Syriza and the struggle

Author: 
Theodora Polenta

Since the May and June elections in Greece issues that previously were discussed only in the small meetings of the revolutionary left have become part of the everyday discussion of ordinary people, new to the struggle and new to revolutionary jargon.

What should be the tactical and strategic aims of a left government? Should the left wing tendencies form a united front on a trade union level, or a political level, or both? What type of party organisation is required? Democratic centralism, pluralism, federalism?

What is the relationship and the relevance of the different ideological streams of the left? Reform or revolution? Parliament, neighbourhood community meetings and movements, workers' control, solidarity networks: how do they fit together?

At the epicentre of this discussion is Syriza, which saw its percentage increase from 4% in 2009 to 27% in last June’s elections.

To oversimplify, Syriza has three tendencies. The centre tendency of Synaspismos backs Syriza’s president Alexis Tsipras. The left, represented by Panagiotis Lafazanis, is broadly supported by the Left Stream of Synaspismos and by the majority of Syriza’s 12 other components (which include two Trotskyist groups, DEA and Kokkino). Then there is a group of ex-Pasok MPs represented by Alexis Mitropoulos.

This article is concerned with Syriza’s central leadership, and its tendency over the summer to soften its anti-memorandum anti-systemic edge and converge towards to a social democratic stance filling the vacuum left by the discredited and politically lifeless Pasok.

In June Syriza did well mainly because it promised that it would form “a government of the left” that would “cancel the memorandum”.

Working-class people and youth voted for Syriza in the hope of a unilateral, immediate overthrow of the Memorandum and cancellation of the debt.

Since 17 June several prominent members of Syriza — Dragasakis, Papadimoulis, Stathakis, as well as Tsipras — have adopted more “rounded” positions, a policy of compromise with the status quo which is very far from what was declared as Syriza's programme.

Straight after the elections, Tsipras gave an interview to Reuters saying stating that he “did not intend to call the people onto the streets”. Syriza would wait until “the three party coalition government would collapse of its own accord and Syriza would become the government”.

Syriza representative Panos Skourletis pointedly asked all members of Syriza to be careful when making public political statements as now Syriza was a party of 27%, not of 4%.

Syriza's electoral promise to nationalise the banks under workers' and public control has been overshadowed by talk about the advantages of EU action to save the Greek banking system.

During his speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair in September, Tsipras made another political shift to the right, arguing for “the cancellation and renegotiation of the Memorandum” (i.e. a new Memorandum) as the only way that the creditors could continue to get their money.

“This is the only credible and viable option to get the country out of the recession, to effectively finance the recovery, to restore debt sustainability through development... With the Memorandum Greece will collapse and the creditors will lose their money “ he said.

Addressing Greek capitalists, Tsipras stressed the need to “restore the country's competitiveness” and pledged to use “creatively the geo-strategic importance of the country”, i.e. to bring back to the Greek capitalists their profits in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

He promised to “further enhance the shipping industry with a national programmatic agreement with the shipping industry and the ship owning world” with a “review of their tax cuts and exemptions”.

The ship owners will never agree to establish a “national framework agreement ... for the review of their tax exemptions'” as Tsipras hopes. Already they have responded by stating — if you want to tax us, you have first to find us.

Tsipras abandoned Syriza’s call for nationalisation without compensation and under workers' control of privatised sectors and instead advocated harmonious cooperation of the public and private sectors.

“Instead of privatisation we promote business partnerships and development partnerships with intergovernmental agreements” says Syriza’s energy programme.

Syriza's “nationalisation of the banks” was reduced during the speech to “cancellation of the privatisation of the Agricultural and post savings banks and their reestablishment under public control”, and the creation of a “special purpose bank”.

Tsipras further retreated on Syriza’s position on the debt, calling for “renegotiation of the loan agreement and bailout fund”, “a moratorium on repayment of interest for a specified period”, “writing off large part of the debt”, and “repayment of the rest of the debt dependent upon the country’s development”.

In fact, all the three components of today’s coalition government (New Democracy, Pasok, Democratic Left) were elected on a promise to “renegotiate” and “gradually disengage” from the memorandum. but now say they have no choice but to push through new cuts. Why a government of the left, led by a part which EU and IMF leaders witch-hunted in the June election) will get a more generous response to requests for renegotiation is a serious question not answered by the leadership of Syriza.

When the protesters gathered at the Thessaloniki International Fair, Tsipras made no call to escalate industrial struggle beyond the one-day general strike already called by GSEE and ADEDY.

In his speech words such as “internationalism”, “strike”, “socialism”, “immigrants” or” racism” were absent. He appealed to “patriotic and democratic” Greeks, or to “every Greek person” , “omitting” to raise the issue of the legalisation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who live and work in the country. His speech was saturated with talk of “national plans”, “sovereignty,” “national independence”, “national imperative” “national capital”, “national wealth”, and especially “national strategy”

Tsipras and Syriza’s chief economist John Milios visited Horst Reichenbach, the chief of the EU cuts “task force” in Greece. After the meeting Milios stated: “The main thing is to agree on some goals. We have agreed with Reichenbach on the target of balancing the budget first and then creating primary surpluses”.

The argument that the weapon of the strike has waned in conditions of crisis so the workers should turn towards a political solution is anti-dialectical and one-sided. A government of the left will not be viable if it is supported only by workplaces that have abandoned the strike weapon. A left wing government can be viable only if connected with workers' struggles and organs of workers' and community control.

There is the dividing line between those who cultivate a “wait until the next election” attitude and those left wing forces in and outside of Syriza who organise the battles in the here and now, from factory to factory, school, hospital, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood.

Syriza is moving at a very slow pace towards its conference which aims to transform Syriza to “a single party of the radical left”. The conference was planned for November, has now been shifted to December, and may be further delayed.

Despite the right wing shift of the leadership of Syriza, Syriza still remains the main hope for the working class and community movements, because it is the only medium that promises a left government in the next period. The forces of the radical and revolutionary left, whether they are inside or outside Syriza, have a duty to intervene in these processes, raise a radical socialist programme, and campaign for real internal democracy in the party.

Now, after the relative lull of the summer, and after the massive protests against Merkel's visit, no day passes without strikers in the streets: teachers, hotel employees, metal, transport workers,doctors and health workers, council workers...

In response, Tsipras has shifted back to the left a bit. He has welcomed the general strikes and helped organise the Merkel protests (alongside PAME and the revolutionary left).

In a recent meeting in Ioannina, Tsipras stated that Syriza’s priority is supporting industrial and neighbourhood action in order to stop the new 13.5 billion package of cuts. An escalation of the struggle will overthrow the government and impose new elections.

The efforts of Syriza’s left should follow three directions.

One, the organisation of the struggle for the overthrow of the cuts and the government,

Two, intervention in all Syriza’s organs and initiatives to contribute towards the formation of a single democratic party of the radical left with internal democracy and multiple tendencies

Three, promoting an industrial and political united front between Syriza, KKE, and Antarsya, as a precondition for the government of the left.

A government of the left, based on struggles, would not be the endpoint, but would open the door to the well-matured necessity of building another society, which has our needs as its priority, a socialist, radical-democratic society.