Greece: Syriza congress aims to unite forces for a left government

Delegates vote at the recent Syriza Congress

Delegates vote at the recent Syriza Congress

Pedro Filipe Soares is a Left Bloc MP in the Portuguese parliament. Soares attend the first congress of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) from July 10-14. Syriza, a coalition of left groups, decided to become a new political party after it came close to winning elections on an anti-austerity platform last year. The article was translated by Dick Nichols.

History knows this sort of thing ? when only an historical event allows us to move forward. This can be true even when, at first sight, it does not look much like that, or when our powers of perception fail to detect it.

Over July 10-14, however, at the first congress if the Radical Coalition of the Left (Syriza), it was obvious that history was being written in indelible ink. This was a congress of almost 3500 delegates that also changed the Greek left.

Faced with the challenge of rising growth, opening the door to future government, the coalition took the step to become a party. At the first congress, everything was spelled out?from founding principles to political orientation and statutes. And, of course, where everything was discussed and different positions clarified, always with typical Greek passion.

It was attended by 3430 delegates. This statistic reveals the enormous commitment that the party invested into building this congress. Its deliberations lasted five days, and culminated with 3412 delegates taking part in the election of the president.

It was an extraordinary sensation to enter that hall and feel the energy of the delegates, the intensity of the discussion, and the attention given to all points of detail.

The draft declaration of principles and political document were developed over the congress by a representative group of delegates chosen for that purpose. Plenary sessions were devoted to discuss and vote on the general line and to voting on amendments and counter-positions.

Starting with the goal of rescuing Greece from the clutches of austerity, the new party adopted socialism as its strategic objective.

Worth registering was the discussion around questions that are also close to us [in Portugal]: the position of the party with regard to the euro and public debt, and the composition of a future government committed to overthrowing the Troika [of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund].

The final goal is the renegotiation of the debt, with a sharp reduction in amount owed, but without any surrender of Greek rights in the eurozone.

And also without surrendering to blackmail over the common currency. A Syriza-led government would not take Greece out of the eurozone, but it will not accept any more sacrifices in the name of the common currency.

The party strengthened its commitment to governing by rejecting austerity.

The high point of the congress was the embrace of Manolis Glezos with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras. Glezos, a 90-year-old Greek resistance fighter in World War II, is famous for having pulled down the Nazi flag flying over the Acropolis and replacing it with the Greek flag. The act inspired Greeks to resist the occupation.

At the congress, Glezos made an inopportune first speech, rejecting the proposed approach of transforming existing parties in the coalition into internal tendencies. News of divisions within Syriza were not slow in coming to light and everything appeared to be going badly as the congress proceeded.

The next day came Tsipras’s reply, in which he appealed to the need for unity and for Syriza to project itself as a party to win the next elections. Glezos stood up and gave Tsipras an enormous hug, then asked for the floor to demonstrate the unity between the various generations of the left.

The party left the congress united, with a short period granted for existing affiliates who had not yet dissolved to do so.

Discussion on the statutes and elections attracted great participation. The method of election of the president and central committee took up most of the interventions, with the model of election of the president being by vote of all delegates.

Tsipras was elected president of the new Syriza with 74% of the vote, a result exceeding initial expectations.

The method of election of the central committee was also debated in depth. Among the methods presented, the winning proposal was that of a united, open list, which competed against alternative lists.

The results were as follows: The united list obtained 67.61% of the votes, the Left Platform 30.15%, members not aligned to any tendencies 1.03%, the Communist Tendency 0.74% and Citizen Intervention 0.27%.

The Intervention for Unity Tendency did not elect any member, achieving only 0.21% of the vote.

A personal note should record the meeting that Tsipras had with the Left Bloc delegation. Marisa Matias and Alda Sousa [Left Bloc Members of the European Parliament] and I brought fraternal greetings to this new page that has opened in the history of the Greek left, expressing the hope it will lead to the rapid defeat of the Troika.

From Greece came a word of hope for the Portuguese people in the struggle against the polities of austerity, in the certainty that while a sea may separate us, the values that unite us are stronger.

This article was first published in the Australian Green Left Weekly


12 comments

12 responses to “Greece: Syriza congress aims to unite forces for a left government”

  1. Lee Rock says:

    Good to read that:

    ‘the new party adopted socialism as its strategic objective.’

