Global Dialogues

Greece in Crisis: A Recent Interview

The economic and political crisis in Greece has escalated, with the rise of the neo Nazi Golden Dawn party and the development of a political movement seeking alternatives to austerity on the radical left, SYRIZA. In the following interview excerpt conducted by Doug Enna Greene of the Boston Occupier, Lalaki offers her understanding of the current situation. -Jeff

DEG: Why do you think Golden Dawn has gained so much support? What measures do you think are necessary to stop them?

DL: Historically when democracies fail, which is followed by disenchantment, political cynicism and disillusionment, a vacuum in created that is often filled by extremist ideologies like that offered by groups such as the Golden Dawn, the Neo-Nazi party that is now member of the Greek Parliament. The GD proclaims an anti-systemic position, provided that they have never been part of what they condemn as the corrupt political system and they pose as defenders of principles such as that of national sovereignty, which has come under assault by the governing bodies of the EU. Suffice it to say that they have no alternative program in place other than expelling all immigrants from the country, the people that they systematically target and accuse for the rising unemployment in Greece while they often unleash assault squads in the streets of Athens, as well as other cities, in order to attack and terrorize individuals or whole immigrant communities.

One cannot hope for any measures to be taken by the Greek government or the police, which most often directly collaborates with the GD. The Nazification of the police at this stage is notorious. Racism is rampant, especially among its lower ranks. We have many examples of cases when they strongly discourage people who have been subjected to attacks from bringing charges against their perpetrators. During antifascist protests, they openly protect the DG and they arrest and prosecute the protesters. In October, fifteen anti-fascist protesters were arrested in Athens during a clash with GD supporters. Following their arrest, they were tortured at the Attica General Police Directorate (GEDA). The incident was extensively documented and the news reached through Guardian, which published an article on the subject on October 9, and other media an international audience.

Any resistance against GD has to come directly from the people. Direct mobilization on community level has in many cases obstructed their plans to open offices in various locations or to further terrorize local communities. Greek workers’ organizations increasingly work in collaboration with immigrant groups publicly protesting the presence of GD in neighborhoods and exposing them for their crimes. In the past couple of years, at least 800 cases of attacks by GD have been documented. However, nobody has been prosecuted or brought to justice. The political system and the governing parties are directly responsible for the rise of the GD. It is our responsibility, therefore, not to tolerate GD’s attempts to make racism, religious fundamentalism, and homophobia into a rule of life

DEG: What are your impressions of SYRIZA? Where is it likely to go in the next elections? What obstacles do you believe a potential SYRIZA government would face?

DL: The Coalition of the Radical Left, SYRIZA, has risen out of the economic crisis, the disintegration of the old political system and new forms of popular organization. In the most recent elections in June 2012 SYRIZA polled just under 27%, and became the main opposition party facing a governing collation of ND, which had received merely 2.8% more, Pasok and the Democratic Left. Within the period of a month and despite the heinous propaganda which was unleashed by the mainstream media in Greece and abroad, SYRIZA had managed to increase its share of votes more than 10 points. In the May elections of the same year, it had polled over 16%, while in the previous elections of 2009 it had received only 4.6% of the vote. There is a direct co-relation therefore between the unraveling of the economic, social and political crisis in Greece and the rise of SYRIZA.

I would characterize SYRIZA as a “party in progress.” It is a coalition party that plays host to various left-wing organizations, ranging from revolutionary socialist to the radical reform-oriented and to many unaffiliated individuals still in need of a more clear agenda and political program. While moving towards becoming a more unified political group, SYRIZA held its first national conference at the end of November 2012. The fact that two different streams of views emerged from the conference, the one grouped under the so-called “United Platform” and the other the “Left Platform” is rather telling. SYRIZA does not adhere to traditional party politics, at least not yet. The draft proposals that were voted, with the “United Platform” having received the majority of the vote, are rather abstract, however, some very important points of difference were put in place.

The following constitute only the main points of contention between the two streams of thought. The “United Platform” wishes to break with the Europe of neoliberalism and authoritarianism, while it sees the fate of Greece as concomitant with the fate of Europe, and it calls for a renegotiation of the debt at a European level with the objective to discard a great part of it as illegal. The “United Platform’s” proposal further promises to cancel the memorandum, place the banks under public control, reinforce the welfare state and gradually place the strategic sectors of the economy under public control. It also suggests that its goal is to form a government with the Left at its center, leaving this way the window open to a possible collaborating with the conservative political forces.

