Understanding Syriza

Tom Vouloumanos interviewed by Michael Albert.

Albert: Tom as a long-time member and activist of the NDP, a member of Syriza’s International Solidarity Campaign and speaker on issues related to democratizing the economy, can you tell us, first, what your relations to Greece are?

Vouloumanos: I am a second generation Greek-Canadian; my parents were both immigrants to Canada from Greece and arrived in the fifties.  I was raised in the multicultural and bilingual (French and English) city of Montreal in an ethnic neighborhood where the two prevailing minority languages were Greek and Yiddish. My neighborhood was in a largely francophone portion of a mostly Anglophone part of the city.

Kids like me spoke Greek at home and with older family, English between each other and both English and French with the larger society. As complicated as this seems, it is very normal to Montrealers. Multiple self-identity and multilingualism continue to be commonplace in Montreal and like most Montrealers from immigrant families, I live in a completely trilingual environment, feeling Canadian, Greek, and Quebecois without any contradiction.

Within this framework, I grew up in a very Greek context including nuclear and larger extended family life, neighborhood community life, social activities and even the grade school I attended was run by the Greek community.  Family vacations were in Greece and I continue to visit on a very regular basis. I have relatives and friends in Greece and so my contact with Greece has been a normal daily affair for my entire life.

Was there a political dimension to these connections?

My politics were formed at an early age. I was lucky to be partly raised by my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was enlisted during the brutal Greek-Turkish wars of 1919-1922.  My grandparents experienced Greece under the Metaxas dictatorship. My grandparents and parents experienced WWII, the Greek Civil war of 1946-1949 and its aftermath, before emigrating.  These were the subjects of discussion at home.

If I could pinpoint the origins of my political lineage, I would point to the formation of the National Liberation Front (EAM) at the onset of Nazi and Fascist occupied Greece with the initiative of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other left wing forces. The Greek resistance and the Greek Civil War were the events that mostly dominated political, historical discussions around the dinner table.

Indeed, my maternal grandfather was a member of EAM; he participated in the resistance and the subsequent Civil War between the forces of EAM and an alliance of the reinstalled conservative establishment and the Nazi collaborators after the German retreat. His daughter (my Mother’s older sister and my aunt) was also a guerrilla with EAM during the Civil War.  My Grandfather was arrested towards the end of the Civil War and sentenced to death for being a communist.  The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment with immediate release if he repudiated his politics and pledged allegiance to the then King of Greece.  He refused and spent the next decades in jail until his pardon by the liberal Centre Union government in 1966.  His release did not last long as the military Junta came to power in 1967.  His second imprisonment was much more brutal. He was severely tortured and then released several months before his death.   The politics of Greece affected my family and relatives directly and I was exposed to these stories as a young child.

And did this lead to political involvement?

Yes, I was drawn early on to the left and became politically involved as a teen.  I naturally gravitated to the New Democratic Party of Canada (a social democratic party) and joined its youth wing and I have remained an active member and activist ever since. I was also a candidate for the NDP in two elections and even a TV panel representative in another election.  At a very young age, I identified myself as a non-doctrinaire socialist. It was always evident to me that what is broadly known as libertarian socialism was in fact what authentic socialism is, for me, the word “social” relates to “society” not to “state”.  Nevertheless, even though I always believed that our long term goals should be for radical transformative change,  I also admired genuine reformist social democracy for dealing with present pressing needs.  I saw no contradiction between present compromises to improve things without losing sight of our longer term goals. The most important political issue for me was building a critical mass of alternatives in the current system, which can challenge current structures of economic power. In fact, this is the issue that Pierre Ducasse and I dealt with in our book: Pour une éonomie démocratique  (For a democratic Economy). Of course and like many people I assume, I could not talk about my politics without mentioning the enormous impact that the writing and talks of Noam Chomsky had on me.

And what is your current relationship to Syriza and its origins?

