We ask for solidarity

January 14, 2015

The right-wing counter-offensive against Greece's radical left party SYRIZA before this months elections took a new twist after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices when Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of the right-wing New Democracy party linked the killings to the supposed threat from rising immigration into Europe. It was hateful scaremongering, aimed at drumming up support from Greece's far right, and intimidating the left.

SYRIZA is maintaining its lead over New Democracy in opinion polls ahead of the January 25 election and could win an outright majority of seats in parliament, putting it in position to form the next government and begin to honor its promise to renounce the Memorandums--austerity measures agreed to in return for a bailout of the Greek financial system--negotiated with the so-called Troika, made up of the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The election and its aftermath will put SYRIZA--as well as the wider left in Greece, inside and outside the party--to the test. The spotlight is on SYRIZA's leading spokesperson Alexis Tsipras, as well as the substantial and growing left wing of the party, which is organizing both to win the election and make sure the party's radical program is maintained.

Antonis Davanellos is a member of the Greek socialist organization International Workers Left (DEA), a prominent group among the SYRIZA left. In an interview conducted after an important SYRIZA Central Committee meeting and before the attacks in Paris, he was interviewed by veteran European socialist Charles-André Udry for the A l'encontre website he edits. Udry provided the introductory remarks that precede their discussion.

FOLLOWING THE failure on December 29 of the Samaras government, with the support of the European Union, to elect its presidential candidate, former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas, with 180 representatives in parliament, new legislative elections have been called for January 25, 2015.

Opinion polls show SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) leading with 27-28 percent of the vote. For SYRIZA to get an absolute majority on its own, a vote of around 35 percent would be required. That might change if a significant number of parties do not get the 3 percent needed to cross the threshold for representation in parliament.

The campaign against SYRIZA by European institutions (EU, ECB) and by political leaders from France and Germany through to the Netherlands, is virulent. Claims that a SYRIZA government must respect the rules of the European Stability Mechanism [the institution established under the EU to oversee bailouts as a result of the debt crisis] governing all budgetary decisions is part of the European campaign against SYRIZA in the elections and, in the event that SYRIZA wins, to begin pressing for concessions from a government in which SYRIZA would be the driving force.

A mass rally for SYRIZA in Athens addressed by leading figure Alexis Tsipras
A mass rally for SYRIZA in Athens addressed by leading figure Alexis Tsipras

We must bear in mind both the political ramifications of the blackmail campaign and threats from those in charge of managing the financial rescues in EU countries, as well as the potential impact of a SYRIZA victory, in understanding the possibilities for a change in the balance of forces across Europe. We must do this in order to build a campaign of solidarity with the Greek people and the forces within SYRIZA, among others, which are fighting against a barbaric austerity policies that has put hundreds of thousands of Greeks on the edge of survival, in the literal sense.

We publish below an interview with Antonis Davanellos, a member of the Political Bureau of SYRIZA and a member of the Internationalist Workers' Left (DEA).

WHAT WERE the key decisions of the SYRIZA Central Committee over the weekend of January 3-4?

THE MAIN decision of the Central Committee and the SYRIZA conference held in Athens on Saturday, January 3, 2015, was that the campaign will be based on the Thessaloniki agenda,[1] on the issues related to democracy and freedoms, and on the financing of the program.

The official political position of SYRIZA is the following: A promise that a new government will renounce the Memorandums and reactionary measures passed as a result of them, refusal to apply for new loans or accept a new Memorandum, take the battle on the issue of the debt to the European level by linking the issue of Greek debt to that of Italy, France, Portugal and other countries facing the crisis

The only issue on which there may be negotiations with the EU and Greece's creditors is the debt. Renouncing the Memorandums and repealing the reactionary is not up for negotiation, but will be carried out by a left government.

This program is clearly headed toward a confrontation with the domestic and international system, and I think the leadership of SYRIZA will be under pressure to go back and make a compromise with the European Union. But it is important to make sure that this does not happen. This weekend showed once again that SYRIZA is a formation that no one can underestimate.

Confrontations with the left wing of SYRIZA[2] took place over the issue of the left's rejection of election lists that include former social democrats,[3] even if they have broken with PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement). The heart of our alliances must be with the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and ANTARSYA.[4]

CAN YOU go over the key points of the Thessaloniki agenda for us?

THESE ARE the public commitments made by Alexis Tsipras in September 2014: Return salaries and pensions to the level they were at before the crisis; return to collective contracts for unions as they existed; return the minimum level of taxable income to 12,000 euros; remove the punishing tax on heating oil; and other initiatives. There are promises to help the poorest layers of the population, such as free water and electricity, as well as a promise to freeze personal debts.

These measures might lead some to conclude that SYRIZA's economic conceptions are basically Keynesian, and no more radical than that. However, I believe their importance to Greek society is in their political message: Austerity can be reversed. This is a message, I believe, that a victory for SYRIZA could send to all of Europe.

