From the Referendum to the split of Syriza and the creation of Popular Unity (LAE): Α critical presentation
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” .
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.
 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
- Translated by: Dimitris Ioannou
- The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!