Well most of my family was supportive of PASOK (The Greek Social Democratic Party) at least in the early years but almost everyone had some relationship with the KKE, so this was the political universe people around me floated in.  I became a supporter of the Synaspismos (Coalition) party, a then minor left party formed by a split from the KKE and merger with theeurocommunists and other socialist splinter groups that later evolved into Syriza, but I got directly involved with Syriza in about 2013.

I became a volunteer with for Syriza’s International Solidarity Campaign. This is an informal group of supporters around the world mostly from Greek diaspora communities.  In fact, I am part of smaller group of activists that deals directly with Syriza’s Foreign Policy and Defense department.

Given your politics and your ties and connections, what have you come to see as your task in the current period?

Well the primary task is to work with Syriza’s foreign policy department to get their views known to diaspora communities and to the larger society in the respective territory of each volunteer, to inform Syriza of news coverage in our respective territories, and to share ideas and strategies regarding building more solidarity for Syriza.

One of the aims is to build solidarity between the Greek diaspora communities in Canada and Syriza.  A further task is to build solidarity between political and social activists in North America with Syriza and with Greek left social movements.

Finally, an additional goal, and this was requested by Sto Kokkino (the Syriza owned Radio outlet), is to help create links between Sto Kokkino and other alternative media with the goal of building global independent, left, and alternative media cooperation. Indeed, that is how I came into contact with you.

Have you met with successes in these pursuits? What have been the obstacles?

Well regarding solidarity between alternative media and Sto Kokkino(link), the only interest I have gotten after contacting several independent media projects (I still have many to contact) was from Z Communications and TeleSur English (link interview about sto kokkino from Z).  It seems that other independent media outlets don’t see the benefits of greater global cooperation.

Sto Kokkino has a clear vision of where it wants to go. Its goal is a satellite television program based on a cooperative network of independent, left, alternative, community media projects close to the social movements of their respective countries and territories that will challenge the grip of private media empires on the dissemination of information. I would think that such a clear goal would excite alternative media activists immediately and would garner support or at least some interest to do an interview, share a story or whatever.  All I got was dead silence with the exception of Z and TeleSur English.

You explained why that might be the last time I interviewed you for Sto Kokkino(http://www.stokokkino.gr/details_en.php?id=1000000000003597/SYRIZA-Greece–the-American-radical-left).  Regarding building links with social movements, there are activists in my city doing some of that work right now; I think the challenge is to coordinate our efforts in order to have more impact.  We are really at the embryonic stages of building a solidarity movement for Syriza.

Do you see Syriza and its international connections having effects going beyond Greece, and beyond reversing Austerity?

I think that Syriza and the events in Greece can be a vehicle to building greater cooperation and future oriented vision for social movements and left political activists around the world.

Syriza does not see itself as a social democratic party, in the sense that it does not want to simply manage a more humane version of the capitalism.  This is clearly stated in it manifesto:  “For us, socialism is not the embellishment of capitalism or the supposedly ‘populist’ management thereof”. Syriza’s manifesto is clear that its goal is to transcend capitalism and replace it with what it calls socialism:  “Capitalism constitutes a (…) system (…) that we were fighting against the very core of”. “For us, socialism is not a utopian vision based on abstract ideals or simply in moral values, but it is a socially and politically feasible strategic objective.”   Its manifesto defines socialism as the organization of society based on social – and not state-ownership and social management of productive forces: “For us, socialism is a form of organization of society based on social and not state- ownership and management of productive means”

The manifesto further clarifies that it should be workers themselves directly and via their elected organs that should plan, direct, and monitor production with the objective of satisfying social needs.  “[socialism] requires democracy in all structures of public life in order for workers to be able to plan, manage, control and protect by way of their elected organs production and direct it towards satisfying social needs.” Its manifesto also hints at non-hierarchical, horizontal work relationships: “For us socialism ultimately aims to abolish the large discrimination between manual and intellectual work (…) It aims ultimately to eliminate the exploitation relations, the abolition of social classes (…) rather than widening inequalities and the consolidation of technical domination of the few over the many.”

