The SYRIZA Split and Popular Unity (LAE)

From the Referendum to the split  of Syriza and the creation of Popular Unity (LAE): Α critical presentation

Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos

Following 5 July referendum the two parties that fiercely campaigned for a NO vote and won it were fraught with splits: both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA are different parties to those that stood for election in January. However, SYRIZA’s sheer size, its position within the political system and  its stance of violent confrontation – no longer with the EU but with much of the Greek Left itself – make its own split and partial liquidation a key determinant in the coming elections. Two inter-related yet distinct processes contributed to this split and liquidation.

The first and arguably most significant of these processes, is the split of the Left Platform (LP), the main opposition within SYRIZA, and the consequent formation of Popular Unity (PU), now running for election behind Panayiotis Lafazanis.  The LP was constituted by former KKE members (also known as the Left Current) and other smaller groups – primarily anti-capitalist/Trotskyist organisations (known as the Red Network). The LP now forms the bulwark PU, in the company of groups that split from ANTARSYA (ARAN, ARAS) and former SYRIZA MPs running as independents (such as the former President of the Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou). The party has also received the support of the Left Radical Initiative (LRI) – an ad hoc formation of members of the ‘53+ Initiative’, the left Eurocommunist tendency of SYRIZA, some of whom remained in SYRIZA, while others left without joining PU.  

The formation of PU
The formation of PU was announced a day after the government’s resignation and the consequent call to snap elections. It should be stressed that the call to elections was the initiative of Alexis Tsipras and not of the party, none of which organs were consulted. Furthermore, it was a decision that disregarded and nullified SYRIZA’s Central Committee’s decision to hold a party conference before the elections. Thus, on 21 August, Panayiotis Lafazanis, one of the most prominent party officials of SYNASPISMOS – eventually of SYRIZA –, the leader of the LP, and a minister in the SYRIZA-ANEL government, announced that 25 MPs of the LP would be leaving SYRIZA.  The LP’s three representatives (including the ‘moderate’ Alekos Kalyvis) in the party’s Political Secretariat also left on the same day, while 53 members of the LP resigned from SYRIZA’s Central Committee shortly afterwards.

However, the liquidation of SYRIZA should not be ascribed simply to the departure of those party officials who went on to form LU. Indeed, the departure of officials and members who had belonged to the majority faction of the party and who had supported Tsipras since his early days as a leader of SYRIZA, brought about an equally damaging blow. These departures stimulated a domino effect, leading to the resignation of the party secretary, Tasos Koronakis, of the majority of the Youth Branch (a gesture accompanied by a call not to vote for SYRIZA), and of dozens of Central Committee and Provincial Committee members across the country. Following the same vein, many MPs announced that they would not run for re-election. Many of these party officials once formed Tsipras’s (very) close circle, while others represented the very groups that had founded SYRIZA – among them the 17 prominent members of KOE –a group with links to Maoism- who have been part of the party’s opposition in the past year.

Thus it appears that contrary to the party’s public statements, the SYRIZA “bleed”, that tipped the internal balance of power in favour of Tsipras’s loyal supporters, was not solely attributable to the LP. The de facto split of both the former majority and the former minority suggests an overall liquidation of the party, given the former majority had been a heterogeneous group whose cohesion was guaranteed only by its unified opposition to the LP.

Were this split and liquidation unavoidable?
Were this split and liquidation unavoidable? What is the political potential of PU now, less than a week before the general election? And what is the political map of the Left now that internal battles have torn down the euphoria brought about by the January elections?

Let us bring some facts to the table. On 10 July, three MPs and two out of the three LP members of the Political Secretariat of SYRIZA (with the exception of Alekos Kalyvis) asked Tsipras to respond to the ‘Institutions’’ blackmail surrounding a third austerity package with an ultimatum: ‘a new program with no further austerity measures that guarantees liquidity and the write-off of the debt or Greece will leave the Eurozone and will stop paying the unfair and unsustainable debt’. After that and until the parliamentary vote for the third austerity package on the 14 July, 25 MPs close to the Left Platform, together with the President of the Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, voted against the proposed austerity measures, even as they pledged support for the government.

Dissenters were not only to be found among MPs or among members of the LP. On 15 July, 109 out of 201 members of SYRIZA’s Central Committee, demanded the rejection of the third austerity package and an emergency gathering of the Committee, which had been largely inactive throughout the seven months of SYRIZA’s government. At the same time, PMs from the ‘53+ Initiative’, a constitutive tendency of Tsipras’s majority, together with MPs without party tendency affiliations, occasionally chose to abstain in certain parliamentary votes.

