Greece: Elections called as government’s crisis deepens.

Will SYRIZA coalition move to the left?

Below, we publish an interview conducted with Andros Payaitsos, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece), which participates in SYRIZA (‘Coalition of the Radical Left’). Transcribed by Danny Byrne, CWI.

Elections called as government’s crisis deepens.

New elections will take place in Greece on 4 October, two years before the end of the government’s term in office. Why do you think they have taken this decision?

The New Democracy (ND) government of Kostas Karamanlis has been racked by deep crisis in the past period. The onset of the economic crisis and the development of a wave of struggles of workers and youth, particularly the youth revolt of last December, the continuing devastation of living standards and the scandals surrounding nearly every prominent member of the ND leadership, have fatally undermined the government.

Greece has emerged from the summer months boiling with anger at the effects of the crisis. Unemployment continues to soar, as the government and bosses prepare for more savage attacks. The forest fires, which raged around Athens and other areas recently, had a devastating effect on some communities and the environment. The massive scale of the damage caused was due to government cutbacks in the public fire service.

In this context, the fate of the ND government has been clear for quite a while. ND now trails the so-called “socialist” PASOK, the main capitalist “opposition” party, by 6% in the polls and is under pressure to pass through parliament the most viciously anti-working class budget for many years, as the capitalists demand further austerity measures to pass off the cost of the crisis onto the shoulders of working class and young people.

Even if elections had not now been called, the government’s days would have been numbered. Next spring, presidential elections are scheduled to take place. In Greece, the President is elected by two-thirds majority vote in parliament. If there is no such majority, a general election must be called. Last time around, ND managed to secure the support of PASOK for their presidential candidate. This time however, PASOK could not possibly vote together with ND. Therefore, even if the government were to struggle on into 2010, it would be removed from power after losing the vote over the presidency.

Karamanlis has called elections in October in a desperate attempt to cut his losses, and retain some kind of control over the situation. However, this is the first time in modern Greek history when a government has called an election which it knows it is destined to lose! This reflects the impasse which Greek capitalism has reached, with the government in effect stepping down, implicitly acknowledging the fact that is has absolutely no answer to the crisis.

Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participates in SYRIZA (“coalition of the radical left”), a new left coalition. In the run up to the elections, what is the situation regarding this formation?

SYRIZA has recently experienced some developments, which could turn out to be of major importance, with the general pendulum of the party swinging tentatively to the left. We hope that this development will go on to be consolidated in the future, but we know that this will require a sustained struggle inside SYRIZA, the outcome of which is not yet clear.

Up until now, SYRIZA has been dominated by the leadership of Synaspismos, the biggest organisation involved in the coalition, in close collaboration with a small group of forces around it, the most prominent of which were the Maoists. This “coalition” was responsible for the bureucratisation of the whole of SYRIZA, and a suffocation of real life inside it. Xekinima (CWI) was involved – as a response to these bureaucratic tendencies and the watering down of the left aspects in the programme of SYRIZA – in the formation of ‘Second wave’, a current within SYRIZA, arguing for a democratisation of SYRIZA and its organisation as a fighting, membership-based party and for the defence of SYRIZA as an anti-capitalist organisation.

This bureaucratic leading bloc was not based on any principles but on a “give and take” approach. The situation was so bad that many described the national secretariat of SYRIZA as an “Eastern bazar”!

However this “bloc” has been broken/split by recent developments. Synaspismos has come to accept now that there is a need for the coalition to move in the direction of a more collective leadership, with more membership-based structures and greater democracy. There are now indications that Synaspismos will move in the direction of accepting a more democratic structure, to ensure that no party/group can hold more than one third of positions on leading bodies. This would make SYRIZA more than just a coalition of various parties, but an organisation which individual members can join and play a role in.

Indications are that a newly-organised SYRIZA would have leading bodies and structures composed of one-third Synaspismos (which currently makes up about 80% of SYRIZA), one-third other groups and tendencies, and one-third ‘non-aligned’ individuals. This would be reflected at all levels, from congress, to regional and national leading bodies, upon which decisions would be made by majority vote, not by ‘consensus’, as has been the case up until now.

This development is important because we believe it could become reflected in the political positions and nature of SYRIZA, exerting more control from the rank and file on the leadership and pushing SYRIZA more to the left, to encouraging fresh layers of workers and youth to join the new formation.

What led to this change in position by SYRIZA’s leadership?

In the last months, SYRIZA has also been embroiled in crisis. Divisions and tensions within the Synaspismos-dominated leadership have developed to a point where there was open discussion about a split in SYRIZA.

