After Greece’s agreement with the European Union – with the aid programme being extended in exchange for the continuation of structural reforms – the new government has arrived at an impasse. The hopes of those seeking an end to austerity have not even lasted a month. Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the Syriza central committee and reader in political theory at King’s College London comments on these developments in the interview below.
What is the symbolic importance of Syriza’s victory?
Syriza’s victory represents a historic turning point. It is the first time in European electoral history that a party of the radical Left – that is, to the left of social democracy – has won the elections and entered government.
Up till now, the only times that parties from this political family exercised governmental roles they were part of wider coalitions, and even that was in very particular circumstances. This unprecedented success undoubtedly marks a turning point, one that is all the more important in that Europe is in the grip of a social and economic crisis that has led to growing political turmoil.
Some have noted that in the countries of Northern and Central Europe far-Right forces and the radicalised Right are the ones benefiting from this. Conversely, in the peripheral countries, which have been subjected to the harshest austerity policies, it is instead the forces of the radical Left that seem to be raising their head. We see this in Greece but also in Spain and Ireland.
This Sunday, 25 January, Greeks will vote in parliamentary elections of potentially historic importance, with Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza coalition currently ahead in the opinion polls. But according to Frédéric Lordon, Germany’s grip on the situation and the Greek radical Left party’s own inconsistencies might condemn it to some painful acrobatics.
For a long time Europe has been caught in a constitutional trap of its own making, with its neo-liberal treaties offering just two ways out of the current impasse: 1) the financial collapse of the European project, under the weight of its own internal contradictions; or 2) some political mishap coming along that will overthrow the whole system. The ECB’s announcement of the OMT programme  has avoided the first of these eventualities – for now – which leaves the second. And that’s the reason why the ‘European-institutional party’ has come to see democracy not as a normal state of political life but rather as a permanent source of threats – and it thinks itself justified in using any means necessary to stamp them out.