Socialism is further defined as being based on representative (with recallable delegates), direct and participatory democracy. Therefore, the society’s social needs would need to be expressed via structures based on the three aforementioned forms of democracy.  “For us socialism is inseparable from the active participation of all in economic, social and political affairs… Socialism is inseparably tied to democracy.  Democracy, not in the merely formal sense, but substantive, indirect democracy based on representation and direct democracy with the active participation of all.  (…) the elected (…) should not remain unchecked until the next election.”

Syriza does not propose one model of socialism, socialism it believes can only be brought about through empirical experimentation and struggle. “…socialism is not the replication of models”  “The road of socialism is neither easy nor straight.  Determined each time by the people’s needs, the popular demands, popular power, popular organization and the people’s availability, marked by achievements and setbacks, characterized by conflict whether small or large (…) Its road is not subject to provisions or open prefabricated recipes, because nobody can predetermine our current terms of social movement. (…) We will try to capitalize on the many aspects of Greek and international experience with respect to such issues as well as the accumulated knowledge thereof, including theoretical studies concerning labor, feminist, ecological and other movements, the class structure of society, the structures of the state and power relations, market relations, financial planning and social control, the issues of democracy and self-management and all theoretical offerings that may help to proceed with full knowledge of any significant contribution that has come to light since Marx, but even before, until today.”

In essence, one can deduce from the Manifesto (and from various statements of its cadres) that Syriza believes in the leading role of social movements in transcending capitalism, supported by legislative and financial means from the state.  Therefore, the party and the state are there to build the spaces for the society to take power:  “We know that a government of the Left cannot bring major changes without popular synergy (…) without the support, and the autonomous action of the working classes, the oppressed social groups and the people in general…parliamentary work is only part of SYRIZA’s struggle. In conjunction with its parliamentary action, SYRIZA seeks to contribute all its forces to the establishment and development of a strong mass-based, popular unifying movement…An important dimension of this movement must be a large-scale self-governing movement, in which all appropriate forms of direct democracy can flourish: from what do we all do together for our neighborhood, for our village, territorial division, for the city and the region, to how we live…”

Without being explicit, it seems that Syriza advocates a society based on federated democratic worker and community councils, assemblies and organs to manage production, consumption and allocation.

In its manifesto, Syriza is silent on the market (other than the quote above), but certainly, it would seem that it does not support central planning.  Socialism is dealt with in broad strokes, but one can only conclude that these broad strokes only point to participatory structures for organizing production, consumption and allocation.  Greater clarity is certainly needed.  Some of the vagueness may have to do with the fact that Syriza was constructed from a coalition of various parties and that Syriza is a multi-tendency party.  It was a coalition that became a united single party in 2013, its manifesto was a compromise put together during the founding congress.  Some of the generic language may be a strength as it shows an open mindedness to look at various options on how to achieve the ends it seeks.  On the flip side, such generalities may also be the Achilles’ Heel of the Manifesto, since by not expressing clearer mechanical means and structures, the goals may be left at simply being wishes to be dealt with at some indefinite time in the future without clearly building the embryonic institutions for a future after capitalism. Thus the party can end up becoming what it never intended to be: a more humane manager of the current system rather than a vehicle of genuine social transformation.

There is no question that Austerity needs to be reversed, but the party and its allies need to point to a direction even a generic direction in order to sustain support for the battles ahead, such as dealing with Greece’s powerful oligarchy and planting the seeds for a new polity and economy that reflects its Manifesto.  I believe it is in the development of this longer term alternative vision, along with its experience, contacts with radical processes in Latin America and belief in the protagonistic role of social movements that Syriza can mobilize a more global movement that can have an impact far outside the borders or Greece or Europe.  I am optimistic that Syriza will meet this challenge.

What obstacles do you think there are to solidarity from leftists being serious and sustained?

