desperate need to express political dissatisfaction. This phenomenon was seen in the Scottish independence referendum, where the ‘Yes’ vote was more of a middle finger to the establishment than anything else. People are becoming further and further politicised, and any outlet for this developing activism will be used.
Suffice it to say, the workers of Greece are not alone in their struggle. The eyes of the European working class are on Greece and on the new government’s next moves. The workers of Europe long for an end to austerity, and thus instinctively sympathise with the stance being taken by the leaders of Syriza. If Tsipras’ government shows that austerity can be stopped, it could have a great effect across Europe.
What we can hope for is Syriza exposing the exploitative nature of the Troika to the eyes of the Greek masses, and then proceeding to carry out their programme to completion. This would require cancelling the foreign debt, as well as nationalising the banks and main corporations of Greece. These actions would not isolate Greece at all, but would transform it into a beacon for the masses of Europe, an example to be followed.
The notion of anti-austerity is already popular in the UK, there is no doubt about this. It is important, however, that these sentiments manifest politically in non-nationalist and inclusive political arrangements. The way in which we see the current Westminster establishment being critiqued through votes for parties such as the SNP or UKIP is not the solution. The answer lies in creating parties which critique the system from a class basis and do not succumb to the lowest common denominator: populist campaigns that alienate huge parts of society.