The “Left Platform,” on the other side, adopts a more critical view toward the European Union, and while it does not advocate a direct confrontation with a return to the national currency of drachma, it maintains that it is imperative for SYRIZA to develop a so-called Plan B and be prepared for a possible exit from the EU. The cancellation of the debt, the immediate stop of payments toward the debt and the establishment of a united left front in close collaboration with KKE and Antarsya, the other left parties, trade unions and community-based movements, a front which will lead to a left government are central points for the “Left Platform.”

SYRIZA has an appointment with the history of the Left in Europe. It has an opportunity to become the leader of the various movements and radical political formations currently taking place in the whole continent by identifying with the Europe of radicalism, as the “United Platform’s” proposal suggested. SYRIZA needs to build direct relations with these movements and trade unions that already put up a fight against the austerity and social degradation imposed by the governing bodies of Europe, instead of cozying up with those directly responsible for the economic crisis. It is argued that SYRIZA is increasingly succumbing to pressures to adjust its rhetoric to a more “realistic” direction, because otherwise the forces directly related to the interests of capital will stand on SYRIZA’s way to electoral victory. However, this is precisely the fight that SYRIZA is called to give before or after an electoral victory. If the most recent rhetoric of “realpolitik” is merely a strategic move then I believe it is a wrong one because as the cases of Bolivia, Equador, Venezuela and Argentina suggest, the implementation of more radical policies will not go unchallenged, to say the least, after SYRIZA receives a popular mandate to govern.

The kind of pressures that a SYRIZA government will face is directly related to the kind of party SYRIZA will end up being. If SYRIZA develops a policy of collaboration with the governing European elites, which are deeply invested in neoliberalism and financial capitalism, then SYRIZA will be subjected to great pressures from the bottom and its electoral victory will only be short lived.

DEG: Greece has seen many general strikes in the past several years, yet they have not been able to stop austerity. Do you think that other measures aside from general strikes are needed?

DL: General strikes and popular mobilizations have destabilized and eventually brought down two different governments since 2009. By November 14, 2012, when a general strike was called across Europe, Greece would go to a national stoppage for the 21st time in the last two years. In general, workers and trade unions are caught up in a fragmented labor market characterized by what is called “flexible” employment conditions and are faced with an unequal struggle against employers who have been greatly invigorated by recent legislation. It is clear from cases like that of the nine-month general strike of the steel workers of Hellenic Halyvourgia plant that Greek as well as European capitalists will make no concessions and that unless a continuous general strike is called by the largest and most powerful unions of the country little progress can be made toward stopping the government’s austerity polities. Yet, other forms of resistance greatly hamper the government’s austerity plans.

Financial resistance has been elevated almost into supreme civil duty. Small business owners collectively resist paying the new increased taxes and fees. Some city councils have encouraged their citizens not to pay the taxes imposed by the government through the electricity bill, always under the threat of electricity cuts, while providing the necessary legal coverage. As a result thousands of households resist these practices of rampant taxations imposed on the lower and middle strata of the Greek society. Movements such as the “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” mobilize precisely around these kinds of efforts. Also, in many parts of the country, people try to circumvent the austerity by adopting a barter system. These may be tactics of survival under the extreme conditions of the economic crisis, but they also constitute revolutionary practices which challenge not merely the government’s policies but the system of capitalism at its roots.

DEG: What future austerity measures are expected in Greece either from the government and/or the Troika? How do you expect this to affect your organizing in New York?

DL: Greece is undergoing the fifth year of recession. The most recent austerity measures, worth of 13.5 billion euros over the next two years, were voted just this past November. The new bill raises the retirement age from 65 to 67 and cuts pensions on average between 5% and 15%. Salaries in the public sector will be reduced by about a third, minimum wages will be further slashed to below €400 net. Maximum number of workday per week will be increased to six days, and work schedules will be increasingly “flexible.” Collective bargaining agreements will not be legally enforceable. Along with a series of other labor changes, working classes’ status and rights basically regress to what they used to be back in the Interwar period.

In Greece strong resistance is already building against the implementation of these new austerity measures. Increasingly massive protests take place in Europe almost on a regular basis. In NYC we will also continue organizing and mobilizing against the economic and social degradation that is brought upon our societies. This is clearly a class struggle and it has to be fought as such!

Click here for the full interview.