Talk by Aaron Amaral
February 6, 2015 Forum
“After the Greek Elections:
The Future of Austerity in Greece, Europe and Beyond”
My name is Aaron Amaral and I should start with an explanation. My last name is Portuguese. I don’t speak Portuguese, and while I speak Spanish I speak no Greek. So I need to explain why I’m here. The one reason, and I think it is important, is that I’m one of the founding members of AKNY, the Greece Solidarity Movement, and just quickly before I return to the situation in Greece, I want to say that when we founded AKNY it was really with the expectation that this moment would come. That this historic breakthrough would come and that there would a be a moment when on the left in the rest of the world, including those of us right here in New York, much would depend in terms of protecting the historic breakthrough that we see in Greece and what it might represent for the international left. So I’m very excited to see so many faces in the room.
The 2nd reason why I’m here, despite my language impediments, is specifically to speak about the role of the Left Platform and specifically the role of DEA, the ISO sister organization within the Left Platform. And I’ve spent many early mornings this week speaking with people in Greece and I want to talk a little bit about the perspective of the Left Platform, because I think it’s particularly important at this moment where the leadership of SYRIZA is in government. And when we talk about SYRIZA, it's not necessarily the same as talking about the government. And so, I think it’s important to start with -- and Alan made reference to this -- thinking a little about the history of SYRIZA and where it comes from, because, as Alan properly noted, it grew up as a movement out of the global justice movement. And so it represents an important trajectory of the fight against austerity, going back more than 10-15 years now. And it represents a coalition of the radical left of and by the movements themselves that were part of that struggle, and that struggle, in the broadest sense, of anti-austerity and all its manifestations, within the trade unions, within the social movements, and in every possible way. And it was only through that process, and through that explicit rejection of the historic capitulation of social democracy, that SYRIZA could have gained the confidence of the Greek working class. A working class, which I hope people will realize is one that's been steeled over 50 or 60 years of brutal fights going back to the Second World War, through the dictatorships, brutal fights for basic democratic right. And so to win the trust and confidence of the Greek working class is not an insignificant victory. So that story, up to 2012 and the elections in 2012, is important.
There is a second struggle that unfolds after 2012 within SYRIZA that represents the necessity of the Left Platform, because there is a struggle starting in 2012 within SYRIZA about what’s going to be the strategic perspective at a time in which what develops post-2012 is an exhaustion within the movements. When people talk about the numerous, the dozens the 20, 30 general strikes, this is generally in the period prior to the summer of 2012. So after those historic elections when we first saw the breakthrough of SYRIZA, you have a period of social exhaustion of people struggling with these general strikes, with these social mobilizations, struggling in the face of brutal repression of the state and the political impasse. And the sense is that particularly after 2012, for a variety of reasons, the movements and the class in general started increasingly to look to the electoral arena as necessary to unleash the possibilities that the strikes and the movements themselves had been unable to manifest, to provide a break through.
And that created a struggle internal to SYRIZA, which I’m sure people would not at all find surprising. A turn by certain parts of the right wing of SYRIZA towards electoralism; a move to seek alliances with sections to the right and, in this context, it became important to create a Left Platform within SYRIZA that could stand up and defend the historic roots of SYRIZA and its relationships to the social movements. And to defend some very basic principles about what the face of the anti-austerity fight was going to look like, and the idea that the electoral breakthrough was not the end all and be all, but was just one phase of a battle, which ultimately was going to depend on the capacity to mobilize the base out which SYRIZA came.
In that period between 2012 and now, the Left Platform as a whole -- and understand, it represents an array of forces committed to this kind of broad platform -- was able to actually grow in strength despite some efforts of the leadership to marginalize and to make more accommodating its public face (and if people managed to see Alexis Tsipras when he was here in NY more than a year ago, you got a sense of some of that politics). Now there’s an entirely new challenge that the comrades are facing in this situation. Some of the Left Platform has decided to go into ministries at a time when there are tens of thousands of, now, governmental jobs now at stake for activists. There is increasingly a need to defend some of the basic principles that the Left Platform had stood for within SYRIZA. I understand that this is a critical position I’m taking, and people need to understand I’m offering this position in the context of recognizing the historic breakthrough that this election represents. But I also think we need to be honest about the struggle internal to SYRIZA and the compromises that have been made.