One of the main obstacles is managing expectations.  There are many expectations and hopes on Syriza. Greece is a small country inside the EU, the Eurozone and NATO.  The Syriza lead government has no natural allies in power in Europe. Left-wing friendly governments can be found in Latin America though. All other EU governments whether Centre-Right or Centre-Left seem to support, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the general neoliberal direction of the European project.  Syriza desperately needs other like-minded movements to do well in upcoming elections so that they can build a common front against the European state-corporate-financial establishment or oligarchy in short.  Therefore, one of the obstacles is for leftists to understand that Syriza is in a tight spot, alone on the European stage and that it desperately needs the support of social movements around the world in order to confront the powers that be, coming at it from all directions.  There will be setbacks of course. It will compromise. But activists need to understand that we must keep pushing forward.  One of the mistakes we sometimes make is to think things are over once an election is won; when in fact, all that was won was a battle in a long war ahead.

The pressure for Syriza to back away from its positions will be immense. As soon as leftists see any sign of stepping back a bit, there will be articles all over the net criticizing this or that compromise and this will weaken solidarity.  International solidarity is part of Syriza’s strategy. Social movement thinking is in its DNA. It grew out of the European Social Movement, reformist splits from the KKE and other smaller radical, left libertarian groups who barely registered any electoral support but had much experience in street organizing.  In fact the full name of the largest component of Syriza before it became a unified party was: Coalition of the Left, the Movements and Ecology.  It understands the importance of the squares and streets of the cities around the world and that these movements are the support it needs to be able to show its European ‘partners’ that the people are with us, that we need to change direction, that the current debt crisis is socially unsustainable.  Without organized social movements showing their strength, the other Eurozone heads of state around the table will not see the true power of the people and that Syriza is far from isolated.

The most tragic victim of neoliberalism has been democracy. Syriza’s immediate goal is to restore democracy and expand it, to give people back the power they lost and sacrificed so much to attain in the first place. The famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis once said in an interview that the land of Greece has been watered with the blood of its young martyrs for freedom, democracy and justice.  In the last years of the crisis, the Greek Parliament building was surrounded by barricades and riot police, with thousands of protesters outside the barricades being attacked with tear gas, rubber bullets and water spray.  How ironic for the building of the people’s representatives to be protecting itself from the people!  One of the first moves of Syriza was to remove the barricades and get rid of the riot police.  Today, there are still protesters outside the parliament building, but these protesters are supporting the government or at least demanding that the government not retreat from its position during negotiations with the other EU member states.  This show of solidarity is what motivates Syriza. It is a party completely in tune with the streets and not professional politicians who are there to manage the rabble so that the real rulers can make decisions for them.  This is one of the reasons you see Tsipras without a tie, or Varoufakis with his shirt untucked and going to meetings in jeans.  Yes, this is symbolic and even superficial, but it sends a message: that we the elected, are not part of the professional caste (to borrow a term from Podemos) of managers who are answerable to the oligarchy.  We are ordinary people like you, trying our best to give back power to you: the people.  Recent polling from Marcshows that 8/10 of the population is supportive of the government’s tactics, these types of numbers are astonishing, and so Syriza does have momentum to make real structural changes.

The obstacle will be for leftists to show greater solidarity and exert greater pressure on Syriza to move leftwards when it retracts. For example, if it reneges or procrastinates on a promise to return the ERT (public broadcasting station which was privatized) back to the public, yes, there should be articles criticizing that, but then there should be protests in support of Syriza demanding that ERT should be renationalized, and that this time there should be workers self-management and greater citizen participation in its programming.  Such initiatives would galvanize Greeks to go back to the streets and say:  No!Don’t compromise on this!The people are watching you and they support you, move forward, don’t retreat, ignore what the EU countries are telling you about privatizations, you were elected because of us, we want ERT back, as well as the banks, the electrical utilities, the beaches, and we want worker self-management and greater citizen control etc.

I think the greatest challenge is for people to really understand that without sustained support for the reasons of why Greeks voted for Syriza and for the social movements that are the oxygen of Syriza – as Kosta Isychos (Replacement Defense minister in Syriza government) described them in an interview on TeleSur English – Syriza will not have the army behind it to move forward against very antagonistic powers.

Support isn’t technically for a party.  A party is merely an instrument of the people, to be used for a given objective. Support is not for political personalities, as nice as these people are. No, support is for the Greek popular struggle, so that it can succeed in democratizing its political, social and economic institutions and provide others with the possibility of doing the same.

