Is SYRIZA a workers’ government in waiting?

Is SYRIZA a workers’ government in waiting?

Barry Biddulph disagrees with British Trotskyist group Workers Power and their view of the viability of a 'workers government' initiated by the Greek socialist party, SYRIZA.

The elections in Greece have solved nothing. They have only provided a brief respite from intractable economic problems. The free food queues grow longer, as living standards collapse, the generalised political and economic crisis goes on. Larry Elliot, the economics editor of the Guardian, puts forward the view of many economic observers in Greece that the new Government is unlikely to remain in power.1 A Guardian editorial agrees that a defeat for SYRIZA might yet prove to be a victory.2 A view echoed in the Financial Times editorial.3 The new government coalition will be weak. Democratic Left and PASOK will support Antonia Samaras and the New Democracy government, but not participate fully in the administration. In his victory speech, Samaras pledged to honour financial commitments to the Troika of capitalist economic powers. The New Government will have to implement a further 12 billion cuts by July 2012 . This will prove deeply unpopular with the Greek working class. So SYRIZA is a government in waiting, but can it become a Workers’ Government?

Workers Power explain what a workers government would mean. It would mean calling on SYRIZA to form a workers government to arm the workers; restore wages, pensions and union rights; tax the rich; renounce capitalist debts; crush the Fascists and establish workers’ control of production.4 The inspiration for this position is an uncritical acceptance of the Thesis on Comintern Tactics, adopted in 1922, by the Communist International. ‘In certain circumstances communists must declare themselves ready to form a workers government with non communist workers parties and workers organisations’.5 In the opinion of the CI the ‘entire state apparatus must pass into the hands of a workers government’, this would be the logic of the electoral struggle for a parliamentary majority. But how can a government based on the capitalist state represent the historic interests of the working class? This is the illusion that led to the tragic defeat in Chile in 1973, that it would be possible to build a socialist order out of the resources of the bourgeois state. We should remember the political context of the tactics of 1922. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had returned to Kautsky’s view of the state, which Lenin held as late as 1916. Social Democrats should use the state against the capitalists. It was about capturing state power not destroying the state. In Russia in 1922, the Bolsheviks used the state rather than root the revolution in workers’ power from below.

In fact, SYRIZA has not provided any evidence that its is likely to be a party which would break with the capitalist state. Its perspectives are very much based on the parliament and the state. In his speech conceding defeat, Alex Tsipras reassured public opinion that SYRIZA would be responsible as well as bold. He conformed to parliamentary values and procedures by stating that he had congratulated Samaras on his parliamentary majority. No doubt hoping that Samaras would reciprocate and play the parliamentary game at a later date. Alex Tsipras has also emphasised that the role of SYRIZA inside and outside parliament would be to negotiate for the benefit of the country.6 SYRIZA did not stand for cancelling the debt, but a moratorium for a debt audit to identify illegitimate debt, which implies acceptance of some of the debt. But who pays later? The working class. Suspending payments and modifying the bailout is not a rejection of capitalist austerity; but an alternative capitalist plan B, for slower cuts and a Keynesian investment plan. Syriza does call for a reform of the EU economic policies, from austerity towards investment. Gradual piecemeal reform of the capitalist state would only trap SYRIZA in the Allende Workers Government dilemma of not moving too far in an anti-capitalist direction for fear of a counter attack from the key elements of the capitalist state, including the army and police, which will come anyway as support ebbs away from the reformist government, due to failure to make decisive inroads into capitalist power.

The Communist International’s workers’ government slogan is hedged by ambiguous political rhetoric about only supporting the reformists in government, in so far as they conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie. This might be a fig leaf to cover opportunism, but it is hopeless for developing the grass roots organisations – cordons, soviets, assemblies, workers committtees, councils of action for workers self emancipation. In Chile the programme of Cordon Cerrillos, in an industrial district, this kind of inadequate caution, supporting Allende in so far as he articulated the struggles and mobilisations of the working class, rendered the workers alternative to the Bourgeois state impotent.7 What would they do when Allende, the reformist head of Popular Unity, a coalition government of workers parties, articulated the mobilisation of the state against the revolutionaries and the revolution. Too little, too late, because of the illusion that the dynamic of the struggle would or could eventually find expression in a workers government from within the bourgeois state. To call on Syriza to accept the programme of socialism or communism from below and make a revolution, given its parliamentary focus and reformist leadership, is to give the programme magical properties. Exposing reformist leaders is not enough, since by the time they are discredited the counter revolution will have crushed the critics. What is decisive is to practically develop and lead the mass struggle from below against the state.

