Greece day 2: Syriza – Preparing for power?

Day two of my visit began with a press conference of international guests to support Syriza. Political representatives from the Left Bloc in Portugal, Izquierda Unida in Spain, a left group in Argentina, the ambassador from Venezuela to Greece and a member of Occupy Wall Street addressed the press together with myself and members of Syriza. The emphasis of all of the speeches were on the centrality of the struggle in Greece for working people all across Europe and the impact that a Syriza victory could have.

From the questions of the press afterwards to Syriza, the pressure from the media against their representatives was evident. One journalist recounted the fact that the leader of Tsipras, Alexis Tsipras, had declared to Bloomberg that the euro is not a fetish and asked for justification of this! Because of the fear of people of leaving the euro, there is an attempt to make the election a referendum on the drachma or the euro, just like the same was attempted in Ireland in the Austerity Treaty referendum.

On a stroll to find sunlotion, I met two young members of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), handing out their election manifesto and their flyer advertising their final rally to take place last night. I engaged one of them, who had good English, like nearly all Greek young people. The conversation encapsulated the essence of what I think is mistaken about their approach.

The KKE is a huge organisation, with many thousands of active members, a large apparatus and deep support in sections of the industrial working class. Later on, I passed their headquarters, which is absolutely massive. It is the equivalent of about three or four Liberty Halls put together. Their position on these elections is summed up in an article published by the Morning Star newspaper in Britain (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/120199 ).

The KKE activist made many criticisms of Syriza, with which I was able to agree – that they have not prepared people for the struggle for power, that a revolutionary break with the capitalist system is needed, that people’s power is needed rather than governments managing capitalism. Together with those criticisms, he also made the kind of statements that are contained in the article, that Syriza is the enemy, that Syriza is in favour of the continuation of capitalism and the imperialist European Union. These go beyond the bounds of comradely criticism and amount to a sectarian misrepresentation and reflect an approach reminiscent of ‘Third Period’ Stalinism.

The main problem, however, is that the KKE do not make any attempt to really connect with those who are attracted to Syriza and the idea of a left government by joining in a united front with Syriza and engaging in criticism of the Syriza programme while fighting together for power. Instead, in the context of this massive crisis of capitalism, where Greece is the weakest link in the chain, they simply stand back and make denunciations of Syriza. They make abstract propaganda for ‘people’s power’ without proposing demands and measures that connect the need for ‘people’s power’ with people’s day to day struggles and consciousness.

In effect, they say that ‘the people are not ready for socialism’ and instead of engaging in struggle to raise consciousness and awareness about the fundamental change that is needed, they retreat from that struggle. In many respects, sections of Syriza have the opposite approach to that, in that they also accept that ‘people are not ready for socialism’ and therefore to some extent prepare to manage a better capitalism.

This emerged at a Syriza rally I attended and spoke at in Neo Ionia in Athens last night. Neo Ionia is historically a left-wing area, where in the last elections Syriza came first and the KKE came second. It has a left-controlled Council and was the birthplace of the movement of mass boycott against the Greek equivalent of the household tax.

This was one of many outdoor local Syriza election rallies taking place, where up to a hundred people from the area attended. There was a mix of people, from pre-existing political activists from Syriza and Xekinima to others who came to hear what was being advocated and a range of age groups. When I spoke, I was very warmly welcomed.

I explained that in Ireland we had also experienced a campaign of terror and bullying during the referendum campaign and that the lesson from Ireland was not to vote in fear. I also exposed the lies that are peddled about Ireland in order to bully the Greek people – that austerity is working and that people accept austerity in Ireland. I detailed  how the domestic economy continues to shrink, as do people’s incomes, while unemployment and emigration go up. My description of the mass revolt against the household tax and 50% non-payment got a warm response, because of their experience with a similar tax and movement.

I also took the opportunity to put forward the need for a revolutionary break with capitalism and a struggle for socialist policies. When I explained that if they put Syriza in first place on Sunday and elected a left government, that they would not be alone but would have tens of millions of allies across Europe, there was spontaneous appluse. Just like in Ireland, the propaganda of being isolated in Europe if you stand up to austerity is used to intimidate people. That underlines the importance of international solidarity which demonstrates the common nature of the struggle we are involved in across Europe.

After I spoke, the two following speakers illustrated the differences in approach and tensions within Syriza. The first was from ‘International Workers Left’ (DEA), which is a split from the group linked with the Socialist Workers Party in Ireland. He put forward a left position – calling for nationalisation of the banks and the key enterprises under public control and declaring that a government of the left would cancel a large portion of the debt and impose a moratorium on the repayment of the rest, until the state was in a position to pay it. In contrast to the right wing, he said that the payment of public services would come before the repayment of bondholders. He also emphasised the need for the working class and left across Europe to struggle together for a fundamental change in Europe.

The next speaker was from Synaspismos (the biggest grouping in Syriza, a euro-communist split from the KKE formed in 1991). While excoriating the right wing parties and the political leaders of Europe, the content of his speech was more tame. He emphasised that the time was not yet right for socialism in Greece, but that there were many ‘bourgeois democratic’ reforms that could be made, such as a reform of the electoral system and increases in taxation for the rich. In effect, he put forward a ‘stageist’ view, whereby firstly Greece would develop as a proper developed capitalist European country, before a later struggle for socialism.

Such a gradualist perspective seems to be totally at odds of the reality of what will happen if Syriza is the biggest party. On Monday morning, the markets in Greece and all across Europe will go haywire. Capitalism, in the form of the bankers and bondholders of the markets, as well as their political representatives in Germany and elsewhere, will go on the attack. The question of ownership and control of the financial sector in particular, together with the key sections of the economy, will have to be posed immediately if Syriza is to avoid a flood of money out of the country.

Immediately afterwards, I spoke to the speaker from DEA. He said it was now neck and neck between New Democracy and Syriza in the private polls that are circulating. In the papers, there are some reports of New Democracy pulling ahead by 1-2%, but he argued that in the latest polls it was back to even, as people had switched from the KKE and Democratic Left to Syriza to stop New Democracy winning..

I asked what he thought would happen if Syriza was elected. He confessed that he felt that Syriza was entirely unprepared for this eventuality. The members of Xekinima, the sister party of the Socialist Party, agree with that assessment. In the taverna afterwards, the Syriza member who had translated for me argued that they were in fact prepared and detailed a series of measures that would need to be taken in the 100 days after Syriza comes to power. However, I feel that a plan for 100 days is optimistic, there are many emergency measures that would need to be taken extremely quickly in order to stabilise the situation.

If Syriza wins on Sunday and if there is the possibility for a left government, the question will be quickly answered. One of the questions I will try to focus on in tomorrow’s blog is about how ‘preparing for power’ should not just be about preparing to be in government, but in preparing for socialist change and a workers’ government. That will require not just a victory for Left parties in the election on Sunday, but a fundamental struggle in the workplaces and streets to take economic and political power away from the capitalist establishment which currently holds it.