These differences were expressed in a struggle between conflicting leading personalities in recent months, with either side grouped around the new, young president of Synaspismos, Alexis Tsipras on one side, and the (until the dissolution of the parliament) president of the SYRIZA parliamentary group, Alekos Alavanos, on the other. The group around Alavanos is the same as the group which, in effect, dominated SYRIZA from behind the scenes from its early days. They are collectively to blame for the lack of sufficient democracy in SYRIZA, and for preventing the adoption of a clear left-wing position by the coalition. This group has no coherent political principles and has fully collaborated with Synaspismos until very recently.

The event which brought tensions to a head was the disastrous performance of SYRIZA in this year’s European elections, when it achieved only around 4.7% of the vote. In the aftermath of this defeat, the Maoists and their “allies” grouped around Alavanos and a clash developed over who the leader of SYRIZA would be – Alekos Alavanos or Alexis Tsipras. The capitalist media turned this into an explicitly personalised clash, disappointing further the supporters of SYRIZA.

However this squabble was interrupted by a third proposal, which was given no publicity at all in the media, put forward by other groups and individuals within SYRIZA, including Xekinima, which aroused the enthusiasm of many. We argued that that there was no real political difference between either bloc, that personality clashes did not interst us, and we refused to take a position in favour of either of the two “presidents”. We called for a new model of collective leadership. Alexis Tsipras under great pressure, came to accept this third position, kicking the legs from under Alavanos, the Maoists and their allies, who failed to understand the dynamics of the situation. This brought a new element to the situation.

What is the importance of this development?

This development has the potential to break the bureuacratisation of SYRIZA, led by the grouping which has controlled everything inside SYRIZA thus far, and to push SYRIZA to the left. However, this is not a straightforward conclusion. As I said, it is a potential development, which will necessitate a new round of internal struggles within SYRIZA.

We (Xekinima) argue for the absolute necessity of a clear shift to the left, on a class basis, armed with socialist policies. In our opinion, SYRIZA’s disastrous performance (4.7%) in the EU elections (SYRIZA was at 18.5% in opinion polls during Spring last year) came down to its failure to put itself forward as a clear, fighting left alternative. In order to win mass support, SYRIZA must propose clear socialist solutions to the present crisis of Greek capitalism and its attacks on the living standards of workers and youth, standing on a clear working class, left-wing programme.

These developments have backed the right-wing of Synaspismos into a corner within SYRIZA. SYRIZA has become too left-wing for them and they clearly want to split the coalition. They supported Alexis Tsipras in the leadership battle, in the hope that he would not retreat or compromise, and that a split would take place. But now, A. Tsipras has been forced in essence to desert them, and they will fight back viciously. Their potential should not be underestimated: they have the full support of the capitalist media, and they will fight to win a majority in SYRIZA’s parliamentary group, and elect its president. This situation would see SYRIZA MPs, led by the chair of the parliamentary party, openly attacking their own party! This would lead to a new round of extremely deep crises for SYRIZA and could develop in the next few weeks, hours after the election results become known.

How do you think things will develop from here?

This is still unclear. What is clear is that some of the arguments of Xekinima and our allies, for the building of SYRIZA as a democratic formation have been vindicated. Also, our ideas on the need for a shift to the left, for a clearer class approach and a socialist programme etc, are getting a much stronger echo.

We intend to continue the struggle over SYRIZA’s programme and to make sure that SYRIZA moves in the direction of greater democracy and control by the rank and file. We will continue to openly oppose those right-wing forces within SYRIZA who threaten to destroy its potential, including during the elections.

Is Xekinima standing any candidates in the elections?

We will stand 3 candidates. Our candidates will stand on a clear alternative programme, arguing for socialist solutions to the economic crisis and raising the need for nationalisation, under democratic working class control and management, to stop the avalanche of job losses and fund decent public services. We will campaign in the working class neighbourhoods and at factories and workplaces, as well as amongst the youth to raise these ideas. We will openly say that the right wing of Synaspismos should not be voted for. Where we don’t stand, we will support a vote for other left-wing SYRIZA candidates.

What are the prospects for the next government in Greece?

PASOK will most probably win the elections. The present government is hated, which is why it will be voted out of power. But, on the other hand, few hold deep illusions in PASOK, who many merely see as a slightly lesser evil to ND. It is not even certain that PASOK will be able to form a majority government, in which case the whole political scene will be very unstable. In such a case it is possible that the right wing of Synaspismos will move to join PASOK in government, which would mean the splitting of SYRIZA – this possibility cannot be excluded in the near future.

But even if PASOK does win an absolute majority, its government would not enjoy any prolonged “honeymoon” as it would continue to attack the majority in an attempt to pass off the cost of the bosses’ economic crisis, which shows no signs of abating any time soon. These attacks will meet with powerful resistance from workers and young people.

In this situation, SYRIZA will be presented with a new opportunity to become a mass force, as the political voice of workers and youth in struggle. Xekinima will continue for fight for the building of SYRIZA as such a force.

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September 2009