The Socialist 28 January 2015 |
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Syriza victory shows austerity elite can be beaten
That's the message ringing out from Greece in the aftermath of the country's parliamentary elections on 25 January. Workers and young people around Europe and the world were inspired by the victory of left party Syriza, which increased its vote from less than 5% in 2010 to be the biggest party - all on the basis of making a stand against cuts and debt.
Working class people in Greece and beyond will be keen to ensure the Syriza leadership carry out the promises it has made. We must use this example to build a mass working class party here which can stand firm against cuts, crisis and capitalism.
Greek workers marching in Thessaloniki, photo by Ged Travers (Click to enlarge)
Greece: Syriza comes to power in historic election
What we think:
An inspiration for workers and youth across Europe
Pay restraint, savage cuts in public services and mass unemployment have been the diet of workers across Europe for years. Many governments have been ejected from office, only to be replaced by other parties that have continued to offer the same thin gruel. Now in Greece, for the first time, the endless parade of pro-austerity governments has been broken.
Syriza, a left anti-austerity party, has won the elections. This was despite a massive campaign by the capitalist class, in Greece and internationally, to try and frighten Greek workers by saying that voting against austerity would lead to disaster. Correctly, the Greek working class and a big section of the middle class concluded that they had already suffered disaster at the hands of the capitalists and the troika and that the time for change was long overdue.
Throughout Europe, including in Britain, millions are avidly following events in Greece and wondering if it is possible to build a mass party that is opposed to austerity in their own country. Meanwhile the capitalist pro-austerity politicians are quaking in their boots. In Britain Labour leader Ed Miliband's response to Syriza's victory said everything about the road a Labour government would take: "Who the Greek people elect is a decision for them. We have set out our path for Britain: to make sure our country is fairer and more prosperous and balance the books." In other words Labour will continue with the same old austerity that we have suffered for the last five years. This was proved yet again last week when all but five Labour MPs voted for the Con-Dems proposal to build an additional £30 billion of 'deficit reduction' into the plans of the next parliament.
Xekinima (CWI Greece) on the march (Click to enlarge)
But Greece is a stark warning to the Labour Party. Its Greek sister party, Pasok, was in power from 2009 to 2012 and carried through eye-watering cuts. It has now been punished by the Greek electorate - receiving less than 5% in Sunday's election. Syriza meanwhile has gone from less than 5% of the vote to being the biggest party. The same fate that has met Pasok could face Labour in the coming years. Those trade union leaders and left Labour supporters who have praised Syriza need to realise that it took the creation of an alternative to the equivalent of Labour before anti austerity policies could win an election.
It is crucial that workers in Britain begin to create a new party that will stand for the millions not the millionaires. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is preparing the ground for such a party. TUSC involves a wide range of trade unionists (including the transport workers' union RMT), socialists and anti-cuts campaigners. As Dave Nellist, leader of TUSC explained:
"On 7 May we intend to stand over 100 parliamentary candidates and 1,000 council candidates in Britain's elections, all challenging in the same way as Greek workers have done, the idea from all the big parties promoting austerity that 'there is no alternative'". We appeal to all those who are inspired by the election result in Greece to join us in building TUSC's election challenge in May.
We also appeal to you to consider joining the Socialist Party. The victory of Syriza marks an important step in breaking with austerity. However, to be able to do so completely and permanently requires breaking with capitalism - a system that always puts the profits of the 0.1% before the interests of the majority - and building a democratic, socialist society. This would require taking into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy in order to put their huge wealth and resources to use to meet the needs of all.
The elections in Greece will put discussion on socialism - what it is and how to achieve it - on the agenda for a new generation. If you would like to know more apply to join the Socialist Party or get in touch with your local Socialist Party branch.
Greece revolts against austerity - is socialism on the agenda?
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Interview with a Greek socialist
On 26 January, following the sensational election result in Athens, Niall Mulholland (CWI) spoke to Andros Payiatsos, from Xekinima (CWI Greece).
Andros Payiatsos, photo Xekinima (Click to enlarge)
What is the importance of the Greek election results?
We can describe the result as of historical significance. It represented the collapse of the old forces that ruled Greek politics for decades. Also, the rise of a new left formation, Syriza, which shot up from 4-5% in 2010 to 36.5% now on the basis of a left, pro-working class programme.
