Presentation by Iannis Delatolas, delivered at AKNY panel on “Syriza and the Strategic Challenges of the Greek Left,” Historical Materialism 2013 Conference, April 27, 2013, New York. See also the papers by Costas Panayotakis and Despina Lalaki.
Anti-Capitalist Answers to the Crisis:
The Antarsya Perspective
A Historic Record Vote for the Left
After the June of 2013 Election the combined vote of all left parties (Syriza, KKE, DIMAR and Antarsya) was over 30%. In the working class districts of Athens, the same combined vote was well over 50%. This is a historic record high for the left forces in Greece and it points to the tremendous opening that can enable the left to pass some radical and much needed reforms and open a new phase in the struggle for emancipation.
What is fueling this radicalization in the working class is the brutal and sadistic terms imposed on the Greek economy by the IMF, the European Central Bank and the EU. The unrelenting austerity and subsequent cuts in social spending, combined with aggressive job losses as demanded by the terms of the Memorandum, are chocking the Greek economy. A 5% contraction of the economy is predicted this year for the 5th year in a row.
Mass unemployment is now at 27.2%. Last week Spain matched Greece with its own 27.2% unemployment record, the highest in all of Europe. A sure sign of the continued crisis of the Eurozone and its ongoing crisis.
Reports of children fainting at school due to lack of caloric intake are now common. So are images of weeping parents in despair and at a loss with no end in sight or relief.
Cancer patients are deprived of life saving medicine and cures.
Homelessness, something alien to Greek society before the memorandums, is also a feature of daily life. An estimated 25,000 people were sleeping in the streets last winter in Athens. There is a complete collapse of state agencies and relief organizations. There were no governmental agencies left intact to come up with this figure. It was compiled by NGO’s.
We also saw last winter a shocking cloud of smog, something one would imagine out of a Dickens text of 19th century London. As temperatures dropped most Greeks could not afford to pay for oil to heat their homes and took to burning firewood. This having caused a thick cloud of toxic fog that covered the city making large parts of it invisible.
These are the results of a vicious circle of austerity, where the Greek economy that is already in deep recession is pushed further into the ground by additional and more punishing austerity.
The Euro elite is determined to punish the most militant working class in Europe with such vengeance and sadism that the resulting tension could tear the Eurozone apart.
Greeks very rightly feel that the Greek economy is completely in the hands of the ECB and Berlin. This does not mean however that the Greek elites and their two parties New Democracy and Pasok are victims of the Troika. They are the Troika’s agents and with the Memorandums they have put in place the last nail on the coffin of the Greek Economy.
Memorandum 3 was passed under a thick cloud of teargas and massive repression. Junta-like attacks on democratic freedoms such as the right to strike, as we saw last winter when the Metro strikers were ordered back to work under invocation of martial law. Fierce police crackdown on protests, random arrests of immigrants and anyone who “looks like an immigrant” are commonplace. Arrests of antifascists and torture by the police while in custody have made the press all over Europe. And last week, Nikos Dendias the Minister of the Orwellian sounding “Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection” shut down the website IndyMedia Athens, due to their role in reporting on incidents of police brutality against protesters, and also on the dealings between the Police and the Golden Dawn.
Greece is now at 84th place of the Reporters Without Borders / Press Freedom Index, several spots bellow Kuwait.
While most Greeks are going hungry, without healthcare and impoverished with every day that goes by, wealthy Greeks are stashing away the wealth they have accumulated under the Eurozone markets, into Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid taxation, and also in a panic of a left takeover of parliament that might force them to pay their share.
The Rise of the Neo Nazis and the Police
Only a few years ago, Golden Dawn was an obscure and small organization of Nazis. Today, fueled by the crisis, Golden Dawn is predicted to gain 13% of the vote in the next election.
By falsely positioning themselves as anti-memorandum and anti-systemic, a relatively small party has made alarmingly big gains proportional to its size. They are reported as being an organization of less than 1,000 active members. Despite this they have succeed in forming stormtrooper-type street gangs, attacking immigrants and often killing them. Leftists and gays have also been victims of attacks late at night. Golden Dawn have also quietly worked alongside their “brothers” in the Riot Police, giving them a helping hand to crack attack protests outside Parliament.
