Gianna Gaitani is a Syriza MP from Thessaloniki, and also a member of DEA [Internationalist Workers' Left], a Trotskyist group within Syriza. She spoke to Martin Thomas in Athens, in a brief interval between parliamentary meetings, but didn't want to give a formal interview because she couldn't speak as an official representative of DEA.
Almost all our discussions with Greek leftists were in English, which many young Greeks have some command of, but the discussion with Gianna was in French. She had evidently spent some time in France, though, so she said as she occasionally searched for a word, thirty years ago.
Becoming an MP had evidently been a surprise for her, as an activist from a relatively small group, and she was racing to catch up with the new tasks.
She started by describing the social impact of the EU/ ECB/ IMF memoranda, and especially on the health system. For 30% of workers, their employers fail to pay their health insurance contributions.
Among small shopkeepers (like Gianna herself), 50% do not pay the contributions; and among farmers, 30% do not pay.
The health insurance fund, consequently, cannot pay the hospitals, and the hospitals cannot pay the pharmaceutical companies. Greece's health system used to be ranked 14th in the world, but now there are cases of hospitals refusing to hand over babies to new mothers until they pay the bill.
DEA originated in splinters from the SEK, the Greek organisation linked to the SWP in Britain. It has connections with the ISO in the USA, which was expelled by the SWP from its international network in 2000 after an obscure dispute.
DEA, said Gianna, believes in left unity at the level of activity, though not at the level of ideology. It took part in the European Social Forum and the Greek Social Forum, and in the founding of the Syriza coalition in 2004. It was the first revolutionary organisation to join the Syriza coalition.
Gianna described other activities of DEA, in an anti-racist committee in Athens and in a feminist group called "Women Against Debt and Austerity".
DEA, despite its small size, has become widely known as a result of its activity in Syriza. It sees itself as the left wing of Syriza. There are also quite varied tendencies within Synaspismos, the biggest group within Syriza. Within Syriza, activists try to reach a synthesis of the different views. But "unless people organise themselves in the neighbourhoods, we cannot create a left government". DEA says that it is necessary to organise in a revolutionary perspective. "We have a strong movement here, but it is not organised. It is a question of organising".
Antarsya and KKE people, said Gianna, have an attitude of waiting for Syriza to fail so that they can then scoop up the disillusioned. But the KKE is losing ground because people want something that will block the deterioration of social conditions now.
To Antarsya's and KKE's criticism of Syriza for not proposing that Greece quit the euro, Gianna replied that the struggle "does not depend on the question of currencies. It is not a technical matter. We must look at things much more concretely. The need is not to change currency, but to change policy".
In an interview John Milios, a leading figure within Syriza, had said that Syriza had a Plan B in case of the European Central Bank and the EU leaders organising harsh economic retaliation against a left government in Greece, but it could not be made public. What was DEA's idea of a Plan B? Gianna grinned and said: "The revolution!"
Is unity of the Greek Trotskyists, or at least some move towards unity, possible? Gianna said that DEA has started discussions with two other groups within Syriza, Kokkino and Apo (which in fact are splinters from DEA, created by divisions over the details of how to enter Syriza).
In Thessaloniki Ed Maltby met with Nikos Anastasiadis, a long-standing member of DEA, and with Xaris from Kokkino.
Ed raised the controversy between revolutionaries who operate within Syriza, like DEA, and those who are instead in Antarsya. He put to them the points raised by comrades in the Antarsya subgroup ARAN, for example, that Tsipras had moved right during the elections and was soft-pedalling the more radical elements of the Syriza programme. Marius, from the ex-Healyite group EEK, had predicted that a Syriza government would simply implement the memorandum.
Nikos was scathing about the decision of SEK and others to form Antarsya, rather than participating in Syriza as revolutionaries: "Antarsya was set up to 'protect' the members of the revolutionary left from the influence of Syriza".
Xaris from Kokkino put it differently: "Antarsya and EEK are probably right about the intentions of Tsipras. You can see this not only in terms of his decision to talk about 'renegotiating' rather than scrapping the Memorandum, but also in the way that the leadership 'forgot' about migrants and the demand for open borders in their slogans.
"But Syriza is not just about what Tsipras says. It is also about the expectations of most workers. Syriza is the only hope for most workers. If you want to win people to socialism, you have to start from where they are. We need to organise workers to support Syriza in a move to the left. The position of Antarsya is defeatist."