Originally posted: June 25, 2012 at The Commune

  • 1. Larry Elliot, The Guardian, June 19, 2012
  • 2. The Guardian, Editorial, June 18, 2012
  • 3. The Finacial Times, Editorial, June 19, 2012
  • 4. Workers Power, ‘What Is a Workers State?’, June 16, 2012
  • 5.Theses on Comintern Tactics
  • 6. Michael Stott and Dina Kyrakidou, ‘Greek rage to force bailout changes
  • 7. Ian Roxborough, Phil O’brien and Jackie Roddick, Chile: The State and Revolution (London: Macmillan, 1977), p.171

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Jun 26 2012 05:48

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Juan Conatz
Jun 26 2012 10:28
orkhis
Jun 26 2012 20:15

Do not parliaments and states shape political parties rather than political parties shaping parliaments and states?

I mean, what the hell are/were people expecting?

Indigo from Bue...
Jun 27 2012 00:03

Right... So now we get the usual blabber of "revolution" and workers' power. Show me one instance where this has indeed succeeded on a large scale.

...

No matter how populist, 'revolutionary', anti-capitalist government you get, outside forces pull the strings - and inside corruption, debauchery and mass indifference do the rest. Vultures lurk near dead meat... and dead ideas.

Do you think that imperialist powers would let such revolutionary experiments to succeed? (and here I'm not talking about Syriza, but of that fancy workers' govt. you envision)

You'd be bombed like old Iraq in no time. For freedom and democracy. Amen.

Unfortunately, we need some heads rolling: stock market speculators, bankers, corrupt politicians, fascists... a never-ending list, I say!

Bring back the good ol' guillotine and let's wipe the slate clean.

Microcosm views cannot change s*** on a larger scale. All your revolutions have failed, and will fail if you still cling yourselves to the old dictums.

I'm not disregarding all popular efforts and struggles, don't get me wrong. But without intransigence you get nowhere.

Unfortunately, for both my views and yours, the reality is a hell of a lot different.

As for Syriza, it may not be the best alternative, but it is an alternative to the two party system, and at least has some views based on its people. And yes, all politicians are opportunists - show me one that isn't.

All in all, the function of government is to govern. Period. If that type of government could bring some respite to the people, so be it.

The answer, as it has always has been and will always be, is not in the ballot-box.

But we all know that, don't we?

steve y
Jun 27 2012 01:13

Juan, why are you promoting an ultra-sectarian argument between the deeply sectarian Trot, Biddulph, and the sect trot group Workers Power? Please rethink before presenting us with this trot internal gobble-de-gook.

Juan Conatz
Jun 27 2012 01:58

The Commune are Trots?

EDIT: Please be aware that I'm from Minneapolis and therefore don't always know the inter-radical left nuances of the UK. I saw this on The Commune's website, which have a bunch of stuff in the library and whose members post here. I read the article and didn't really think it was that controversial for libcom...

el anticristo
Jun 27 2012 06:43

From what I have read about SYRIZA´s models, it seems they have been inspired a lot by the current Latin American leftist governments such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. Those governments have mainly gone back to keynesian economic policies and have implemented nationalizations. Of course those governments have been successful in getting their countries out of the latin american crisis of the 90s and the early 2000s but of course their goal is a more human administration of capitalism with a strong welfare state and that is what they tend to call Socialism of the XXI century. That is all it is and that is what SYRYZA is going to do and it might be successful in doing. Libertarian Anti-capitalists should be conscious of that, analyse the good opportunities that might come from that and the bad sides of it. (¿How does "communization" strategy adapt to a post-neoliberal neo-welfare state situation?) That´s all.

S. Artesian
Jun 27 2012 19:38

Syriza is about as much a "workers' government" in waiting in Greece, as Allende's UP popular front was in Chile.

Massive support initially yes. Deserving of Marxist support, absolutely not, as Syriza, like Allende, is fundamentally committed to preserving bourgeois property-- the UP with its bullshit distinction between the "imperialist" "monopolist" bourgeoisie and the "national" "patriotic" bourgeoisie, and Syriza with its public commitment to maintaining Greece membership in that common market of exploiters the EU.

Results will be the same-same, if Syriza ever does get into position to form a government-- a Greek Pinochet riding in on the very horse Syriza gives him to slaughter the revolution.

What's needed are the seeds, the seed crystals of the organs of dual power.

Caiman del Barrio
Jun 27 2012 19:44
el anticristo wrote:
From what I have read about SYRIZA´s models, it seems they have been inspired a lot by the current Latin American leftist governments such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. Those governments have mainly gone back to keynesian economic policies and have implemented nationalizations. Of course those governments have been successful in getting their countries out of the latin american crisis of the 90s and the early 2000s but of course their goal is a more human administration of capitalism with a strong welfare state and that is what they tend to call Socialism of the XXI century.

