french and greek voters seek a way out of austerity

9 05 2012

Adam Ford on the recent elections in Europe.

Hollande has spoken of his admiration for Greek destroyer-in-chief Papandreou

The financial markets went into a petulant sulk today, in response to the election results in France – where incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated by his ‘centre-left’ challenger – and in Greece, where two thirds of the electorate voted against avowedly anti-austerity candidates. It seems likely that we will now see some attempt at rebranding austerity – ‘neoliberalism with a human face’ – but this will be nothing more than ‘lipstick on a pig’. The international financial gamblers will allow no let-up in the transfer of wealth from the overwhelming majority to their own decadent and diseased milieu.

The French election saw Socialist Party candidate François Hollande beat current president Sarkozy of the ‘centre-right’ Union for a Popular Movement. Like all candidates of the ‘centre-left’, Hollande played a double game throughout, combining rhetoric about “giving European construction a dimension of growth, jobs, prosperity, and future” for the consumption of working class audiences with hard talk about wiping out the deficit just one year later than Sarkozy for the banking elite.

When Hollande was nominated as Socialist Party candidate in October (replacing former International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss Kahn after allegations of rape), he immediately held a huge 24-point opinion poll lead over Sarkozy – the most despised French President in modern times, who is absolutely identified with policies favouring the super-rich. But the more voters found out about Hollande’s actual policies, the more his star fell, culminating in yesterday’s narrow two point margin.

The markets could definitely live with a Hollande presidency – there is widespread confidence amongst elites that this ‘social democrat’ will emulate the former Greek PM Georgios Papandreou and implement the biggest post-war assault on working class living standards. After all, in a vital signal to the new aristocracy, Hollande eulogised Papandreou in the televised debate with Sarkozy.

What the banksters couldn’t handle is an anti-austerity government in Greece, where huge street protests and repeated general strikes against living standards cuts of up to two thirds have demonstrated a willingness to resist.

The parties of the last banker-dictated coalition were punished more or less in proportion to the responsibility their hold for austerity measures. The ‘centre-right’ New Democracy – who had feigned opposition to austerity before the bankers required them for a coalition last autumn – suffered a 14.6% swing, but became the largest party, enabling them to pick up fifty bonus seats under the anti-democratic Greek system. ‘Centre-left’ party PASOK – who enforced the vast majority of cuts alone until they could no longer hold the streets – saw their vote plunge by more than a third. In the new parliament, the former coalition partners will now hold 149 seats out of 300 – two shy of a majority.

Second place went to the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), with a plus swing of nearly 17%. The rest of the nominally anti-austerity vote was shared between the Democratic Left (a right-wing split from SYRIZA), the Stalinist Communist Party, and the openly fascist Golden Dawn – who demanded journalists stand when their leader entered the room at their post-election press conference.

The markets would certainly have preferred a situation where New Democracy and PASOK were able to piece together a coalition, but at the time of writing it seems that ND leader Antonis Samaras believes such a union is “impossible”. In the next few days, the representatives of high finance – Germany’s Angela Merkel chief among them – will do all they can before the cameras and behind the scenes to stress the “utmost importance” of continuing to sacrifice the lives of workers on the altar of Mammon. If a pro-austerity majority cannot be cobbled together, another election seems to be on the horizon. The possibility of a sell-out from SYRIZA and/or the Communist Party cannot be ruled out however, as both helped contain demonstrations and strikes under Papandreou, and both are strongly linked to the reactionary union bureaucracy. Moreover, the Greek military could be making its own plans to step in.

In short, though the working people of France, Greece and all Europe want an end to austerity, there can be no electoral shortcut to building rank and file control of workplaces and neighbourhoods. On the contrary, the urgency of that task grows greater with every passing day.

As the From The Greek Streetsblog commented this afternoon:

“Society in the greek territory is polarising rapidly. The one pole, the pole of the far-right, the misanthropic facade of the current system of capitalist exploitation, is forming quickly. The crucial task ahead is for our pole to form faster even; for us to understand that the times (not so far) ahead will involve a fight to shift society as a whole in an emancipatory direction. A struggle to keep our cities, our streets, our spaces clean from misanthropic nazi scum. But also, and most importantly, a struggle and a race to occupy the space left behind by a crumbling, retreating system of order; we’d better get going.”

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