A victory ahead for Greece’s left?

May 22, 2014

Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, made gains in local and provincial elections ahead of a vote for European parliament that will take place continent-wide on May 22-25--and could give the left-wing party a decisive victory. If SYRIZA wins big, it could spell the end for Greece's coalition government, led by the center-right party New Democracy of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, with junior partner PASOK, the center-left party led by Evangelos Venizelos that was once the dominant political force in Greece.

Greece has been plunged into a depression by the economic crisis that struck the world economy in 2008. In return for a bailout of the Greek financial system, the "Memorandums" imposed by the "troika"--the European Union (EU), European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund--required drastic austerity conditions that have slashed working-class living standards. The measures have been met by a powerful working-class resistance--including one- and two-day general strikes, indefinite sectoral walkouts, the occupation of public spaces known as the "movement of the squares," and more.

In the spring of 2012, SYRIZA shocked Greece and Europe by nearly winning two national elections with its uncompromising opposition to austerity. It became the main opposition in Greece's parliament, and hopes to do well in the European elections, along with two smaller left forces: the Communist Party and ANTARSYA, a smaller left coalition.

Sotiris Martalis is a SYRIZA candidate for European parliament and member of of the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), which co-founded SYRIZA in 2004. DEA is leading force within SYRIZA's Left Platform, which unites the three revolutionary organizations of the Red Network with the left minority of Synaspismos, the dominant organization within SYRIZA. In this interview with DEA's newspaper, Sotiris talked about the left's goals for the election and what lies ahead in Greece.

WHAT SHOULD be the immediate goal for the left at this moment?

TO BRING down the coalition government of Samaras and Venizelos as soon as possible.

The government's latest program--a massive new package of austerity measures and neoliberal "structural adjustments" voted on recently--represents a further series of criminal measures against our class and our people. They must not be allowed the time to put them forward and implement them.

If the government is brought down, this will halt the process of implementing the austerity policies. It will create the necessary conditions for their reversal. I, together with the comrades of the Red Network and the Left Platform, belong to the forces and the people arguing that this goal should be pursued through tactics of social resistance from below.

After the big climax of social resistance in 2012--and especially clearly during the most recent months--we have witnessed social fatigue: a decline in participation in mass struggles and an attitude of waiting for the solution to come from the political-electoral arena. The responsibility for this development lies both with the trade union leaderships and the political leaderships of left-wing forces, but it is not the time to have this discussion.

SYRIZA supporters at a rally in Athens
SYRIZA supporters at a rally in Athens (Mirko Isaia)

My view is that getting rid of the coalition government of New Democracy and PASOK and a political victory for SYRIZA will bring the people back into the forefront of struggle--it will unleash a wave of hopes and of demands. It will reveal a social force that is ready to fight for its demands under a left-wing government, but also willing to defend a left-wing government in the inevitable confrontation with the right, the local ruling class and the international "creditors."

The mass movement in Greece had proven repeatedly that it is not easily controlled. The leadership of SYRIZA should keep that in mind when it makes the crucial choices in the coming weeks that will determine the character of the government and its policy.

The ruling class already has this in mind. That's the reason--not the only one, but the biggest--it is fighting to avoid having a left-wing government. It knows that this represents the danger of destabilization of all its policies during the crisis.

WHAT WOULD the consequences of a left-wing government coming to power in Greece be for Europe?

A LEFT-wing government that seriously tries to reverse austerity would create a domino effect. The situation in the member states of the EU is such that a single spark could start a fire.

The spread of a social and political rupture from Greece to other countries is therefore something we can hope for with a serious possibility of success. But this strategy has two preconditions:

First, that we will seriously try to reverse austerity in Greece. Center-left policies--attempted, for example, in Italy or France--didn't lead to a challenge to austerity because workers all around Europe realized this was not an alternative model.

And second, that the leadership of SYRIZA will find the strength to steadfastly challenge the EU and its policies with a left-wing agenda.

The policies of savage neoliberalism dominate all the European institutions today, from the Maastricht Treaty that formed the EU, to the Stability and Growth Pact, to the recent "European Super-Memorandum" that further institutionalizes austerity and neoliberal standards for all its member-states. These show that the EU cannot be transformed through a mild and gradual process of reform.

The left has to commit itself to the reversal of austerity in every country where it is struggling--and by any means necessary. This is what the slogan that we support--"Not a single sacrifice for the euro"--attempted to express. After the experience of the savage financial blackmail against Cyprus last year, I believe that the "any means necessary" to reverse austerity must include--though not necessarily as our first choice--a break with the Eurozone, the euro and the European Union.

This is not aimed at making a nationalist response to the crisis, but as part of our insistence that austerity must be reversed--and our dedication to the socialist emancipation of society.

CAN YOU talk about the debates and controversies inside SYRIZA?

THE COMRADES of the Red Network and the Left Platform argue that there needs to be a second wave of radicalization in SYRIZA.

We insist that there needs to be a clear policy of alliances, defending unity of action between SYRIZA, the Communist Party and ANTARSYA. We insist on an explicit statement of the goal of a left-wing government--in contrast to any kind of coalition with bourgeois parties.

In the debate about the main election statement of SYRIZA, we supported the left-radical parts and asked for a clarified polemic against the EU and its policies. In the process of picking SYRIZA candidates for the elections, we supported as strongly as we could the demand for greater collectivity and democracy.

These problems within SYRIZA are real, and they are acknowledged by its members and branches. But we believe that best setting to try to solve these problems would be a big political victory of SYRIZA. This is the goal we are working toward today. We are sure that after the elections, the necessary political discussion within SYRIZA--and not only there--will have a big potential.

To repeat, the combination of a strong social resistance in Greece along with the prospect of a possible break with austerity can create the circumstances for dangerous situation for our class enemies--and for a historical chance for our people and the left.

Translated by Panos Petrou

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