The crisis within the party gradually spread to the government. On 17 July, a cabinet reshuffle left Panayiotis Lafazanis, Dimitris Stratoulis, Kostas Isychos, and Nadia Valavani (an independent working along with the LP who had resigned a few days earlier) without portfolios: retribution for their votes against the austerity measures required for the conclusion of the new Memorandum. After the government’s expulsion of those dissenters, an agreement could be concluded.

Despite this escalation of tensions both within the party and within the government against the backdrop of the looming third Memorandum, SYRIZA’s Central Committee did not meet until 30 July: seventeen days after the conclusion of the Memorandum agreement.  In order to avoid a split (or for others, in order to postpone it to a more auspicious time) the Central Committee avoided making any decisive statements on the third austerity package. The decision was backed by the LP in a period in which SYRIZA’s tendencies had taken to functioning as ‘cartels’ – a modus operandi inherited from SYNASPISMOS.  Thus, Tsipras’s majority proposed holding a party conference in September 2015, with the new party delegates and before general elections took place. The LP tried to push through a party conference with the same delegates as the previous one, which had taken place in July 2012, so that the Party could have a binding decision on the subject of the third austerity package before the relevant vote in the Parliament. Two weeks later, on the 14 August, the third Memorandum was voted in with 222 out of 300 MPs – a quote bought with the support of SYRIZA, ND, PASOK, and To Potami. However,  44 SYRIZA MPs voted against the party’s whip -- voting “no” or abstaining.

On 20 August, once the LP had pointed out that a party conference following the third Memorandum agreement would be entirely pointless,  Alexis Tsipras announced the resignation of the government and called snap elections, circumventing the Central Committee’s decision to hold a party conference before the next election. That was the beginning of the end of SYRIZA as we knew it. 

***

Who is to blame for the breakup?
For about a month and a half, Syriza turned into a blame-game playing field. Who is to blame for the breakup? Is it the party's leadership that “betrayed the Greek people's NO at the referendum, by signing an onerous 3rd Memorandum”? Or is it the Left Platform, for “being a party within the party for a long time, and finally overthrowing the first government of the Left in Europe since WWII”? Was the breakup unavoidable, given the profound divergence of viewpoints – especially as regards the Eurozone and the Memorandum – held by the party’s constituent tendencies? Is it fair to say that Alexis Tsipras' personal decision to call elections, ignoring all party procedures was, at the very least, a catalyst?

The Left Platform has every right to claim that it was alone in insisting on the need to prepare for the possibility of a Grexit. After all, it was Syriza's intention from its founding Conference (2013) that the forecasted negotiation not be a friendly chat with good-willing partners, but rather a head-on confrontation that would leave all eventualities open; Syriza summarised its policy with the motto “No sacrifice for the Euro, no delusion for the Drachma”. This stance seemed already relinquished by 20 February, when the Greek government’s agreement with the Troika included a promise to repay Greece’s non-sustainable debt in full and on time, together with the waiving of state rights to any unilateral action regarding the labour market and the banking system.  For this, Tsipras fell under heavy criticism from the Left Platform. In this context, SYRIZA’s main problem was not the Left Platform’s antagonistic strategy towards the leadership, but rather the acceptance of a 3rd Memorandum as an unavoidable choice – a gesture that drastically compromised the leadership’s reputation. To add to that,  the abolition of all democratic procedures within the party and, ultimately, the deconstruction of the party itself – given all its organs and departments were running on “safe mode” during the most critical and eventful period (from January onwards) – essentially yielded a left revival of the TINA doctrine, as many government officials reassured their European partners that they will faithfully implement a Memorandum that even the IMF finds to be at fault. The wave of resignations from SYRIZA was made up by forces much broader than today’s Left Platform. The combination of the acceptance of the 3rd Memorandum (in stark contrast to the party's policy) only one week after the resounding NO of the referendum, together with the suspension of all collective party procedures that culminated in the cancellation of an agreed Convention, proved to be explosive (though underestimated by the leadership), leading hundreds of cadres and members to resign, and many of those who stayed were left indefinitely paralysed, uncertain of what to do next.

