Greece : « Who still critically supports the government, “critically” supports austerity »

> Interview of Manos Skoufoglou, member of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos (Organisation of Communist Internationalists of Greece, Greek section of the 4th International) and member of the anticapitalist coalition Antarsya. After the agreement of July 13th between Tsipras and the leaders of the European Union, the current of the NPA "Anticapitalism and Revolution" asked Manos to give his take on the situation in Greece.

Could you give the details of the plan that Tsipras submitted to the Troika ? What are the differences with the Troika's own propositions ?

The plan submitted and agreed by the troika is clearly a new memorandum, a new austerity pact that comes under the heaviest terms of all. It contains measures that strike hard the working class, such as new cuts in pensions, new cuts in wages in the public sector, a big increase in the Value Added Tax on basic goods, an increase of age limits for retiring up to 67 years. It guarantees the application of all yet not applied measures provided in previous austerity pacts. It renders bank deposit forfeitures for low-income indebted people substantially easier. It guarantees the completion of all privatizations underway and it predicts new ones: of the two biggest ports of Greece (Piraeus and Thessaloniki), of all airports, of trains and of the electricity network.

The government's proposal is almost identical with the one that the Troika proposed and that the people massively rejected by 61% in the referendum of July 5. There are only two visible differences. The first one is lower primary surplus rates in the government budget, a reconsideration imposed by reality itself, as the ones previously predicted are already impossible. The second one is a smaller reduction in the expenses for armaments, a point were the Greek government's position was actually even more reactionary that the EU's one. Apart from these minor details, the Greek government refrained from all their demands: the IMF remains in the program, there is no commitment for a haircut (never mind a cancellation!) of the public debt and the Troika technocrats will return in Greece (since January they were not permitted in, so they had to work and negotiate in Brussels or Paris). On top of that, the new financing program of more than 80 billion will be carried out in small doses not just with the commitment to apply the new measures, but under the precondition that the measures are already voted for. The first task is for the Parliament to vote for 12 reforms within the week !

We have to be clear that any attempt to find excuses for the government is ridiculous, if not treacherous. The so much praised “government of the left”, and SYRIZA in particular, are responsible for a scandalous capitalist austerity pact, it is as simple as that.

What's the meaning of the agreement that Tsipras has just signed (Monday the 13th of July) ? What are the perspectives to reject it ?

The working class of Greece massively rejected an agreement with the EU and the IMF and a new austerity pact. They rejected it in the referendum, as well as in the streets. They rejected it by their vote (all workers districts and cities voted for NO by a majority of more than 2/3, even reaching 80% in various cases), as well as by their mass mobilization. They knew the risk, they suffered by closed banks and harsh restrictions on money withdrawals, and they still consciously rejected a deal. However, the government, who supposedly supported a vote for NO, turned this overwhelming NO into a YES in just a few hours. The first thing they did the very day after the referendum was call for a meeting of all “political leaders”, that is a meeting will all parliamentary parties in order to achieve national consensus. The basic pro-austerity bourgeois parties, ND, PASOK and POTAMI, were given a chance to come back in the forefront a few hours after they suffered a major blow in the referendum.

SYRIZA's plan for national consensus worked. In Friday, the Parliament voted for the proposal of the government for a new memorandum by a vast majority of 251 out of 300 deputies. No other austerity pact was ever voted for by such a majority. Only 32 deputies voted against: the Communist Party, 2 trotskyist deputies of SYRIZA and the nazis of the Golden Dawn. An absolute shame: the nazis vote against austerity while the Left votes for it along with the Right.

The meaning of the agreement is that SYRIZA undertook the task to stabilize Greek capitalism by all means possible. They chose to undertake and apply a program in favor of domestic and European capitalists and against the interests of the working class and the oppressed. There were different choices, supported by the people, but SYRIZA opted to side with the bourgeois class. This was neither a coincidence, nor a surprise. It is the outcome of a long consolidated class collaboration strategy, of an absolute devotion to the eurozone, the EU and capitalist rules and institutions. Who wanted to see that coming, could see it.

There can be no illusion that the measures can be rejected in this Parliament. SYRIZA and ANEL are determined to vote for the program along with ND, PASOK and POTAMI. At best, there can be an opposition of 1/5 of SYRIZA deputies (plus the Communist Party), but even this perspective is not at all guaranteed. However, and despite all disappointment by SYRIZA manipulations, the movement for NO is still too much of a recent inspiring experience to be forgotten. With massive demonstration and strikes, we can reject the measures, even if the program is voted for in the following days. We will have the government against us, but this is what we are used to during all these years.

It looks like the agreement is provoking a beginning of mobilization : what is the perspective of resistance from the popular classes and what is the role of the anticapitalists and revolutionnaries?

The most determined block of the NO movement had timely warned about the intention of SYRIZA to renegotiate and go for an agreement with the Troïka, violating the verdict of the people in the referendum. This part of the movement, consisting mainly of the anticapitalist and revolutionary left as well as of some anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist groups, along with some radical unions, called for a demonstration against the government's proposal on Friday (5,000 people) and again on Sunday evening (2,000) in the centre of Athens. Similar protests were organized in many more cities. On Friday the Communist Party also mobilized. These demonstration are not yet as massive as they would need to be, however they have transmitted the message that this is not over. On Monday evening an new demonstration is called for, supported also by ADEDY, the Confederation of Workers in the Public Sector. On Wednesday (when the first measures will be put in vote) ADEDY has called for a general strike in the public sector.

