Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) came close last year to winning national elections standing on a program of rejecting brutal anti-austerity measures and pushing polices in favour of working people. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras spoke to a large public meeting in London on March 15 on the need for radical, democratic changes across Europe. His speech is reprinted from Left.gr.
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Comrades and friends, Europe is on edge. Two worlds collide. On one side stand the productive forces of democracy, the people fighting to create a society of justice, equality and freedom. On the other side, a neoliberal biopolitical project unfolds. Its aim is to control bodies and minds through the politics of fear. To discipline human life in its entirety. To intensify the exploitation of labour and to increase the profits of capital.
I am privileged to address you here in the heart of London today to declare that we are part of the experiment of democracy.
We in SYRIZA believe that radical democratic changes are the only way out of the crisis for the people of Europe.
This is not an optimistic illusion.
It is the compelling conclusion of rational argument and detailed analysis.
It is widely accepted that the strategy of European elites and the Greek government cannot provide a viable prospect of exit from the crisis. The only thing that austerity has accomplished is to plunge Europe into economic depression and to throw Greece in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Austerity is leading the Greek economy and society down a catastrophic path. This is not an assertion, it is a fact! Numerous reports of European and international institutions confirm it.
I will only mention some of the most striking statistical evidence. This is the sixth consecutive year of economic recession. The latest Morgan Stanley forecast predicts the same for next year too. The Greek economy has contracted by 20% since 2008. Workers and pensioners have lost more than 30% of their income in the last three years. Unemployment keeps increasing and is approaching a scary 30%, with youth unemployment at nearly 60%. A new wave of emigration leads hundreds of thousands of highly qualified graduates and scientists abroad, undermining any future recovery.
Austerity policies have led to cuts in benefits, deregulation of the labour market and the further deterioration of the limited welfare state.
Collective bargaining has been abolished and every aspect of life has been subjected to the demands of capitalist profit and fiscal discipline.
European elites and the Greek government have sufficient evidence that these policies cannot yield any positive results. The IMF has confessed that its economists have failed in any attempt to predict the consequences of horizontal cuts and of other austerity measures. Everybody now knows that austerity policies create a vicious spiral of austerity recession / increase in debt.
Why then do the European and Greek rulers continue with this self-defeating strategy?
The answer is obvious. Their true goals are different from those officially and publicly pronounced. They actually aim at a total transformation of the social framework. They seek the creation of an economic environment based on cheap labour, special economic zones, deregulation of the labour market, tax exemptions for capital and extensive privatisation of public goods and services.
European and Greek elites use public debt as blackmail for the imposition of this transformative strategy. Their scheme is a subtle technology of power aiming to exclude alternative political programmes.
If the debt did not exist, the elites would have to invent it.
The austerity policies associated with the debt crisis are not imposed on Greece by the Troika. Samaras and his political allies, PASOK and the Democratic Left, play a crucial role in instigating, planning and implementing the austerity programmes.
This became more than obvious when the "internal Troika" refused our demand to renegotiate the loan agreement, even after the IMF admitted its repeated multiplier error.
The Greek government is prepared to go to the bitter end in order to please its social allies: Big capital and the corrupt elites. Its willingness to implement fully this catastrophic programme has dramatically transformed the state and carries unprecedented perils for democracy.
The Samaras coalition has intensified the trend started by the Papadimos government: It circumvents the separation of powers and the constitution by passing legislation through ministerial decrees and without Parliamentary approval.
Austerity has led to growing popular disobedience and resistance, and it has triggered unprecedented police repression. A near state of exception has been imposed in Greece. Unlimited state violence and repression has been unleashed against anyone who dares to resist. Basic civil liberties and constitutional rights are constantly violated.
The torture of detainees by the Greek Police, revealed by the Guardian, is sadly just one of many examples. Violent police repression in Chalkidiki, where the local community resists an environmentally catastrophic goldmine investment, is another.
The continuous attacks on immigrants by fascist thugs, under police protection or tolerance, create a sense of undeclared war in the streets of Athens and throughout Greece.
The government does not hesitate to implement its catastrophic plans. It has launched a violent shift to the far right, endangering the European liberal and humanist tradition and democracy itself.
Samaras’s plan is clear. Based on a pretext of law and order, he is trying to create a political pole that will halt the advance of the left. He exploits the conservative reflexes and the justified fear of the victims of the economic crisis, in order to attract those voting for Golden Dawn, the advancing neo-Nazi party.
The latest episode of this political drama took place three days ago, when it was revealed that the minister of the interior has appointed a Nazi apologist and holocaust revisionist as an adviser on issues of nationality and immigration. Despite our calls for his resignation he is still in his position.
SYRIZA has a political and moral responsibility to put an end to this social disaster. We are responsible not only towards ourselves and future generations. We are responsible towards the European tradition and the European vision. Towards our own past and future.
But do we have an answer? Is there an alternative to neoliberal domination in Greece and in Europe?
Or are we, as our critics say, just demagogues and populists who only know how to deny the obvious and to deceive?
It is always easy for our political rivals to call anyone who resists a populist and a demagogue. Every political force that has an alternative political agenda and vision, every political agent that dares to deny their one-way solutions, is either a utopian or a fraud.
To this we emphatically respond: We do affirmative politics!
