Greece: Prospect of Syriza victory raises workers’ hopes

Interview with Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI in Greece)

Last time we spoke you told us of the campaign of fear by the establishment to try and prevent people voting for Syriza. How has this developed?

The circus of the ruling class and its political representatives are now demoralised. They started a big fear campaign but it became absolutely clear that it would have no significant effect and that Syriza will be the next government. The question now is, will it be a minority or a majority government? Although the ruling class still try to keep the fear campaign going, it’s very weak and not effective. They have now shifted their focus to further “domesticating” Syriza, to ensure that it governs within the limits they impose.
What now seems the likely outcome of the election?

It’s generally accepted here and internationally that Syriza will win. In the last week there is a small increase for Syriza in the opinion polls – of about 1%. Really this is a stabilisation of Syriza’s lead. Including abstentions, Syriza’s support stands around 25-27%, discounting these it rises to about 30-33% – close to, but not sufficient for, a majority government.

What are the alternatives to a majority Syriza government?

The Syriza leadership see “Independent Greeks” party – a “patriotic”, populist split from New Democracy (the main right wing, capitalist party) as the most viable possibility for a coalition partner. This party took a position against the Memorandum and the Troika from the beginning.

Most of the left are not willing to cooperate with Syriza. The Communist Party rejects even the possibility of voting in parliament for Syriza to form a government – they have a disastrous sectarian position.

If the “Independent Greeks” do not have enough MPs either, then Syriza would be pushed to collaborate with parties which are considered to be “Troikan” parties (those that have accepted and implemented or supported in general the austerity policies inflicted on Greece by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank), such as “The River” or former Pasok Prime Minister, George Papandreou’s new party, “Social Democratic Movement”.

What is the response of the ruling class to the increasing likelihood of a Syriza victory?

They now concentrate on trying to make sure a Syriza government will be as stable and effective as possible for them. There are big sections of capitalist spokespeople in Greece and internationally which say “it’s time to negotiate” and that “we must be flexible” etc. This is an attempt to incorporate Syriza into the establishment and to put a break on the dangers which Syriza may represent for their interests in terms of releasing powerful mass movements and taking measures which go against austerity.

But it’s important to know that this is not uniform. For example, the German ruling class and the countries around it still have a hard-line position against any serious negotiation. They will undoubtedly be willing to make some concessions to a Syriza government in negotiations, but of a very limited character.

How is Syriza responding to this pressure?

The leadership is responding in precisely the way that the ruling class would like. The whole programme has become absolutely blurred. Even some of the reforms that have been considered very basic are now under question.

For example, Syriza leader Tsipras was recently asked in an interview about the major struggle of the people of Halkidiki against the gold mines. He didn’t take a clear position but he said “the law will be enforced” and “the contracts will be scrutinised” – what does that mean?

In relation to the minimum wage, which was one of the major points in the programme of Syriza, it’s now not clear when it’s going to be done – there’s now talk of a gradual implementation. In regard to the privatisations and the sackings of thousands from the public sector that have taken place, they say: “we shall study the lawfulness of what took place”.

Given this, there is little real enthusiasm for Syriza in society. But there is also a feeling that there is no choice, we have to vote for Syriza and give it a majority government if possible. There is a feeling that even if they do one tenth of what they promise, things will still be better than today.

How has Xekinima (CWI in Greece) participated in the elections and why?

We support a vote for Syriza and have launched a very big campaign. We produced 150,000 four-page bulletins and a special edition of our paper which sold out, so we have reproduced it, which is impressive considering the election campaign is, actually, only 11 days long!

As part of the “Initiative of 1000” (coalition of left groups united around a radical anti-capitalist programme), we discussed with Syriza about standing candidates on its lists. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do so. The Syriza leadership wanted an alliance with other forces on the Left, but of a merely token symbolic nature, in which these other forces would stand no real chance of being elected. They ruled us out from standing candidates in the areas in which we would have a very powerful and effective campaign. We said if there is going to be collaboration with other forces of the left then Syriza has to give these forces the potential to get a good result – there’s no point if you take away their strongholds and only allow them to have candidates where they stand little or no chance of being elected. On top of this, there was a very limited time to campaign. On this basis both Xekinima and other comrades in the Initiative of the 1000 decided that we would not stand.

