January 18, 2012 — At the October 26, 2011, European summit it was agreed to slash Greece’s debt on the condition that a new, draconian austerity package and “memorandum” be carried out by the Greek government. After the agreement and a mass wave of protests on October 28, a referendum was announced by Prime Minister George Papandreou, only to be revoked a few days later. There then followed an endless series of negotiations, which led to the formation of a new coalition government headed by Loukas Papadimos. The new government was backed by right-wing capitalist party New Democracy, Papandreou’s social-democratic Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and LAOS, the ultra-right party.
Sofia Sakorafa, an independent left-wing MP who broke away from PASOK one and a half years ago, gave the following interview about the situation in Greece to the Greek journal Marxist Thought.
Sofia, you were one of the personalities who broke away from the ruling PASOK party with a clear political rationale of breaking with the dominant policies of the establishment. Knowing things from within, what do you think of the latest developments? Papandreou’s maneuvers with the referendum, the vote of confidence in the government and the formation of the coalition government.
In May 2010 the government didn’t resort to the International Monetary Fund to save the country and avoid bankruptcy for the Greek people. That was the ruling-class propaganda that accompanied a strategic choice that was clearly oriented to subjugating the economy to the Atlantic centres and bailing out the banks and capital. This strategy was certain, with mathematical precision and in an absolutely violent way, to lead the Greek people to ruin.
The Greek people reacted. The long drawn-out disagreement with the government’s choice created serious cracks in the political edifice. The spontaneous and massive outpouring in every city in Greece on October 28 pushed the government into complete political deadlock. The conflict between the government’s choice and the people’s needs was clearly exposed.
The only serious way to resolve that conflict was to hold general elections immediately. Yet instead of that democratic solution to the political stalemate, a tricky solution was concocted. A small group, headed by the prime minister and without any legitimacy, played a trick in an attempt to steal the vote of the Greek people.
The referendum proposal was a desperate trick by the prime minister to coerce legitimacy from the people. At the same time, for Europe, it was a first-class opportunity to show that Greece had become a protectorate, an entity of limited sovereignty. It was on that basis that Europe imposed the coalition government solution. Its aim was to restore political stability in order to impose its austerity policies more easily.
It is clear that against a worn-out and illegitimate government, Europe opted for a bourgeois government of broad consensus and therefore with greater legitimacy.
The tug-of-war over the creation of the new government was revealing. During those days it was not only the complete disintegration of the political system that became evident, but also the role of the media and other capitalist institutions. How do you assess the prospects of the “solution” imposed?
The “solution” that was imposed is an anti-democratic violation of the popular will. The media supported this enforced solution. The decomposition of the political system is not only reflected in the “fiasco” of the government scheme or the ludicrous proceedings that accompanied its formation. It is mainly reflected in the fact that bourgeois democracy in Greece has reached the point of fearing and denying its own statutory authority, namely, elections.
“The rulers got scared they might suffer damage and lose the spoon together with the broth”1 – so they mobilised everyone willing to help them to ensure the survival of the system.
On the other hand, within the general decay the flowers of evil flourish. While the left cannot find common ground, we see LAOS – and neo-fascism as well – acquiring legitimacy and gaining direct access to power centres.
It is not the first time in history that bourgeois forces have joined with the ultra-right and neo-fascist groups to hold on to power. The axe men2 of the past are now in the role of “responsible saviours of the nation”.
At the same time, it is a fact also highly indicative of the decay of capitalist politics that the bourgeois system needs to regenerate new political formations for a new era of authoritarian enforcement, crippled democracy and totalitarian rule.
Of course, this scenario is conditional on the role of left forces.
It is common knowledge that the country and the Greek people are on the brink of ruin. The question is, what can be done? What do you think about the agreement of October 26? Is it likely, if implemented, to bring any positive results? If not, what are the conditions for a viable solution to the crisis?
The agreement of October 26 virtually means a payment default, but at the lenders’ initiative. To put it simply, this agreement, in which private creditors are also involved, includes the best possible conditions for private lenders. The banks will be released from Greece’s debt, which they know very well is impossible to repay in its entirety. They will receive a new debt that will have better guarantees at 80% of the original one. Not surprisingly, they will also get better interest rates, because interest rates on the new debt will be higher on average than the old ones. The nominal gain for Greece is minimal, but the price is very heavy for the Greek people, disgraceful for our national independence and disastrous for the economy.