Yet, none of the above is meant to suggest that the Left Platform is beyond reproach. In my opinion, the most serious point of critique is this: the Left Platform invests more effort in denouncing the Memorandum and in capitalising on the (well-deserved) anger at Syriza's mutation, than in a concrete alternative plan for overcoming the crisis, which will be fiercely fought by the capitalist class in both Greece and Europe. So, while Syriza leaves a window open for post-electoral cooperation with Pasok, Potami, and even ND, so as to form a coalition government that will be able to implement 56% of the Memorandum within 2015, as the 14 August agreement dictates, and while, among the forces of the Left that have a good chance to make it to Parliament in this coming election, Popular Unity seems to be the party whose program comes closest to representing the 62% of the people who voted NO, dismissing the threat that this would mean an automatic Grexit. The question seems inescapable: why, only ten days before the election, do polls show that Popular Unity will probably win less than 5-6% of the vote? How do we explain this discrepancy?

To begin with, at least for now, Popular Unity is more interested in wielding discontent for Syriza's defeat in its favour  than it is in explaining it convincingly, for example by referring to the partners' extortions, China and Russia's unwillingness to support Greece outside the Eurozone, etc. Popular Unity seems to interpret Syriza's capitulation not as defeat, but as treason – as if decisive support for a Grexit were in itself enough to turn things around. Reducing politics to the question of currency is the reason why Popular Unity seems disconnected from important struggles such as the movement against gold mining in Chalkidiki, or seems to have restricted appeal to large segments of youth, despite its efforts to approach them. What is also remarkable is that, here as well, democratic and pluralistic processes in instituting and running the new formation are underemined in favour of a hyper-centralisation that the leadership tries to justify on the grounds of the pressing timeframe to the election. 

There are of course other reasons why Popular Unity lags far behind the referendum's 62%: that NO was a phenomenon that stood and still stands in excess of party frameworks or loyalites, which makes searching for an “authentic political exponent” a futile task. What's more, widespread disappointment at the left government's capitulation and the 3rd Memorandum falls on everyone: mutatis mutandis, the collapse of actually existing socialism in 1989-1991 did not just bring the end of its proponents but also consigned its most insightful critics to near-triviality. In Greece around that same time, the breakup of the Communist Party that let thousands of its members to resign, did not bring any electoral success to the New Left Current (NAR) which received a mere 0.9% of the vote in the following election. 

While it is undoubtedly too early for anyone to predict the outcome of the tendencies presented here, it is certain that both a real political front capable of harnessing the heritage of the referendum's NO and a European anticapitalist left that – urgently necessary in the deepening capitalist crisis –, have to take into account the words of the French economist Michel Husson: “There is no easy way out of the dramatic situation in which Greece is today locked. Euro exit, now, for Greece, would perhaps be less costly than the application of the third memorandum, still more monstrous than the previous ones. But this is not a royal road, and this should be said, honestly. Then, there is the risk of making it the solution to all the problems of the Greek economy, whether they concern the productive structures or the power of the oligarchy. Euro exit is almost always presented as a sort of magic wand” [1].

Popular Unity could really contribute to deterring the “Italisation” of the Greek Left (i.e. its disintegration and vapourisation after governing experience) –that is, if it does not try to imitate the famous Italian magician, Houdini.

NOTES
[1]       Michel Husson, “The good drachma? A modest contribution to the debate“, International Viewpoint, 27 August 2015, http://hussonet.free.fr/drachmuk.pdf

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou and Ntina Tzouvala

 
  • Published in POLITICS

SYRIZA, from the historic victory to the humiliating capitulation and the political crisis

 Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
No pain, no gain.  Following the relevant endorsement by the national assemblies of Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Latvia, the European Commission and ESM announced the approval of the 2-year loan of €86bl to Greece. This came just a few days after the parliament approved the third MoU tabled by a left-wing government supported by bourgeois parties and dominant media, following once again an urgent, self-humiliating parliamentary process under the Eurogroup's pending decision.
 
Yet another general election which is around the corner and the party congress which was decided by the Central Committee but yet to be confirmed, are both likely to be nothing more than a process to reaffirm Prime Minister Tsipras' dominance in the party and the political system.  If someone was to claim back in early July that we would reach this point, he would have been accused of being out of touch with reality. Still, here we are now.
 
All of us who found ourselves fighting for SYRIZA over the last eleven years and particularly over the last seven years of the crisis-attack, all of us who supported the case of Europe's first post-WWII left-wing government, all of us who believed that such a government, even a moderate left-wing government, could actually survive in the neo-liberal darkness of the EU, can today claim we are in the middle of a crushing defeat. This defeat which should be discussed and registered as a political defeat, not as a moral betrayal, i.e. the government's forced capitulation is our collective failure; it represents an ominous sign of imperialist obtrusion beyond any democratic framework.  There are a number of objective and subjective reasons for this failure - and as far as the latter are concerned, there are individuals throughout the government and party hierarchy and throughout SYRIZA's ideological and political spectrum, who share, even if not equally, the responsibility.
 