WHAT ARE the arguments put forward by the Left Platform?

THE LEFT PLATFORM is based on three main elements.

First, the political project of SYRIZA must be supported with a grassroots mobilization of the working class and the popular masses. Second, the radical character of the SYRIZA program should be assured by emphasizing cancellation of most of the debt, nationalization of the banks and reversing the privatization of state enterprises.

Finally, the only political alliances for SYRIZA must be found on the left. The objective is a common front of Syriza, the KKE and ANTARSYA--hence, the slogan of the Left Platform is for a left government, and explicitly not one "for national salvation," or worse, "national unity."

Also emerging in SYRIZA recently is discontent among other radical forces from the majority, which emphasizing issues of democracy and how the party functions.[5]

THE WEEKLY newspaper Epochi, which is linked to the majority in SYRIZA, wrote recently that the right's only weapon is the internal divisions within the party, and that SYRIZA must speak with one voice. What should you say in relation to this call to silence the opposition on the left?

IT IS clear that in the current political situation, some degree of discipline is required. At the same time, we must guarantee that SYRIZA stays on the right trend, and that the possibility of political opposition on issues of primary importance must remain firm.

I think it is no coincidence that recent disciplinary matters within Syriza correspond to a rightward shift among some leaders, including the statements of officers or parliamentary deputies publicly promoting the need for compromise with the bourgeoisie, especially the EU.

Instead, the Left Platform supports collective decision-making and functioning of the party from the bottom up. We have confidence in the base of the partym and we believe that the political struggle for the orientation of SYRIZA is not settled.

TO READ the publications of DEA or the Red Network, it seems that the mass movements of the past have changed into enthusiasm for SYRIZA and the possibility of it coming to power. Do you really think this is the case?

INDEED, THE mass movement has declined in recent times, at least at the national level. Nevertheless, there continue to be important battles in different sectors and regions. What this means to me is that the people have tentatively put their hopes in SYRIZA, but the balance of power has not changed. The first period of a left government will be crucial, producing important struggles, strong demands and high expectations that it will bring justice.

Thus, the character of the government of the left is an open challenge. It will be judged on the basis of the policy of SYRIZA, but mainly by the resistance and struggles of workers.

WHAT ROLE will solidarity in Europe play?

THE FIGHT to end austerity can begin in Greece, but it will not be carried forward if there is no mobilization of the greater strength of the labor movement throughout Europe. All our hope is that the political victory in Greece will be followed by a domino effect across Europe.

We therefore call for the solidarity of our European comrades not to let the major powers strangle the government of the left and the labor movement in Greece. But this must be the beginning of a global battle against barbaric austerity across the continent. We know from history that this war can certainly start in a small country, but it will definitely be won in the streets of Rome, Madrid and Paris.

This is the time to act--this is what will help SYRIZA and the Greek left!

Interview by Tassos Anastassiadis and Andreas Sartzekis


[1] The points expressed by Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA, at the last Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, an event held every September that is an opportunity for the head of government (in this case, Antonis Samaras) and the leader of the main opposition opposition (Tsipras) to present their views on the country's situation.

[2] The Left Platform, which emerged during the 2013 Congress of SYRIZA, unites the Left Current, whose main spokesperson Panagiotis Lafazanis is one of the two leaders of SYRIZA's parliamentary fraction, and the Red Network that unites DEA, Kokkino (which recently merged with DEA) and the Anticapitalist Political Group (APO). Within SYRIZA, the Left Platform represents some 30 to 35 percent of the organization, though this percentage is not to be confused with the proportion within the electoral support for SYRIZA. As a party, SYRIZA has about 40,000 members, which is relatively small in organizational terms compared to a population of 11 million.

[3] George Papandreou, the son of Andreas, founder of PASOK in 1974, recently launched a new political party called the Movement of Democratic Socialists. The current PASOK, which in opinion polls barely exceeds 3 percent support, the threshold for entering government, is led by Evangelos Venizelos, the deputy prime minister to Samaras and minister for foreign affairs since June 2013. Papandreou was prime minister from October 2009 to November 2011, when the Greek government adopted the first Memorandum and passed the laws required under it. The position of SYRIZA's Left Platform is to oppose not only the addition of any political leader who voted for the Memorandums to the SYRIZA list of candidates for parliament, but also a coalition with formations like the one Papandreou has formed.

[4] ANTARSYA: Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left, composed of 10 organizations. Differences exist within ANTARSYA about participating on a voters list with Alekos Alavanos, a former member of Synaspismos and SYRIZA, who has formed a party called "Plan B" that, since the European Parliament elections in 2014, offers a program for exiting the EU and the euro.

[5] The tendency for the leading circle around Tsipras to make pronouncements in the name of SYRIZA is increasing. At the meeting for launching the campaign, one of the participants exclaimed: "We did not come here to cheer."

First published in French at the A l'encontre website.

Further Reading

From the archives