What do you think is the ideal stance for a periodical or movement group, vis a vis relations with Greece and Syriza?

I think what is needed is an international solidarity network (ISN) for not only Syriza but also the Greek social struggle.  We must not forget the important role of social movements, such as solidarity schools, solidarity health clinics, independent media, cooperatives, worker self-management experiments, solidarity economic projects etc.  The ISN should have strategies for the Greek, local and international stage.

Let me explain.

For the Greek stage, the ISN should have at least three different focuses or connections, one with the government/party leadership, one with the party membership and its various tendencies, and one with the broader Greek social movements.   There is a struggle at various levels and all three levels are important and we need to be aware of this and strategize accordingly.

There is a leadership now in government that is trying to give Greece some breathing space by any type of debt relief so that funds are available to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and so that Syriza can move forward with it reform program.  The ISN would need to assist this government in getting its story out, in explaining its position, in cutting through the mainstream media’s misrepresentation of events and in organizing solidarity events for the reasons explained above.

In tandem, the rank and file membership, are the life blood of Syriza, they need to continue being vigilant, involved and to avoid the party from becoming overly centralized and merely an electoral campaign machine.  They need to deepen democracy within Syriza, deepen participation.  This will help avoid Syriza from being corrupted by the institutions it is now using and from becoming a top down party and turning into the problem it was elected to solve.  As such, we need to build links with the rank and file membership and support their struggles within Syriza in a variety of ways, whether with our ideas, or presenting their issues in alternative left media, etc.  A good place to start would be with the Left Platform tendency within Syriza.  This is a more left wing faction and it wants a more participatory political structure; it has the support of 30-40% of the Party’s Central Committee.

With respect to what I called the Greek stage, the ISN would need to be connected to the various social movements in Greece and support their struggles in opening greater spaces of popular participation and direct popular control. The social movements will be the real motor of change in Greece.  For there to be a longer term social transformation there needs to be a strategic partnership between the legislative agenda and the social movements.  The state can create the legislative framework and provide the financial backing for recuperated factories such as Vio.Me. near Thessaloniki to legally exist and have access to credit for example, but it’s the the workers of Vio.Me. that need to step up to the plate and broaden their project, they need to be the protagonists of change.  As such, the ISN would need to share these stories with the outside world and also help provide outside assistance or at least ideas from other experiences to Greek projects. Moreover, the ISN can be an interface for social movements in the Americas,for example, to link up with social movements in Greeceand learn from each other or build greater solidarity. Wouldn’t it be great for activists in Venezuelan Communes or Argentinian Recuperated factories, or people working in the Evergreen cooperative network in Cleveland, or Parecon advocates to link up and share knowledge and experiences with alternative economic activists in Greece and Syriza MPs, officials or rank and file members?

The ISN should seek out these type of grassroots to grassroots connections.

Now let me turn to what I meant about an ISN strategy for the local stage.  The ISN would have volunteers in different cities around the world. There are already friends of Syriza groups in New York, France, Australia and solidarity meetings are organized in Montreal.  These activists can also do local work. For example, the ISN in Canada can help build better links between Syriza and the NDP, or ISN activists can work with anti-Austerity protesters in Quebec and point to Greek victories as examples to either emulate or inspire.  The more progressive changes we see in Greece, the more it will allow us to show activists in our own backyards around the world, that if the Greeks can do it, why can’t we?

Finally, the ISN should also have an international strategy and work with other like-minded solidarity movements, such as the Australian-Venezuelan Solidarity Network for example, in order to lay down the building stones of a more international organization of left parties and social movements committed to social transformation on a global level. This, in my view, should be the ultimate goal of any International Solidarity group that focuses on radical or revolutionary changes happening in Venezuela, Bolivia, Greece, Spain, Rojava etc.  We need international cooperation; we need a new international that is not rigid but clear in its values and open to the various tendencies of what we call the Left in order to develop a vision or visions of a world, not only after austerity, or after neoliberalism, but after capitalism.

