Greece: SYRIZA conference at critical time

Need to defend and deepen left direction is vital

SYRIZA (coalition of the radical left) held a three-day national meeting of its supporters over the weekend 10-12 April. The meeting took place at a critical time, both for SYRIZA and in terms of the general situation in Greek society. Greek capitalism is in deep crisis. The reverberations of the mighty youth and social revolt of December 2009 are still ringing in the ears of the hated New Democracy (ND) government and are embedded in the memory of workers and youth.

April 2 witnessed the 11th general strike since the ND government came to power. This strike was a big success, with tens of thousands turning out to demonstrations in towns and cities throughout the country. This success however, was despite the role of the trade union leaders of the (GSEE and ADEDY), whose incompetent organisation of the strike prevented it being much stronger.

SYRIZA’s drop in the polls

Greek capitalism is also in the grip of a severe political crisis. New Democracy is now around 5% below PASOK, the leading ‘opposition’ party and the government’s fate hangs in the balance, as it has a majority of only one MP (accused of corruption and under police investigation). Also significantly, opinion polls show SYRIZA, a new left formation in which Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participates, down to between 7% and 9%, from as high as 18.5% in Spring 2008. This development has obviously provoked much thought within the ranks of SYRIZA and featured heavily during the weekend’s meeting, with much discussion on how the party should respond. In the period after its formation, SYRIZA attracted much support, as it seemed to give hope for a genuine political break-through on the Left that could provide workers and youth in struggle with a political voice. However, it is now important to consider what is behind the recent fall in support for SYRIZA.

In the opinion of Xekinima, this situation is fundamentally a result of the actions, method and approach of the right-wing of SYRIZA, who have ensured that the opportunity for SYRIZA to become a decisive political force has not yet been realised at this time. The main basis for this has been political. The leftward course that was set by the party, last year, has not been kept consistently. Right wing forces within SYRIZA (the right wing of Synaspismos who call themselves ‘Modernisers’), deeply annoyed at its previous left stance have, over the past few months, launched a counter-offensive. Using the media, they have openly argued for a government of SYRIZA and PASOK, contrary to the official position of SYRIZA, which rejects participation in ‘centre-left’ governments which offer no real alternative to the neo-liberalism of ND (New Democracy) government. Trade unionists who belong to Synaspismos (the biggest group within SYRIZA, to which the majority of the leadership belong) have been engaging in collaboration with PASOK forces, and co-operation at local government level in a number of areas also. Recently, there has been the split among SYRIZA’s forces in the University Teachers’ Union, which was under the leadership of SYRIZA trade unionists and played a key role in struggles in the education sector in the past few years, together with the university students. The right wing of Synaspismos split to collaborate with PASOK against members of their own party and the rest of SYRIZA. Thus, in an absolutely criminal act, a fighting, key union was handed over “on a plate” to the “enemy”! The people responsible for the split still remain in the party!

In the context of all this it is only natural to cause disappointment amongst huge numbers of rank and file activists. With such actions and positions put forward, it is understandable that many would shift their support away from SYRIZA, seeing nothing fundamentally separating it from PASOK. Others would opt for the Communist Party, or even some of the far left groups (sectarian) which have a notable influence in some fields, particularly education.

Coupled with all the above, is the fact that SYRIZA has also shown a serious weakness in its intervention into the struggles of the Greek working class. Xekinima argues that if SYRIZA is to win mass support it must base itself on the struggles of the working class and young people and give them fighting perspective and a political expression.

The situation led to a feeling of low morale and enthusiasm in the run up to the 10-12 April meeting. Despite this, the SYRIZA leadership, in their opening speeches, acted as if nothing had happened, arguing, basically, that the current rate of support SYRIZA enjoys is still more that 2 years ago, and so on. This approach, of brushing problems under the carpet, provoked much criticism from below. As well as criticising the programme and approach of the SYRIZA leadership, many attending the meeting criticised the bureaucratic, un-democratic tendencies developing in the formation. For example, the weekend’s so-called ‘conference’ had no voting rights for members and thus no mechanism for the criticisms of members to be registered in party policy. Organisations that make up SYRIZA, like Xekinima, but also many supporters who do not belong to any one of the organisations (the “independents”) called for accountability of the leadership and also for a federal structure, with the right of groups and tendencies to exist within a democratic party, at the same time as criticising the political line and the programme imposed by the National Secretariat.

‘Second Wave’

A significant development which took place at the conference was the strengthening of the tendency currently in formation within SYRIZA, known as ‘Second Wave’. This current held a successful meeting during the conference at which its aims were clarified. They can be summarised in three points. Firstly, the need for SYRIZA to be organised as an active federal political formation, with branches and a membership, which can attract new layers of people into the organisation. Secondly, the establishment of democratic structures to control the leadership and to put a break on the bureaucratic tendencies already seen and criticised by many in the course of the meeting.

Thirdly, ‘Second Wave’ argues for more clarification on the political course of SYRIZA, for a more explicitly anti-capitalist programme, to prepare the ground for the socialist transformation of Greek society, in the context of an international struggle in Europe and beyond (the current party programme refers to socialism, but in an inconsistent and confusing way).

‘Second Wave’ resolved to organise itself, with co-ordinating committees in a number of Greek towns and cities. Its emergence can prove very important for the future of SYRIZA. Its existence has already forced concessions from the leadership. A conference is to be called on the question of the organisation of the party in October, with a preparatory meeting to begin the discussion in June, after the European elections.

Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participates in ‘Second Wave’, as we believe it is necessary to organise against the right wing and defend and to deepen the left-wing direction of SYRIZA. Second Wave’s development can prove critical in determining whether or not SYRIZA develops into a political force capable of organising workers and youth for change in society. Although the conference featured sharp debates and disagreements, all present agreed on the need to mount a serious united campaign for the important European elections in June, despite all differences that exist.

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April 2009