The European left is in party mode. After the decisive victory of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) in parliamentary elections last night, Greek leftists took to the streets and their analogs in Spain and the UK warned that their nations would be next. But while the hard left has much to celebrate, “moderate” socialists on the continent should take the news with a grain of salt, as the leftist party that ruled Greece as recently as 2011 appears to have lost almost all support.
The BBC reports, using Greek government statistics, that, with 74% of the vote counted, Syriza won 36%. Such a victory is historic for the nascent party and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, now expected to be the nation’s next prime minister. Syriza decisively defeated the only party to pose a real challenge against them– the incumbent center-right New Democracy–which received 28.1% of the vote. One would expect that, given the enormous victory for the nation’s most prominent leftist party, that the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), the largest center-left party in the country, would have come in third.
They did not. Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party whose leadership is almost entirely behind bars, took third place.
Nor did Pasok make fourth place– that went to “The River,” a populist leftist experiment starved out of the competition by the growth of Syriza.
Pasok was not in fifth place. That went to the Greek Communist Party.
Pasok made a sixth-place showing in the Greek elections, with 4.7% of the vote.
Even more marked for the party: George Papandreou, Pasok leader and former Prime Minister, will no longer be in Parliament. It will be the first time a Papandreou will not be in Parliament in 92 years, as the party’s founder and current leader’s father, Andreas Papandreou, also served a long tenure in Parliament. The younger Papandreou left the party to run for his seat with a new party, the Socialist Democrats Movement (KIDISO), after failing to reach agreements with other Pasok leaders on how to cooperate with New Democracy, the center-right party. Kidiso failed to garner a high enough percentage of the vote to keep Papandreou in office.
The combined indignity of losing the elections to not one, but three other leftist groups– Syriza, The River, and the Greek Communist Party– as well as losing to Golden Dawn may have been the last nail in the coffin for Pasok. The party’s death knell had been ringing for years in the height of the debt crisis that Papandreou failed to solve. In an article in 2013, Greek supporters of the party told the BBC that uttering “Pasok” is “like a dirty word.”
“Now the party has destroyed our national identity, our social and business environment. It has destroyed everything,” said one man who identified himself as a former loyal Pasok supporter in the port city of Patras. He now supports Syriza.
Pasok is not a “center-left” party the way that the Democratic Party in America is. The younger Papandreou also served as president of the Socialist International during his tenure as Prime Minister. They are hard economic and political leftists– simply slightly less hard left than the radicals in Syriza, and, as establishment figures, less appealing than even Greek Communist Party.
Observers of the January 25 elections may see a victory for left in Greece and only allow their analysis to reach a certain level of depth within the political organization of Greece: the far left has won, so the Greek people are moving left. But the Greek people have also by and large abandoned the dominant centrist leftist party of the past century, preferring to bank on the wildly unpredictable Syriza/Golden Dawn upstarts. The only establishment party to make a decent showing is the right-wing New Democracy.
This is something to keep in mind in the coming months as other European nations face similar decisions. In Spain, for example, the leader of the new radical left party Podemos has taken to using Syriza to warn the Spanish right that their time is near. Like Greece until 24 hours ago, Spain is governed by the center-right party, the Popular Party in their case. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has begun trying to draw parallels between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, hoping to himself become Spain’s Alexis Tsipras. “2015 will be the year of change in Spain and Europe. We will start in Greece. Let’s go Alexis, let’s go!” Iglesias tweeted last month, subsequently making public appearances with Tsipras.
A Podemos victory would be significantly more damaging to Spain than the Syriza victory to Greece, simply because Spain has more to lose. Under the center-right party, the economy is slowly but surely growing after years of mismanagement under former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
In a world where Podemos routs the Popular Party, the first institutional pillar to go would be the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain (PSOE), which, like Pasok, has become something of a laughingstock among Spanish leftists. Like Pasok, the PSOE was routed in 2011, when Rajoy’s Popular Party soundly defeated opponent Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, successor to Zapatero. Several years and a native “Occupy-style” movement later, Podemos (“We Can”) was born, and the PSOE appears to be in its dying throes.
The death of a party like PSOE would look very much like Greece today. Podemos would take the place of Syriza, with competing leftist groups nibbling at its heels. The Popular Party, like New Democracy, would remain a formidable, if not victorious opponent. And as for the neo-Nazis, Golden Dawn itself has established a chapter in Spain, though nowhere near as popular as the original Greek faction.
Mainstream media observers in the United States will likely sell the Syriza win as good news for the left, including the relatively centrist American Democratic Party. But Syriza’s greatest victory is not against the center-right party it has ousted; it is against the center-left party it has destroyed. Democratic Party observers of the Occupy movement in America would be wise to take notice.