'United we can win' -- interview with Alexis Tsipras on Europe

February 22, 2014
Alexis Tsipras speaks in a debate organised by the Dutch Socialist Party in Amersfoort on January 18.

In December, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), was elected as lead candidate of the Party of the European Left for the May 25 European elections.

The PEL unites many left parties from across the continent. The program of Tsipras’s campaign can be found on the website of Links Journal of Socialist Renewal

Tsipras’s candidacy is seen as symbolic of the fight for a different Europe — one that is ecological, peaceful, democratic and based on social justice. This is due to the Greek people’s resistance to the austerity policies that the “troika” (European Union, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund) have imposed on them and Syriza’s near-victory in the 2012 Greek elections on an anti-austerity platform.

Tsipras's candidacy has become especially symbolic of this fight in Italy, where a very divided left is looking for ways to come together. Tsipras was interviewed by Italian left daily Il Manifesto. It has been translated by Dick Nichols.

* * *

With Syriza you pulled off a half miracle, or rather a great miracle [in uniting the left], how come you succeeded?

The miracle still hasn't been finalised, we still need a little time! Given that we are Marxists and don't believe in metaphysics, the explanation for our road map of left unity has social roots — the ties that the traditional parties have had with the social layers hardest hit by the crisis have been broken.

Today, we see a violent social fragmentation, especially within the middle classes who had placed their faith in social democracy and now find themselves without any hope at all.

Syriza arrived at the right time with the right proposal, based on the concept of left unity. Syriza was formed in 2004 but it is only since 2012 that it has made this leap forward.

During the previous period we existed as a left force, and even in the difficult moments always fought for unity. Then, at the moment when PASOK [the Greek social democratic party] collapsed, we had the right message — the time has arrived for a real left government, a government that unites the left.

No one used to believe us, even if people did appreciate us a lot, because we offered proposals, not theories, and were committed to solving people's daily problems.

In Italy, we have also seen a crisis of the middle class and its political representation, but our left has not been able to find this road of living together with their differences. Rather there is division, and social protest has found expression in a party like Beppe Grillo’s [Five Star Movement, a populist “anti-political” party].

That is precisely why it is more important than ever to bring together all the forces of the left — to manage to find a real alternative proposal.

Nothing that has taken place in Italy is any different from Greece, even if in Greece everything has been much more violent. The social democracy and the right wing here are in the same strategic dead end.

It’s true, in the last elections Grillo had great success, but it is very easy to achieve “great feats” without a project. To continue to be a mass force and really change things you have to have a credible alternative.

The return to the nation state [Grillo proposes Italy leaving the euro] can't be a real alternative anywhere. If it is possible to change neoliberal Europe it will be through asserting the supremacy of the peoples of Europe and not through a return to old rivalries.

We see the right getting together internationally and there is not yet a corresponding “internationalisation” of the left. How can the left get together in a more unified way in Europe?

First of all, we must see clearly that the strategy of the present European leaders is without solutions. Austerity has failed socially and economically.

The successes of the right are based on the fact that, rather than putting forward criticisms of the neoliberal system, they create a scapegoat and blame migrants. The nationalist right wing is interested in destroying the European framework and returning to that of the nation state, but they have no real alternative to neoliberalism.

What winning strategy can the left put forward?

To become a real alternative for the people. This is an historical opportunity. The solution does not lie in destroying the European framework but in transforming it.

The hegemony of [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel in Europe will lead to the destruction of the European Union. The reality is that we [in the PEL] are the only real pro-European force because we want a change that transforms the EU’s structures in order to return to the values that we share — those of democracy and solidarity. The present rulers can’t pursue that goal very far!

The Greek philosopher Nikos Poulantzas said that socialism would be democratic or would never be. Likewise, Europe will be democratic and social or it will never be.

The important thing for the left is to create a broad, open front against austerity. The European Union must have democratic foundations. We must also understand that the crisis is not something that belongs to any particular country, nor is it the result of the “laziness” of the Greeks and Italians.

We are facing a structural crisis. The way in which the monetary union [of the euro] was formed shows that there must be structural changes or the crisis will never be overcome.

The technical solutions exist, but they clash with the dogmas of the ECB and the monetary union. For example, there is no doctrine that says that we must have a balanced budget, but they insist precisely on that.

How can democratisation of Europe take place? What will you do in the European Parliament and in the European Commission?

That always depends on what the political balance, the relationship of forces, is. If you don't have the possibility of influencing government, everything becomes more difficult. It’s also for this reason that Syriza has become a sort of myth, because for the first time there's a possibility of the left coming to government and dictating terms.

Our anniversaries are tremendously strong, but they have enormous contradictions. We all know that the Eurozone is a chain of 18 links and if one link breaks, the whole chain shatters.

What I want you in Italy to understand is how important solidarity between the peoples is: a left government will be successful to the degree that its actions also find a response among other peoples and among the left in other countries.

It will not be easy. Indeed, we’ll find ourselves in very harsh confrontations, we will suffer very heavy attacks. If we are going to hold out, everything will depend on solidarity among the peoples hit by the crisis.

The establishment does not want to see a government of the radical left capable of spreading to the rest of Europe. However, it will have to come to terms with the political cost of a conservative response to such a scenario.

That is why, for a government of the left, the way in which alliances are built with other countries is important, just as it is important for the left parties of the European Union that there is a government of the left in any European country. That can start a domino effect and lead to real change.

Maybe it would also help the social movements to advance their demands, which in a country like Italy would be a very important step.

Are you are aware that for the pathologically divided Italian left, your candidacy is a bit like that of a non-Italian Pope who has managed to produce a miracle?

One swallow does not make a summer! Our shared project also depends on your political commitment. We can offer a decent recipe and it can bring us all to fight together for the same goals.

However, further fragmentation would be a disaster. In Italy too, you have an important opportunity — those who voted for Grillo did so because he was somehow seen to be demanding something and because the political system is discredited.

If all that could work with the disheartened people then, to participate actively now it will not be enough to just go and vote: what will count a lot is the action that comes afterwards.

Today there will be a meeting of the executive of the Party of the European Left. What will you say to convince them to try to follow this path of opening out, and not close themselves in the ghettos of the left?

The Party of the European Left is not sectarian. It works for broad alliances against the policies of austerity. I am active in this group, and the positions and program of this party are a very important basis for my candidacy for the presidency of the European Commission.

You in Italy must also understand that at this moment, it is necessary to have a broad alliance to achieve a united result. What we manage to achieve with all of you will be very important.


about Syriza? It's insistence on "democracy"? The unwillingness of Tsipras to insist on canceling the debt; throwing out the troika, abandoning the euro, which is a mechanism for reducing the living standards of the workers? Tsipras speaks of "structural change"-- and he uses that to avoid what needs to be said. Exactly what does a structural change mean? Abolishing the structure of the EU? How? By submitting to its demands? What "structural change" are we talking about? There's nothing "left" with Tsipras, other than a sentiment, and nothing left about Syriza, other than a posture. Stakes are too high for posing and/or sentimentality.
It's good to see this translation of the interview with Tsipras. Notable quotes: "Because we offered proposals, not theories, and were committed to solving people's daily problems." "To bring together all the forces of the left — to manage to find a real alternative proposal." "The return to the nation state [Grillo proposes Italy leaving the euro] can't be a real alternative anywhere." "To become a real alternative for the people. This is an historical opportunity. The solution does not lie in destroying the European framework but in transforming it." "The Party of the European Left is not sectarian."

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