The situation is already clear: the trauma and the consequences of this defeat, sealed by the third MoU, will leave an indelible trace. SYRIZA will never be the same - and this particular 'ending' is already a key factor of the unfolding political crisis.  The current crisis, as a continuation of the representation crisis back in 2007, has already got an impact on all manifestations of left-wing political forces in Europe in the political and social race of the third MoU era which has just begun.  And it is too early to say how the crisis could be resolved, let alone be optimistic about its outcome.  Nonetheless, we do need to urgently come up with some "working hypotheses" as regards the next steps so that we can defend the working class and youth against the third MoU, keep the clash that the recent referendum demonstrated, alive - so that the pro-NO Left can consider what the victorious Left will be like in the new era.
 
The referendum
 

The obvious starting point of any kind of evaluation and planning is the victorious outcome of a clash of social classes that took international proportions on 5 July, which just within a week was turned upside down reducing itself to the government's humiliating settlement with the Troika.  All of us who fought in this battle, know that  in political terms time has never felt denser, that our clash has never been that genuine or existential, that our joy for this shared victory has never been greater. But at the same time we know that the leadership and planning deficit has never been that crucial for a class clash of such a scale: let me just remind you that up to the Wednesday before the referendum we didn’t know if there was going to be a referendum at all; up to Thursday we were listening to ministers and MPs assuring the electorate that there was going to be a deal (some of them went as far as suggesting a YES vote); for a whole week we witnessed State broadcaster ERT neutrality while the bourgeois media were plotting, and our people were being blackmailed at their workplace and at the ATM queues without us being able to defend them.  The government rightly condemned the EU coup against it; those days felt like we were members of the Popular Unity merely handing out leaflets while Allende was under threat.
 
This is a key point we should consider:  the referendum, i.e. that citizens’ involvement was a spontaneous, almost instinctive choice of the government in an attempt to halt the downward spiral of the negotiation – a kind of survival spasm just before drowning; a turning point in the course of continuous compromise with a few quelling peaks that the deal was “a matter of days” (that lasted four months…) and of tactics  put in place in 20 February that left no room for the masses to play a role and inevitably no role for the SYRIZA party.
 
 
From (ultra) continuity of the State to class capitulation
 
But if money and people’s support are the sources of power in our societies today, the Government suspended its key advantage for five months, by not lining up the masses; instead it called people in the frontline when its tactics had already failed under a crashing balance of power, when its “red lines” had already faded in the “47 page proposal” which in itself was difficult to defend because of lack of power.  This phase was concluded with the masses once again on the sidelines of the Government’s planning, with the resigned interpretation of the referendum mandate and the meeting of the council of political party leaders, far from any party procedure. 
 
Of course the responsibility of these choices is different for each of those involved and it can be clearly attributed to certain known individuals. At the same time SYRIZA’s founding documents had foreseen that the negotiations would not be a friendly discussion amongst partners.  This kind of non-participatory model of governance with the party fully subjected to the government was not everyone’s preferred option.  Still, left-wing evaluation cannot be limited to specific moments in time or particular individuals; it should depend on wider processes and, ultimately, on a class struggle level.  What I mean is that instead of talking about “treason” and “traitors” at highest leadership level, it would be far more constructive to argue that the Greek bourgeois class fought an existential battle in support of YES against a solid international block, by activating mechanisms and alliances in order to support the equally existential objective of staying in the Eurozone.  On the other hand and to the extent that the blackmailing “MoU or disorderly default and Grexit” was a genuine and reliable one, the Government should have prepared for revolutionary conditions. In an attempt to avoid such conditions, the government’s plan was therefore limited to shifting the confrontation from a level of economic and political power in Greece and in the EU to a level of “national salvation” and of “a common European sense”.  This is why government policy was ultimately reduced to an attempt to avoid the worst by going for the least dreadful option.  
 
This shift and therefore the backing out from the clash, led to (a) the programmatic ambiguities and the nationalist-populist rhetoric during the campaigning ahead of the 25 January general election, (b) the choices of Pavlopoulos for the Presidency of the Republic, and of ANEL and DIMAR politicians for key ministries, as well as the appointment of “technical experts” of the establishment in key positions in the government and wider public sector, and (c) celebrating the “victory” of the 20 February deal despite the fact that the government committed both to repay “in full and on time” an unsustainable debt and to refrain from any “unilateral changes of policies and structural reforms that would have an adverse effect on fiscal objectives, recovery of the economy and financial stability as per the institutions’ evaluation”.
 
