The greek crisis and the Left

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Socialist Review interviewed Thanasis Kampagiannis, a member of the Greek Socialist Workers Party (SEK), about the political situation in Greece, the moves to the right by Syriza and the prospects for workers' resistance to austerity and the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank and IMF).


The crisis that followed the move by the government to shut down ERT, the public TV and radio broadcaster, seems to have left the government in a weaker position and led to the departure of the Democratic Left from the ruling coalition. Can the government survive?

After December, when the Greek government voted for new austerity measures and secured the political and economic support of the Troika, the Greek ruling class started an ideological offensive, claiming that the economic crisis was over and that the political situation would now stabilise. This is what Samaras, the prime minister, labelled "the Greek success story".

Six months later the government was still stuck in the same old quagmire: decline of GDP, lack of investment, failure of big privatisations and growing quarrels between the three government partners - New Democracy, Pasok and the Democratic Left.

This is when Samaras decided to go onto the offensive and shut down ERT. He thought that this would make him seem a powerful leader, that his government partners would accept his leadership and stop the constant internal rows, that the union of workers in ERT would be isolated and victory would be a game-changer. It is now common sense even among bourgeois commentators that he heavily miscalculated the balance of forces.

Shutting ERT led to a massive nationwide movement of support for its journalists and workers, who occupied the channel and operated it under their control. As a result of this, the Democratic Left was obliged to leave the government. Finally Samaras had to run to the help of Pasok's discredited leader Venizelos, who he made a vice-president in the new two-party government.

The ERT crisis is just the prelude for the kind of fights the government needs to wage if it is to survive. It is common knowledge that after the end of the second Memorandum [the bailout agreed between the Greek government and the Troika] in mid-2014 the Greek state will have a huge public debt (now at 180 percent of GDP) or will be unable to borrow from the markets and will need a new Memorandum or a new "haircut" on Greek debts.

This would bring a new round of austerity measures and this is already an extremely weak government, made up from the two parties widely seen as bearing the main responsibility for the crisis. It is difficult to see it surviving for long.

How is the movement against austerity in the unions, workplaces and streets evolving?

The ERT struggle continues, with the government trying to lure journalists and workers to a new state broadcaster. But now the crucial front will be the lay-off of 25,000 public sector workers planned by the end of the year. This means the closure of schools, hospitals and many local government services. August was a month in which the workers' demonstrations never really stopped: the strike of the public sector union, ADEDY, was massive and militant.

The coming weeks will see big confrontations on all fronts, with education and health workers at the fore. Already hospital workers are in turmoil: a rank and file coordination committee has been created pushing for a 48-hour strike alongside hospital unions preparing to occupy. The teachers' union is set to decide on an indefinite strike from 11 September.

The government has also announced it will speed up the privatisation of water, energy and the transport system to fill the hole in its budget. The first response to all that will be the big annual demonstration in Thessaloniki on 7 September.

What is Syriza's relationship to the movement now that the party is in the official opposition?

Syriza is more cautious. Its electoral rise was a result of the strike movement, the movement of occupying public squares, the mass demonstrations and pledge to form a "government of the left" against the pro-Memorandum forces. But its strategy treats this movement as an object, with the left government the subject. This is not an abstract observation; it has repercussions in the here and now. Since the elections in June 2012 Syriza has portrayed itself as a "responsible" party, ready to take office.

There have been commentators (including from Syriza) who say that the radicalism of Syriza reflects the vitality of the movement. As the movement has receded, so Syriza is now less radical, they say. This clever abdication of responsibility was, however, proved false during the teachers' strike in May.

The government, using the law, conscripted teachers after their union announced a strike during the May exams. Some 20,000 teachers participated in local assemblies of their union, defied the conscription order and voted for strike. Within two days the union leadership called the strike off. This was a coup against the rank and file, where Syriza's leading trade unionists were central to this move. What were revealed were the strategic limitations of Syriza faced with deepening social conflict.

Syriza's recent conference appears to have marked a shift to the right by the party's leadership. Can you give an assessment of the outcome of this conference and explain what lies behind this shift?

The conference has marked the consolidation of the shift I described. It was organised in a way that boosted the prestige and prime ministerial credentials of its leader, Tsipras. Syriza is now a single party of 30,000 members. The party's central message is that it will aim to renegotiate the loan treaties with the Troika, but it will not make any unilateral moves, even if the cancellation of the Memorandum remains a goal. This government will be a "national salvation" government. So Syriza will seek the support and participation of other forces, notably the right wing Independent Greeks, and probably the Democratic Left and others.

Syriza's leadership is pursuing this strategy because it wants to send signals to the ruling class that it is not as dangerous as its opponents imply. The problem with this strategy is already evident: polls show that the majority of people now think the election of Syriza would bring no meaningful, radical change. This belief is the main explanation why the party's support is stuck and the fight between New Democracy and Syriza is so close.

After the conference this strategy continued. On 4 August the leading Syriza economist and finance minister in-waiting, Giannis Dragasakis, gave an interview in the centre-left paper To Vima to emphasise this turn to "realism", saying that a Syriza government would not go for "the policies of deficits", while limitations set by the euro are taken "for granted" and "healthy entrepreneurship" has nothing to worry about.

