Greece: After the Syriza congress

Party battles promise to be as hard as the Greek class struggle

The leadership of Syriza achieved the main goals it had set for the first congress of the now ‘unified’ party that took place in July. The component organisations of Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, will now be dissolved – "within a reasonable time", according to the congress motion – and the party’s president was elected by the congress, and will therefore not be accountable to any party body, such as the national committee, but only to a congress which is held every three years.

But what the leadership failed to do was to weaken the left wing of Syriza. On the contrary, it brought the left closer together and strengthened it. Thus, the conflict within Syriza is far from over and has entered a new period of tension and polarisation.

This congress was convened to decide the organisational character of Syriza, not to discuss the political situation in Greece, the party’s programme, etc, in a period when it is positioning itself to become the new government. In reality, however, behind the organisational moves lie political issues. The party’s leadership, under Alexis Tsipras, is determined to put Syriza onto a more ‘moderate’ political trajectory, to direct it toward the ‘right’. Throughout the previous period there has been a continuous ‘adaptation’ of the party’s policy on the part of the leadership group – under the continuous pressure of the ruling class and the media.

The leaders of the right wing of the party, such as Giannis Dragasakis and George Stathakis, never tire of emphasising that Syriza will not take ‘unilateral action’ on the debt without negotiations with the Troika, that nationalisation of the privatised public services ‘is extremely difficult’, and that the tax exemptions for ship-owners will not be repealed, etc. These statements go outside the official decisions of the conferences and other bodies within Syriza, but have been tolerated by Tsipras.

The image of the party presented by Alexis Tsipras has been, at least, contradictory. In relation to the Troika’s austerity ‘memorandums’ and the debt there has been a continuous word game: varying from ‘repudiation’ to ‘renegotiation’, sometimes a ‘moratorium’, and then ‘suspension’, turning the whole thing into a joke. The main slogan that had seen Syriza rocket in the two elections in 2012 (in May and June) – for a government of the left – has been changed to ‘a government of social salvation’, which has been publically interpreted by the Syriza right wing as meaning collaboration with the Independent Greeks party, the Democratic Left (part of the government until June), and even with parts of Pasok (former social democrats) and New Democracy (equivalent to the Tories).

Key political issues

The essence of the disagreements, therefore, is to do with the key political issues of this period: will the debt be repudiated or not? Will the banks and strategic businesses be nationalised or will big private capital, local and multinational, remain dominant in the economy? Is Syriza ready for a frontal conflict with the eurozone? These issues are not ideological fixations. They concern, practically, how society can exit the disaster it is living through. At the end of the day the question that is posed is: will the public sector or the private sector be the locomotive for the development of the economy?

Choosing the public sector as the locomotive is an absolute necessity and the only possible way forward. What brought us to today’s crisis is nothing else but the functioning of the private sector – everything subordinated to the interests of big capital. And, in the name of giving ‘incentives’ to private capital, supposedly in order to invest, the policy of the ‘China-isation’ of Greek workers (driving down wages and conditions) continues, causing the social catastrophe that we are going through.

But the public sector can only be a locomotive for economic growth on the basis of nationalising the banks and the strategic sectors of economy, the establishment of social and workers’ control and management in order to tackle corruption and scandals, an inevitable clash with the eurozone and the EU, and the protection of the economy from the capitalists’ sabotage (through control of the movement of capital and foreign trade).

At the same time, the need for common struggle with the workers of the rest of Europe must be put in front of the Greek workers’ movement. All these point to the need for an alternative economic and social model – socialism – which the majority in Syriza’s leadership is not prepared to articulate. That is why it chooses to fight within the party on the ‘organisational issues’, presenting itself as ‘the unifiers’ and ‘democrats’, against its opponents.

Thus, suddenly, the component organisations of Syriza had turned into a big problem and had to be abolished. But why were they a problem? When it rocketed from 4% to 27%, it was the ‘Syriza of the components’: a federal political formation, resulting from the cooperation of different political organisations.

By abolishing the components, Syriza is dissolving the different political organisations and effectively subjugating them to the biggest political organisation within the party, Synaspismos (Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology). But if Syriza had not been created as a coalition, in 2004, it might never have achieved its position today. It was precisely the idea and experience of broad cooperation of many and different political organisations that attracted thousands of fighters of the left, especially the non-aligned.