50% of the riot police are Golden Dawn supporters, many proudly displaying the Nazi symbols on their helmets and gear. The regular police is infiltrated by the Nazis as well. There have been reports of people walking by a precinct near Omonia Sq, and hearing screams of immigrants being tortured while in police custody. Mistreatment and beating while under arrest are also commonplace for Greek citizens.
In an immigrant concentration camp in Amygdaleza the police attacked a group of hunger strikers, who were demanding they freedom. The police kicked and beat them while yelling at them “you will die if you do not stop your hunger strike”, and “you dirt should leave our country”. At some point fearing for a fatality due to the beatings they called in a group of doctors. The three doctors, one affiliated with the KKE, one with NAR and one with SEK, were able to sneak the 3 injured immigrants out and thus they were able to report on their torture by the Greek Police.
Critiques of Syriza
The leadership of Syriza is under a lot of pressure both onside the sessions of Parliament but also in the media. They are accused often of being terrorists, of planning to confiscate the wealth of the rich, nationalize the banks and spread chaos and communism in Greece. None of these attacks bear any truth. However in this context Syriza’s leaders are finding themselves in the position of having to answer these accusations and defend the party.
Their tour in the Americas was an attempt to show the IMF and the business world that they are as responsible as their counterparts in government in South America. We saw this to be the case especially in the meetings that took place at the DC think tanks like The Brookings Institution. But Syriza also held a panel in New York, at Columbia University.
In New York we saw a Syriza that went to great lengths to reassure and reiterate that a Greek exit from the euro (“Grexit,” as they called it) would not take place under their goverment. And that the debt would not be cancelled. There was an interesting moment when two American economists, Mark Weisbort and Tom Ferguson, both challenged the Syriza position, both citing the example of the Argentinian default on international loans in 2002. They pointed out the recovery and growth in Argentina today, after a few hard years following the devaluation of the currency. But their argument were not given much consideration. At one point a member of the audience asked the Syriza delegation if they found it strange that the Americans on the panel took positions way to the left of Syriza.
Stathis Kouvelakis has echoed similar ideas, but with the further twist that accepts the limitations of the movement as a given and misses something integral in Marxist thought, the dynamic of the struggle and how the intervention of revolutionaries in the class can open up new fronts of resistance and gains for the workers:
“What is really striking about the Greek situation is that 24 general strikes, occupations by hundreds of thousands of people of the main squares of the country for weeks in spring 2011, all that has been unable to obtain a single significant success. None of the memorandums—or not a single measure, actually, of those absolutely barbarian and draconian austerity packages—was retreated. It became thus absolutely clear that, for all those who wanted to stop and reverse these types of policies, what was needed was a political alternative.”
To accept that the only recourse left for workers in Greece today is the ballot box is to seriously undermine the stakes and also responsibilities of socialists. As the latest report of record high unemployment in both Spain and Greece indicates, the crisis in the Eurozone is deepening. To think that an electoral victory by Syriza will be sufficient as a response to the rise of fascism in such fertile ground for the far right is problematic. What would a Syriza government do to deal with another racist pogrom by Golden Dawn? Send in the riot police? But the riot police include the Nazis. Clearly a dialectic between the party and the class needs to open up. It will be the most militant and class conscious workers that would respond and challenge the Nazis in such a scenario. But this requires intervention now in the unions to build this type of mutual trust between the left and the rank and file. The current overtures to the bankers, and the walking-back on promises to restore wages to pre-memorandum levels, are not constructive in this direction.
The most important critique of the Syriza leadership in my opinion is the absence of Syriza from the workers movement and the antifascist struggle in the streets. Their emphasis now seems to be on proving that they are a responsible opposition, and after the election a responsible government that will not upset the status quo too much. This has put the party “on pause.” To the comrades who explain this as a pre-election strategy that will be reversed after the electoral victory, I want to ask this: Who is the audience of such cautiousness? It is not the workers. Doesn’t this reorientation away from the class in turn cause a change in the class nature of the party? Is this policy not dragging the whole party, including its leftwing, to the right? And is this maybe a one way street?