Has the left in Syriza been able to challenge the moves to the right by Tsipras and the Syriza leadership? How do you assess the left in Syriza?

The left in Syriza, grouped around the Left Platform led by Panayotis Lafazanis, had already accepted before the conference that it is in a minority position. In the conference it did not present a separate platform, but proposed four amendments (the annulment of the Memorandum and the loan treaties, the nationalisation of the banks, a break with the euro if necessary and the rejection of collaboration with parties other than those of the left). It lost the vote on all of them.

On the organisational issues, it failed to stop the dissolution of the "constituent" organisations of Syriza, making the control of the leadership over dissenting voices much tighter. The compromise reached was to give some constituent organisations time to disolve.

The Left Platform did better in the elections for the Central Committee (up from 25 percent last year to 30 percent). The left also argued against the move to elect the party president (ie Tsipras) directly by the party conference, rather than by the Central Committee as has happened until now. The left was also defeated over this and neither did it present a candidate of its own, leaving Tsipras's political authority unchallenged.

The outcome of Syriza's conference ought to settle the argument on the nature of the party. The dividing line in this often heated debate was not whether there will be a battle inside Syriza regarding its political trajectory. What was contested was a narrative that presented Syriza as a radically new, unique formation, comprising reformists and revolutionaries fighting for leadership in a strategically open field. After the conference it is clear that Syriza is a left reformist formation, shaped by the governmental "realism" of its leadership and the subordination of its left wing, with an internal structure mirroring that of its biggest and oldest constituent organisation, Synaspismos.

How has the anti-fascist movement challenged the rise of Golden Dawn till now? What has been the left's response to that?

The anti-fascist movement has presented a real obstacle to Golden Dawn's effort to recruit and create stormtroops in neighbourhoods, even if it is still polling between 10 and 12 percent. This was not automatic though. It meant overcoming all kinds of wrong ideas and attitudes towards the rise of the Nazis: where they came from, whether it is correct to confront them, whether we need a mass movement or small "squaddist" teams of street fighters, and so on. The anti-fascist movement has engaged in lots of local mobilisations in neighbourhoods and workplaces. But there have also been big moments like the national demonstration of 19 January.

KEERFA (United Movement against Racism and Fascism), which SEK is part of, has been very important in both the spread and the centralisation of the anti-fascist movement. One of the main arguments that we have had is that anti-fascists also need to target government and state racism, which legitimises the neo-Nazis.

So, as well as KEERFA being at the forefront of building anti-fascist demonstrations, we have expressed solidarity with the immigrant strawberry pickers of Manolada, campaigning for the shutting down of the concentration camps for immigrants, demanding their legalisation and citizenship for their children, exposing racist police brutality and so on.

During this year the left as a whole has been better on the anti-fascist front. Syriza at first ducked the issue of building an anti-fascist movement, presenting a future change of government as the remedy for the rise of fascist groups. The Communist Party (KKE) initially ignored the need for anti-fascist mobilisations using sectarian arguments. Things are now changing. The best recent example was the cancellation of the Nazis' scheduled "festival" in Kalamata, banned by the authorities after a massive movement that united all parts of the left in the city. We want to see more of this. The international anti-fascist meeting that KEERFA is organising on 5-6 October in Athens is a good chance to discuss our experiences and decide future initiatives.

SEK is a part of Antarsya, the coalition of the anti-capitalist left. Can you tell us what Antarsya's perspective for the next few months is?

Antarsya held its second conference on 1-2 June. The pressure on Antarsya to liquidate and give way to Syriza (which was at its height during the May-June 2012 elections) has now receded. Instead the conference was modestly larger than the previous one (with more than 3,000 members participating in the proceedings) and new groups have been created in towns and localities.

Our tasks are first and foremost to help the workers' movement win its confrontations with the government. This means giving political and organisational support to the militant minorities that have formed in all workplaces as a result of the experiences of the past three years of struggle. Antarsya proposes the most militant forms of struggle (strikes, occupations and forms of workers' control) while at the same time insisting on the need for solidarity to overcome the danger of isolation. Concrete victories today are the only way for the working class to acquire confidence. Workers' struggles and the collectivities created out of them will be crucial for defeating this government and for dealing with the government that will follow.

The stakes will then be very high and Antarsya is preparing the movement for that moment.

At the same time, the struggle needs to be politicised. That is why Antarsya decided to prioritise anti-racism and anti-fascism, the fight for democratic rights, and so on. A very important weapon in this effort is its anti-capitalist programme: cancellation of the Memorandum and the loan treaties, nationalisation of the banking system, workers' control of production, employment for all, and radical measures. This programme means a break with the EU and the euro, a key link in any anti-austerity programme.

In the next ten months Antarsya will also need to participate in elections, European and municipal in May 2014, and maybe a general election in the meantime. So building the movement, sustaining the political struggles and participating in elections are all part of Antarsya's perspective.