Radicalism a headache for Synaspismos’s leadership

The majority of the components were to the left of Synaspismos. For as long as Synaspismos was small its leadership needed the components’ radicalism: to survive initially and then to gain a dynamic. But now Synaspismos’s leadership has begun to come closer to governmental power, this radicalism has become a headache for them. So it proposed the dissolution of the components into ‘tendencies’, without the ability of maintaining an independent existence or the public expression of their own positions. At the same time, it proposed that the party president be elected by the congress and not from the national committee of the party.

Throughout the history of the left in Greece party leaders (general secretaries or presidents) have been elected by national committees. The reason is simple: the national committee meets regularly and can control the president – and replace him or her if it judges this necessary. When the president is elected by the congress, which in the constitutions of all parties is the supreme body standing above the national committee and the various conferences, then the only body that can control the president is the congress.

Practically, this means that from now until the next congress in three years, Syriza’s politics will be decided, ultimately, by Alexis Tsipras and his own presidential staff. The tens of thousands of Syriza members have no way to control their president. We have a copy of the structure of the bourgeois parties, Pasok and New Democracy!

Polarised congress

The left of Syriza, in particular the Left Platform, tried to politicise the battle. It opposed the organisational proposals of the leadership and also put up amendments to the basic political text of the congress. These included calls for the repudiation of the debt, the nationalisation of the banks and strategic sectors of the economy, a government prepared for a rupture with the eurozone and EU, and a struggle for a government of the left, excluding any of the establishment parties. All of these were voted down, showing that the leadership refuses to adopt a really radical policy of clashing with the big private interests, the ruling class, and the Troika.

The left’s proposals won the support of about one third of the delegates, but this was less than the 45% or more support similar amendments won at the Syriza conference in November last year. The polarised character of this congress, divided into hard ‘camps’, was partly responsible. But also Syriza has attracted a whole new layer of opportunists, many from Pasok with their own ‘personal armies’ of supporters, who in the limited pre-congress debates – on average only two meetings of the local organisations of Syriza were held, concentrating mainly on the organisational issues – had no real interest in the political discussion.

But the leadership’s tactic of polarising Syriza to defeat the left, and the arrogance it showed in anticipating victory, worked against it for an important number of delegates. At the November conference, the Left Platform won 25% support for its national committee slate. This time, while the ‘unity’ leadership slate was supported by 2,294 delegates (67.21%), the Left Platform list won 1,023 votes (30.15%), with 60 members elected to the NC. The increase as such is not particularly big, but it is important as the leadership majority came to the congress aiming to shrink if not ‘exterminate’ the Left Platform. That goal will not be at all easy.

Xekinima (CWI in Greece) actively supports the left wing of Syriza, despite the disagreements that we have on a number of levels. The way, for example, that the Left Current, the basic force of the Left Platform, was posing the issue of the euro in the previous period, risked the danger of creating illusions that a change in currency, in and of itself, would be a way out of the crisis. Or that it could be achieved within the context of just one country. Moreover, a number of trade unionists of the Left Current are lagging behind the needs of the movement, while the cooperation of cadres of the Left Current with Pasok bureaucrats is not rare.

But the left as a whole, and not just within Syriza, is in a process of evolution. The ferment that is taking place within the ranks of the left is unprecedented. Within Syriza right now there is a battle being conducted by left forces from all sorts of origins that are trying to stop the right-ward path of the leadership. Within these battles conclusions are being drawn, understanding is being developed, and new alliances can come to the surface. These processes are also underway (though on a smaller scale) in both Antarsya (Anti-Capitalist Left Coalition) and the Greek Communist Party (KKE), despite the leaderships of both trying to silence them with every means, where the main issue has been that of co-operation with others on the left.

The next period in Syriza is not one of unity or fraternity. It is the opening of a process of coalescing the forces for the battles that are coming. These battles will not be ‘civilised’ but will be exactly as hard as the class struggle that is developing, and which is reflected within Syriza. The right-wing of Syriza and the leading group around Tsipras have made their choices. They have rolled up their sleeves and showed their intentions in the clearest way. The left is obliged to answer back. In a sense, the really big clashes in Syriza have just begun.

[The above was extracted from a fuller article published on the Xekinima website, translated for Socialism Today by Amalia Loizidou]

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October 2013