Every single of our "No"s is followed by a decisive "Yes". We affirm a political strategy for justice, equality, and freedom; a plan for human emancipation.
But we are no utopians. We know that in order to change the situation we need to be both idealists and visionaries, but at the same time also brutal pragmatists.
Our pragmatism, however, is subject to our vision for radical change. It is not a step back but a necessary precaution. Because we know that to be successful we must trust in the power of the people, in the productive power of democracy and participation.
We will never compromise our principles.
What is the alternative then for Europe and Greece?
SYRIZA has stated that a future government will put a stop to the austerity policies while, at the same time, renegotiating the loan agreement with our creditors. SYRIZA argues that an economically viable strategy must follow the model of the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which gave the post-war German economy a kick start and helped it create the “economic miracle” of the post-war era.
Let us re-emphasise the point. Without the London Agreement, there would have been no German economic miracle. The central planks of that deal were debt reduction, a huge investment drive through the Marshall Plan, and financing terms linked to export and growth performance.
We see no reason why in 2013 such a settlement is not also the appropriate way forward for the whole of the South, and for Greece. Why can’t we have a new conference on the debt in the South of the Eurozone?
Why have we accepted such diminished expectations, such a conservative approach, now that the step-by-step and country-by-country approach has so evidently failed?
This new settlement is only one aspect of our political plan. We are well aware that the Greek economy cannot recover if we don't implement a series of economic, institutional and democratic reforms, which will radically change the picture of the Greek society and state.
Our first priority is to freeze all measures reducing wages and pensions and to restore the minimum wage to pre-Memorandum levels. This will be a crucial step in our effort to stop the downward spiral of economic depression and to restore the dignity and prospects of the Greek working class. The restoration of the minimum wage is a precondition for exiting the crisis and would be a victory for the social classes and forces that the left represents.
It is also time to put forward a radical tax reform that will redistribute the burden of taxation and restore justice. It is common knowledge among progressive politicians and activists, but also among the Troika and the Greek government, that the burden of the crisis has been carried exclusively by public and private sector workers and pensioners.
This has to stop.
It is time for the rich to contribute their share in our attempt to exit the crisis, and we commit ourselves to that task. We will confront the long standing problem of tax evasion and tax avoidance. We will pursue and tax the capital removed from Greece, to buy luxury flats in Mayfair and Chelsea.
We will secure the viability of the banking system by introducing social and public control of banks. The banking system we envision will support environmentally viable public investment and cooperative initiatives. It will promote quality regional products, renewable energy sources and crucial infrastructure improvement projects.
What we need is a banking system devoted to the public interest--not one bowing to capitalist profit. A banking system at the service of society, a banking system that serves as a pillar for growth.
Economic reforms, however, are required but not sufficient for exiting the crisis. They need to be supplemented by drastic changes in the political and administrative system. We need to restore confidence in the ability of democracy to provide solutions for the whole population.
This is of course an enormous task. It requires the mobilisation of all the social forces who have an interest in fighting corruption, cronyism, clientelism, and public sector inefficiency.
None of these political aims can be achieved, of course, without popular support and participation.
This is exactly the new element that we want to introduce in the political system. Workers, pensioners, the youth and the unemployed are only passive observers of political developments. They are almost entirely excluded from processes of decision making.
This, too, has to stop.
All vital forces of our society need to return to politics and decision-making. And the state must be radically transformed in order to support the vision of a society that takes its present life and future prospects in its own hands.
The political programme that SYRIZA puts forward presents a complete hegemonic project. It is not just about winning elections and forming a government; it is about gaining power and moving Greece in a democratic socialist direction.
As Gramsci once wrote, the Modern Prince, the political party of the left, needs to "become the basis of a modern laicism or popular transformation, of a complete popular remaking of the whole of life and all customary relations".
We don't start from scratch in this endeavour. We, the movements and the political forces of the European Left have achieved much. Much more than someone would have expected a few years ago. After the uprisings of 2011, from the indignados of Puerta del Sol and Syntagma Square, after the unprecedented resistance all over the world, nothing is the same.
Last summer, SYRIZA came close to winning the elections and making another step in the overthrow of the dangerous and corrupt political elite in Greece.
We did not succeed then. But we will very soon.
And we are not alone anymore. A new wave of popular struggles is emerging all over Europe. The balance of power has started to shift. From Lisbon to Madrid, from Paris to Athens, a new wave of mobilisation and resistance has begun.
Soon it will reach London.
The politics of austerity will come to an end. What we need to do is to oversee its demise.
Resistance is in the air and from resistance grows the seed of change. For the first time since the 1980s, Europe is on edge. It finds itself at a crossroads. It will either follow the path of a permanent state of exception, aiming to control growing popular resistance, or it will choose -- we will choose -- a radical act of change that will entirely transform the field of economy and politics.
We, the European left, need to learn from the resistance of the popular movements, and at the same time we need to express their aspirations at the political level, exactly in order to change what politics means.
We need to leave the managerial attitude of technocrats and bureaucrats behind. We need to unite with the people and express their aspirations for a just and egalitarian world.
Our aim is not just to rescue the economy from the death throes of neoliberal austerity. Our aim is to change the dominant capitalist paradigm.
We will not be able to achieve our aims without the solidarity and the help of the European left and of the trade unions.
Our struggle is the same.