Hi I think you're lumping loads in together there with a rather tenuous comparison. I'd hardly call Kirchner or Cristina leftist - they're certainly a different proposition to Chávez, Evo, Correa, etc, anyway.

Could you provide some statistics for your claim that these govts have brought their countries "out of crisis"? I wouldn't agree with that characterisation of contemporary Venezuela (dunno about Ecuador and Bolivia?). The pro-default arguments aroudn Greece often refer to Argentina as a positive example, but wasn't the Argentine recovery built around its natural resources, of which Greece has very little?

S. Artesian
Jun 28 2012 00:54

Actually, the Argentine "recovery" was built upon impoverishing masses of the population by expropriation of dollar savings and forced conversions into devalued pesos, unemployment, shuttering of productive assets, etc. .

Living standards declined precipitously, and I don't think they have recovered yet.

S. Artesian
Jun 28 2012 00:55

duplicate excised

rooieravotr
Jun 28 2012 02:14

The Commune are not Trots, their members are partly ex-Trots if my understanding is correct. I find their pieces generally valuable, and I appreciate why Juan Conatz posted this article here. It helped me navigate the issues around Syriza, so thanks 4 posting.

Indigo from Bue...
Jun 28 2012 16:34

I know it's not the thread to discuss this but:

Greece cannot be compared to Argentina at all - the comparison is not correct.

Argentinians came out to the streets because of money; the banks had taken all their money and savings, so people rioted. Of course, many others were out there for good reasons, but no revolution around here whatsoever. Those who say otherwise, simply lie. You only have to look at things now: movements co-opted, political opportunism, populism, corruption, and the list goes on... all of the popular assemblies have disappeared.

People were living a dream with the currency peg at 1USD = 1Peso, and never gave a fuck, and still don't, about their resources as a people and as a nation, until of course, they lost them; their politicians only care when they can make a buck out of it.

So when the party was over, they found out they had been literally f****d over, left penniless, and with a terrible economic crisis and all companies privatised.

The Argentinian "recovery" is propaganda; though we came out of the crisis after some three to four years of hard times, the situation instead of improving seems to be going downhill through a different drain altogether: that of demagogy and populism.

The inflationary rates are over the top and the government lies about it; while people seem enthralled in consumerism (brand new cars, latest cell phones, which they change as they change clothes, etc...).

To be more precise: prices are relatively equal to Europe, so to speak, where you can purchase a beer, say, for 2 euros... but without the currency peg! So you end up paying up to five times the price of everything - bread, milk, sugar, all the essentials.

Yet, people don't riot. Funny, isn't it? I wonder how they do to make ends meet... Ahh, capitalism and its wonderful solutions: debt. Credit cards, bank loans that not even your grandchildren will be able to pay. Neat.

Greece is a completely different scenario. The crisis has had completely different roots and repercussions, and people have taken to the streets not for money, but for their future.

People still buy coloured mirrors around here. But we're fine, ain't we?

I tend to believe this is all related to idiosyncrasy.

Anyways...

S. Artesian
Jun 28 2012 19:29
Indigo from Buenos Aires wrote:
I know it's not the thread to discuss this but:

Greece cannot be compared to Argentina at all - the comparison is not correct.

Argentinians came out to the streets because of money; the banks had taken all their money and savings, so people rioted. Of course, many others were out there for good reasons, but no revolution around here whatsoever. Those who say otherwise, simply lie. You only have to look at things now: movements co-opted, political opportunism, populism, corruption, and the list goes on... all of the popular assemblies have disappeared.

People were living a dream with the currency peg at 1USD = 1Peso, and never gave a fuck, and still don't, about their resources as a people and as a nation, until of course, they lost them; their politicians only care when they can make a buck out of it.

So when the party was over, they found out they had been literally f****d over, left penniless, and with a terrible economic crisis and all companies privatised.

The Argentinian "recovery" is propaganda; though we came out of the crisis after some three to four years of hard times, the situation instead of improving seems to be going downhill through a different drain altogether: that of demagogy and populism.

The inflationary rates are over the top and the government lies about it; while people seem enthralled in consumerism (brand new cars, latest cell phones, which they change as they change clothes, etc...).

To be more precise: prices are relatively equal to Europe, so to speak, where you can purchase a beer, say, for 2 euros... but without the currency peg! So you end up paying up to five times the price of everything - bread, milk, sugar, all the essentials.

