Talk by Iannis Delatolas
February 6, 2015 Forum
“After the Greek Elections:
The Future of Austerity in Greece, Europe and Beyond”
Left Government and Left Opposition in Greece, the Role of Antarsya
Syriza's electoral victory is also a victory for the workers movement of the last 6 years. It has meant a huge shift to the left in Greek society. The combined vote for the left across party lines is at 42.5%. This is historic and at the same time an expression of the 32 General Strikes and the movement of the squares. These movements are responsible for the total collapse of social democracy in Greece and of the increasingly far right New Democracy Party.
Unfortunately this has also come with the fascist Golden Dawn landing in 3rd place. This polarization in the political field in Greece is the result of the 1930s-like economic crisis and the devastation it has caused to working and middle class people in Greece.
As the Syriza delegations battles with the EU and a compromise of sorts is under way, we as socialists need to see that the demands of working people are met by this admittedly radical left government. I think the last time a party like Syriza was in power was in the early 1970s in Chile. Interestingly enough similar dangers of reaction exist today, possibly in the toxic mix of Police and Golden Dawn support within their ranks.
This is an exciting time with an opening for social justice but also fraught with the dangers of the fascists and their links to the "deep state." It is a cautionary tale with a warning from the past: the story of left wing and peace activist and member of Parliament Grigoris Lambrakis. He was assassinated by what we call now the deep state in 1963. That deep state is still intact, dating from that era and the military junta and fascist links to the police and the Greek state since then. It is a matter of great significance that Syriza only a few days before the election put out a press release addressing the Delta forces and the Riot Police MAT, stating that their positions would be safe after a Syriza election as there would be no plans to dissolve those sections of the brutally repressive state -- leaving in essence battalions of armed fascist cops on the payroll of the Left government.
This came with an alliance hours after the election results with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), the far right, racist, homophobic and anti-Turkish party. With the shocking announcement that the ministry of defense would go to the head of ANEL, Kammenos. Within days he already tried to re-ignite territorial disputes with Turkey over some insignificant barren islands in the Aegean close to Turkey.
There does not appear to have been much effort to try and force the KKE into an electoral alliance where the KKE would play opposition to Syriza. One, the speed with which the agreement was made points to this having been in the making for a while now. And two is the ultra-sectarian position of the KKE leadership. They will not collaborate with Syriza and are instead waiting for their own turn, with the obvious catastrophic results only just appearing.
Despite all these setbacks Syriza went quickly forward with some important reforms. The rehiring of the cleaners of the Finance Ministry who had become a beacon of resistance, and the ending of the privatization of the DEI, the power industry, and of the port of Piraeus. Along with promises to provide free energy to families who cannot afford to pay for it. Other important reforms are in the making. This has caused an enthusiasm and optimism in the Greek electorate as approval ratings are quiet high, near 70% at one point. The feeling of humiliation caused by defeat upon defeat is starting to be lifted. This is the fruit of the general strikes and squares movements that catapulted Syriza to the position of Government. In that sense despite limitations the victory of Syriza is a victory of the working class and impoverished social strata. It was in the words of a comrade from Greece as if the clouds had parted and one could see the sky again.
Debt and Eurozone
Some questions need to be asked here about the Greek debt. This debt has been paid back many times over, in the sense that what makes up the Greek debt now are interest payments on the loans. The bailout money since the memoranda was signed would reach the Greek bank and the next morning it would bounce back to the European banks, never hitting the ground in Greece.
Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times since Syriza became the government, was only the last of many economists who have been saying that Syriza needs to go further with more radical reforms and challenge the debt itself instead of just a haircut as it is called. Recognizing possibly up to 67% of the debt was the word from finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
This 67% is very controversial inside as well as outside Syriza. A result of Syriza saying that an exit from the Euro is out of the question. This is also not a uniformly agreed upon position inside the party, as the Left Platform speaks of an exit and a break with the Euro as well. With no "Grexit" on the table the Syriza negotiations are starting on a weak footing. This is part of the reason for this huge compromise on the part of Syriza. These are the limitations of staying in the Euro and of not nationalizing the banks. As Yannis Varoufakis told the Financial Times "even if this meant that Syriza would not fulfill all the public spending promises on which it was elected," Greece would meet its debt "obligations."
