27 Jan 2015

Will Syriza’s Greece go the same way as Chile under Allende?

As I write, Alexis Tsipras is doling out ministerial roles. I’m told he plans to reduce the number of ministries in Greece by half, folding small ones into big ones. And he looks set to create a new centre of economic power with energy, infrastructure and environmental policy rolled into a kind of super-ministry of sustainability.

Syriza sources said last night it is likely the ultra-conservative ANEL party, their coalition partner, will get the defence ministry – not shipping, as previously thought.

The ministry that controls the police is to be absorbed into something more akin to Britain’s Home Office.

And behind these apparently boring administrative moves lies a dramatic problem. How does the left take over a state whose armed forces and police are configured to suppress the left.

Dimitris Dalakoglou, who runs an ESRC-funded centre for studying urban politics in Athens, tells me: “Syriza’s members have been on demonstrations with social movement activists during the past years. Those demonstrations were attacked by the police.

“Now they have to run the police, and the army – whose officer schools traditionally include political education against leftism.”


The most obvious problem for whoever Tsipras (pictured above) appoints as interior minister is the special riot police squad Delta. I’ve reported before allegations that members of this squad hurled racist abuse at arrested protesters, beat them, and took pictures of them on personal mobile phones. The squad was set up after the riots of 2008, and is not a historic part of the Greek public order apparatus.

Many of Syriza’s members want Delta to be shut down (there is a perfectly functioning, and large “ordinary” riot police unit armed with tear gas). We’ll see.

As to the wider problem of police accountability, when I described the Macpherson reforms to the Metropolitan police to a senior Syriza member last night, he said: “We could not do that”.

That’s an insight into the dilemma of this untested far-left party. It has come to power to do two things, essentially: re-set the Greek debt dynamics and force the so-called “oligarchs” to do basic things like pay taxes or own licenses for the TV channels they operate.

It does not want a clash with the executive branches of the state, and its likely interior minister telephoned both the police and army chiefs on election night to tell them: “We trust you.”

But in private conversations, Syriza’s policymakers do fear what one of them described to me as becoming “the post-modern Allende” – Allende, being the Chilean president overthrown and killed by General Pinochet in 1973.

On top of the issue of reforming the state, this is a traumatised society. As Mr Dalakoglou, an anthropologist at Sussex University, puts it, five years of austerity, migration on a scale not seen since the 1950s and deep dislocation in ordinary life, have traumatised people. They don’t trust any politicians. And while there is a lot of hope now – even among some right-wing voters – the challenge is how do you run a traumatised society?

This is what lies behind the general lack of euphoria among Syriza’s leaders and activists, despite the flag-waving of the past 24 hours. They know there is a huge challenge ahead, quite separate from the issue of eurozone membership and the banks.

I’ll be updating via Twitter on the composition of Greek government and ministry changes. And on air at 1900.

Follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter

18 reader comments

  1. Serge says:

    A scenario… Disliking the course of action of a democratically elected european government, USA organizes nazi coup, plunging the country into civil war…

    Impossible, one could say?

    Utterly possible – because that is exactly what they did in Ukraine.

    Can greek security services be trusted to work against a CIA plot? That is a question of life or death for Syriza, and for all greeks.

    1. Philip says:

      You make an allegation about the Ukraine. What’s your evidence? I think you’ll find a lot of ordinary Ukrainians believe they organised the revolt off their own bat, because they wanted to be part of Europe not part of Russia. As many had experience of what being part of Russia was like (as did my Latvian relatives), they felt that taking to the streets was the only option against a corrupt government. Not only there is no serious evidence that the US was involved, it was actually highly inconvenient for both the US and Europe to get into a conflict with Russia, there being enough problems in terms of the economic & international situations already.

      1. Serge says:

        I tried to make my point consicely, so omitted lots of things, obviously. You are indeed right in that the coup in Ukraine started as democratic movement by local political activists and later many local people. However, at later stages movement was hijacked by nazi gangs, with demands rather different from those at the beginning. As for USA and EC involvment, here you are quite wrong – USA did _officially_ admit that they pumped 5 billion dollars (!) into financing the coup. And both USA and EC politicians visited the protest and stated their support. And CIA _officially_ has it’s liason office – said to occupy a whole floor – in the building of Ukrainian Secrete Service – with USA flag outside. No one is even denying anything – that’s all official.

        As for the coup being nazi coup, again the evidence is all over the place. The nazies are not really hiding it – they are proud of themselves. Just google “battalion Azov” – it took it’s emblem directly from german nazi forces. And it is not an illegal gang – no, it is incorporated into Ukrainian forces! Or google “Volyn massacre” – the todays Ukraine state venerates those who committed it as heroes – moreover, it is _THE_ national myth, those are not just some heroes – these are heroes central for the new ukrainian identity they try to build now. There are lots of evidence – you can easily research that yourself.

        As for western ukrainians wanting to associate with EU rather than Russia it is their choice and I respect it; so they must in return respect the choice of east ukrainians who prefer to associate with Russia. But instead of respecting people’s choice they murder them, shell their cities with unguided rockets – one can not achieve any military objective this way. That is massacre of civilians, war crime.

        Ukraine is the only country in Europe where language of 50% of population is NOT official state language. When a country treats a minority like that, it gets a war… And that’s what they did get to achieve.

      2. riccotelaly says:

        No serious evidence!!! If you don’t look.