These are ideas I would like to develop together with ZSchool students who will enroll in the course I am teaching on Syriza and the Prospects of Social Transformation (LINK…?)

Do you think Syriza has lessons to teach others – do you think there is anything they might gain from others?

If Syriza has one lesson to teach others, it is how to build a united plural left organization.  Syriza is a multi-tendency party built from a coalition of various left and radical parties.  It includes people who identify with various left traditions. It has overcome sectarian and dogmatic differences between various groups and officially recognized the concept of multiple tendencies and streams within the party.  People within Syriza come from the KKE or the former Eurocommunist party, others are left-wing social democrats who left PASOK, others are from Left Ecologist groups, still others are from groups closer to the ideas of Trotsky, or of Luxemburg, or of Gramsci. Others are from a more Left Libertarian perspective.  What Syriza can teach by way of example, is that all these perspectives are healthy, that the ideas of the various thinkers of the past or not religious dogma, but part of our collective knowledge.  It is reasonable to have debates on the role of the state in a revolutionary process, or whether we need to pass through a social democratic phase before we begin to make more structural changes, or if social movements should really be the “vanguards” of any systemic change as the legislative process has limits etc.  These issues are complex and simple answers or positions do not work in real life circumstances.  There cannot be a complete blueprint of how to achieve a different polity and economy; this will be determined by the circumstances and the level of organization.  This is what Syriza’s Manifesto alludes to.

Therefore, there should be unity on the goal. All of the traditions of the Left mentioned above want to transcend capitalism and replace it by another system they call socialism which includes social ownership, democratic workers and community control over economic life and forms of participatory or direct democracy.  All ideas of achieving this are welcome, the debate is on the ‘how’.  This approach I think will help others, involved in similar movements around the world, to build more solid links with the like-minded and thus build larger organizations that can have a greater impact without compromising their core values.

On your question regarding what Syriza can gain from others, I think it can benefit from the experience and practices of left or progressive organizations in North America on a variety of issues but especially on ideas regarding diversity, women’s participation, LGBT issues, race and affirmative action in general. There are many good practices in the NDP for example, which promote greater gender equality and diversity with respect to candidates during elections, delegates at conventions and members on political organs (Councils, Executives etc.)  Syriza has three flags, red for socialism, Green for environmentalism and Purple for Feminism and diversity. I think we have much in the Canadian labour movement, and the NDP that can be beneficial to Syriza on the latter.

I also think there are many excellent writings from the North America that have put old dogmas on the side and concentrated on real structural proposals or ideas with respect to economic vision. Without pandering, I think Parecon (LINK), or the writings of Gar Alperovitz or the ideas in my own book with Pierre Ducasse, present practical non-doctrinaire ideas for alternatives to our current economy.  I would like to think that Syriza can gain much from these writing.

Finally, Syriza can also learn a lot form the experiences in Latin America but especially from Venezuela.  Venezuelan experience with workers control, citizen participation and actively at explicitly attempting at building an alternative polity and economy has much to teach from both its successes and its shortcoming.

How do you understand Syriza on the world stage? Do you see them as a progressive project to reduce reverse the policies of the past few years, getting back to a prior status quo? Or do you see them as seeking something more, positive, different from the past, even the past before the crisis? Or perhaps there are elements of both, and, if so, what will in your view decide which of the two broad paths emerge?

Syriza is definitely seeking something more.

Greeks do not want to go back to the prior status quo, they blame the current crisis equally on the EU imposed Austerity program but also on the elites for getting them there in the first place.  There is a real thirst in Greece for breaking with the past; people want to do away with the decades old system of corruption, clientelism, and nepotism. The system that was built by what Syriza calls the triangle of sin: the establishment political leadership, the Media moguls and the Economic oligarchy, which together conspired to enrich and empower themselves all the while manipulating the public.