It is inevitable that SYRIZA's outspoken capitulation has provoked embarrassment and disorientation among working people, although it was predictable. The role of the anticapitalist left, and of ANTARSYA in particular, is essential in order not to let anger turn into despair and resignation, but help it turn into combativeness. ANTARSYA has gained a lot of credibility, despite all political weaknesses, due to the role it played in the movement for the NO. Actually, it managed to be the centre of gravity of the most militant and determined part of the movement, actively mobilizing a big block of people and putting forward the need to reject not only the EU proposal, but also the proposal of the Greek government, as well as the capitalist EU itself. ANTARSYA is the political instrument that can call for a militant front against the new memorandum, along with whoever would like to fight it. At the same time, ANTARSYA is promoting a radically different alternative, starting from the cancellation of the debt, a rupture with the euto-zone and the EU (revolutionaries can have no more illusions that these institution can be reformed), nationalization of banks and big enterprises under workers control and general self-organization in workplaces, schools and neighborhoods in order for people to start building their own power.

The balance sheet of our own organization, OKDE-Spartakos, despite its small size, is positive up to now, both in terms of the level of activity and in terms of the political issues raised. OKDE-Spartakos is working for a united front in action, as well as for a distinct, clearly anti-capitalist and revolutionary orientation for ANTARSYA, confronting the pressure inflicted by reformism.

Can you give us more details on the stance and intervention of Syriza's Left Platform ?

The Left Platform of SYRIZA could control around 30 deputies in the parliament, that is more or less 1/5 of the party's parliamentary force. However, the Left Platform appeared completely divided and disoriented. The 2 delegates of the rProject (a network around there) voted NO, 8 delegates abstained (including two ministers and the President of the Parliament), 7 more were absent (for differing reasons though), and another 15 declared that, despite they voted YES, they are against the proposal. Lafazanis, the leading figure of the Left Platform, said that he can't support the measures, however he will continue supporting the government. Overall, the stance of the Left Platform up to now is untrustworthy and, by far, below expectations. Most of the deputies did not dare to differentiate themselves in practice, never mind voting against a disastrous proposal. They have yielded under the blackmail that voting against could mean that the government would lose its parliamentary legitimacy. Moreover, the striking incoherence of their stance gives the leadership of Tsipras the opportunity to divide them and handle them, for example by expelling the 2 who voted against from the party and and the 2 ministers who abstained from the government, but not from the party, thus intimidating all the others.

The embarrassment of the Left Platform is more than obvious. They were not present in the mobilizations neither on Friday, nor or Sunday. It is certain that several supporters of them, as well as other militants of the base of SYRIZA, will strike and mobilize during the following days. However the real question is how far the leadership of the Left Platform is willing to go. Will they still hesitate to vote against the measures on Wednesday? Will they go on “critically” supporting the government, as it will be managing and applying an openly bourgeois austerity program? We cannot know at this point, however my estimation is that the Left Platform will split on this issue.

At this point, we have to be straight-forward: who still critically supports the government, “critically” supports austerity. Who decides to break with this government and with SYRIZA, is welcome on board for the construction of a united front against the new memorandum. Who still hesitates, will be part of the problem and an accomplice of the government, the EU and capitalists.

Could the vote of the Tsipras plan in Parliament lead to a "national unity" government ? Would it spark reactions within Syriza and a political recomposition of the "anti-austerity left" ?

The will of SYRIZA leadership to co-operate with all pro-austerity parties in applying the new program is given, however it does not necessarily mean a “national unity” government. If the losses among SYRIZA deputies are substantial, Tsipras will find himself in an emergency situation. He will have to find an alternative. This could be a government on “national unity” or a government along with POTAMI in particular, however for the time being this does not sound as the most probable scenario. For the time being, a reshuffle of the government, including some technocrats and excluding a few leading members of the Left Platform, seems more likely. It is a matter of hours to know. In any case, it is clear that this government will not last for long, and that elections are not far away.

Regarding the Left Platform, it is clear that they have to align, or be pushed out. The EU also insists on that. I have explained the deep contradictions of the Left of SYRIZA before. Of course, currents that would want to work for an anticapitalist alternative, independent from reformism, can be part of a future collaboration with ANTARSYA. But they will have to clarify their own project before.

How can the unitary struggle against the measures of this new austerity pact and the government's policy organize ? What can the anticapitalists and revolutionnaries of other countries do to help you in this situation in Greece ?

The possibility for the Parliament to reject the agreement in Wednesday is extremely slight. This means that we will have to prepare for a longer struggle, in order to prevent measures from being applied in practice. It will not be a piece of cake to impose privatizations. The unions in the port of Piraeus are preparing for strikes, and electricity workers are most likely to do the same. They will not be alone.

We need a militant coordination for common action against the new measures. Inside this broad front, the anticapitalist and revolutionary Left has to be distinct and autonomous, both politically and organizationally. We need a clear alternative, not simply a “Left SYRIZA”, who would be against austerity but would share all the illusions that led to the capitulation (respect for the EU and euro-zone, respect for capitalist institutions, a class collaboration approach etc).

The wave of solidarity to the movement for NO all around the globe was of exceptional importance. It inspired and encouraged the working class of the country. We need to maintain and strengthen these solidarity links, as all people are facing the same capitalist attack, even at a different extent. At the same time, we need the revolutionary left to stand on the side of the revolutionary left in Greece, to realize and support the necessity for a revolutionary political instrument, a party independent from reformism and the government, in Greece. This would mean to reject all illusions in SYRIZA, that were (and, unfortunatelly, are still) extremely popular among the international Left.

Interview by Marcelo N.

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