The economist and Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas today openly contradicted Varoufakis by pointing out that this in essence would amount to a continuation and not the cancellation of the memoranda agreements. But the Syriza leadership has left the 2012 program behind as their positions have become more moderate as they were approaching electoral victory. Instead we are talking here about a continuation of a new austerity and or the continuation of some of the old, less but still austerity.
Syriza is caught between two poles. On the one hand, since it is not seeking a break with the Euro, Syriza faces the pressures of the Troika, the ECB, and the IMF. On the other since its electoral base are the working and impoverished middle class, there is the pull to make good on their pre-election promises.
Antarsya as Left Opposition to Syriza
In order to grasp the possibilities and responsibilities (but also the dangers of the situation if Syriza were to cave in to the EU and betray their anti-memoranda agenda), this dynamic needs to be taken into account as its central tension of being pulled by two diametrically opposed interests. This is partly why the Euro elites are terrified of Syriza. Not because Varoufakis and Tsipras do not wear ties, as much as we find that refreshing, but because of the masses that propelled them into office. Also the international situation points to more trouble for the Eurozone. Podemos, Sinn Fein, the anti water privatization struggles in Ireland, the general strike in Belgium. This anti austerity sentiment across Europe is making a full blown confrontation with Syriza problematic for the Euro elites. Think only of the impact of the Podemos solidarity demonstration after Syriza became the government. As much as 100,000 people came out in Madrid on the call by Podemos to show solidarity with the newly elected Syriza.
The role of Left Opposition falls on Antarsya, as the KKE did not take the historical opportunity due to their isolationist sectarian attitude. It is a role that will be difficult but we welcome it. It is generally agreed on the left outside and in the left platform of Syriza that it is urgent to bring people out into the streets and to bring the movements back on, to push this government leftward. The blackmail of the EU needs to be countered by these from-below movements. That means concrete things in the immediate future. The promises of Syriza to workers need to be met. People need to challenge and win the rehiring of all fired workers, at pre-memoranda agreements levels. And the way to achieve this is to stop paying back the debt. Already Syriza has refused to take the next bailout money, for the time being this has put markets on edge.
These reforms are hardly radical. What makes them seem radical is the hard line of the Eurozone elites. It is very telling, as they are afraid of a domino effect. If they give in to Syriza easily would Podemos not be next in line demanding the same, and then Ireland, etc., etc.?
But Syriza is already making suggestions that compromises on these basic promises are on the way. So now instead of rehiring all the workers of ERT, (the Greek broadcaster that was shut down illegally by the last government), there is talk of "reorganization" end rehiring of some of them. There is a rally called for the 11th of February in Athens outside the old ERT headquarters. Since its closure ERT has become the beacon of the movements. Regularly striking workers and unionists would be featured in cutting edge movement discussions and debates. Their contribution to the movement cannot be doubted. It has been a model of what we call "workers control." This is a concrete example of it. So on February 11th Antarsya will be outside of the ERT Megaron with the PROSPERT union, demanding the rehiring of all fired workers of ERT.
On the 12th of February another march has been called by Antarsya to march to the offices of the EU in Athens -- around the time of the solidarity events in Greece and around Europe and here in New York.
And on the horizon we have March 21st International Day Against Fascism. In Greece and all major cities in Europe we will unite all antifascists to stop the growth and rise of fascist and racist parties. This will be of essence in not only Greece, but France, the UK, Sweden, and many other countries where fascists are making gains as the economic crisis continues. Similar actions will be held here in New York and hopefully other cities.
Understanding that the best ally for Syriza and the radical left at large are the workers and people who voted to reject austerity, the radical left has to be clear on what is the best way forward to win. A radical left government cannot run the capitalist economy indefinitely. It will be forced to betray one side. We hope that we can work with the left inside and outside Syriza for the success of the left.
Iannis Delatolas, an art photographer, a founding member of AKNY, and a supporter of Antarsya-MARS and of the International Socialist Tendency. He has been involved in the antifascist solidarity movement with Greece and in struggles for LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, anti-war, and other social justice causes.