The political crisis
Outlining the background of the capitulation of 12 July and the vote of the third MoU on 14 August, is important because it allows us to go a step further from a discussion about plans and planning which dominates the public speech of the Left; it helps us understand that any “plan” requires a subject – a subject that SYRIZA failed to determine while in opposition.  A subject that would have a clear grasp of the limits and the potential of the circumstances, that would understand that there is no room for a middle road in the midst of a crisis and a fierce class struggle with no return and that would be able to help design the tactics and the strategy needed, instead of substituting one with the other.
 
It is not at all certain that this hypothesis would have lead SYRIZA to January election victory – nor that it would have allowed SYRIZA to balance the pressure of a totalitarian EU which, apart from its internal rivalries, stands united on the basis of class rationalism and extreme austerity.  Nonetheless it is absolutely certain that if the SYRIZA strategy was not so bluntly focused on parliament, had SYRIZA made sure that there was more to planning and decision making than the superficial technical discussion about the national currency, had SYRIZA proceeded to unilateral action in the banking system to face capital outflow and in the taxation system to raise the funds needed for a comprehensive policy that would support the social groups it represented, had it not left the streets, had SYRIZA really believed in what it preached regarding the EU and the euro – if, in an nutshell, SYRIZA had fought the battle on a real level of power instead of arguing in favour of an imaginary world of a solution mutually beneficial for wolves and sheep alike, things would have been different today.  In the place of those “what ifs”, we have got a government that sadly looks more and more like the late DIMAR; and a party that is at the verge of an irrevocable split.  The third MoU is designed with such precision that SYRIZA strangles with its own two hands all the social groups it has represented since 2010, one by one – and it does so in a framework of strict monitoring that leaves little room for maneuvering.  And this is all taking place despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that the programme is far from feasible and while Grexit will keep hanging over our heads both as a means to discipline the government - and thus speeding up its pro-MoU mutation… – and as the possible end destination of this new course.
 
Limits, needs and possibilities
Today there is little room for optimism for a number of reasons:  the fact that certain parts of the society have been familiarised with the MoU reality; the strong belief that this government did at least give a fight, the Prime Minister’s dominance in SYRIZA and in the political system; the fact that even radical currents are trapped in a real impasse (as well as the aggressive justification of the MoU as a road with no alternative by a part of the government and the party that pushes things to the edge with some help from the Troika and the Greek bourgeois). As a result the trauma in the party’s body that supported the December protests, the protests in the squares and the battle of the MoU, will take a lot of time and a lot of effort to heal – if it is possible to heal at all.  But if this is true, then it is also true that the dense political time calls for regrouping as soon as possible.  
 
Obviously, if SYRIZA turns into DIMAR, if, in other words, SYRIZA internalises the outcome of a coup as its own programme, if SYRIZA goes from “no sacrifice for the euro” to “staying in power, MoU and the euro at all costs”, then SYRIZA will die out in the mid-term.  It is also clear that SYRIZA can no longer /promise an “even tougher negotiation”, in a European Union which has proven to be hostile to any idea of popular sovereignty.  So in order to maintain the representation it has built over these years, particularly in the face of the very real neo-Nazi threat, SYRIZA needs to clash with the MoUs, the Greek bourgeois and the EU.  It requires something that didn’t happen when the balance of power was more favourable: nationalisation of the banks under social control, heavy taxation of capitals, ensuring political and practical solidarity by the community that recognised the 12th of July as a coup, the internationalisation of the struggle against the EU, the protests.  Undoubtedly, the pro-No Left would rather face a pro-MoU SYRIZA-lead government than the rabble that preyed upon the power until last January.  But equally the pro-No Left should undoubtedly see far beyond this, towards a new path through the development of the necessary subject and plan.  Up until now, this plan was cracked up to serve the needs of inner-Left and inner-SYRIZA rift instead of it being thoroughly worked out either in technical terms (i.e. ATM operation, changing contracts’ currency, handling inflation and necessary imports), or most importantly in political and social terms.  This should be the mission of a united pro-NO Left that respects diverse routes and subjective views while ensuring the conditions for a joint struggle and for the maximum effectiveness possible.  As the last democratic alternative is wiped out by the Troika’s blackmail, as the fight is now for the basic necessities (water supply, power supply, housing, democracy), our joint struggle will be an existential one:  we have to prepare for it as soon as possible, but, most importantly, we have to win.


Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos is a member of the editorial board of RedNotebook and AnalyzeGreece!

 
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