    Lee

  2. Good point Lee “the new party adopted socialism as its strategic objective” and in my opinion its what Left Unity must do in the UK if its not to be another Labour Party or Green Party (its essential we are seen to be different and act different). There are 10,000’s of working people out there who may join a UK Syriza with a clear Socialist programme so long as it connects with their day to day lives and fights austerity day in day out, fighting to defend our public services and to build a better Socialist future for our children and their children. We should never ever be afraid of the word “Socialism”, both my grandfather, grandmother, father and mother were proud to be Socialists (and were active in the Labour Party) as many 10,000’s of people are today and no doubt if we get it right could be attracted to support a new Left/Socialist Party – Left Unity.

    • John Penney says:

      We should of course adopt socialism as our strategic objective. Whether we need to have “socialism” in our new party title is a completely different matter. To reach out to the broadest possible audience with a radical anti austerity agenda, and avoiding the Pavlovian knee-jerk negative reaction to the word “socialism” – built up so assiduously by the capitalist media over the last 30 years, I suggest we need a more general party name, eg, The Left Party, The People’s Party, The People’s Alliance.

      On the extraordinary electoral and membership advance of Syriza over the last few years. Massively inspiring in so many ways for socialists of course, but I would caution anyone who thinks Syriza is going to be able to “negotiate its way out” of the Troika’s destructive iron grip. Unfortunately this is quite impossible – Greece has been selected by the Troika, as the “Austerity programme to destruction” testbed and salutary lesson to other EU nations who think about not “towing the austerity line”. No compromise or concessions will be offered to a Syriza led Greek government- any more than to the preent coalition.

      The most likely future scenarios are either that the still pretty ramshackle Syriza Party/coalition will crumble into compromise with Austerity once in office, and lose its very recent mass support base – OR – carry on in a radical direction , “Chilean Allende-like”, facing huge speculator-driven economic sabotage and the “deep state’s” promotion of Golden Dawn as a destabilising street army, until Greece is chucked out of the EU altogether – and the army takes over again.

      The only hope for tiny, economically insignificant ,Greece is the widening of the scope of radical mass struggle – with Portugal and Spain , and then Italy, reaching the same level of crisis as Greece. Then the European capitalist class might get seriously worried enough to compromise. Unfortunately Greece is so far ahead of the rest of the EU in its severity of crisis that it is both isolated and far beyond limited social democratic-based political solutions – which is all that the undoubtedly radical, but still reformist Syriza is offering.

    • Andrew Crystall says:

      I’d remind you that Labour are in theory socialist.

      The problem you’ll have is that if you are explicitly socialist, you’ll get rid of a lot of people like me who agree on policy, but not dogma. Left-wing socialist parties have repeatedly entirely failed to gain traction and I’m not interested in more of the same.

      Moreover, the electoral systems are not at all the same. Greece has a form of PR which allows a party which is not reaching out to the entire left to get seats. Britain’s FPTP means that this isn’t the case here – building a “party” rather than a broad coalition of the left means you’ll be spitting into the wind.

      • Michel Edgar says:

        Socialism or anticapitalism is not about dogma, but realizing the limits of progressive development within capitalism.

        Realizing that capitalism only sustains itself and only temporarily through unsustainable abundance and is something we need to get rid of sooner or later. The sooner we manage this in a progressive way, the better.

        There’s no need of another Labour and, later, New Labour.

      • Michel Edgar says:

        “Realizing that capitalism only sustains itself and only temporarily through unsustainable abundance”

        should be

        “Realizing that capitalism in a democracy only sustains itself and only temporarily through unsustainable abundance”

  3. Kathrine B says:

    Its interesting and fruitful for LU to follow the evolution of Syriza. Certainly the Socialist perspective is not something that has frightened off the population from this growing force. I have just read a summary of this recent congress of Syriza by Stathis Kouvelakis… which focusses on the weakening and avoidance of the original program called for by the majority of cadre ie Debt Moratorium, Halting privatisations, nationalising key sectors etc… as the leadership is increasingly involved in showing ‘reasonableness and prudence’ in meetings with IMF, german finance minister etc. The possibility for platforms and minority voices to be heard is being watered down in concrete ways ( dissolution of tendancies and changed vote methods) as this more ‘acceptable’ stance is accompanied by the ‘centralising’ from the top down, as the leadership turns its ears to the sirenes in the corridors of international power.

  4. Kathrine B says:

    I meant to add that it was to this weakening or ignoring of the concrete socialist demands and the accompanying attempt to negate differing platforms that
    Manolis Glezos legitimately objected to.

  5. Baton Rouge says:

    It seems to me that the only credible approach to the EU, the Troika and the Euro that Syriza can adopt is:

    1. Call a halt to the bailing out of the Greek banks. Yes, I know that is illegal under EU law but if Syriza are genuinely intent on taking on and defeating the Troika as they say then this has got to be step one. Getting elected on the promise to go cap in hand to the Troika as proposed in the article above to ask for more debt write down in exchange for more austerity is not class struggle and should they be rebuffed is the short route to a Golden Dawn. Even if successful it simply means more austerity for the working class.