In Greece there has been a total collapse of 27% of the GDP - worse than the occupation by the Nazis in World War Two from the point of view of economic collapse. Official estimates say 6.3 million out of the 11 million population are around or below the poverty line. Unemployment stands at 26-27%, youth unemployment around 55%. Around 100,000 youth have left the country.
These are the conditions under which the Syriza government is called upon to find solutions.
Today Syriza announced a coalition with Independent Greeks - why were they not able to reach an agreement with the Communist Party (KKE)?
Syriza appealed to KKE to form a government of the left parties. KKE refused - this is an outcome of the general sectarianism and isolationism of the Communist Party, who use the fact that there are ideological and political differences to say no to any kind of collaboration with any force of the left in Greece.
The KKE claims to be very proud because it increased its vote by 1% from June 2012. This is ridiculous because they got 5.5% now and 4.5% then, yet back in 1981 the KKE had 11%. This is the most devastating crisis of Greek society in decades and they are very proud to have received 5.5% - it's scandalous!
So this allowed the Syriza leadership to go into an alliance with 'Independent Greeks' to form a new coalition government. It is fair to say that a section of the leadership, the more right wing, were always in favour of a coalition government with the Independent Greeks, although they never publically stated so
The Independent Greeks began as a populist split from New Democracy (traditional right wing party) in 2012. At that time, Samaras (previous New Democracy prime minister) performed a summersault - from proclaiming to be against the memorandum (austerity deal signed with the IMF), to signing up to a new memorandum the minute he was in government. The Independent Greeks come from the right wing. They have no relationship to the working class or left polices. They support the market and the capitalist system.
They don't call for exit from the EU or the Eurozone but they are against the memorandum and austerity. They have a mild nationalistic (they describe it as "patriotic") character. They don't stand against the EU and the Eurozone but they might be willing to go along with such a policy if it comes to a serious clash with the Trioka.
It's a force that cannot provide any sort of sustainability for coalition with Syriza. It means that the new coalition government will be an unstable formation because it bases itself on forces that represent opposite camps.
The reaction of the left and workers to the Syriza victory internationally has been very enthusiastic - what about in Greece?
The rise of Syriza seems to be acting as a catalyst in relation to formations of the left and for social movements across Europe to go on the counter-offensive. The potential is definitely there for this.
In Greece it's not the same. The best way to describe the situation for the mass of workers and youth is that they heaved a huge sigh of relief at the election results but there is no wild jubilation. Syriza has put "too much water in its wine" to use a Greek expression - watered down its programme too much, particularly in the recent period.
Workers believe things cannot be as be as bad as before - they had a strong feeling that they had to put an end to these barbaric attacks by the government and Troika so they voted Syriza en masse. But they are very doubtful about what the next day will bring.
This was reflected by the fact that the central Athens celebrations on election night attracted about 5,000 people - not even half the membership of Syriza in Athens. Workers feel very restrained and some are even sceptical about the Syriza victory but they are very pleased that they punished Pasok and New Democracy, the main Troikan parties.
The neo-fascist Golden Dawn managed to hold up its vote, despite a clampdown by the State, including imprisonment of many of its leaders. Should this be of concern to the left?
It should be of very serious concern for the left. Despite all mass parties of the left tending to underestimate the dangers of neo-fascism, Golden Dawn has shown that it has a quite significant hard core of voters of hundreds of thousands.
It is an openly Nazi organisation now, and clearly murderous. Despite this, it was able to maintain a similar vote to 2012. This means that the danger of neo-fascism will come back to the fore again in the future, particularly if a Syriza-led government is seen to fail working people and the middle classes - the left has to be prepared for this.
What do you think will happen in talks between the new Greek coalition government and the Troika and, in particular, Chancellor Merkel's government in Germany?
This is a crucial question. It's clear that both sides want to negotiate and come to a compromise. Otherwise they know this could cause a chain reaction and a major crisis in the Eurozone. But the question is if they can come to a compromise.
Merkel and the Troika would probably be ready to grant an extension to the repayment of the debt, which would mean some lessening of the burden on the budget in Greece. But, on the other hand, there are things that Syriza cannot avoid being seen to try doing - that are considered by society, by Syriza voters and by Syriza's left rank-and-file, as basic and immediate.