Syriza’s strategy is to get a new deal within the EU, so it can deal with the humanitarian crisis immediately and then turn its attention to breaking the old system up and replacing it with greater democracy, meritocracy, transparency, accountability and popular control.  It is here where Syriza will face its greatest resistance and opposition, it is here, where Syriza will see that it cannot simply reform the old system, it is rotten to its core, and it will have to incrementally build a new one.  The Greek establishment will not give up its power and inherited from the past all the way back to Greece’s independence war against the Ottomans in 1821.

Syriza I believe will be forced by the circumstances and the opposition of those who wield power to quickly develop its alternative vision in order to provide a more broad popular movement with direction to facilitate mobilization and action.

The Left in Greece has a long and deep history, and it has the memory of thousands and thousands of executed, tortured and imprisoned unknown heroes.  These things are in the national psyche, and this is reflected in the music, poetry and art.  Syriza bears the great weight of past sacrifices on its shoulders.  The shadow of EAM hangs over Syriza. Greeks remember the stories (of my Grandparents’ generation) of left-wing prisoners of conscious willingly choosing to be executed rather than repudiate their political beliefs.

In fact, in Tsipras’ first speech as PM in the Greek parliament, he spoke with a crackling and teary voice when mentioning sacred and non-negotiable values and then, to a standing ovation of pro-government MPs, said “that we are flesh of the people’s flesh, that  we come from the pages of  the people’s history and this is why we will serve the people until the end (…) and we will honor the constitution, vindicating the dreams, the values, the struggles, the sacrifices of the Greek people”. There is a strong sense that Syriza means what is says.

Greek people have been politically cynical for a long time, there were many hopes back in 1981 when PASOK and Andreas Papandreou came to power, and even though there were social improvements in the early days, the corruption, clientelism and nepotism continued.  Papandreou was a member of the old establishment families, the people of Syriza are not, they come from the marginalized left, or from the social movements of the last years and they know that their quick rise to power was due to the crisis and the collapse of the establishment. Syriza understands that the public has been promised change before and that they have a small opportunity to honor the sacrifices of the past. This is why I am optimistic, that Syriza will not betray the history of the Greek Left and the hopes of the Greek people.

I think that people in Greece understand that Syriza is in a difficult position, it did not win a majority and it is in a coalition with an anti-bailout conservative party.  It has many antagonistic and powerful enemies inside and outside the country and it is trying to quickly gain social relief for people while at the same time chart a course to a more fundamentally democratic society.  There will be elements of minor reforms mixed with small steps towards more radical changes.  But a direct conflict with the ruling class will come and this is when the support of organized civil society will be needed, this is when the social movements will play a decisive role and this is when we will see whether or not  Syriza will take the path to fundamental social transformation. I am optimistic that it will choose this path and its success will depend primarily on the support of the people to move forward.

Syriza has an important role to play on the World Stage; it can be the link of the radical changes going on in Latin America with the changes beginning to unfold in Europe.  The leadership of Syriza believes that they need to concentrate on the current pressing issues and crisis in order to create a breathing space so that broader goals can be discussed.  This is where I see some disagreement (but reasonable not sectarian disagreement) between activists inside and outside of Greece and the leadership of Syriza.  I mentioned this before, but I think it is important to repeat, Syriza is a creation of various tendencies of the radical left, I think it is time for all of us on what we call the Left to come together under one common home.  A long time ago, the Marxists kicked out the Anarchists from the First International, then the Stalinists took over the legacy of the Communist Manifesto, then the Social Democrats slowly converted to a reformist version of neo-liberalism, then various more libertarian groups and organizations formed their own separate ideological enclaves. It is time to build a World Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza’s name being an acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left), where various streams of thought can come together over a very clear and simple idea that I think is at the root of what we call the Left, namely, that the economic, political and social institutions that affect peoples’ lives should be run by people.   Then we can discuss and debate the ‘how’ and provide empirical evidence not dogma to support our contentions.

Syriza is an internationalist party, well versed in the traditions of the left and with practical experience in working through the various tensions between tendencies for common radical action.  This is why I think it has an important role to play in building a new international movement and this is why I think left or anti-capitalist activists should pay attention to it and build links with it.

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