Greece: A Divided Left

Understanding the Greek election and the prospects of the left, part 4 of 4.

The Syriza of Jan. 25, 2015 is no longer.

There is a new Syriza which is no longer campaigning against the bailout memorandum but for struggling within the memorandum. There is also Popular Unity which is openly calling for Greece to leave the Eurozone. Another Syriza breakaway faction, the left-libertarian Communist Organization of Greece (KOE) is not even fielding candidates and has called on Greeks to spoil their ballots. Personalities of the left, such as composer Miki Theodorakis have called on Greeks to boycott these elections, since free elections cannot be held in countries under occupation! WWII hero and former Syriza MEP, Manolis Glezos, is indeed running for Popular Unity, but he came out with an atypical statement that Greeks should vote for Popular Unity AND the KKE and that this election should be about Popular Power over the means of production as the alternative to austerity!

Meanwhile, the international face of Syriza, Yanis Varoufakis has decided not to run in this election. He is neither supporting Syriza nor is he supporting Popular Unity. He cannot run for Syriza because they signed on to the memorandum and he cannot run for Popular Unity because they have placed too much emphasis on a national currency as a solution.

Indeed, Varoufakis has stayed loyal to the Jan. 25 position of Syriza which was to not accept austerity and to democratize the Eurozone. He believes that this is only possible if states under financial colonialism are no longer afraid of being kicked out of the Eurozone. As such, contingency plans including establishing a national currency should be prepared for and discussed but as a defensive measure within an overall strategy and not as a goal or alternative to austerity.

In an interview sponsored by the French Left-wing daily, L’Humanité Varoufakis spoke of the need for unity within the left. That if Left-wingers attack each other over these strategies, the anti-austerity narrative will be taken over by the racists, the fascists and the Nazis. He stated that he and Tsipras are no longer following the same policy and that they are no longer of the same party but that Tsipras remains a friend and a comrade and he will not speak against him or Syriza. The enemy is the Troika and the EU and Greek establishments and the Left should focus on this rather than blaming each other. He went on to explain that the human cost of the crisis and continued austerity will undoubtedly reunite the Left and that he will be there when that time inevitably comes. Varoufakis, along with France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Germany’s Oskar Lafontaine has decided to concentrate his efforts on building a European network of movements that may lead to a pan-European political party to democratize the Eurozone. Zoe Konstantopoulou has come out in favor of such an effort as a key component in fighting Eurozone imposed neoliberalism in Greece.

Unlike most of the Left Platform faction who form the bulk of Popular Unity, Zoe Konstantopoulou is not in favor of a national currency as a pre-requisite to getting out of the bottomless pit of recessionary economics but as one of the tools at the disposal of Greek citizens to take back their lives. In a pre-election Popular Unity Rally, Konstantopoulou stated if the dilemma is between the euro and democracy then we choose democracy. This position seems to be closer to the one that Yanis Varoufakis holds with the exception that she is contesting these elections. Unfortunately, Popular Unity have been reduced within the media as being the party of the drachma and there is not much belief in Greek society that a national currency would change anything, in fact, quite the opposite, most believe things would get worse. As such, the current electoral potential of Popular Unity seems to be limited to those favouring a Grexit on Greek terms rather than on the creditors’ terms.

Syriza on the other hand is now competing against its former comrades thus, in order not to lose electoral ground to Popular Unity, it is forced to defend the memorandum, pushing it further towards the logic of the creditors and the EU and Greek establishments. Yet, who can best defend the logic of austerity other than the Establishment parties who believe in it and who do not want radical reforms that will jeopardize the power of the Oligarchy. As such, Syriza cannot own this memorandum deal, the establishment can and this is why it has seen a climb in the polls. Moreover, due to the sound-bite competitive nature of electioneering Tsipras in interviews is forced to distance himself from the good work of his dissident former colleagues, such as Varoufakis, Konstantopoulou and Panagiotis Lafazanis (leader of the Left Platform and now Popular Unity). This of course further plays into the hands of the elite narrative regarding what went on during the negotiations. Syriza whether it likes it or not, is now campaigning within the logic of the establishment and the creditors. Syriza is in danger of going down a very slippery slope and becoming a systemic party. Popular Unity believes that Syriza already has.

Those who remain within Syriza believe that Greeks will not support a return to a drachma as a solution. Yes, they have capitulated, but they raised the flag of resistance and brought issues to a European level. Their gamble is that other Europeans will rally to the anti-austerity cause, that it will become apparent to all that the Third Memorandum cannot be passed, the measures are too harsh, and a shrinking economy cannot service a ballooning debt. They will drag their feet on the selling off of public assets as these assets need to be sold at a cost that can reduce the debt and they know this is impossible. They will resist a toxic agreement that cannot be passed. In the meantime, people within Syriza’s HQ in Athens argue that they have passed progressive legislation, that the streets of Athens no longer resemble a police state, that the rights of migrants, women and same sex civil unions can only be taken up by them, that they are creating spaces for social movements to grow, that it is only Syriza than can challenge corruption and the oligarchy. The country is in fact, in limbo, Syriza does not want to enact the policies of the Third Memorandum, it wants to buy time and allow a Greek resistance to grow within the cage of austerity until it is strong enough and has enough allies to fight back. The questions of the legality of the debt and the German WWII reparations are best left to that day.