The attitude of the Syriza leadership to this is indicative of a wider trend. For example, 50 individuals who are not members of Syriza were included in the Syriza lists across the country. Of these, only 1 is to the left of SYRIZA! They want a parliamentary group that will be very well controlled by the right wing of the party.

The main reason we support Syriza, despite these limitations, is that its victory will have a liberating effect on the working class, the movements and society in general. There is an expectation from the working class that under a Syriza government the massive attacks will stop and, at least, to a certain extent be reversed, and that some of the demands of the mass movement will be satisfied. So, despite the lack of clarity on the part of the leadership, and its accommodation to the demands of the ruling class, we believe that a Syriza victory will represent a significant shift in the balance of class forces in Greek society – it can have a catalysing effect and unleash a new period of working class struggle.

Maybe Syriza will not change the laws on the labour market, which has been completely deregulated, but workers will come out to demand their right not to be sacked, to an eight hour day, to overtime payments, and to collective bargaining. Maybe Tsipras is not ready to kick the gold mines of “Eldorado Gold” out of Halkidiki but people of Halkidiki have no choice but to come out and demand that the company stops the works on the gold mines. We expect this to take place throughout the working class movement in Greece. Maybe Tsipras won’t be willing to abolish TAIPED, the body that is overseeing all the “fast track” privatisations now taking place, but workers will feel that now they can move into action to resist these sell offs – whether they be of public utility companies or of beaches, mountains and forests.

Whatever compromises the leadership is willing to make, the workers will feel there’s a much better environment to fight to defend their rights and this is the fundamental reason that Syriza should be given conditional, critical support.

We make it very clear that we don’t just call for a vote for Syriza itself, we call for a radical, revolutionary socialist programme as the only viable road for a Syriza government.

What does Xekinima think that a Syriza government should do the day after its elected?

Of course, it should immediately paralyse the payment of the debt and rip up the memorandum with the Troika, which are fundamental to any plan to combat the misery of the Greek people.

It should immediately change the labour laws and laws for the universities (to allow for asylum on campuses, freedom of speech, free assembly etc). Raise the minimum wage to what it was before the onset of the Troika – back to €750. Close down TAIPED the body which is responsible for the privatisations of the public works and the natural beauties and resources of the country. And freeze and repeal all privatisations that have taken place in recent years. Put an end to controversial projects which are under construction now – like in Halkidiki.

This would cause a reaction by the capitalist establishment, nationally and internationally. This could only be challenged successfully by implementing bold anti-capitalist measures, nationalising the banks and the commanding heights of the economy to plan the economy on the basis of need, not profit. This should be done on the basis of democratic workers’ control and management.

And it must be linked to the struggles of the workers across Europe. We are sure that if Syriza went ahead with such a programme it would have a major effect internationally, particularly for the working class of southern Europe. This could lay the basis for an international socialist alternative to the capitalist EU and Troika rule.

In the election campaign Syriza does refer to the international aspects of their policies and to Podemos (the new left party in Spain), and other “progressive” movements internationally. Despite Syriza’s programme being so mild and compromising, it is still having a major effect on a European and international level. This shows what could be achieved if it had a more radical, socialist programme – the potential is there. At the moment, Syriza’s policies are neo-Keynesianism – for an end to austerity within the capitalist system.

In the conditions of capitalist crisis, such a programme is not really viable. Only a programme which breaks with the capitalist system can offer a way forward. This can only be achieved through the mass intervention of the working class, and the popular masses, which could, under certain conditions, push Syriza far further to the left that the leadership envisage or imagine. This is what Xekinima will be struggling for in the period after SYRYZA is elected to government.