Greek election: pragmatism won over ideological purity
The success of Alexis Tsipras and his leftist Syrza Party in the Greek elections, may point to a winning path for liberal parties in the West who have been on the defensive now for the past couple of decades. That path, surprisingly, requires the abandonment of purist ideology in favor of pragmatic compromises.
It is surprising, because the unwillingness to compromise has been associated with the right wing. In the United States, we think of the rigid political dogma of those identifying with the so-called Tea Party. In Western Europe, the extreme nationalistic parties come to mind. These latter parties gave grown, in part, as a reaction to the influx of immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East as well as from Romania and Albania. They also have a sizable core of racial and nationalistic populism, somewhat akin to the supporters in the United States of George Wallace’s populist presidential campaign of 1968.
Alexis Tsipras and his wife, Peristera Baziana, were both members of the Communist Party’s youth wing and were both in their teens when the Communist Bloc of Eastern Europe fell apart. Now the Communist Party of Greece, at least since the Greek Civil War (1946-49), has had a large faction who were socialist nationalists. Indeed members from that faction, a few years earlier, held five ministerships in George Papandreos’ national unity government. All factions of the KKE (The Communist party of Greece) opposed the “The Colonels Military Junta,” who were running against “the communist threat.” Many KKE leaders were arrested by the Junta. Alexis Tsipras was born just days after the fall of the Junta.
As with many other Communist parties around the world, Khrushchev’s famous speech of 1956 in which he confessed that the horrific actions attributed to Stalin were in fact true, rather than “capitalist lies,” split the KKE with the socialist nationalists reaching out to other left-leaning groups. In 1988, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, the KKE formed the Coalition of the Left and Progress party. This move, which showed the growing pragmatism and political savvy of the KKE, paid of in the elections of 1989, in which the new coalition received slightly more than 13 per cent of the vote for the Greek Parliament. These were formative years for the young Alexis Tsipras, and he absorbed the lessons of widening the base and permitting open discussions about the uniquely nationalist nature of Greek communism.
The current Greek economic crisis and its hardships on the Greek working class provided a fertile environment for Tsipras’ leftist coalition party, Syrza. The pragmatism of Tsipras, further showed in his opposition to the hefty property tax known as “Enfia”–a stance which ran counter to the purist communists’ position. Post-election polls show that he received considerable support from suburban housewives, and most of those named his opposition to the property tax as a primary reason why they voted for him. Lacking a majority of Parliament, Tsipras made up a ruling coalition by including the right-wing Independent Greeks party.
To be sure, Tsipras has the almost impossible task ahead of him to negotiate new terms for Greece’s European debt, as well as raising wages and employment. But in an era of conservative rule in most of the West, he has taken a wing of the Greek left from a marginal status to a ruling one, partly by his personal charisma, but almost certainly a significant part due to his willingness to abandon ideological purity for politically pragmatic positions.
Is there a lesson here for American and other Western liberals? Consider this: One fact constantly brought up by Republicans, in the recent Congressional elections, and run from by Democrats, was President Obama’s low approval ratings. How much of Obama’s rating was from ideological liberals, who were among those echoing a negative sentiment because he wasn’t “pure” enough in his liberalism?