'We won't pay': Greek Left's alternative path
In the June 17 elections, anti-austerity Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) came a close second with 26.9% of the vote. The right-wing New Democracy came first with more than 29%, amid huge blackmail and threats from major governments and financial institutions, and will now attempt to form a coalition government.
SYRIZA's vote rose just over 10 points from the May 6 poll, after which no party was able to form government. In the 2007 elections, SYRIZA won about 5% -- its drastic rise a sign of widespread rejection of the bail-out package and associated savage austerity measures imposed on the people of Greece.
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The May 6 poll dealt a devastating blow to the country’s two main parties, the conservative New Democracy and the centre-left PASOK, who ended up with fewer than half the votes they won in the previous election. New elections were called when none of the top three could form a government.
SYRIZA endured intense pressure to capitulate on its platform of repudiating the pro-austerity memorandum Greece has signed and rolling back the savage spending cuts that were a condition of a financial bailout by the European bankers.
With that stance gaining in popularity, SYRIZA called on left-wing parties, including the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the smaller anti-capitalist alliance ANTARSYA to work in alliance with the aim of forming a left government. The KKE's vote on June 17 nearly halved compared to May 6, winning a little more than 4%. Combined, SYRIZA and the KKE's vote exceeded ND's.
SYRIZA's final election rally before the June 17 poll.
Antonis Davanellos is a leader of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), a revolutionary socialist group that was a co-founder of SYRIZA in 2004. Ahead of the June 17 poll, he spoke to US Socialist Worker's Ahmed Shawki and Alan Maass about the situation in Greece . The article is abridged from Socialist Worker. Read more about the situation in Greece at Green Left's sister publication Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
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What was behind the stunning result for SYRIZA on May 6?
The main factor was the resistance of the workers and the people in Greece. In the three years after the signing of the Memorandum with the troika ― the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund ― we saw huge resistance from the broad masses. This is the most important factor.
SYRIZA was, from the start, very clearly identified as the part of the left that said a clear "no" to the Memorandum. And, at the same time, stood side by side with the people who were fighting.
And it was easier for us because of our policy of a united front ― of the unity of the left and the [anti-austerity] movement.
So in their day-by-day experience, people came to view SYRIZA as a good way to escalate the resistance.
But also, some months before the election, SYRIZA made a point of saying we could win. That was important because the Communist Party, which is bigger than SYRIZA, was saying that we can't do anything, and saying we could was a “dangerous illusion”.
So before the elections, SYRIZA was the only part of the left that was saying that we can overthrow the current government and propose a new government of the left. We said that we must take this possibility to put an end to the Memorandum and all the austerity measures, and reverse the cuts in salaries, pensions, public schools, public hospitals and social security.
On the question of where to find the money, SYRIZA was also clear.
We said that, first, we will stop the payments to the international and local banks. We will stop paying the debt. Second, we said that we will tax the rich in Greece ― the corporations and the wealthy. Third, we said that we must take public control of the banks ― put the banks under democratic and workers' control.
These answers are very near to the feelings of huge numbers of people. So that's why there was a popular tide of support to SYRIZA.
What is SYRIZA's presence like in struggles and in neighbourhoods?
SYRIZA is a coalition of parties, groups and unorganised people of the left. There is no unified political line within SYRIZA, but we have a strong agreement on the main points of the current period.
SYRIZA is organised into local committees. Its connection to local struggles has been very important over the years. SYRIZA is also supporting a coalition of rank-and-file left unionists inside the factories and the public sector.
At this rank-and-file level, we have very strong relations with the comrades of ANTARSYA. On many levels, we are acting together ― in the unions and the big struggles.
So people have seen members of SYRIZA on the frontline of everyday struggles. But it was also very important to have a presence at the national political level. People know from what SYRIZA was saying in parliament and the media that we support the various struggles.
We have faced real pressure, as well. In December 2008, there was a rebellion of the youth in Athens after the police killed a 15-year-old student.
For a month and a half, Athens was burning every night. And SYRIZA was the only party that said: "Continue to demonstrate, don't go back." This was at a time when SYRIZA suffered a big loss of votes.
