As the Greek governing coalition grows ever more unpopular, SYRIZA, the radical alternative, is poised to win any coming election. But does it have the programme and leadership to solve the crisis in favour of working people? Here ILIAS MILONAS, a member of the Party’s Central Committee and its left-wing faction Left Platform, questions the road down which SYRIZA’s leadership is trying to take the party. And raises warnings about the rising threat of the neo-fascist right.
Where does Syriza currently stand in public opinion?
SYRIZA has stabilized at around 30% in public opinion polls, after their 27% share in the last elections. The Greek people do not have an absolute trust in SYRIZA but they are suffering a lot from the hard measures of the government and the Troika (the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank ? editor) and in the reality, they have no other political alternative. This support for SYRIZA should be better but the masses have not the enthusiasm of previous years and no trust in politics generally. Also, the political attitude of the SYRIZA leadership lately doesn?t help very much. Their public speeches have lost the radicalization of the period before the elections as they try to promote a more ?realistic? program.
As you probably know we have an internal troika in power in Greece, an alliance of three parties, (the right New Democracy, the social-democratic PASOK and the ?left? DIMAR (a split of SYNASPISMOS). This alliance follows all the instructions of the Eurozone group and the German administration. That gives a big political space to SYRIZA as long as the systemic alternatives have all ?burned? out. This is why the ruling class has put now enormous pressure on the leadership of SYRIZA for a ?reasonable? policy. Clearly they see that there is not any other perspective except a SYRIZA government.
What is the current number of SYRIZA members?
It is about 30-35.000 (it doubled after the elections) which is not a satisfactory number. An interesting element is that just a small percent of young people is among them.
What is SYRIZA?s influence in the trade unions (compared for example with PASOK & KKE)?
The situation of the Greek labour movement is not good at all. The union bureaucracy has done a big damage to the lines of the working class by mounting no serious reaction against all the hard measures of the government. For example, they announced some 24 hour strikes under the pressure of the movement the previous time but they did it with no preparation, propaganda, plan and organization. Although some of those strikes and demonstrations were very massive. The permanent attacks of the government have brought a shock to the workers, along with the huge unemployment (almost 30% now which is 1.5 million) which paralyses most workers. The Trade Union Congress (GSEE) is still controlled by the shop-stewards of PASOK and New Democracy, although they had some losses at the latest congress in April. On the other hand the SYRIZA leaders in the unions are very ?soft? and they do not inspire the workers.
What factions exist within SYRIZA?
There are two main factions in SYRIZA, the Left Unity and the Left Platform (as you can see everyone in SYRIZA uses the title of the ?left?). The Left Unity faction consists of different ideological currents starting from the left ANASA to the right RENEWIG. Among them there are ?the president?s people? and a lot of others with a peculiar political view. They are close to the leadership, some of them put some questions from time to time but at the end they always vote on favour of the leadership. The Left Platform brings together four main tendencies: the Left Current of SYNASPISMOS (the traditional opposition of the main political party of the alliance of SYRIZA) and the trotskist organizations of KOKKINO, DEA and APO.
What is their relative strength?
At the last SYRIZA conference in November, the Left Platform won 25% of the votes. That has frightened the leadership so it is organising a ?fast-track? congress for the beginning of Jul which will only allow for a one and a half months for pre-congress procedures.
What are the main differences between them?
The main questions in SYRIZA which provoke different analyses from different factions are the question of the need for a plan in case of an exit from the Eurozone, and what the alliances of a future government of SYRIZA should be in case it does not achieve an overall majority in the Parliament.
On the Euro question Alexis Tsipras, the Party leader, says ?we will make a hard negotiation with the Eurogroup and our lenders and we will force them to retreat, they are not in position to take a risk of the exit of a European country from the Eurozone?. As if life was so simple! The Left Platform has a different point of view especially in the light of the Eurogroup?s approach towards Cyprus. We estimate that they are willing to sacrifice ?the holy treasures? of the capitalistic religion like the sanctity of bank savings so forth in some countries of Southern Europe, in order to continue their new-liberal policy. This is why we need a plan, in the reality a program of socialist reforms, otherwise an exit from Euro would be much worse than the hard measures of EU.
