There are certainly many differences between SYRIZA and Podemos. However, the decision of Pablo Iglesias, the founder of the Spanish leftist Podemos party, to abruptly retire from politics on May 4 sparked a fair share of commentary about the political present and future of Greece’s SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
Iglesias and Tsipras both sought to portray their concurrent rise to political influence as the inevitable reaction to austerity policies as a remedy to the financial crisis, and as the answer to the Indignants’ demand for political change.
That decision was also driven by the idea that the countries of the European South could forge an alliance against the policies guided by their Northern counterparts.
The idea was that such an alliance would raise concern among decision makers in Brussels and Berlin and upset the balance of power, and that fear of a radical political change would prompt a departure from strict austerity measures.
We all know what happened next: In Greece, Tsipras climbed to power and, after a dramatic six months, gave in to a third international debt bailout, defeating any expectations for an alternative path out of the crisis.
In Spain, despite the uproar over his decision to buy a luxury villa outside Madrid, Iglesias became deputy prime minister in the coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. His decision to quit politics shows that he did not succeed in drawing political capital from his stint in the central government. Given Iglesias’ central role in the rise of Podemos, the party’s future is uncertain at the moment.
Tsipras and Iglesias’ common starting point has generated speculation about whether a similar development could be in store for SYRIZA and the party leadership. Sure, the characteristics of the two parties are not exactly the same. SYRIZA came to power on the back of frustration against austerity. That said, the party existed before the financial crisis. Furthermore, SYRIZA featured an organized party mechanism and a solid electoral base, and the party grew by swaying the dejected voters of the once-dominant PASOK socialists. SYRIZA’s failure to modernize its structure and apparatus, a consequence of inner-party skirmishing, is one of the factors that will determine its course.
Most importantly, the main opposition party seems caught up in a political logic that is inconsistent with the challenges of the post-bailout era and the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. This would explain its inability to capitalize on New Democracy’s natural decline, big or small, as the ruling party.
And SYRIZA’s decision to effectively take the political row over labor reform into the streets indicates that it is still far from modern political thought and practice.