DEA and Kokkino agreed on the need for the unity of revolutionaries inside Syriza to fight for a socialist programme. But they also agree that if the mass movement of workers who supported Syriza as the electoral expression of their struggle against austerity is able to intervene within Syriza, that will have a more significant leftward effect than all the members of different leftwing currents within Syriza put together.
As well as increasing the relative weight of organised revolutionaries within Syriza, DEA and Kokkino agree on the need for the creation of a mass working-class rank-and-file membership of Syriza. This is important for two reasons: firstly, to give a Syriza-led left government an alternative support for their policies than the bourgeois state; and secondly, to provide a mass impetus for the radical policies which they believe many working-class people now desire – and which the Syriza leadership is under pressure to back off from.
The process of the unification of Syriza may well, in the short term, damage the strength of revolutionary groupings in Syriza – guaranteed representation for affiliated groups on leading committees would be replaced with a one-member-one-vote system within which the strength of the revolutionary groups would be smaller.
However, in Xaris's view: "If Kokkino or DEA lose representation, that is less important than masses of ordinary people taking membership cards. In a crisis, people become more left wing than their leaders. If a lot of people organise into Syriza and vote for its leaders, that will be a good thing. Even if they initially vote for more right wing leaders, that is better than not voting. So we must organise people to take party cards".
The degree of mass participation and active engagement of the rank and file in Syriza is likely to be important. Xaris had doubts about the seriousness of the current majority in Syriza in achieving this: "one mistake was that between the two elections they held mass assemblies. But all Syriza did was to take emails – essentially saying, "we'll call you." They should have organised those in attendance of members of Syriza.
"I think that the Syriza leadership wants to give internal voting rights to new members, but slowly, maybe over an 18-month transitional period. That is a very long time for the people of Greece who want solutions right now. If they cannot do things faster in Syriza, many will look elsewhere".
However, Syriza leaders in Thessaloniki, like Miltos Ikonomou, indicated to us that they were in favour of giving new members organised through the assemblies party cards immediately.
Ed also discussed with the DEA and Kokkino activists the possibility of a left government's confrontation with the bourgeois state.
It is generally accepted that a Syriza government would carry out policies which would be unacceptable to the bourgeois establishment, and which would invite a reaction. Not only DEA and Kokkino, but also more mainstream Syriza members whom we met in the Syriza office, openly compare a future Syriza government to the Allende government in Chile in 1970-3, which was eventually overthrown by a military coup.
Nikos from DEA expressed concern that the leadership faction around Tsipras did not fully appreciate the seriousness of a confrontation between a left government and the state. When asked how he thought a Syriza government would cope with non-co-operation from the state apparatus, he answered, "Tsipras thinks he can control the state apparatus with the help of the movement and of collaborators inside the civil service. In fact Syriza would have to rely on the labour movement and workers' control of services to implement its programme. For example, they would have to rely on the workers of the tax collection service rather than the heads of the service".
Nikos explained that he thought that rather than a question of convincing the Syriza leadership of the real stakes and the real nature of a confrontation with the state, it was more a question of "building up the social forces that would organise a response". This will take time – as the Greek labour movement is, in his view, at a much lower stage of development than the Chilean labour movement of 1972-3.
Xaris of Kokkino drew another analogy – that of the "Committees for the Defence of the Revolution" which appeared in Venezuela during the right-wing coup against Chavez, and which operated public services and mobilised against the coup. (It's not clear to us how much this analogy reflects a tendency by Kokkino to take Chavez's section of the Venezuelan officer corps as a good-enough substitute for a workers' party).
DEA and Kokkino differ from much of the rest of the Greek revolutionary left on Europe. Antarsya and OKDE make their key, headline point of difference with Syriza the demand for Greece to leave the Euro – a demand which, for them, marks out the difference between reformists and revolutionaries. DEA and Kokkino disagree.
"On Europe, Antarsya's line is just a pretext", Nikos says. "A country can leave the Euro and still be capitalist. The key is not whether you are in or out of the Euro but in or out of capitalist politics".
Nikos also criticised the "proviso" that Antarsya and OKDE put on the "leave the Euro" demand – namely, that Greece's exit should be a "left exit", rather than a nationalist one. "Maybe in a few months Greece will leave the Euro, but on a nationalist basis or on the basis of an expulsion which brings chaos and worsens conditions. In that situation, what will Antarsya say to people? 'We didn't mean an exit like this?' People will not understand, or not believe them.