On the issue of the alliances, we all used to speak before the elections about a ?government of the Left?, making a political appeal to the Communist Party (KKE) and to the Anti-capitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow (ANTARSYA). Now the leadership speaks about a ?government of national salvation? and for a ?government of popular unity?. They have also started a ?political flirt? with the party of ?The Independent Greeks?, a nationalist right wing party, a split from New Democracy and with some ex-ministers and MPs from the social democratic party PASOK.
How has the crisis in Cyprus affected thinking inside SYRIZA?
The crisis in Cyprus has posed the issue of the Euro in a new way. The main slogan of SYRIZA before the elections was ?No sacrifice for the euro – No illusions for the drachma?. Alexis Tsipras used to say in a lot of interviews the last time that the ?Euro is our national currency?. Now he is really in a difficult position. The only explanation they have for the Cyprus retreat is that there is there ?a right wing government?. So they think it would be enough to be a left government on power and the negotiation with the EU will be successful (!!).
What solutions does the Left Platform propose to the crisis?
The Left Platform supports decisively a socialist program of nationalization of the banks and the main industries, as well as health, energy and all the main services and sources. Inside SYRIZA there is a discussion about the productive upswing of the Greek economy with the leadership proposing some new taxes on the rich, a state control of the banks, a stop to privatization. But that is all. And they do not speak in a clear way. In contrast, we propose this socialist program as the most realistic and effective project at this period of deep crisis all around the world.
What is your approach to the European Union and staying in the Euro?
On the issue of Euro and the approach to EU, we do not propose to leave the Euro but we do not accept the Troika?s measures. We say we should stop paying immediately, negotiate about the national debt and pay what we really have to pay and when we can, according to the possibilities of the development. It is obvious that the bankers? people in the Eurozone will find this difficult to accept and so a ?Grexit? is very possible. This is why we must be prepared in any case. Such an action from a small country like Greece could be the start of a domino for the other European countries to put an end to this madness of capitalism and the anti-social neo-liberal policies it uses. There are a lot of hopes for SYRIZA in the working class, not only in Greece but in Europe and all the world.
What is its view of the current form of democracy, parliament and the state, the media etc?
The Greek government takes now a lot of depressing measures and votes in the Parliament many undemocratic laws against strikes, demonstrations etc. The police are uncontrolled, attacking virtually every action, beating even peaceful citizens without reason. The mass media supports the government in a scandalous way.
What policy does the Platform adopt towards small business and the petit-bourgeoisie in general?
The Greek economy was mainly based on small business. Now thousands of shops and small companies close every day. It is an emergency for SYRIZA to win these people, who ?proletariate? in a fast way, otherwise the fascist Golden Dawn will build a massive supporting movement based on them. And we believe that SYRIZA can win them on a radical left program and not on on a conservative middle class program, as many sections of the leadership now suggest.
What is your approach to the Environment?
On the environment, recently we had a big struggle of the citizens of Chalkidiki in Northern Greece, against a Canadian gold mining company, in a place called Skouries. The citizens reacted massively to the dangerous methods to their health used to extract the gold and so the government sent there a whole army of police special forces and now the town of Lerissos is under military occupation. The police are acting like the Nazis, arresting people in the middle of the night, breaking down doors and frightening children. It is a real war between the people who prefer quality of life over destructive development and some jobs. SYRIZA supports this struggle which has had a big impact on the whole country.
What is your approach towards women in general?
On the matter of women?s and minorities? rights, SYRIZA and KOKKINO as well, have a remarkable record of action. We have a lot of comrades involved in the LGBT-LOAT and the women?s movements. KOKKINO edits a magazine, the LGBT KOKKINO. While SYRIZA women have a site called ?Leaf of the figtree?.
What is its attitude towards defence expenditure in Greece?
The defence expenditure in Greece is proportionately the highest in Europe. SYRIZA has promised to cut the biggest part of these expenses. The Department of Defence is also the most corrupt part of the Greek state.
How do you characterise the Golden Dawn party?
The fascist organization of Golden Dawn is now a real threat, having an influence of over 10% of the electorate. It presents itself as an anti-systemic force but in the reality it is ?the iron heel? of the system, taking a lot of money from the Greek capitalists, big businessmen and the ship owners, as Quardian published recently. These capitalists see them as the last weapon they can use against the working class in order to protect their interests. The situation has a lot of similarities with the period of the German Weimar Republic in the build up to Hitler?s coming to power.