We have to spread the “Greek virus” to other countries

Interview with Anastasia Giamali from SYRIZA
The Greek elections are coming on the 20th of September. We ask four comrades and friends (Anastasia Giamali from SYRIZA, Yiannos Giannoulos from Laiki Enotita, Sokratis Giannopoulos from the former Youth of SYRIZA, Kostas Gousis from ANTARSYA) some questions about their experience of the Left Government, the split of SYRIZA, the relationship between Greece and Europe, the Memorandum, and the political positions of the party they support. They answered not as representatives of each party, but according to their personal opinion and, at the same time, as supporters or candidates of each party.
How do you evaluate the experience of the government of the Left these seven months?
The first seven months of governance were dedicated to the negotiation process with the creditors/institutions to such an extent that it pretty much absorbed all the energy of the government. Yet, we can reach some conclusions at least on a preliminary level: 
As far as the negotiation goes, most of the facts are now known to all and I don’t think that the problem concerned the negotiating strategy but the assumptions. SYRIZA did not expect that the creditors would push it to the limits and thus there was a lack of a complete proposal to deal with this situation, especially with the financial and banking asphyxiation. 

As far as “governance” goes, the emphasis was placed in the promotion of emergency legislation, some of it with a clear ideological stance (prison bill, citizenship bill, bill to tackle the humanitarian crisis). Indeed we must note that some of the legislative initiatives of the first period were very daring and progressive for the country given the timing.

From then on, my view is that SYRIZA –due to lack of time– failed to “govern” in the sense that it did not have enough time to change the governance model, so it merely staffed some key positions with people of trust, in order to –at least– be able to have an overview of a state and a state apparatus which had been designed and built to be hostile to anyone that is not part of the establishment.
After the whole period of negotiations, we woule like shortly your opinion a) the Eurozone and whether Grece should stay or not in it b) the EU as a field of struggle (for the movement, the Left etc).
During and after the negotiation some things became crystal clear. First, the mere existence of a leftwing government within the Eurozone worried and caused anxiety to the European elite.  Secondly, it became evident that within the Eurozone there are conflicting priorities and interests and there is no solid bloc.
On the other hand it was proven that with the systemic danger of contaminating Europe with the Greek virus, the choices were limited to cynicism, naked of any pro-European integration veil and in the end, hostile towards Greece. If a conclusion can be drawn given the parallel developments in other European countries (Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Corbyn becoming the new head of Labour in the UK) is that the EU remains the core of class struggle. 
What do you think are the immediate political priority for SYRIZA after the elections of 20/9? (basic demands, priorities, fronts of collaboration and tasks)?
It is fairly obvious that, as a whole, the Left has not lived up to the challenge presented by the times. This may have to do with inefficient analyses or organisational preparation, but at its core lie two things that together set a certain mood among both the people and the organisations of the Left: first, the ideologisation of the decade-long heritage of defeat and the idealisation of lost struggles; second, the abrupt change of Syriza's scale which was expected to turn from party to government. From then on, breakups and fragmentation are almost inherent to the history of the movement, not just in Greece but internationally. In every country there are many distinct left-wing collectivities, parties and groups, that are products of internal disruptions and that very often have indiscernible differences between them.
The Greek Left after several years of initiatives of collaboration like Syriza and Antarsya know is getting again split and divided. How do you evaluate the current situation and which do you believe are the future perspectives?
To answer that very briefly, the first strategic goal for both Greece and Europe is to not allow the “left-wing parenthesis” to close, that is to have a left-wing government after the election. Second goal: the renegotiation of all open matters, i.e. prevention of main home foreclosures, restoration of collective bargaining, retention of important infrastructures under public control. Third goal: combatting corruption both in its political and institutional aspect and in the framework of income redistribution via taxation, i.e. make the rich pay. 
 The recent years, Greece became the center of interest for the international movement because of the struggle of Greek people against austerity and also because of SYRIZA becoming the first left government. Where do you think we stand today after the signing of the third Memorandum? What is your message to the people that struggle in Europe and in the whole world?
The struggle continues. We are at a very early stage, we succeeded in bringing a left-wing party to power in the EU, our goal must be for the “Greek virus” to spread to other countries, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, so that a critical mass is formed for a confrontation with neo-liberalism on a European level. In Greece, Syriza was forced to retreat, because it was faced with a threat of sudden death orchestrated and promoted by the most extreme neoliberal circles in Europe and the Greek capitalist block, with the aim to get rid of the left-wing government in Greece and to intimidate the other European people. It is what Wolfgang Schäuble cynically described as “they will skin you like hares and wave your skins to Podemos”... Even if we look at it as a simple reflex action, the first goal of the movement both in Greece and abroad should be to refute the expectation of systemic forces all over the continent.
Anastasia Giamali is a journalist, candidate with SYRIZA  at the general elections of 20 September.

  • Published in POLITICS

Huffing and puffing for collapse, or looking for an umbrella?

Left with a New Perspective
Kostis Karpozilos
“A puff and it all comes down”. Thus spoke a wise older comrade in the spring of 1994. After laying out the structural contradictions in global capitalism, he reassured me that a mere puff of air – the collective breath of the global oppressed – would suffice for the ostensible victor of human history to be blown down like a house of cards. A few weeks later, the same comrade explained that a disappointing electoral result was the natural consequence of a dispiriting balance of power: “What did you expect? They are powerful…hold tight and let the storm pass”. Where earlier we had professed the imminent collapse of the global capitalist edifice under a puff of air, we then sought a sturdy umbrella with which to brave its onslaught.