To the argument of the pro-exit left that the legal and constitutional institutions of the EU would create a block on executing leftwing policy, Nikos replies: "carrying out the programme of nationalising the banks and rejecting the memorandum is not a formal matter of institutions, but of class struggle. Carrying out this programme would cause a crisis in Europe" – a crisis which might be resolved in favour of the workers or in favour of the EU leaders.
"For Synaspismos", he continues, "Euro exit is undesirable. For us, it is irrelevant. The point for us is that irrespective of capitalist blackmail, a workers' government will make the bosses pay".
Kokkino make the same point – in one of their recent articles, they point out the need to "make the Greek issue a European issue" – which necessitates using the Greek crisis to make a crisis in Europe and provide an example to the struggling workers' movements of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.
As for the issue of the architecture of the EU being incompatible with a left government, Xaris says, "a left government would be a short episode between the present situation and a socialist revolution. It would only last a few months – it would either have to betray the people or move forward" – which in his view means that the contradiction between the EU and the left government would be resolved in struggle, and rapidly
Nikos explained that DEA was formed from two splits in the SEK. The first, in Thessaloniki in 1993, was in reaction to the SEK declaring that the fall of Stalinism would mean the disappearance of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and all other left forces other than themselves. SEK spurned united-front work with other left groups and tendencies and took a turn to frantic self-promotion.
(This would have been a translation into Greece of a turn at the same time by the SWP in Britain, which declared that the "downturn" of the 1980s was over, and proclaimed a new period of "volatility").
Most of SEK's Thessaloniki organisation broke away and formed a group called SEP, which considered itself to have a more measured view of the state of the left. SEP deliberately did not call itself a "party" ("komma" in Greek, as in the K of SEK). It rejected "arrogant and voluntaristic" methods, and favoured joint work with other groups.
The second split occurred in Athens in 2001, as part of the aftermath of the break in 2000 between the SWP and the ISO-USA. According to Nikos, it was about "democratic centralism and how it works - or doesn't work". SEP merged with the Athens split to form DEA.
Nikos said that DEA has "hundreds - not dozens or thousands - of members". When Ed spoke later with Xaris from Kokkino, the other Trotskyist group in Syriza, Xaris estimated: "DEA has about 300 paper members, but only about 120 active members". Kokkino, said Xaris, has about 100 members, of whom about 50 are active week-in-week-out.
Kokkino, though originating in a splinter from DEA, is no longer tied to the SWP "tradition". Nikos said that DEA "has the same theory as SEK; only, they do not put it into practice".
Back in Athens, at its Anti-Racist Festival, a now-traditional annual gathering of the left, Martin talked with many activists, including Tereza, one of the people on the stall of Kokkino. Kokkino's stall was next to DEA's, and Tereza told me that they "collaborate a lot. We are both Trotskyists, Marxists, Leninists".
Why two separate groups, then? It's a matter of different ways of approaching the movement and different ideas on how to organise, said Tereza. "We believe in recomposition - not in the idea that you can build an embryo of a revolutionary organisation and it can then grow into a revolutionary party just by recruiting more and more people".
Syriza is a "good field for recomposition". Now that Syriza is going to reorganise itself as a united party rather than a coalition, Kokkino will have to reorganise itself, and "maybe we will end up in the same platform within Syriza as DEA". "We are in Syriza", said Tereza, "because we want to be in the movement".
Tereza told me that Kokkino's last congress had concluded that Greece is in a "pre-revolutionary period". Articles by DEA have claimed that it is not pre-revolutionary, or at least not yet, but Tereza did not mention that issue as a difference between Kokkino and DEA.
Tereza shrugged at the claim by OKDE-Spartakos that Syriza is moving to the right. Syriza's commitments to rescind the memorandum and to nationalise the banks are "very radical". Syriza, she said, is often criticised for not rejecting the euro, but it is clear about "no sacrifice for the euro".
Kokkino accepts that the EU is a capitalist construction; but points out that it does not follow that getting out of the eurozone, or the EU, makes a country not capitalist. In any case, Kokkino does not believe in socialism in one country. It wants to use the solidarity of the peoples of Europe to fight the EU leadership.
Kokkino is evidently a small group. Giving me copies of Kokkino's magazine, Tereza said it is monthly "more or less, or sometimes every two months".
When, in London, we read the statements of the different revolutionary groups, Kokkino's seemed to us among the most impressive, unsectarian but also more far-reaching and radical on many political issues than the statements of groups which shun Syriza because it is reformist.