The October 26 agreement, however, also points to another way out, that of payment default. Until now the government and the bourgeois parties have stressed in all tones that we will pay to the last penny.
We need this alternative solution. It paves the way to a default on the borrowers’ terms.
To do this, we need a political balance of forces that can achieve two conditions. First, a sovereign andindependent state that can negotiate hard and decisively. Second, popular sovereignty. It’s the Greek people who should decide what agreements they will make and break and why.
For two years now, the Greek people have been subjected to huge sacrifices without a glimmer of light on the horizon. In view of that, what could be the role of the left in this critical period? Does the left have the capacity to express and successfully channel the spontaneous protests of the people, protests that have grown tremendously?
If we now fail to set up a political front, the left will have denied its historical role, with grave consequences for the Greek people. The historical juncture is ripe for the urgent formation of a new EAM3.
The left has a historical obligation to listen, make the best of the objective conditions and subdue any subjective pathology or weakness.
The cooperation of the left is something everyone wishes to see. However, on the part of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)4 there is a clear, stereotyped, repetitive denial of the need for left unity. How do you assess and explain this attitude?
The attitude of the KKE is metaphysical and timid. It leaves the resolution of all issues to an inevitable future revolution—the “second coming”. Yet it is a historically given fact that for the revolutionary process to get started, the political “subject” itself raises specific issues. Around these issues develop political responses, as well as political options which are based on specific power relations and also create new dynamics. The revolution doesn’t take place timelessly nor through subjects who, acting in a chemically pure political context, magically acquire revolutionary consciousness. The revolution is realised in real time and by subjects who, through their involvement in the movement, shape revolutionary consciousness and at the same time change power relationships.
It is known that Tsirimokos5 was one of the founders of the EAM. Consider the disaster if the left had not united in the EAM because Tsirimokos had helped found the EAM, for fear that Tsirimokos would “contaminate” the EAM.
Of course the risk of “contamination” is always there, but we cannot avoid it by being shut away in our houses, sealing and sterilising all rooms. Such preventive “medicine” would be reminiscent of medieval recipes: quarantine, prayer and a witch hunt …
It reminds me of something more dangerous. It’s a recipe for failure. I mean that those who see their involvement in the movement as a possible source of contamination, and thus, to protect themselves from it, do not participate in the most essential and necessary political processes, the struggles to shift political consciousness, to change the political balance and to work out and formulate proposals of revolutionary content. These processes do not take place in a soundproof room, behind closed doors and outside the movement.
If your strategic objective is revolution, your revolutionary tactic must be to constantly radicalise the consciousness of the movement, so that the steps that are made now will at a later time turn into leaps.
The relationship of the communist with the movement should not correspond to the logic of “a fly in the milk”, but to “a fish in the water”. Otherwise you pray patiently, quarantine anyone who is different to you, call them an “Ephialtes”6 and instead of turning this life into paradise, you identify with metaphysical doctrines of paradise in another life.
Given the refusal so far of the Communist Party to collaborate, what can be done with the other left forces, SYRIZA, ANTARSYA and personalities from PASOK7? What would be the terms of reliable cooperation between them?
First we should not give all weight to the form and forget the content. Cooperation should not be a pretext, or invoke a general and abstract unity, but should have a substantial political content.
Some non-parliamentary left forces think that the political proposal for simply an “anti-memorandum front” represents a lower point of convergence than is necessary and imperative today. These left forces think an “anti-memorandum front” is based on a lowest common denominator. This way of thinking is quite reasonable. The memorandum and the debt are components and consequences of the system itself, therefore, the front should have a clear anti-capitalist orientation.
Of course, I don’t disagree at all with this rationale, but I do not set it as a prerequisite for cooperation, but as the ultimate aim of collaboration that will continuously radicalise mass consciousness, until the final break.
How do you see the overall situation in Europe? After the crisis in Greece, and its spread to Portugal, Ireland and Spain, and now to Italy, it is clear that the eurozone is on the verge of splitting. The markets are so blatant that they can “resign” their “own” leaders in favour of someone they consider more appropriate for the present moment, bypassing any political process. What should be the orientation of the left in the face of this? Renegotiation, payment default or something else?
