Greek elections: the strategic challenges for the left

The Greek elections are days away, and could see a victory for the radical left Syriza. As part of our discussion of the Greek elections, Panagiotis Sotiris, a supporter of the Greek anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya, considers the opportunities and challenges for the left. 

Protesters at Occupy Athens in 2011.

Protesters at Occupy Athens in 2011.

Greece is on the brink of a very important political change. It is most likely that after the January 25 election there is going to be a Syriza government, which means that we will no longer have a pro-Troika, pro-austerity government. This is the result of a political crisis without precedent in Europe, which in some aspects took the form of a hegemonic crisis, as a result of both the impact of the vicious circle of austerity, unemployment and recession and the emergence of a prolonged protest movement which in some instances took almost insurrectionary forms. It was exactly this prolonged mass movement that acted as a catalyst and created a new sense of common identity of struggle and protest in large segments of the subaltern classes.

However, here is the political challenge: How are we going to make the change in government an actual change in policies. A gap separates assuming the responsibility of governance on the part of the Left and actually working towards shifting power from the forces of capital to the subaltern classes.

The leadership of Syriza insists that we can get rid of austerity while remaining within the framework of the European Union and of our obligations towards our creditors. Syriza has pledged its support for the euro, it has pledged that it is going to save the European Union, and it has attempted to present its demands as being possible within the European Union framework. Regarding fiscal policies, the Syriza leadership has pledged its support of balanced budgets, thus implicitly rejecting any thought of using deficits as a means to reverse the effects and social consequences of austerity.

This might sound like a realist strategy. However, it is not a realist strategy. It is obvious that what is immediately needed in Greece is a reversal of austerity, a large increase in public spending in order to tackle unemployment, a boost in internal demand, a reinstatement of labour rights, the dismantling of an authoritarian framework of neoliberal reforms, in order to drastically improve the position of the subaltern classes and consequently enhance their confidence in struggle. However, even these ‘modest’ aims cannot be accomplished within the framework of the mechanism of debt payments to our creditors, namely the EU and the IMF, and of the monetary and financial architecture of the eurozone with its aggressive institutionally embedded constitutive neoliberalism. Without immediate stoppage of debt payments and debt annulment, without an immediate exit from the eurozone and a refusal to obey EU restrictions and regulations and without a nationalization of the banking system, it is practically impossible to reverse austerity in Greece, to increase public spending, to heal some of the social wounds opened by the socially devastating policies of the last years.

There is no evidence that the hegemonic forces in Europe, and in particular the German government, have decided to radically change course and become more benevolent. In a period of a deep crisis of the European project, when the choice of the forces of capital and their governments is a leap into even more aggressive neoliberalism by means of the limited sovereignty which is entailed in the framework of the European integration process, Greece must continue to be the testing ground of austerity policies in order to set the example that no one can escape them. The experience of Cyprus has been very revealing of the ability of EU to enforce austerity. Any process of negotiation will mean open blackmail from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Consequently, this will not end up in a reversal of austerity; it will end up in a left government imposing some form of austerity. This would disappoint the people, create a new form of political crisis, and lead to the return of systemic parties, in an even more aggressive, authoritarian, far-right form.

That is why an alternative strategy for the Left is urgently need, an alternative plan, not just some form of ‘Leftist opposition’ to Syriza. This should include the insistence on the stoppage of debt payments and the annulment of debt, the exit from the eurozone and potentially the EU itself, the nationalization of banks and strategic enterprises, the use of monetary sovereignty and the democratic control of finance as a means to reverse austerity and to open up an alternative developmental paradigm based upon participatory planning, self-management, new forms of coordination and distribution. This should also include rebuilding the movement from below, beginning with helping a surge of struggles after the election: in order to demand the immediate repeal of neoliberal reforms imposed by the Troika, the repeal of mass lay-offs, the reversal of wage and pension cuts. Rebuilding the movement also means investing politically not simply in electoral dynamics and parliamentary balance of forces but also upon the strength of the movements and the forms of popular self-organization from below.