Yet, people don't riot. Funny, isn't it? I wonder how they do to make ends meet... Ahh, capitalism and its wonderful solutions: debt. Credit cards, bank loans that not even your grandchildren will be able to pay. Neat.

Greece is a completely different scenario. The crisis has had completely different roots and repercussions, and people have taken to the streets not for money, but for their future.

People still buy coloured mirrors around here. But we're fine, ain't we?

I tend to believe this is all related to idiosyncrasy.

Anyways...

Nonsense. Of course they can be compared, right down to the assertion that the [pick one] Argentines/Greeks were "living a dream." Paying attention much to what the bourgeois press has been saying about "lazy Greeks" getting paid for doing nothing? Paying attention to what the bourgeois press says about "leaving beyond the means"? Same-same was said about Argentina, besides.....the obvious connections on the international level:

recession triggered by overproduction in 2001;

recovery based on driving down wages, restricting capital spending;

recession again after capital spending spiked in 2006 and continued in 2007.

Oil price spike in 1999-2000 to offset the declining ROP in one of the most heavily technical component sectors of production.

Decline in oil prices in 2002, leading to the invasion of Iraq to get that production off the market.

Oil price blowout in 2007, leading the implosion of the entire network of profits, and decimation of the auto industry, and the airlines.

Exactly what do you think is the motivating issue for protests in both Argentina then and Greece now, if not the decline in living standards?

Indigo from Bue...
Jun 29 2012 06:40

Dear S. Artesian,

What bourgeois media says is nothing but scaremongering and speculation. They have good reasons to manipulate public opinion, for they serve the interests of those who pull the strings. The same blatant and outrageous opinions prompted people here to take all their money from the banks in the so called bank runs preluding the crisis - this was due to what the papers said and speculated.

The protests in Argentina were mainly due to the fact that people had been ripped off: banks & the gov't had taken their life savings and restricted the withdrwal of money altogether.

One of the triggers for this was the dreamlike wave of happiness that the dollar-peso peg had granted Argentinians, along with the IMF loans.

You can compare it to Greece all you want, as the media does, but the Greek crisis has had different popular outcomes, if you will. People took to the streets and continue to do so, whereas here everything waned. The "popular" transformed into "populist" with Kirchner's policies (both of them). All grassroots movements were co-opted, or they sold out; all popular assemblies disappeared, all protests disappeared.

As a matter of fact, after the crisis settled, people went back to the same banks they had smashed to do the same thing they shouldn't have done: ask for loans, put their savings there again, etc.

When I say there is no comparison is because I look at the resistance people have shown throughout. The protests here were people participated were not triggered by living standards - people were ripped off real bad. Had they not taken their money... do you think there would have been such a strong response to 'living standards'? I doubt it.

Besides, you are missing a point most people don't know: the internal political spectrum at the time was vicious and rotten, so rotten that the then president did not fly away in his helicopter because of a "popular uprising" against him - the last of the presidents that took over (do you rememeber the week of the five presidents?) was the one behind most of it all, creating the conditions for that to occur; a man with connections to drug trafficking and police corruption, a man who wanted to be seen as a saviour, the one who would restore democracy and order.

And he did. He called for national elections and Kirchner won - a friend of his at the time.

What did people do? Back to normal.

People are not in the streets now, and the living standards are horrendous. But hey, they can all afford brand-new cars and fancy stuff now in spite of it, so why bother? But I still see people sleeping in the streets, out in the cold...

Do you know what I mean? That's why I said it all comes down to idiosyncrasy. There may be some parallels with the Greek crisis, but they are different. The reasons, the reactions, the results.

To illustrate my point a little further: imagine that Tsipras did all he could, everything in his power to turn the people against Samaras in such a way that he has no other choice but to resign. I'm not comparing, but think about it for a minute. What if Mr. Tsipras paid off lots of people to create such disturbances that the country would be ungovernable - till, that is, Mr. Tsipras takes over. This was partly what happened here. Of course, not all were paid off, but several groups of people were - that is the norm here when you want to shake things up - it is customary in Argentinian politics to pay some individuals (especially those with no resources) to go and "protest". Political peons.

I don't think the comparison is valid. Both countries are victims of neoliberalist policies, no doubt; and political corruption played a part too. But to say that both crises are the same... Greece is part of the EU, and like Mr. Tsipras asserts, the crisis is endemic, affecting the whole EU, not just Greece.

Another point of difference is the political scene: Grece has a strong history of resistance, even after the junta. Here we barely have "resistance" at all. All movements are aligned to the official discourse, so nothing can be changed. Anarchism is non-existent - it does not pose a threat to anyone, nor offers alternatives whatsoever.