You give me the opportunity through your question to expand on the answer above. The system is regrouping its forces, sacrificing those considered expendable for its survival. If we do not break the processes of this regroupment, we will be talking about another historical opportunity missed.
If we do not break what the Communist Party itself calls a “black front”, a designation with which I totally agree, we will have to answer to history and to our people.
The first objective, the key objective, is not to allow the system to turn this disaster into an opportunity for reformation. Renegotiation, payment default or the drachma-euro dilemma are not in themselves a political position. They are the necessary and dynamic tools of a political position aimed primarily against the memorandum. The ultimate aim of this position would be breaking with capitalism. This goal, however, cannot be a condition for cooperation with other political forces. Goals should be set and formulated by society itself.
Our time is characterised not only by the onslaught of neoliberal reaction, but also by the rise of large movements, uprisings in the Arab world, the indignant citizens’ movements in Spain, Greece and now Occupy Wall Street in the USA. How can we sum it up so far? What can we say about the future, especially the critical dimension of international coordination of these movements?
In the West, and even more so in the Arab region, societies imagined that institutions and policy production were external to society. They imagined that policies were formed above and beyond society itself. As a result, they believed that this world could not change. That is changing.
The “movement of the squares” in the West and the East has laid a serious foundation for autonomy, which is also the prerequisite for political and social emancipation.
A second very important conclusion is that the spontaneous element at times and under certain processes can become conscious and, moreover, on a scale of quality and quantity that any “conscious element” would be jealous of.
How many times has this great “conscious element” been able to raise so many questions of such an ideological nature and to have a powerful and dynamic response by so many millions of people in the East and the West?
A third conclusion based on the two above is that once the participants become politically conscious, have faith in their capabilities and assume a vanguard role, a movement to overthrow the system becomes possible.
In terms of the coordination of movements, it is an objective possibility in Ireland and Portugal, Spain and Italy, that is, of the whole European periphery.
The Audit Commission on Greek Public Debt (ELE)8 is an interesting unifying initiative in Greece, in which you have played a leading role. In view of the danger of the country’s bankruptcy, the relevance of the commission is clearly increased. Are further initiatives planned?
First, ELE is being strengthened for two very obvious reasons. First, because the core goal of the debt audit is payment default, but on the part of the borrower. Second, because the need for payment default is not only something specific to Greece, but is taking on a European dimension.
On this basis we are “running” two things simultaneously. First, coordination with the audit commissions of the European region; second, the founding of a national network of the Greek commission. The latter will be discussed and organised at a conference to be held in January.
[This interview with Sofia Sakorafa first appeared in Greek in Marxist Thought, volume 4, pp. 47-52. Sofia Sakorafa is an independent left MP in Greece’s parliament.]
Words of a Greek popular song.
2. A reference to Makis Voridis, a neo-fascist LAOS member and current minister of infrastructure, transport and networks. He was seen – and photographed – holding an axe in public in 1985. Seehttp://exiledonline.com/austerity-fascism-in-greece-the-real-1-doctrine/ for details.
3. The EAM, the National Liberation Front, was an alliance that led the Greek resistance during the Nazi occupation of the country in the Second World War.
4. The Communist Party (KKE), led by Aleka Papariga, is a Stalinist party. It has a sectarian policy, refusing any cooperation with other left forces. It has recently fully rehabilitated its Stalinist general secretary during the 1940s and 1950s, Nikos Zahariadis. It also adopted resolutions defending Stalin and the Moscow trials, while proclaiming Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders “Gestapo agents”.
5. Ilias Tsirimokos (1907-68), a Greek bourgeois politician, took part in the resistance movement, but in later years moved increasingly to the right.
6. Ephialtes was a traitor during the battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians in 480 BC. The Spartans suffered a crushing defeat after he betrayed them to the Persian army.
7. SYRIZA is the second biggest Greek left organisation (an alliance of left-wing groups), partly similar to Germany’s Die Linke. A number of quite different forces and organisations are taking part in it. ANTARSYA is an alliance formed in March 2009 by forces of the far left, uniting various activist groups, but without much political influence as yet. A number of personalities have left PASOK during the last two years, some of them professing more or less left positions.
8. The Audit Commission on Greek Public Debt (ELE) is an initiative by Greek left personalities, economists and others for establishing an audit commission to examine the Greek debt. For further information, see http://elegr.gr/index.php and http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43171.html.