"Antarsya proposes an anti-capitalist programme"

We met Kostas Gousis of the New Left Current (NAR), Greece's biggest revolutionary-left group, at the White Tower, a 15th-century Ottoman fort and prison, built on the site of an older Byzantine fort, which is the central landmark of Thessaloniki.

For a place to sit and discuss, Kostas took us to a cafe - named "Hemingway" after the American author - run by an NAR member. It is a habit, he said, for NAR members to gather there on Sundays to chat and discuss.

NAR is the biggest component of Antarsya, a left electoral coalition also containing SEK (which is linked to the SWP in Britain) and a number of Maoist and other groups.

Theodora Polenta, Solidarity's main writer on Greece and a former member of NAR herself, says that NAR is very loose and eclectic. Although on paper NAR is one party operating within Antarsya as a broad coalition, in practice "on many issues Antarsya has more of a definite line than NAR have".

The weekly paper associated with NAR, Prin, is, according to Theodora, journalistically a good newspaper, but "it doesn't look like a left newspaper". It has a much wider readership than NAR and Antarsya, and doesn't "push" an NAR "line" much. Theodora compares its political character to Red Pepper in England, though Prin circulates much more widely.

Andreas Kloke from OKDE-Spartakos - fairly friendly to NAR, since Spartakos participates in and has no major complaints about the orientation of the Antarsya coalition - says that NAR has tendencies towards flirting with left nationalism and with sectarianism towards the trade-union structures.

Kostas introduces us to a number of NAR people in the cafe, including a member of the NAR national leadership who is also a leading activist in the teachers' union. But Kostas, a young activist with fluent English, does most of the talking himself.

"NAR was formed by a split from the KKE in 1989". That was because the KKE had joined a coalition government with New Democracy, on the pretext of combatting corruption? "It was not just the coalition question, but also issues around the collapse of the USSR. We wanted to break from the USSR as a model. We had almost a majority of the KKE youth.

"Today NAR participates in many alliances, electorally and in the unions - including even with EEK. The Antarsya coalition was formed in early 2009, after the December 2008 revolt. Two or three thousand people attended the founding meetings.

"Antarsya proposes a programme for the crisis. The fundamental issues are the debt, the eurozone and the EU, and the banks.

"On the debt, we say we are not responsible and we won't pay. We say nationalise the banks with workers' control.

"We reckoned the ruling-class propaganda would be that if we don't pay the debt, and we nationalise the banks, then they will expel us from Europe - so we campaign against the eurozone and the EU.

"We aim to convince the working class that Greek participation in the eurozone is in the capitalist interest. You can see that for example from the rise of Greek capitalist holdings in the Balkans.

"Participation in the eurozone and the EU over the last three decades [Greece joined the EU in 1981, and the euro in 2001] has resulted in unemployment, destruction of the agricultural sector and industrial sectors, and the conversion of the Greek economy to tourism and services. The EU and its dictates were responsible for all the aggressive attacks even before the crisis".

Maybe sensing that this sounds to us like nationalist special pleading, and like diverting the blame for solidly-based capitalist class strategies onto a relatively small corps of officials in Brussels, Kostas continues:

"This is an internationalist point of view. We don't want Greece out of the eurozone alone. We said the working classes of other countries will not let Greece be isolated.

"Our anti-capitalist programme has been developed in the struggles. We have contributed especially to developing the coordination of the base [first-level] unions.

"There have been many general strikes in Greece, but organised from the leadership - in fact, just declared, without political orientation, without continuation, and without organising workers' committees.

"The government tried to split private-sector from public-sector workers. The coordination has had real power, including in assemblies of many hundreds of workers. Closed workplaces have been occupied and run under workers' control".

"Now we have the first factory occupation here in Thessaloniki, at Filkeram Johnson (http://federacion-salonica.blogspot.gr/2012/07/blog-post_09.html).

"NAR also participated in the 'don't pay' movement, and the squares movement, where we argued against the view that all parties are enemies".

What about the rest of the left?

"At first KKE said that there was no qualitatively different phase. Then they changed a bit, without saying that they had been wrong. They don't put much stress on the immediate issues of the debt, though - on a transitional programme. Instead they say everything depends on winning 'popular power', though since last October KKE has also raised the idea of cancellation of the debt.

"Although KKE had always been against the EU and the euro, in the crisis they have had no specific campaign on the issue, and have even said that it would be a disaster if Greece quits the euro now.

"KKE did not participate in the squares movement, or in the coordination of the base unions. KKE's union activity is all party-based. They declare some supposedly broad initiatives, but they are mostly just KKE members. Mostly they just organise campaigns in the unions, rather than struggles.

"We have always called for united fronts with the KKE, and sometimes had an impact".

This comment by Kostas was the only indication we got from any left group of a systematic tactic directed at KKE members, though, as Kostas also said, and no-one else said different, KKE is the only party in Greece with a heavy base in the working class.

We got the impression that NAR's united-front demands on the CP are appeals lobbed across a big divide, rather than the stuff of hand-to-hand combat. This would be because of KKE's mode of operation, above and beyond any errors by the non-KKE left.

And Syriza?

