Last night, Alexis Tsipras had his last big Syriza rally before the vote. It certainly felt like a victory rally – thousands poured into Omonia Square in Athens, chanting ‘No Venizelos, No Samaras, It’s the Time of the Left,’ referring to the Prime Minister and his deputy. What gave the rally it’s special twist, however, was the presence of a special guest: Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s Podemos party.
Iglesias was welcomed onstage after Tsipras, his skinny figure looking slightly at a loss beside the Prime Ministerial Tsipras. The two leaders hugged, and joined hands, raising their arms to the crowd. Nothing could signify more clearly the relationship between the two men, who have been branded ‘Tsiglesias’. At 36, the leader of Podemos is four years younger than Tsipras and the leader of a party founded in 2014, which has miraculously surged to the top of the polls in Spain in the space of a year.
‘Syriza is the word for change in Greek, Podemos is the word for change in Spanish,’ said Iglesias to the mass of Syriza supporters. He spoke in Greek, charming the crowd, and to emphasise that they were speaking in the same political tongue, Tsipras added: ‘The people who are fighting speak the same language, Syriza and Podemos together will bring the change we need.’
The parties are already fighting together. Syriza needs to build on a European alliance of the left, and Podemos is a natural partner. It is the threat that Syriza’s election is not a stand-alone event, but the beginning of a wave of anti-austerity forces taking power, that is really piling pressure on Germany and Brussels. Equally, it is hard to imagine that the Spanish party of the indignados would have joined the mainstream so rapidly if it weren’t for Syriza’s success in Greece.
The similarities are clear. Both parties are against any further austerity measures imposed by the EU and are committed to restructuring their sovereign debt. With the greater funds available, they aim to re-build their respective economies on lines of greater equality, more social investment, and dignity in work.
Both Syriza and Podemos are parties of the new left, with an emphasis on democracy and support bases among the young and the precariat (see our audio report, ‘Syriza: from the young to the precariat’). As such, they are seen by some in the old left as upstarts and betrayers. As Paul Mason recently put it: “All across the social media you can, as you search for the words Podemos and Syriza, read as many denunciations from the hard left as you can critiques from the right”.
There are some key differences between the two parties, however, which may cause tensions further down the line. In recent months Syriza has vocally committed to a ‘moderate’ renegotiation of sovereign debt and expressed a desire to stay in the Euro (presumably as part of a strategy to secure a large enough majority to govern). Podemos on the other hand – a younger movement – have been more militant in their approach, calling directly for the reform of Brussels’s opaque institutions and an immediate departure from the Euro.
Neither party, however, can achieve their aims alone. By inviting Iglesias to Syriza’s last show of strength before almost certainly gaining power, Tsipras was sending a clear signal that together they are a force to be reckoned with. This will encourage supporters in Spain, as well as voters across Europe, who are watching this turn in the political tide with great interest.
Italy may be next. The Italian extra-parliamentary left may remobilise in the context of a transnational challenge to the Troika. Until now the arguments of its desperate groups have been dampened by the success of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. If a new vehicle were to emerge in Italy, the Eurozone’s third-largest economy, this would constitute a truly southern challenge to the Northern lender-states.