This perpetual oscillation between voluntarism and fatalism constitutes one of the principal contradictions at the heart of the Left; its thought and action have historically vacillated between unconsidered optimism and passive internalization of failure. The past six months have been true to paradigm. Before the 2015 elections, Syriza  reassured us that the internal contradictions of the European Union, together with the pan-European recognition that the Memoranda had failed, would inevitably carve a space for the fruition of something of an ideal scenario: the endorsement of an alternative plan would bring about a radical revision of austerity policies without, however, endangering Greece’s position at the core of European integration. That promise has since been hollowed out, feeding into a further ritualistic stage of voluntarism: the rhetoric of unfavorable balances of power, the post facto admission that the opponent was almighty, that room for an alternative proposal was thus minimal from the start, and that, in such hostile conditions, the Left government was coerced into the decisions it took. 

The tendency on the Left to swing from heightened expectations to extreme disappointments has left all of us – regardless of our views about Syriza – concerned and bewildered about what will come next for the Left. Following Syriza’s negotiations with the creditors, the agreement now being imposed on Greece is anti-political for its neoliberalism. It has acted as a catalyst for increasing skepticism about the six-month experience of a Left government. Over those months, a peculiar exercise in patience led many to tacitly tolerate practices and choices which went against the grain of the anticipated turn in Greek politics and society. The welcoming of the remains of Saint Barbara, the petty nationalist festivities of 25th March, the resurrection of the old political personnel in the middle and upper echelons of the state apparatus and the absence of bold and radical initiatives in education and culture are all indications of a significant problem: the first six months of the Left’s governmental tenure did not signal a transformative moment in policy terms,  nor did they bring about an improvement in living and working conditions for the victims of the economic crisis. Yet we accepted this situation as entailing a set of necessary compromises in the run-up to a grand victory. Our expectations remained high. Now, the half-empty glass of those first six months – the main achievements of which were the passing of legislation granting Greek citizenship to migrants, moves to permit the payment of tax arrears in 100 installments, and some reform of the penal system – now looks emptier still, following the signing of the agreement and all that has happened since.

This experience has brought into relief three main questions facing the European Left in the 21st century. First, there is the question of what organizational form our political involvement should take following the collapse of the mass political parties that historically shaped the Left. Secondly, how do we move from the critique of neoliberal capitalism to concrete proposals for taking power and wielding it effectively? Third, how might we pursue alternatives to neoliberalism at a European level, across national borders? The contemporary Left has proved grossly inadequate in addressing these issues, choosing to avoid their thorny dimensions in favor of the reassuring glow of wishful thinking. The Left’s interpretation of the economic crisis is a case in point. Hundreds of pages of analysis insist that we are faced with a historic crisis of capitalism and with the domination of the most reactionary versions of neoliberal politics and economic thought. Such harsh conclusions, if sincere and not merely rhetorical flourishes, should surely have guarded against any expectation that the alternative plan to austerity put forward by the Greek government would be accepted. That expectation evinced a failure to recognize the true balance of power.

We are at a crossroads: a few months ago, the Greek case seemed the harbinger of a new status quo in which the 21st Century European Left might claim a leading role in shaping political developments. Now, the Left looks set to suffer a decisive defeat which may lead to the dominance of its opponents once again: to the silent recognition of the dogma that “There Is No Alternative”, and to the marginalization of the Left. Recognizing this problem is a necessary prerequisite if the following months are to escape from the spirit of defeatism and introspection which feels, especially for those who became politicized following the collapse of actually existing socialism, like “our own 1989”. The collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 brought about a crisis in all Left ideological currents, regardless of whether they identified with or opposed the Soviet paradigm, while the Greek 1989*  sealed the incorporation of the Left in the bourgeois political game. The danger today seems analogous: with the possibility of alternatives apparently defeated as Syriza hits the rocks, submission to the form and content of bourgeois politics gains ground.

The possibilities for a new beginning at this moment seem limited. Dialogue within the Left is confined to morally charged exchanges of blame and the odd witticism too on Facebook, or in long-established domains of debate which include ever fewer people and which definitely exclude the overwhelming majority of non-aligned Left activists. The Left needs to look for new forms of organization. We need a Left with a New Perspective which will systematically critique the Left’s inertia, its introspective spirit, by recommending tangible ways to overcome it. That is, of course, a very broad recommendation; I am not here suggesting particular organizational forms or strategies for the Left. Instead, I think we need a radical think tank capable of envisioning and pioneering equally radical forms of intervention in our everyday lives – our lives, that is, not the everyday lives of “others” – with the goal of facilitating the Left’s search for strategies that can successfully enforce its alternatives to austerity and neoliberalism. To prevent any misunderstandings, I am referring neither to a gathering of the aged “wise”, nor simply to a youth wing of already extant initiatives, but to the creation of a movement from scratch which, without grand ambitions, will create political possibilities, intervene in political realities and cast doubts upon past certainties.

In my opinion, any such new body must be innovative in its organizational form itself: it must be based on decentralized working groups, divided thematically, it must aspire to professionalism and productivity as working norms. It must engage with contemporary debates on the emergence of forms of dual power and it must, finally, comprise a creative extension of the numerous Greek initiatives, movements and publications that played a leading role in articulating radical critiques after 2008 and which are today called upon to decide on what comes next: a stormy forecast, as the wise comrade called it back in 1994.

In 1989, Synaspismos, one of Syriza’s predecessor parties, participated in a coalition government with the right-wing New Democracy.

 Kostis Karpozilos is a historian and member of the AnalyzeGreece editorial board 
Translated by Despina Biri

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