"In the first phase of the crisis, Syriza said renegotiate the debt, rather than cancel it. That means accepting the debt. We estimated, and we were right, that the ruling class would also call for renegotiating the debt.

"Syriza did not call coherently and clearly for nationalisation of the banks, and not, except episodically, for workers' control. One Syriza representative said in the June election that Syriza would nationalise the banks, but then sell them back again.

"The Syriza leadership's orientation to the eurozone and the EU is the weakest part of their answer. Syriza thinks it can change the balance of forces in the EU. That shows it has illusions about the imperialist nature of the EU.

"Syriza fights against the memorandum, but does not have a clear policy on the capitalist crisis behind it. When all the media were focused on Syriza, in the election campaign, two words were absent: capitalism and socialism. In fact no third way, no social-democratic way, is possible.

"In the unions some Syriza members collaborate with the bureaucracy, and some with the rank and file, especially members of the left current of Synaspismos.

"In the anti-fascist demonstrations on 8 June, KKE and Syriza did not participate".

Antarsya got "good results" in the municipal elections of October 2011 and in the 6 May legislative election. NAR has also done good work in the teachers' union. Antarsya has won 30% of the vote in the teachers' union elections in primary schools, and 10% in secondary schools.

(In Athens, Sofia from OKDE would cite the education unions as an example of bureaucratism and passivity. Maybe there are different in Athens and in Thessaloniki).

"On 17 June, Antarsya had a bad result - 0.33% - our electoral base was pressed by Syriza. We participated in the election nonetheless because of the need to get to the public with an anti-capitalist programme.

"KKE also lost half its vote in the 17 June election. That may lead to debate in KKE. The KKE's losses are a different matter from Antarsya's. It is easier for Antarsya to regain ground. There could be a crisis in KKE.

"Many Syriza members are with the struggle, but one Syriza leader has said that workers should 'respect the court' which said that the Greek Steel strike is illegal".

We asked about the realities of Antarsya's local organisation.

"In Thessaloniki we have five local assemblies. We have 400 members altogether, maybe more now. NAR has 100 members in Thessaloniki, and has more than doubled since the start of the crisis".

(When we reported this comment to Theodora Polenta, Solidarity's main writer on Greece, she doubted the figure 400. If Syriza has 2000 members in Thessaloniki, on a wide definition of 'member', can Antarsya really have as many as 400? She doubted it. But it may be that the disproportion between Antarsya and Syriza in membership is smaller than in voters. And that may explain why Antarsya members are "stuck" in a stand-offish attitude to Syriza. They think of it as bigger in membership by only a relatively manageable factor, and have not adjusted to the new flow of support to Syriza.)

"Antarsya assemblies meet maybe monthly. Each assembly has a committee, which should meet weekly. There is also a Thessaloniki committee of Antarsya, which should meet weekly.

"We are also working for Antarsya committees in workplaces. That is a project under construction.

"Antarsya is not just an electoral front. The groups in Antarsya do their main work through Antarsya, not separately. Many members of Antarsya are not members of any of the organised subgroups within it.

"NAR does have its activities. We have an annual festival with 10,000 people. NAR is not organised by local districts, but sectorally. Our membership is mainly youth.

"Antarsya is relatively strong in universities. It wins 10% of the vote in elections there. School students also mobilise, but they have no ongoing committees".

How does Antarsya deal with disagreements between its subgroups? "We try to reach a consensus, and then we vote. We require a two-thirds majority for some serious matters".

We asked about the coordination of base (first-level) unions which Kostas had mentioned as a place where Antarsya makes its main contribution.

"It has gatherings with representatives from different unions. It works through consensus. The frequency of meetings varies. It could be once every two months or so.

"There could be about 40 at representatives' meetings, though 100 or 150 if there is a general assembly".

Which unions are involved? Kostas first mentioned teachers' unions - five first-level teachers' unions, from five districts.

It visibly took more thought to compile the list of other unions taking part: textile workers' unions, hospital unions (each hospital will have its own first-level union), a lawyers' union, a book and paper industry union, a union of technicians and mechanics, a union of the construction workers employed on the building of the Thessaloniki metro.

Politically, said Kostas, the main influences represented are Antarsya (mainly NAR), and the left current of Synaspismos.

OKDE comrades would also tell us about these coordinations, and see them as important, though they gave a less enthusiastic picture than NAR. EEK would tell us that the coordinations are too narrow, and that they, EEK, in collaboration with some anarcho-syndicalists, are building an "initiative for an independent workers' centre" in opposition both to these coordinations and to the official "second-level" structures.

Finally, we asked Kostas his view on prospects if Syriza forms a government.

"It depends on the circumstances. It depends on how organisation develops in the coming months.

"Antarsya proposes a front of all the committees that have emerged in the crisis. If big struggles have happened, there will be a radicalisation. If we have a normal parliamentary change, then the bourgeoisie will put heavy pressure on Syriza, that could have a bad effect on the radicalisation of the movement, on Syriza's electoral base - and on Antarsya's.

"There are left forces in Syriza, but they do not have power within it. The leadership has a coherent majority. But a radical programme could have an impact and could change the balance of forces.

"Everything will be decided by the debate in the movement, and whether struggles win".