Syriza will have to concede, as a minimum: the minimum wage back to the pre-crisis levels; social benefits to the completely downtrodden layers of society; aim to reinstate labour relations which have been completely deregulated; put an end to the conditions of slave labour which are frequent practice in the private sector - where workers are forced to work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week without even overtime pay; get rid of the goldmines in Halkidiki, which is a huge environmental issue; reinstate workers to their jobs at ERT, the national broadcaster.
If Syriza doesn't deliver these in the very first period of its government, it will immediately mean a major crisis inside Syriza - so it will move in the direction of carrying out these things. But, while basic to resolving the humanitarian crisis, these measures actually tear apart the programme applied by the Troika over the last four years.
Would the German ruling class be willing to make this kind of compromise with the Greek coalition government? This is doubtful, to say the very least. Therefore, while there can be no certainty about what the balance of forces will be, I believe that after these Greek/Troika negotiations the possibility of a default on the debt will come back forcefully.
We say that if Greece is forced to default and out of the Eurozone, a left government should immediately introduce capital and credit controls and a state monopoly of foreign trade, as part of a wide programme that needs to be introduced today anyway.
This should include nationalisation of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy, workers' control and management and planning of the economy to deal with the crisis and to safeguard workers' rights and living conditions.
What role will Xekinima play in the next period?
The leadership of Syriza will use the Independent Greeks as an alibi for not applying the necessary policies. So we have to demand a consistent pro-working class programme. If this means a crisis in the government and early elections then this is how it should be.
The main role that we can play, together with other forces of the left, is to campaign for these types of policies, particularly through the rank-and-file movements. I think that a major effect of this government on society, in the first instance, will be to provide a breathing space for the working class and the social movements. And then workers will mobilise to take back what they have lost over the past years.
In this situation, the Syriza government could shift left and even carry out policies which are far beyond what the leadership now envisages. Our main task is to help build the power and independent action of the working class.
The only solution to the crisis is a socialist programme. Any government which doesn't provide these policies will end up in crisis. For example, we call for Syriza to enact debt repudiation, to introduce a living wage and living pension, massive investment in welfare, health and education. A socialist programme also entails taking the big corporations into public ownership, under democratic working class control and management, for the benefit of the majority.
A socialist programme pursued by a left government would find an even more powerful echo than Syriza's current victory has across Europe. Working people everywhere would emulate the Greek workers. It would pose the need to struggle for a socialist confederation of Europe, on a free and equal basis.
During the election campaign, Xekinima was not able to come to an agreement with Syriza about standing candidates, but Xekinima still had a campaign during the election. How did that go?
We had a very good campaign, particularly taking into consideration that there were only eleven days of campaigning. The Syriza leadership would not agree to the candidates we proposed standing on local Syriza lists because they knew we would have MPs elected and that they would have been a pole of left opposition inside and outside Syriza.
Nevertheless Xekinima understood that what was necessary for society and the working class was a victory for Syriza in these elections. We had a very powerful campaign - every day we distributed close to 9,000 leaflets and we sold nearly 250 papers.
This brought us into contact with many people. We are planning public meetings in the various neighbourhoods in the next weeks because it wasn't possible to hold them during the election campaign.
#Syriza formed in 2004 & got 3.3%, 2007 5%, 2009 4.6%. Tonight it looks like >30%! Who's to say what anti-austerity #TUSC could do?
Dave Nellist, TUSC national chair
A new chapter has been opened by this ΣΥΡΙΖΑ victory - one that will ask new questions and mean relearning old lessons - but tonight workers of the world are celebrating!
Martin Powell-Davies, NUT national executive member
Greek voters say NO MORE AUSTERITY! They need our support
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary
#Syriza points the way to ending the era of austerity across Europe. Nobody should underestimate the anger and demand for change here.
John McDonnell, Labour MP
A great victory in Greece for Syriza. Anti-austerity is on the march. What Syriza does today TUSC will do tomorrow.
Tony Mulhearn, Former Liverpool City Councillor
#Syriza victory is a new chapter. Needs to default on debt, nationalise banks and big companies and introduce capital controls
Tony Saunois, Secretary, CWI
Whopping victory 4 #Syriza boosts left-wing parties & anti-austerity movement Europe wide #TUSC @TUSCoalition
The Greeks have reached the right conclusion that austerity can be rejected and that there is an alternative #celebrate #Syriza #GreekElections
Helen Ridett, London nurse
Media will still refuse to accept that there is a party in UK against austerity cuts. Not true. #voteTUSC there is an alternative! #Syriza
Nicky Downes, Coventry teacher