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.

[1]       Michel Husson, “The good drachma? A modest contribution to the debate“, International Viewpoint, 27 August 2015,

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou and Ntina Tzouvala

  • Published in POLITICS

A success of LAE will mean a strong Left

Interview with Yiannos Giannopoulos  from Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity)
 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?
In order to draw useful conclusions for a new strategy for the Greek and the European radical left in general I think that we should focus on the main picture and not parts of the government’s action. The first government of the Left in a Eurozone country during the crisis years ended up in a strategic defeat. The defeat is probably most due to the shortcomings of our (since I was a member of the Youth of SYRIZA till recently) analysis for the Eurozone, and not the way of governing itself. However I would like to stress three important issues. The first one is that during the negotiations with the lenders, the movements' role was completely underestimated. The government did not try to use the power generated by the motivation of the masses to support its position in the negotiations in general, with the exception of a short time interval before the agreement of the 20th of February, and the week before the memorandum.

The second one, which is linked to the first, is that no changes were made to the structure of the state that could have allowed the people, the productive forces of our society, the ones that experience the problems and can, hence, address the problems more directly to propose solutions. A wider and deeper democracy, that has no financial cost, was not established. Moreover, and here comes the third point, not even the democratic force within SYRIZA was taken into consideration.

 The party was totally absorbed by the state, exactly in the way that M. Nikolakakis predicted some months ago [1] and so were its chain of command and decisions. People in key state positions were playing a significant role, whereas party officials had no idea what was going on. This meant that the government lost track of the society, and the party, and it also probably explains the confidence of Alexis Tsipras to pronounce the elections, probably expecting that the party would not undergo major losses. We might want to reread the enlightening interview of A.Baltas to L.Panich, where the most famous Greek althusserian philosopher practically tries to relativize structuralism, while he admits that spending 12 hours per day in the ministry did not allow him to communicate with the party. On the other hand side, we cannot abolish the things the government did do for the prison system, higher education and migration policies. Sectors where the government really tried to implement a different logic in its first steps, and this is why the polemic of the bourgeoisie opposition concentrated on these fields. These progressive reforms are going to be fought against by the right wing of the probable government coalition that is going to be formed after the elections.
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).
Being a member of the left euro communist tendency of SYRIZA, I thought that the strategy of changing the equilibrium of power or to implement anti-neoliberal policies inside this Eurozone was possible. I think that we must honestly admit that we made a huge mistake there. The threat to destroy the currency was not enough, let aside that we did not even have a plan for that. Moreover, I think that we somehow subconsciously assumed that the Left will rise in parallel in other European countries. We actually made the same mistake that the architects of the Euro made. We did not take the economic crises into consideration, and during the crises, the political changes that took place in the affected countries are really asymmetric.

The dilemma we are actually facing is not euro or drachma. It is euro or democracy. The political importance of crushing the different example that could be made by the Left is much more important to the ruling classes of Europe than the cost of taking the risk of a GRexit. The common currency might not survive such an event, but we will not find out till it happens, and it seems as if Dr. Shauble is very willing to take the risk. Apart from the fact that, no one believes that the new memorandum can be implemented successfully, and that the GRexit may lead to an even worse situation after the end of the programme. In addition, the clash of the ruling classes of Europe against each other during the crisis that is still not over cannot let anyone be reassured that there might not be a schism in the Eurozone caused by France or Italy in the next years, since some of the capitalists in these countries would favor exiting the Euro. It is short-sighted not to have a plan-B after everything that happened during the negotiations, even if one would not choose this path himself.

Regarding the EU, I think that we shouldn’t rush to answer this question, however, leaving the Eurozone might have to be combined with leaving the EU. We have to analyse if it is possible to stay in the EU and follow our own policies in  strategic areas such as energy production and distribution, or the common agricultural policies,  were the common EU, and not the Eurozone policy, is strictly neoliberal,. In any case, we must not in any case ignore the importance of the internationality of our strategy. Even if we need to leave the EU to be able to exercise independent policy, Europe remains the geographical space where a socialistic strategy can prosper, due to historical, political, and economic reasons, and we should not forget that.
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?
I am deeply concerned that we may experience a similar situation to the Italian Left in the last decades. Numerous splits and social-democratic mutations that will bury the ability of the Left to form a massive movement to take power. And this is what we need nowadays, fighting for our rights is not enough. If one also takes into consideration the really poor situation of the Greek syndicates, the concern grows. However, the formation of Popular Unity as something that wants to evolve into a front is a step for the Left to survive from the crash and the mutation. The previsions would be more optimistic if the cooperation with ANTARSYA had been achieved, this did not happen, though. SYRIZA will continue to dissolute, and we need to start to discuss very seriously after the elections on how we will manage to create a new party that will be able to serve our new strategy.

 What do you think are the immediate political priority for LAE after the elections of 20/9? (basic demands, priorities, fronts of collaboration and tasks)?
The importance of the electoral success of Popular Unity is to have a strong Left in the central political scene after the elections (since the Communist Party acts as if it does not want to be involved with real politics, especially after suggesting to voters to cast an invalid vote in the referendum). From this position it will be able to help the struggles of the next day to blossom again. However, we must not be fooled. The question now is not whether we will be able to gain part of what we lost in recent years. We need to form a proposal and a plan to gain power, not only governmental, but political power in general, inside, outside and against the state and the ruling classes’ coalition which will not retreat easily. This will be a very tough thing to achieve since almost none of the really big enterprises wants to leave the euro, perhaps apart from the pharmaceutical industries. We need to build a plan that will confront and "detour" the classic capitalistic economic and administrative functions of our society as we know it, a plan that one would call, in traditional terms, semi-revolutionary.
* 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?
There is a severe concern that the defeat and the mutation of SYRIZA will affect the Left in the other European countries. We will have to wait for the elections in Spain to estimate the impact of what happened to the other left parties especially in the Eurozone countries. One has to admit, though, that in any case SYRIZA was a beacon for the European Left, the consequences will be severe. I think that we need to confine the repercussions, and start forming an internationalist strategy to break down the Eurozone, in a way that will favour the youth, the unemployed and the working classes of Europe, and not the different lobbies that want to profit from returning to national currencies. We need to cooperate on that, and we need to reach the next level as far as coordination goes. The coordination of the movements does not meet the requirements of the new era, we need to coordinate the strategies, from now on.
Yiannos Giannopoulos is a civil engineer, candidate with Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity) at the general elections of 20 September.

  • Published in POLITICS
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