Any sort of resistance is already decimated beforehand.

Anyways...

Jacob Richter
Sep 9 2012 08:50
el anticristo wrote:
From what I have read about SYRIZA´s models, it seems they have been inspired a lot by the current Latin American leftist governments such as Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. Those governments have mainly gone back to keynesian economic policies and have implemented nationalizations. Of course those governments have been successful in getting their countries out of the latin american crisis of the 90s and the early 2000s but of course their goal is a more human administration of capitalism with a strong welfare state and that is what they tend to call Socialism of the XXI century. That is all it is and that is what SYRYZA is going to do and it might be successful in doing. Libertarian Anti-capitalists should be conscious of that, analyse the good opportunities that might come from that and the bad sides of it. (¿How does "communization" strategy adapt to a post-neoliberal neo-welfare state situation?) That´s all.

A “workers government” coming to power in Greece should roll the lessons of Argentina, Iceland, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador all rolled into one. The first two countries implemented Post-Keynesian monetary and labour measures, plus Argentina defaulted to screw the IMF. Venezuela’s cooperative, social, and co-management measures, and also its drive for energy and general economic sovereignty, is welcome. Bolivia is more focused on agriculture, but Greece is somewhere in between the two Latin American countries with regards to urbanization. Ecuador shows how to deal with neoliberal media barons from the get-go, plus Venezuela shows measures for later on.

There are radical criticisms to be made of this combination, of course, but this big punch would be a good start.

Jacob Richter
Sep 9 2012 08:51

http://socialistresistance.org/3863/syriza-reality-is-forcing-us-to-forget-the-old-ways-of-working

Alexis Benos is a Professor in Public Health at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University, and was an electoral candidate for the left wing coalition Syriza in Thessaloniki. Alexis is a member of Syriza’s local coordinating committee and also a member of the party’s central committee. He was interviewed by John Lister.

How do you see Syriza as an organization?

The name itself means a coalition of the radical left, and we have taken a very important step since 2004, when Syriza was first founded. It was formed just before an election campaign, as an electoral coalition.

What’s interesting is that within it we have all the possible branches of the historical left in Greece and internationally: we have Trotskyists and we have Stalinists – Maoists and Eurocommunists – and sections from the left of social democracy, and eco-socialists as well: it’s really a big spectrum of the left.

Of course there is another important part of the left which is missing, which is the Communist Party (KKE), an older pro-Soviet Communist Party which still uses the same old rhetoric and still has the same attitude towards politics. There is also another missing component which is a section of the extraparliamentary left formed mainly of a split from the Communist Party: they are collaborating with us, and I know a number of them recognize that they have to come with us and work with us.

The crisis is becoming deeper and deeper, Syriza is becoming bigger and bigger, and we have to become much more serious as we look at the reality and the need for unity perspective. A union of the left is a real possibility: and we need to make it happen.

How do you see the tensions between the different currents within Syriza? Are they becoming sharper, or are people beginning to see the need to work together?

Of course there are problems: in last three years we have come very close to a split. Part of the organization – and it’s interesting that is actually a Trotskyist element within Syriza, along with the Communist Organization, which is Maoist – tried to form another front in opposition to the main party – without actually leaving Syriza. We call that opportunism.

A couple of years ago the social democratic minority faction of Synaspismos (the biggest party of our coalition) abandoned both party and coalition and founded a new party called Democratic Left, which is now participating in the tripartite neoliberal government (both with the Conservative-New Democracy and Socialist-PASOK parties).

In SYRIZA meanwhile there was a lot of friction and a lot of the older organizations wanted to keep their organizational integrity, but the reality is that because of the crisis in the last two years we are all getting more serious.

So now within Syriza there is a unanimity, a declared consensus that from September will be a transition period in which we will have local assemblies all over the country which are going to elect their representatives to a Congress of a new party, which will be one party – of course with trends inside it which will be recognized, but one party.

This is not up for discussion today: it’s positive because the reality is forcing us to forget the old ways of working, the old passions and splits of the traditional left. Now we have to be more responsible: we have to recognize the need to work together.

You are a public health official and a health activist: and one of your concerns is clearly to tackle the problems that are developing in the Greek health service under the impact of the austerity. Tell us about how you’re discussing the issues that would need to be addressed if Syriza wins the next election and becomes the government.

As you know, this year in the most recent elections we lost by only 2%. It was very close. We really were close to being in government today. So the discussion is getting really serious now. If we win a majority in the parliament, of course our main strategy recognizes that without the mass movement outside, a majority in Parliament on its own is not enough as a basis to make radical change.