Last December in the Public Worker’s Union ADEDY there was a proposal by Antarsya and the anticapitalist left for a 5 day strike. The issue at hand was that 24-hour general strikes are not effective in bringing the government down. During that time, municipal buildings all over Athens were occupied by workers trying to defend their jobs. The Syriza and KKE syndicalists refused to support the call for the 5-day strike and an opportunity to defeat the austerity government was missed.
Syriza Abstains from Anti-Fascist and Anti-Racist Initiatives
January 19th this year marked the largest antifascist day of action, in Greece and also globally. There were actions in about 30 cities in Europe, Australia, Poland and as well here in New York where we picketed the Consul General of Greece. Antarsya and KEERFA (Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat, a united front of antifascists), organized Athens AntiFascist City. This was probably the largest international response to fascism since the 1930’s. Syriza and the KKE joined in the effort only a couple days before, and Syriza made a token appearance as a party with 2 banners and a handful of members, who were deeply unhappy with the lame presence of their party. However, the point here is that the two larger parties of the left can be pulled into confronting the Neo Nazis by United Fronts like KEERFA.
On April 18, in Manolada in the Peloponnese, 28 immigrant workers were shot by their foremen on the urging of the strawberry farm owner where they were working. The Bangladeshi workers were holding a protest to demand back pay for the last 7 months. Eight of them were sent to the hospital with serious injuries. This was a mafia-style attack with clear input by local fascists.
While Antarsya engaged with the immigrant workers and organized a 1000-strong demonstration, with a union-organizing drive under way, the local Syriza MP made outrageous statements about how this was an isolated incident and how bosses have also suffered in the crisis. Even the sectarian and conservative KKE sponsored its own, separate action. Sadly Syriza did not make an appearance.
What I have this far tried to show is that there has been a substantial rightward shift by the leadership of Syriza.
We do not take joy in this and hope that pressure will be applied by the comrades in Syriza to address these serious problems. A party with a name that includes the words “Radical Left” needs to reflect the meaning of those words in the day to day interventions. The aim of these critiques is to help deepen the debate and to help pull Syriza hopefully back towards class politics and into the streets in the fight against Nazis and austerity. The ballot needs to be secondary in this approach and intervention in the movement primary.
There is I believe an example that can serve as a cautionary warning from the history of the left. In 1970 a broad left government came to power in Chile in an electoral tsunami that brought the government of Allende to power. The Unidad Popular went ahead with nationalizing industries, a very popular policy in the Chilean workers movement. The ruling class with the aid of the fascist right and with plenty of help form Washington went on the offensive. The workers initially came out and occupied factories and workplaces, only to be told by Allende to retreat and to respect the rule of law. The MIR, a sizable organization of the far left, was not independent enough from the Unidad Popular to challenge Allende and to lead the occupations forward towards a clash with imperialism and the Chilean industrialists. On September 11, 1973 the presidential palace was bombed by the Generals. The bloodbath we are all familiar with had been set into motion.
Here lies the strength of the Antarsya position to remain independent of Syriza.
The Antarsya Positions
Antarsya advocates for a strategy of Left Unity of the left parties Syriza, KKE and Antarsya.
The positions that it argues are:
-Cancellation of the debt. The debt is not ours; it belongs to the Greeks who are stashing their Euros in Swiss bank accounts. Their two parties ND and Pasok and their deals with the bankers are responsible for the debt.
-A break with the Eurozone. To place the Left Goverment in a position of independence from the blackmails of ECB and Berlin.
-Reopening of all closed factories and enterprises under worker’s control. Rehiring of all fired workers.
-Nationalization of all banks and large enterprises, to aid the recovery of the devalued currency after the break with the euro.
-Blocks to prevent capital flight out of Greece.
-Legalization of all immigrants and citizenship for all of their children born in Greece; this to strengthen the workers movement and to break the back of the neo-Nazis.
This type of program can set Greece on a transitional period if these arguments are won in the workers movement. Workers councils and workers control can become a reality with this type of strategy. This can be our answer to the blackmail and the threats of finance. Internationalism from bellow can open the way for workers in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Cyprus to break with the euro of the bosses.
This might not be an easy program to champion, but it is the best chance we have for a victory of Socialism over Barbarism.
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