During my talks with activists from Syriza’s radio station Sto Kokkino, I was told that a return of the establishment parties to power would mean an end to the new social space and radical possibilities that have opened; the Establishment will not make the same mistake twice of allowing the Left to govern. The fractured establishment is more determined to pull its resources together and rebuild large parties of the systemic centre-right and centre-left. All will be lost if Syriza does not win this election.

I was also told by the same activists that Syriza and Popular Unity have made a horrible mistake using the word memorandum, which is a neutral term. Any agreement with creditors whether recessionary or expansionary, is a memorandum. The campaign should have been against austerity and neoliberalism. It should have been an ideological campaign for a post-capitalist society. Syriza should have spoken about socialism as an alternative and that this alternative will require a long time and many battles to achieve. In this way, the Left can prepare the public the for the long road ahead. I was also told that Syriza and Popular Unity are not entirely honest in their assessment that neoliberalism can be transcended within the European Union and NATO whether the national denomination is the euro or the drachma.

Finally, it seems that very little action has been taken by all involved with Syriza and its offshoot regarding building a network of social movements and embryonic non-state institutions. This may be due to the fact that there has not been enough discussion with respect to what type of post-capitalist society Syriza wants. During a Central Committee meeting prior to the schism, Alexis Tsipras argued for unity within the party since the ultimate common goal of all factions is social transformation and the disagreement is about means. Yet, this deficiency in vision has proven (once again) to be fatal as differences regarding present strategies cannot be interpreted in light of long term concrete goals thus further fracturing movements and parties around current conditions. I was told by a leading personality within Sto Kokkino that splits should only be ideological not tactical.

One is left to wonder whether there has been an ideological split, and the leadership of Syriza is now moving towards systemic centre-left ‘reformism’ and abandoning social transformation. It is on this question, that Syriza’s supporters are insecure.

The Prospects of Left Unity and Social Transformation    

There is no chance that the Greek Radical Left can achieve social transformation let alone freeing itself from austerity if it is not united in vision and plural in its tactics for achieving this vision.

The Greek Radical Left needs to find a common space of mutual engagement between those within Syriza, Popular Unity and the extra-parliamentary Left who do indeed want social transformation. This common space needs to define what type of post-capitalist society it wants and it needs to put this on the agenda of the Left. This should be done at a European level as well, with the efforts of Varoufakis, Melenchon and Lafontaine.

A new anti-austerity/anti-neoliberal front can only be rebuilt on the Left if there is a common vision for what we want to replace the current economy with. Syriza and Popular Unity as well as extra-parliamentary groups like KOE and ANTARSYA look to workers and community councils as the basic units of new participatory institutions that can provide people with effective growing power over their collective economic destinies. This is the basis around which their common vision should be built.

The Left cannot be divided on tactics. If the Greek Radical Left is serious about social transformation then it must have a contingency plan in the event that its economy is assaulted during negotiations. It must have a plan not to dry up its own liquidity and force itself into a corner. It must not be afraid of creditors’ threats and be ready for economic war. It must be pro-active and show people that it is serious in getting out of austerity. In other words, the government should not have acquiesced to paying back its loans when the creditors were not releasing moneys they agreed to previously. Tsipras should have moved on the contingency plan Varoufakis put in place. In fact, Varoufakis’ e-banking plan would have provided the current economy with badly needed cash flow as this summer’s capital controls have yet to be removed. The party should have discussed a resistance and sabotage plan within a forced memorandum if the contingency plan failed as well as preparing for a forced exit. The government should have been more aggressive with the findings of the debt audit and WWII reparations committees and building European solidarity around these issues. Tsipras and Varoufakis should have used their international podium to unilaterally and publicly throw a Greek proposal on the table and wait for the creditors and Europeans to react. All of these tactics, even if they seem contradictory, can only be judged in light of what the common vision.

Social transformation cannot be accomplished by simply using the institutions of an old system to build a new one. Hence, parliamentary legislation will not simply bring about a new post-capitalist participatory society that needs to be built from the ground up. The state can only be used to provide the space for bottom up initiatives to grow. The Greek Radical Left needs to decide if it wants to manage capitalism or replace it and with what. It should know and explain what that is rather than simply generalized declarations in party documents. It should engage society. Therefore, electioneering and legislating is part of the battle, the other and in my view more important part is an active society that is building new institutions within the context of an old system it wants to replace. In fact, there are hundreds of various collective initiatives such as solidarity schools, solidarity clinics, solidary food networks, small cooperatives and the like throughout Greece. Yes, these are small projects, disjointed from one another, but if these projects are brought together around a common radical vision, then coalescing with one another to build larger collective and participatory institutions as difficult as that may be in the short term would make sense within the context of a long term strategy for a common vision.

In these unfortunate elections, the forces of the Greek Left: Syriza, Popular Unity, the KKE and ANTARSYA need to achieve the highest possible collective electoral result. This would be the starting point of re-building left unity and avoiding further left wing pessimism. The next step would be a dialogue between the supporters of these currents with social movements around a common post-austerity and post-capitalist vision. The Greek crisis is not a national one, it is a European crisis and therefore, solidarity with other movements and Left parties throughout the continent are paramount and this is where the pan-European efforts of Varoufakis, Melenchon and Lafontaine come in. The Greek Radical Left can again be a catalyst for building a larger, more powerful, European popular movement. Our role as leftists and progressives around the world should be to learn from Syriza’s 7-month experience, understand its predicaments, be critical of its failures not to blame such and such personality but to avoid future traps and to help however we can nurture this dialogue for a common vision and action.

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