But we’re also discussing much more technically because we will have to solve real problems that will arise. The big issue is the big pharmaceutical industry. Under the austerity rules in the last two years the government has been increasing the amount the patients have to pay out of pocket to cover the cost of their drugs and treatment.

In our view as part of our philosophy, health is a right, access to services is a right, and access to necessary medicines and drugs is a right that we must uphold. But of course we also know that in the current system there is a big overconsumption and significant corruption involved in the marketplace for the big pharmaceutical companies.

So if we became a government tomorrow there are big problems for us to solve: we would want to relieve the burden on people who need to be able to get a hold of the drugs they need to keep them alive every day, whether for diabetes of HIV but on the other hand we face an industry which is making really massive profits from our healthcare system. We have to control the market for pharmaceuticals. This is our long-term vision but also our duty.

We will need immediate solutions that we can apply at once, but we will also need to make sure that these are consistent with the wider vision of the way we want a health care system to run in the interests of people and not of big business: is not just a question of paying the pharmaceutical bills, but of reshaping the system.

Right across Europe, and I know also in the UK we have very negative examples of the ways in which social democratic parties in government, because they had no vision for society turn out to be the best servants of big business. They are national parties, which relate to their national ruling class: but also lack any strategy or alternative vision to overrule the big corporations or to mobilize any kind of mass organization to challenge them. That’s why they so easily succumbed to neoliberal views.

You’ve always been clear that the answer is not simply to try to build an alternative in Greece, but the you need to make a much wider appeal.

This is a very important point. All the neoliberal propaganda in Europe and in Greece has been that we are the Greek phenomenon, lazy Greeks and so on, but of course this is not the case. It is a Europe wide attack on working people being mounted by big capital.

There is no solution without an international solution, not just in Greece, but in any country. Even if we win control of the Greek government, and have the very best policies you ever dreamed, we are not going to be able to succeed. Big capital will make a war against us, it’s obvious. There will use a stock market to devalue the currency and they will build a much bigger and deeper crisis even than the one we have today. And then their strategy we can assume will be to argue that this is the crisis that the leftists have created for the country and to press for a right wing so-called national government to put the country back on its feet.

To overcome that we need an international movement, not only for Greece. Before the elections we were preparing the ground so that if we did win the elections we would immediately make an appeal, an international call especially for Europeans but not exclusively to Europe, to organize solidarity tourism and have a lot of people coming to the country in order to assist in buttressing the economy while big capital attempted to destabilize it.

A solidarity movement will be very important for Greece, but is not only that: we also need to build an awareness that we want and need working people in every country to fight their government, and oppose any moves to destabilize Greece, all to increase the austerity.

We need people to fight the government because if they don’t, the government will fight them. If people band together against their governments, the governments of Europe will band together against the people.

What’s worrying us is that we appear to be out in front. We are not proud to be in the most advanced crisis and the most advanced situation for the left. We know that Syriza is the most mature and developed expression at the present time of the left in Europe, and the closest to winning real power. Rather than being proud we are afraid that there is no parallel movement in the whole of Europe. There are good parties and good comrades, but the movement towards unity of purpose, recognition of the need for serious action is nowhere near as advanced elsewhere.

There are some movements to give us some hope, for example the movements in Spain. But the question is how is this grassroots movement going to be expressed in political form? The movement continues to go up and down but there is no real consistent large-scale organization capable of winning elections and mobilizing large forces.

It’s important to realize the positive experience that we have made. We’ve been working all these years as activists, supporting movements such as the occupy the plazas movement and all kinds of ecological movements and so on. When they moved we were there. And it’s important to discuss from a European perspective that we recognized from the beginning that we should not try to take these movements over, to control or claim that they were somehow ‘ours’.

What happened, and it’s really quite amazing, is that the government – ministers and all the media that support them – accused Syriza of responsibility for whatever was happening in Greece. So we were blamed for the occupy movement, and for the ‘don’t pay’ movement which has also been very important in challenging the austerity, refusing to pay extra taxes and other charges. Even when we haven’t been involved, the media propaganda effectively helped us by making us look much bigger and more active than we really were.

But because we didn’t try to take over, we have developed very sound and well-established relationships with these movements. They are genuinely supporting Syriza, but they are not part of Syriza. This is producing a good dynamic. Because we need to build a much stronger and bigger mass movement.

So what’s your relationship like with the trade unions?

This is a big and very important issue which is also a European issue and not simply a problem that we have. All of the unions in Europe have over the years become more or less completely bureaucratized and corrupted. And this has led them into the role of effectively backing the neoliberal policies of social democracy.

At the beginning of the occupy movement in Greece we even had some clashes in which some unions went in to help the occupy movement, told we don’t want you bureaucrats, clear off. That was partly good, partly bad.

