Stuart King from Lambeth Left Unity gives his view.
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
The Greek parliament has passed the austerity programme demanded of it by the Troika – the EU, IMF and ECB – by 229 votes to 64. This is a serious defeat for the anti austerity movement that brought Syriza to power last January.
The result of this programme are well known: a further €13billion will be taken out of the economy as Greece is forced to run a surplus to pay interest on its debt pile, a massive privatisation programme is being introduced with €50bn of state assets transferred into an EU controlled holding account to be sold at their whim, the starting pension age is extended to 67 years, VAT rates will rise to 23% on many commodities and services, much legislation protecting workers right will be swept away and Syriza will have to repeal many of the social measures it introduced in the last six months to protect the poorest from the ravages of austerity – unemployment will rise, poverty will rocket.
And all legislation and its implementation will be overseen by officials of the Troika, effectively taking the running of the country out of the hands of the Greek government. Greece has been reduced to a semi-colonial status in the EU.
Only nine days previously Syriza had won a resounding victory in the referendum with a massive No vote rejecting the Troika’s austerity programme. This victory shattered the forces arguing for a Yes vote with the leader of the main conservative party New Democracy resigning after the vote. Yet within hours Tsipras, the Syriza prime minister, had gone cap in hand to the opposition to present a common austerity programme to the Troika for approval. The opposition could not believe its luck.
Tsipras’ excuse was that the EU had a “gun to their heads” and that the alternative, breaking with the euro and repudiating the debt would be worse. The question that has to be asked is why therefore bother with five months of negotiations? Why stand on an election platform which promised the Greek people an end to austerity? Why go to the country with a call to vote No to austerity? If there was never an alternative to going along with the Troika’s demands why take the Greek people through five months of promises and disappointment?
Of course there was an alternative but it would have meant confronting the demands of international capitalism. It would have meant putting forward a clear alternative to the Greek people, and to the Troika, as to what would happen if more austerity was insisted upon. Breaking from the euro, declaring a moratorium on the debt, taking over the banks and issuing a new currency, establishing a monopoly of foreign trade, taking control of shipping, transportation, ports etc and developing an emergency defensive plan for the economy faced with an inevitable financial blockade. It would have meant an international appeal, to the working class of Europe, to any supportive governments to stand by Greece against the dictats of the markets. It would have meant taking real measures in favour of socialism and establishing a real workers government.
Could Syriza have carried the mass of Greek people in such a struggle? Quite possibly given the enormous support for the government, the deep roots of Syriza in the everyday struggles and the alternative on offer of continuing austerity and loss of sovereignty. It was a question of leadership and persuasion, leading the Greek people through the process of a fruitless struggle with the troika and convincing them of a socialist alternative.
The Syriza leadership did none of these things. Instead it has reneged on its platform and promises and joined with the right wing in Greece to implement austerity. This is why the defeat is likely to be a major one because if the government is allowed to implement these measures it will destroy Syriza as a party.
There is an opposition to the current leadership’s course. It comes from within Syriza and most importantly from the workers and youth who were the backbone of the resounding no vote. The question is, can this opposition be rallied, offered a new direction from the one being pursued by the Syriza leadership?
The Left Platform (LP) and others in Syriza have opposed the collapse before the Troika, although it is depressing that only 32 Syriza parliamentarians voted against the austerity package, compared to 109 who voted for. The LP itself delayed too long in putting its alternative to the party and fighting for it, as some of its members now admit. They allowed the Central Committee to be sidelined and decisions to be made by a tiny inner cabinet around Tsipras.
The reaction of one of their leaders to the austerity vote is not encouraging. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the energy minister, declared that despite their opposition to the deal they would continue to “support the government” – a government committed to pushing through the most severe and regressive austerity measures.
If the opposition is to be rallied within Syriza and on the streets the LP must adopt an intransigent attitude to an austerity government, refusing it any support. They should be rallying the base of Syriza against the parliamentary fraction, calling a special congress, organising action on the streets, putting themselves at the head of a movement trying to minoritise the Tsipras leadership and if necessary breaking with the party. Anything less will compound the disillusion and depth of the defeat.
We should quickly draw some lessons from this defeat. We were all enthused by the victory of Syriza. We rightly joined in the solidarity movement, developed close links with Syriza in Britain and joined the delegations to Greece. But we developed at a leadership level a too uncritical approach, basking in the glory, declaring Syriza our “sister party” and asking too few questions, about its internal democracy for example. Even after the vote for austerity we resisted open criticism of Syriza’s actions.
This is partly because the events in Greece raise uncomfortable questions for those in Left Unity who have based their strategy on the idea that we can build a broad anti-austerity party to the left of Labour along the lines of other Left Parties in Europe.
The first such party to come to power on its own, Syriza, has shown that such a party, even where it has real roots in the masses and coming out of a mass movement of resistance, has been unable to take even mild reformist measures against austerity in favour of the workers. In fact it has collapsed before international capitalism in a few months. And no one should think Britain would be any different for a left government. We would face the same market onslaught, bank runs, media campaigns and IMF strangulation, in or out of the EU.
We have to rethink our strategy even though we are a long way from power. Capitalism in a crisis will not allow any serious reforms in the interest of the working class without using all its levers of power to remove a left government. Any socialist party, any workers government, will have to take anticapitalist measures from day one to survive. We have to be honest with our militants and supporters, and above all with the working class, about what type of party we are trying to build, an anticapitalist not a reformist one, or we will quickly go the way of Syriza.
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