But now we are winning the votes of all these people around very important demands of a change from the austerity measures. People have come to understand they can trust SYRIZA.
In the last parliament, we had only 13 members, but they did good work. The president of our parliamentary group, Alexis Tsipras, was a sharp critic of the government, in a way that expressed the anger of the people.
There are also members such as Panagiotis Lafazanis, who raised in parliament all kinds of questions critical to workers' struggles ― the cuts in salaries and pensions, the changes in laws that have made strikes more difficult.
People understood SYRIZA's political message to be that we must resist and we can win. Both parts of this message were important to our victory ― not only resistance, but the slogan of a government of the left that can scrap the Memorandum.
What has taken place since the first election?
The bankers and the industrialists in Greece insisted there must be a government. New Democracy and PASOK pushed very hard to create a government of “national salvation”. They were promising almost anything to SYRIZA if we joined a government of national salvation.
In reality, the pressure was to push SYRIZA inside a government that would continue the policies of the Memorandum, which capitalism needs.
It was very important that SYRIZA resisted this, and it was a huge battle every day to do so. All the parties were demanding that SYRIZA take part in the government.
And we said no, we will not take part in a national unity government. We said we have declared before the people that the only government we will take part in or form is a government of the left, a government that will change the Memorandum and all the laws that of the past three years.
Many polls said SYRIZA could come first on June 17 with 20% or 25% of the vote. We have an incredible situation. SYRIZA could be the leading party in the country.
If that happens, we will be called on to form a government that can transform things for the people of Greece. But we also know the reality of our organised forces and what we have inside the banks, inside the army, inside the police. So we understand the challenges.
We have a huge responsibility to the people who are supporting SYRIZA. We must ask all the real questions ― what is it we want to change and what is it we can change.
We also have a responsibility to transform the situation on the left. We will call again on the Communist Party to have a relationship of unity with us. And we will also call on ANTARSYA to recognise that it's very important to work with us and confront all these very serious challenges together.
At the same time, we must state clearly and honestly inside the people's movements that the only way that we can achieve real changes is when people are organising and protesting in the streets and in the workplaces.
After the May 6 election, when the pressure on us was huge, with groups of capitalists and officials of other European governments demanding that SYRIZA accept the national salvation government, SYRIZA called open general assemblies of people in Athens ― 65 in all ― to discuss the issues.
The participation was greater than anything we've seen before now. For example, in one poor neighborhood between Athens and Piraeus, where a meeting called by SYRIZA might have drawn 30 or 40 people, there were 1000 people at the general assembly.
What can the left internationally do to support the efforts of SYRIZA?
One big difference between SYRIZA and the Communist Party, as well as some "national" currents of the revolutionary left, is that we have always insisted that the solution to the crisis must be a European solution. When we say that, we aren't talking about currencies ― the euro or a return to the drachma. We mean the solution lies in the relationship between the working-class movements in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Ireland and so on.
This is what has historically changed the history of Europe. So we strongly support the building of relationships between left groups and parties throughout Europe. If Greece can set an example, then we can change the direction of things in Europe. But we need strong support in this, because alone, we can't do much.
We are keeping our eyes on the huge forces of the working-class movement in Europe. We need the help of all these forces.
It's not a fantasy to seek this kind of solidarity. Last year, during one of the worst nights of police violence in Greece, after many hours of facing tear gas in Syntagma Square in Athens, I got back home and I saw on television some pictures of a demonstration in Spain, with the slogan: "Our brothers in Greece, hold on, we are coming."
That sense of solidarity from below, between the workers of Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and so on, is what we need to change the situation.
I think it's very possible that we'll face some major provocations. The rulers of Greece are very frightened right now. They were hoping that the capitalist parties would find a solution and create a government. They are very afraid about what comes next.
If SYRIZA comes first, it will be more difficult for them to stop us ― I don't mean it's impossible, but it will be more difficult.
There are many possibilities of what they could do in a crisis ― like close down the banks or stop paying pensions or things like that. And at that moment, we will desperately need the support of the European movement.