But the challenge is now to politicize the trade union activists and the trade unions, not to dismiss them or write them off, but to work to ensure that they play a constructive role.

We are by no means there yet: the leaderships of the unions are still linked in with neoliberal politicians. But there are interesting developments. There are grassroots movements emerging in the unions. The basis of the new union movement.

But of course the main problem now is not the unions, it’s the unemployed. You know we have nearly 25% unemployment: up to 50% of those aged under 25 are unemployed.

Where then is the base of Syriza in the current context?

We have 35-40% support amongst those aged under 45, but when you look at the ages from 50 and upwards then it starts to get really bad. Which is interesting because historically the left has tended not to relate so strongly to younger people.

But what was also very interesting for us is that for the first time the vote for Syriza was clearly a class vote. The lower and middle classes voted for Syriza and the others voted for all the parties of the system which includes the social Democrats.

But there’s also a different issue amongst the students. The movement is slipping in this sector. The students are overwhelmed by the perspective of unemployment, and as they come up to the end of their studies they really anxious as to what they going to do, and tend to be really out of any movement.

In the last week before the elections we faced a really tremendous onslaught against us in the media: even David Cameron had a go at us. All of the European leaders made statements that Greece was at the edge of destruction if people voted for Syriza.

The most obvious impact of this campaign was that it did terrorize people, and it whipped up an anti-Communist style of movement. So it raises big issues about how we can reach out to these wider layers of people who were affected in this way and deterred from voting for us, but who really should be with us.

You have a big campaign going on around the issue of multinational corporations opening up a very destructive gold-mining operation that threatens to trash one of the main tourist areas of Greece. This obviously has lessons about the dependent situation of the Greek government, and the continuous demands and shortsighted policies of neoliberalism. Can you talk a bit about it?

Yes a consortium headed up by a big Canadian-based multinational corporation, but also involving a Greek capitalist who owns one of the major TV stations along with a construction business, has chosen this period of crisis, and mass unemployment, to argue that they want to invest heavily in gold-mining in Greece, and claiming it will mean thousands of jobs could be created.

They want to dig up a whole mountain in Halkidiki, where we know already that the concentration of gold is just 0. 1 gram per ton of rock. So that means just in order to get just one gram of gold, you have to dig 1000 tons of rock. To get a kilogram you need to move a mountain. The threatened environmental destruction is truly massive.

Here in Halkidiki, there is a very developed tourist industry – in my view a bit too developed – but it keeps a lot of people in work, and the landscape is very beautiful. The mining will destroy a very lovely part of the world, but also one which generates considerable profit, so even in capitalist terms the plan seems to be a complete nonsense. Environmentally it’s also important to recognize that the forest on the mountainsides is a major resource, historic forest that is never being destroyed by fire or by other activity.

The chemicals that they will use for extracting the gold from the rock include cyanide and other highly dangerous products. There already bitter experiences all over the world including the United States but also Romania where these chemicals have caused massive destruction. But on top of that there will be massive amounts of dust thrown into the air. And although they are claiming that will keep the toxic chemicals carefully, this is an earthquake zone, and nobody can be sure that any of this will be done safely.

They are all set to create a major disaster – and that’s why there has been a very big movement to challenge the proposals. When we started a lot of villages in the area had accepted the argument that they might benefit from extra jobs: but now they have understood what the implications are, and now we have a very powerful resistance movement. But of course the people driving the plan am now trying to divide the movement. They took 150 young people from the villages around and gave them €200 a month to work on security. These people wound up in clashes with their own families.

Only three days ago we had very big clashes there, there was a big rally up in the mountains, in the forest, with large numbers of riot police deployed. The police action, firing tear gas resulted in starting fires in the forest. The demonstrators stopped protesting and immediately went to put the fires out.

The movement is strong, but the deal has been signed. However it’s not too late to imagine it might be stopped. They have not yet begun any really serious environmental destruction. On the point of law it’s also interesting because two months ago the campaigners won a ruling in the Court to stop the mining.

But immediately after that came a visit to Greece by the troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Union: they visited the highest court in Greece, and managed to get the previous ruling overturned. The new ruling said that the level of unemployment in Greece meant that it is now a top priority to create jobs, and that therefore they had changed the previous ruling to permit the money to go ahead. But it’s obvious that once they’ve obtained whatever profit they can obtain, the mining company will simply leave behind Greece and the desert and the irreversible damage that that operations will create: any possible short-term contribution to reducing unemployment will soon be wiped out.

This is another issue in which we need European wide action: it’s clear that we need as much pressure as possible put to bear on the Greek government and on the mining company to prevent a disaster taking shape.