    2. Richard says:
  2. Alan says:

    I think you will find that Allende was overthrown by the CIA. Pinochet was installed by the US.

    1. Paul Hutchings says:

      That is rather simplistic and doesn’t recognise that there were anti-revolutionary elements within Chilean society and its army that worked in co-operation with the CIA, and other agencies/ corporations to topple Allende.

  3. Philip Edwards says:

    “…so-called “oligarchs”…”

    You mean “so-called” like Murdoch, Berlusconi, the DuPonts, the Rothschilds, Philip Green, the Windsors (aka the Saxe Coburg Gothas), any number of Middle East oil dictators and Far East and Central and South American mass murder hoodlums? You know, the ones people like you somehow fail to mention or draw attention to.

    Allende of course was murdered by the Pinochet gang – as was General Rene Schneider – employed by the CIA specifically for that purpose. The Chilean people paid a terrible price.

    You seem set on a downhill toboggan race to the far right, precisely the course that brought the Greek people to the edge of despair. But they at least had the courage to try to change it. You, on the other hand, like all of your type, are intent on worsening the situation.

    Utterly despicable. But not unexpected.

    1. S Light says:

      “Chile paid a terrible price?” What, the price of having the highest GDP per capita in South America. Allende and his supporters deserved everything they got, and Pinochet was a hero.

      1. Paul Hutchings says:

        The families of at least 10,000 dead and disappeared would disagree. He was a hero to a ruling rich elite. Even the middle classes were ashamed of what Pinochet had done. That GDP figure is ridiculous, Pinochet invited the Chicago boys in to carry out their monetarist experiments in a weak state and 100s of thousands suffered poverty as a result of unfetttered capitalism. What an ignorant and obscene comment.

      2. in us says:

        A hero huh? Chileans paid a terrible price for their high gdp. Death for thousands and thousands. Read a bit. The history is all there.

  4. Nigel Wilson says:

    No state `runs’ a society. The whole point of society is that it runs itself through the countless small decisions made in everyday life.
    A state can screw a society rigid and that is what has happened in Greece. All you can do is use a bit of love. It might need to be tough love in places as some folk will have acquired bad habits but kindness goes a long way.
    As for visions of Allende it does not compute within existing scenarios. The Greeks have nothing left to steal.

  5. Jennifer says:

    The left will always be weak when faced with the opposition and so it is vital that international solidarity kicks in. This time it cannot be behind the scenes it must be screamed out loud and that includes the Labour Party here in Britain.

  6. Steve Hinde says:

    One sure way to start a pan European revolt on an epic scale, is for the US to pull off a similar stunt to that they pulled off Chile in 1973. In the age of social media, I’d like to see them try it, if anything to see it blow up spectacularly in their faces.

  7. Izzie says:

    Is this coalition partner really the only viable one or have they been picked to neutralise the voice of the far right that is more active in the country and that came third in the election?
    Were there no independents who could have been swayed?
    I get the point that the two government parties share an anti-austerity agenda, and bravo for that, but to go into coalition with *such* a party surely takes some satisfaction out of the victory.

    Ps, is there a ruling on relevance in this Comments section?

  8. John Webster says:

    I remember Chile very well and those who think that it couldn’t happen again are crazy. It can be engineered. And the US and the big Corporations (ITT in Chile) will be in on it. When I saw that Syriza would be elected out of understandable frustration with people saying ‘things can’t get any worse’ I was very sad. It can get a lot, lot worse – and it will only help reactionary forces around the world – particularly in the US and Israel in the Middle East. If they had a million men under arms there would be a chance. My advice to Greece? Start growing your own food and become self sufficient. Embrace austerity. Syriza’s analysis is correct but they will either back down or create a Doomsday scenario. History is against them….

  9. Klaus Kastner says:

    Having lived in Chile from 1980-83, I think that there is a fair chance that Alexis Tsipras will become the Allende of Europe. If he fails, he will forever be idolized as the man who could and would have saved Greece if it hadn’t been for the evil powers of the world.

    Allende, too, had started out with ideas and visions of a better world for Chileans. I wouldn’t even question that his original intent was a good one. But then he started getting carried away by his ideas and visions and lost touch with reality. His friend Fidel Castro supported him just like Podemos is now supporting SYRIZA.

    As things ceased to work well for Allende, he became more and more autocratic. He felt that Chile needed to be forced into its own luck. He no longer could control the movement which he had started. At the end, he even violated the Chilean constitution in order to protect members of his movement (thereby trying to protect himself).

    The major reason why Allende failed, in my opinion, is that he had total belief in the state and no sympathy at all for a competitive private sector, for foreign investment, for an open economy. And a closed Chilean economy could and cannot live by copper alone. The Greek economy cannot live by tourism and shipping alone, either. If SYRIZA has any sympathy for a competitive private sector, for foreign investment (as a source of know-how transfer) and for an open and free economy remains to be seen. So far, these issues have not played a significant role in their writings and talkings. In fact, on the first day in office they scared foreign investors. But SYRIZA certainly has a strong belief in the powers of the state when it comes to solving problems.


  10. George irvin says:

    Thanks, Paul, for reminding us of the very real danger of a coup in Greece. Some on this blog may remember the Greek coup; others may even remember 11 Sept 1973. If ‘Podemos’ ever comes to power in Spain, they too will be aware of how quickly the military can move. As you say elsewhere, economics and games theory people usually haven’t a clue …

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