In Kokkino's assessment of the 17 June election, published on 26 June, we found a list of ideas most of which were expressed in one way or another by other groups. But, we thought, in no other group's assessment had we found the whole complex of ideas expressed as clearly:
- The forces of the revolutionary left inside and outside Syriza must converge
- It is mandatory now to face the fascists with a wide network of popular self-defence groups and guards
- Modern capitalist globalisation and European capitalist integration leave no room for a break with the system at the national level unless there is rapid evolution in European and international power structures... We aim for a modern European 'spring of nations'... make the 'Greek question' a European issue
- The defence of immigrants is a central issue
- Generalisation and nationwide networking of... popular assemblies
- A plan to overturn the relationships in the labour movement, claim union leaderships, form new [first-level] unions.
Kokkino, however, has a different attitude from AWL to sharp debate and clarification on broad questions of world view.
The rather scrappy stock of books on its stall suggested that it has not replaced the SWP "tradition" by a different one. Kokkino is now an observer group in the Fourth International, the network of revolutionary socialist groups in different countries centred on activists in the NPA in France. Tereza told Martin, for example, that the question of the nature of the Stalinist states (state capitalist? deformed workers' states? or what?) is now for Kokkino one of debate rather than of defined "line".
Open debate is good, Martin said, but some socialists regard Venezuela and Cuba as "actually existing" socialism. A decision on whether that view is right or wrong is not an abstruse issue, but central to how we explain our aims and aspirations to workers every day.
"I'm just a young member of Kokkino", said Tereza. "People have to make their own liberation in their own way".
Yes: but this maxim can be interpreted in two opposite ways in relation to Venezuela and Cuba. Some use the maxim to say that Venezuela and Cuba have chosen their own ways to socialism, and so no-one should criticise. We would use it to say that the free organisation of the working class, independent of and inevitably in important senses against Chavez and Castro, is fundamental.
Tereza was clear that Venezuela and Cuba are not socialist, but beyond that she wasn't sure.
Back in London, we talked with Giorgos Galanis, who was active in Kokkino in Greece and still keeps contact, but has been in England for the last six years, active with Socialist Resistance.
He told us a bit about the history of Kokkino.
It originated in a split from DEA about the perspectives of their work in Syriza. The Kokkino people saw it as a long-term activity aimed at "recomposition" of the left and the creation of a "broad party" to the left of social democracy.
The DEA majority, said Giorgos, saw it more as a tactical gambit. Though (he said) they didn't use the term, they saw Syriza somewhat in terms of the SWP's concept of "a united front of a special type".
Despite the differences, said Giorgos, there would not have been a split but for the fact that DEA maintains a similar regime to the SWP, allowing opposition groupings to operate and express themselves collectively only in strictly-delimited pre-conference periods.
The differences were sharpened by the 2004 Euro-elections, in which Syriza as such did not stand. Synaspismos, the major component of Syriza, stood in its own name. It seemed a real possibility that Syriza as such would just fade away.
DEA distanced itself a bit from Syriza, or at least had a "wait and see" attitude. Kokkino threw itself into agitating for the revitalisation of Syriza.
A revitalisation happened, helped by a swing to the left in Synaspismos and a good result for a list headed by Alexis Tsipras in the Athens city elections in 2006.
Giorgos said that Kokkino has had some impact in the Greek left recently beyond its size, pioneering the slogans for "no sacrifice for the euro" and a united left government.
Early on Kokkino drew in other activists from origins other than DEA. Manifesto, a group which had split from OKDE-Spartakos, joined right at the start, and helped push Kokkino towards seeking and getting observer status with the "Fourth International" network centred round the LCR/ NPA in France.
Other activists who have joined Kokkino include a group who were formerly in the Greek group linked to Socialist Appeal in Britain.
The "broad parties to the left of social democracy" orientation favoured by the Fourth International in recent times has, in AWL's view, many drawbacks.
It tends to lead to a blurring of political message. In Rifondazione in Italy, for example, the FI group Sinistra Critica seemed for a long while to be more advisers to the leadership than an independent force. In Britain it led to Socialist Resistance joining Respect. In France it led to the LCR often talking as if nothing much could be done until some "broad" force joined the LCR to produce the promised "broad" party.
The orientation could also, paradoxically, lead to a sectarianism towards the base of social-democratic parties, since the political definition of the desired "broad" party was made negative - "to the left of social democracy" - rather than positive.
All that said, Kokkino's statements do not indicate that sort of political blurring. On important issues they are sharper than statements from groups outside Syriza.
Judging from DEA's recent statements, the evolution of Syriza in recent years may have narrowed the differences in practice between DEA and Kokkino.