    2. Take the bankrupt Greek banks into administration and transfer their staff, estates and deposits into a new National Bank with a monopoly of credit intent on lending Euros at base rate to small business and facilitating social investment in accordance with a democratic plan to stabilise the disastrous contraction of the economy. This may provoke expulsion from the Euro but it would mean Greece was ready for it. However, it is more likely to be a popular move with workers throughout the rest of Europe.

    3. Balance its books not by working class directed austerity but by seizures of obscene wealth from individuals and profiteering corporations and a fair income tax.

    4. Whilst intiating policies such as full employment by sharing the work and the minimum of a living wage for all, the building of anti-fascist militias, and the socialisation of the monopolies and their democratisation through worker elected managers domestically Syriza should then look to renegotiate the founding treaties of the EU along socialist lines.

    But Syriza should be putting forward this programme in readiness for an election whilst at the same time enouraging strikes, occupations, the building of workers committees in every work place and the emergence of an anti-fascist defence force funded by the trades unions.

    • John Penney says:

      You are quite right Baton Rouge, your list of required policies and actions is exactly what Syriza needs to do. Unfortunately the evidence suggests they are already hell bent on ditching their radical agenda ( which won them their extraordinary electoral advance in the first place) to make themselves “more exceptable” to the Troika and “the markets” as a “responsible” potential new Greek government.

      The whole thing is, excuse the pun, a Greek Tragedy. The only winner will be Golden Dawn. Now those crazy bastards won’t be offering any compromises in implementing their fascist programme .

      For us, as a proto party partly founded on the inspiration of Syriza’s amazing growth, the apparent rapid degeneration into fatal compromise and opportunism should be a warning that our broadly based party needs nevertheless to be one based on solid radical policies and objectives, and needs to avoid at all costs the emergence of a distinct “leadership layer” wiht the power to drag the party into compromise and collaboration. As unfortunately key “leaders” of Syriza seem to be doing as we speak.

      • Michel Edgar says:

        “For us, as a proto party partly founded on the inspiration of Syriza’s amazing growth, the apparent rapid degeneration into fatal compromise and opportunism should be a warning that our broadly based party needs nevertheless to be one based on solid radical policies and objectives, and needs to avoid at all costs the emergence of a distinct “leadership layer” wiht the power to drag the party into compromise and collaboration. As unfortunately key “leaders” of Syriza seem to be doing as we speak.”

        I agree that one should follow the development of Syriza closely, but one shouldn’t exaggerate what is going on. I think Syriza needs to show itself as pragmatic. This is about connecting with today’s Greek society and letting it know that the party is ready for power, building the confidence needed in a democracy. Let me remind you that the story of Chavez in Venezuela is about winning the society’s confidence resulting in being elected as president in 1998:

        “Although he publicly used strong revolutionary rhetoric from the beginning of his presidency, the Chávez government’s initial policies were moderate, capitalist and centre-left, having much in common with those of contemporary Latin American leftists like Brazil’s president Lula da Silva.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Ch%C3%A1vez#First_presidential_term:_2_February_1999_.E2.80.93_10_January_2001 )

        So I think we might see something similar with Syriza, that is connecting with society in order to be able to go with it leftwards after having gained sufficient power.

  6. VN Gelis says:

    With tough negotiations for the debt.

    With the aim of erasing large part of the debt, adding a growth clause, and
    freezing loan interest repayment.

    With a strong Alliance of the South.

    With the aim of an international convention for the debt, similar to the London
    Agreement on the German debt in 1953.

    These positions, which to some might sound utopian, will become material power
    and will gain much more international support when SYRIZA emerges from the
    elections as a majority party and the Left forms a new government.

    And do you know who with their attitude show they believe in SYRIZA? Those who
    fear SYRIZA.

    Tsipras Speech from Syriza Conference
    —————————————————————

    We have gone from a unilateral cancellation of the debt, the abolition of the
    Memoranda overnight to a…. European Convention on the debt.

    After one year with three serious battles (Halkidiki gold mine, Metroworkers
    strike and public tv ERT closure) the electoral polls for Syriza have constantly been below the 27% they got in the last elections. The ‘closer’ it gets to power, the more it accommodates to Greeces ‘creditors’ and this isn’t lost on the electorate. Paid professional politicians are precisely that, they will say and do anything at any moment in time of their choosing, without even a blink of an eyelid. Tsipras isn’t a break with the past but a continuation of it.

    Maastrichts children are finally coming full circle.


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