I want to talk a little bit about the discussion to enter into a coalition government with ANEL, the Independent Greeks, which is a right wing populist party led by an out and out racist and anti-Semite, but aligned on the basis of an anti-austerity politics. And I want to say, if people saw the debates between Richard Seymour and Stathis Kouvelakis about this, it seems very clear among the comrades within DEA and comrades within the Left Platform, this was not just a tactical choice. This represents a strategic choice on the part of leadership of how they are going to approach governing. This is important for us to recognize and think about and reckon with, the decision to go into government with ANEL was predated with debates going into the elections, about running a coalition campaign with DIMAR (DIMAR is an earlier right wing split from SYRIZA). It’s not just Kamenos, if I have the name right, the leader of ANEL, who represents the sort of most extreme right–wing person in government, but there are other ministers and vice ministers in government who equally represent forces to the right of the mainstream of SYRIZA.
Similarly, on the debt issue, Varoufakis -- and I know he’s a bit of celebrity on the left now and for good reason in terms of some of his popular positions -- and the economic team being headed by Varoufakis represents the right wing of SYRIZA; a wing of SYRIZA, which is looking mostly to reach some sort of accommodation with capital. And so one of the issues, one of the struggles is the question of the moving away from the historic commitment of SYRIZA with regards to the repudiation of the debt towards what Varoufakis is talking about, which is a plan for a sustainable repayment. And I want to talk a little about this and the basis upon which we judge this and I realize I’m running out of time, so I’ll end.
I think it's important for us on the left to make an assessment not on the basis of abstract positions. There are very real concrete challenges facing the SYRIZA government as a whole and I think we need to prepare to assess the compromises that may be made in the face of the SYRIZA government on two fundamental bases, one of which Natassa spoke about at the beginning of the program, which is the extent to which these compromises can successfully meet the challenges of the very real humanitarian crisis, which Greece is facing. An ability to really raise the minimum wage, to put in place collective bargaining laws that protect workers and trade unions, to deal with the poverty of pensioners, to put in place tax reform for the poor and working class that deal with the systemic corruption that is historically part of the Greek state. The second way that we need to be able to judge it is the extent to which these actions on the part of the SYRIZA government, in its current dance with the ECB and with the Germans and European capital more generally, succeed in strengthening the movements, succeed in doing what they were able to do yesterday, which is to bring tens of thousands of people out, broadly in support of the anti-austerity fight, not just about the SYRIZA government, but about the hopes and expectations of the broad working class in Greece; and honestly, in much of Europe. And I think it’s on that basis that we need to judge the likely compromises should they come.
Once we get our heads around the material reality -- political, economic and social -- of the conjuncture, there are any number of questions and historical political comparisons we on the left might make (or historical models we may want to look to) now that the government and SYRIZA -- and as I said these are not the same thing -- have started to move.
There are any number of questions and criticisms that might arise and may be justified. But I think we in the United States, and here I’m speaking with my non-Greek hat on and very much as a part of the US left, this is a caution to my comrades, broadly. We need to understand that these are not questions and debates that are alien to the Greek left at all, if this panel has shown us anything. In fact, to be honest, for any number of historical reasons as I mentioned earlier, the Greek left has and remains more rooted in the class and with a breadth of historical continuity to generations of explicitly left and working class struggles of epic proportions stretching back through the last century. And there is a strength and maturity to the left that we should both recognize in our criticisms when we raise them. And I think it speaks to that reality, that this understanding and expectation is one that we need to take with the criticisms that we raise. And I hope the criticisms that I raised tonight will be taken in that spirit and the understanding that the need for broad solidarity, for solidarity for the humanitarian struggle, for solidarity for the political struggle, is crucial at this moment for the success of this experiment in Greece. I think this means an enormous amount for the international left, both in Europe and the United States.
Aaron Amaral, a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and a founding member of AKNY. The ISO sister organization in Greece, Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) participated in the formation of the SYRIZA coalition and is part of the Left Platform within SYRIZA.