Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza Party (Coalition of the Radical Left)
While eating lunch at work I started flipping through today’s Wall Street Journal that was sitting on the desk beside me. No surprise that the central theme in today’s WSJ is “All Eyes on Europe.” The Wall Street Journal is filled cover-to-cover with commentary and reportage on the recent French and Greek elections. Voters in both countries threw out both the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the centrist PASOK (Socialist) Party in Greece. In both cases voters turned to more Left alternatives. In France, Francois Hollande won the Socialist Party’s first presidential election in over 17 years. In Greece the far-Left Syriza party (or the “Coalition of the Radical Left”) won an unexpected second place position in Greece (denying any major party a clear majority, creating turmoil in forming a stable parliament, which will likely cause another election).
The European turn to the Left has thrown pundits into a bit of an uproar. The notable Clinton-establishment liberal Robert Reich for instance, came out to ensure American progressives that socialism isn’t the answer, instead what we need is “capitalism for the vast majority.” Of course, Reich doesn’t understand that, 1) Hollande likely agrees with most of what Reich is saying, and 2) what he’s asking for is impossible, given the internal nature of how capitalism works. Nevertheless, for Reich, the answer of course is vote for the right people (Democrats) and hold them accountable for a “fairer” capitalism.
Meanwhile, the right-wing is horrified at what this bodes for the volatile European economy. The Economist shrieked that Hollande is a “rather dangerous” man who “genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.” The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion article titled “What the Greek Left Wants” in which the author criticizes Syriza’s stubborn rejection of “teachers’ evaluations [trans. “standardized testing”]…reducing state bureaucracy [budget cuts and privatizing public services] or reforming the inflexible Greek labor market [busting unions].” Imagine that! A party that actually stands up for unions and against budget cuts? What a nightmare.
At the same time they’re hopeful that this European incumbent trashing might mean that Obama will suffer the same fate as France’s Sarkozy in the upcoming US elections, and that Mitt Romney will be swept into the White House on a wave of voter frustrations with the economy. This speculation however, ignores the fact that European voters weren’t just throwing out incumbents. European voters were decisively rejecting austerity, an electoral option that U.S. voters simply do not have between the two mainstream parties.
The Democrat’s don’t carry the same charm they might have had in 2008. Not by any stretch. This however has nothing to do with any sort widespread embrace by Americans of “fiscal responsibility” or austerity, quite the opposite in fact. Obama’s embrace of austerity, his spreading of the wars across the Middle East, and so on, has exposed people to the fact that the Democrats and Republicans share the same basic capitalist agenda. The only thing Obama has to win support is the fact that he’s not Romney.
No doubt many people will turn toward “lesser evilism” and hold their noses while they pull the lever for the Democrats, out of rejection of the lunacy of the Republican Party, but many people are starting to take notice that lesser evilism simply doesn’t work to create the change our society needs.
Unfortunately, so far, in the U.S. there is no electoral alternative for working-class and oppressed people to turn toward and pose a challenge to the two capitalist parties. Our challenge, therefore, has come from outside the two mainstream parties (and even if there were a Syriza-like party, our challenge to the capitalist must always pivot around mass struggle–we cannot legislate socialism; we must fight for it and build it). What the two capitalist parties fuck up we must fix in the streets.
No surprise the Wall Street Journal doesn’t accept this as an option. In one feature on the European elections the author suggests that the Democrats need not worry too much about the European elections because the U.S. “doesn’t have the same kind of backlash from austerity politics seen in Europe.” Right. Nobody in the U.S. is angry about austerity.
Of course, anyone who hasn’t had their head in the sand will notice the millions of people across the U.S. marching, Occupying, and taking a stand to defend them from widespread foreclosures, layoffs, racist and sexist attacks that the Democrats refuse to challenge. People are rapidly becoming frustrated with the sham elections in the U.S. in which we’re presented with either the party of war and austerity, or the other party of war and austerity. Which gives those of us committed to real social change the opportunity to organize and create a real movement independent of the two parties of the 1%.