Consequently, it is imperative to have an independent political presence of the radical anti-EU Left outside of Syriza. This has nothing to do with some form of sectarianism or some dogmatic insistence upon programmatic differences. Nor has it anything to do with the sectarian and defeatist position of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) which refuses any cooperation with other radical forces and is basing its political presence upon a ‘nothing can change’ narrative, suggesting that everything will be solved in the far future of the ‘people’s power and economy’. It has to do with the need to elaborate and represent in all aspects of the political process a necessary Left alternative to the strategy of ‘negotiation’ with the EU framework. We are perfectly aware that large segments of Syriza, especially around the ‘Left Platform’ fraction, embrace such positions, however, the limitation of being members of a party on the brink of governmental power, lead to various forms of ‘self-censorship’ and alignment with the dominant line. That is why we insist that the challenge is to build an alternative radical front of the anti-EU and anticapitalist forces. We think that pretty soon the evolution of political developments, struggles and confrontations, both at the national and the international level, will make it evident that such a radical alternative is the only way for the Left to actually lead a process of social change without precedent and avoid the tragic consequences of defeat and a ‘missed opportunity’.

The rupture with the ‘European road’ and the opening up of the possibility of socialist transformation, is not just a ideological fantasy; it is a historical possibility inscribed in the very materiality of class antagonisms in Greece today, and the possibility by means of the ‘cathartic’ experience of the crisis, to form a new ‘historical bloc’ in Greek society, the possibility of an alliance of the forces of labour, of science, of culture, under the hegemony of the forces of labour, to lead Greek society towards a new path, beyond neoliberal capitalism, towards a renewed socialist perspective.

The electoral alliance of Antarsya, the front of the anticapitalist Left in Greece, with other radical anti-EU forces, is just a first step to the direction of the articulation of this urgently needed Left alternative to the limits of Left Europeanism and of a social-democratic conception of governance. We are sure that in the new phase that lies ahead of us, which is going to be far from smooth, there are going to be shifts and changes in the landscape of the Left. We will fight for the radical reorientation of the Left and for the emergence of a strong movement. We will insist on the necessary opening of the strategic debate, we will cooperate and coordinate forces with any tendency of the Left, both inside and outside Syriza that understands that today radical rupture is the only realism. An historical opportunity is ahead of us. It should not be missed.

There are 3 comments

  1. Mark

    This is a ridiculous position. No doubt the comrade is a sincere militant, but not to be in Syriza is a sectarian mistake. To counterpose working for Antarsya, which will get a miniscule vote, to a party which is as open as Syriza, which appears to be about to create a serious political shock wave across Europe is crazy. Millions of Greek workers are looking to Syriza, we should help them put Syriza to the test (as indeed some comrades from your tradition – DEA – have concluded.) That way we will get a hearing and be better able to intervene and influence the mass movement.
    It is probably true that the most likely thing to happen if Syriza wins is some sort of political collapse by the Syriza leaders. In which case the battle inside the party will be particularly important. Why stand aside? In the name of what?
    The attempt to judge Syriza by how hostile it is, or is not, towards the EU, IMF etc, has the wrong emphasis. Firstly because Syriza is healthily pro-Europe (in contrast to the anti-European, Stalinist- influenced xenophobes on the left, here and in Greece); second because if revolutionary socialists came to power in Greece we’d no doubt have to manoeuvre and deal with the international institutions (just like Lenin did); thirdly because the first measure of a Syriza government is the extent to which the policy it pursues increases the confidence, self-organisation, combativity of the Greek working class.

  2. James

    Don’t think Rev socialists are about to take power in Greece. The logic of the above was the view of the IMG etc during the early 1980’s with the UK Labour Party..must be in it to relate to Bennism etc..totally Blew them apart.

  3. Mark

    The point isn’t that revolutionary socialists are about to come to power in Greece (although a Syriza victory might well stimulate a new upsurge inside the country). But that we should not demand of Syriza, flatly, ‘stop paying the debt’ – i.e. measure them against more a ‘militant’ standard than we would judge ourselves.
    The differences with Labour in the early 80s are striking. James, for your analogy to hold: Benn would have had to be leading the Labour Party in the 80s; the Labour Party of the 80s would have had to have been on the verge of power, with policies to the left of the ones it had, and been a much more left-wing, open and democratic party than the Labour Party of the 80s was.
    And, what’s the alternative? Antarsya contains some good people, but they have been eclipsed. They’d be more effective, getting a much bigger hearing, inside Syriza, working for a Syriza victory.

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