There are moves to setup a global alliance against extractive mining, and it’s clear that we have similar issues all over the world – Latin America, Africa, Asia. Everywhere we have the same drive for profit at the expense of people and the environment. And everywhere we have the same arguments that in the current crisis it’s important to create jobs and so on. From which I conclude that sadly the capitalists are much more internationalist and coordinated in their approach than we are!

One issue we have not touched upon is the rise of the far right in Greece and the way in which Syriza is responding.

As we know from history a period of economic and social crisis creates the ideal breeding ground for the far right and for fascists. This is what we’re also seeing in Greece now. Even at the beginning of the occupying movement we could see a dangerous streak of nationalism – blaming bad Germans and Angela Merkel and so on, and I think we played quite a positive role being there, and questioning and challenging these views and not just leaving this movement to be taken over by the right.

We did a lot to challenge the idea that this was a national issue and to make the argument that it was an international question and the international alliances would be vital, but it’s clear from the last elections that the fascists are now a force, with 7% of the vote. And they are really fascists, we call them the dogs of the system.

It’s very important to recognize that they also have some popularity amongst the youth – and of course as we might expect the most desperate sections of youth. So this is the most negative new development

Of course one aspect of this is that the rise of the far right grows out of the destruction of the previous consensus between the two main parties the right wing and the social Democrats.

In Greece we have a history of struggle against the Nazis and the collective memory of antifascist struggles, but also a long history in which the Greeks have been immigrants in other countries in Europe, in the USA, Australia and around the world.

Especially in the generation of our fathers many Greeks were immigrants in Germany. So as the fascists wage a campaign now against immigrants we respond by pointing out that the Greeks themselves in many countries are even now immigrants: so do they want their fellow fascists in Germany to kill Greeks in the way they attack and kill Africans and others in Greece?

There is a big movement building to challenge the fascists, and Syriza once again is part of that movement. Every year we have a big anti-racist festival: three days of festivities, with food and theatre and music. There are discussions on racism, the involvement of women, and many other dimensions.

We regard this as very important in strengthening and building the movement that we need if we are to challenge for government.

There are a lot of warnings from history, and a lot of parallels between what might happen to Syriza in government and what happened in Chile in the 1970s. That is why we are having discussions and seminars on issues including the Paris Commune (1871) the Pinochet coup in Chile, lessons of the Greek civil war and also the Spanish civil war.

We are working to understand history better and what happened then, not because history is exactly reproduced, but because we have to have all the experience to foresee and avoid problems in the present.

Jacob Richter
Sep 9 2012 08:52

From this article: http://www.opendemocracy.net/hilary-wainwright/greece-syriza-shines-light

In its work outside parliament, Syriza gives a high priority to supporting and spreading networks that in effect systematise the customs of informal mutual support that are deeply rooted in Greek society. Some begin with neighbours coming together to help others with greater need. Others involve solidarity kitchens linking with food producers; doctors and nurses responding to the crisis in the health system by creating medical social centres; support for actions against electricity cut-offs; legal help in courts to cut mortgage payments. Syriza’s involvement in this work follows in part from its members’ high alert to the threat posed by Golden Dawn. Andreas Karitzis stresses that if the left does not ‘build the new social connections, someone else will’.

The fascists are already creating their own social infrastructure for Greeks only and taking direct action to drive out immigants. On 23 June, for example, a gang of Golden Dawn thugs raided Pakistani grocers’ shops in the working class suburb of Nikea, near the port of Piraeus, telling them they had one week to get ready and go, ‘or else’. Syriza had won 38 per cent of the vote in Nikea (a higher vote in working class districts and among those under 35 was the general pattern of Syriza’s electoral support) and after the attack the party helped to organise a rally and march of 3,000 in support of the shopkeepers.

These solidarity networks, in which Syriza is only one participant among many, are run on an explicitly self-managed democratic basis. ‘We persuade people to participate, to become organisers; we explain that solidarity is an idea of taking and giving,’ says Tonia Katerini.

The networks are not a substitute for the welfare state. ‘People are facing problems of survival,’ explains Andreas Karitzis. ‘We cannot solve these issues but we can be part of socialising them. These solidarity initiatives can be a basis for fighting for the welfare state. For example, medical staff involved in the social medical centres also fight within the hospitals for resources and free treatment. The idea is to change people’s idea of what they can do – develop, with them, a sense of their capacity for power.’ In this way consolidating Syriza’s vote is also about a deeper preparation for government: ‘If we become the government in a few months time people will be more ready to fight for their rights, to take on the banks and so on.’