Miltos Ikonomou, a leader of Syriza in Thessaloniki, spoke to us in the Syriza office in the city, a set of rooms above a cafe, while other, mostly young, Syriza members hurried about and phones rang repeatedly.
How, we asked, does Syriza explain that Greece will be better with a left government?
“With our social programme. We want the people to support us and get involved. We want something like the Popular Unity in Chile”.
A reforming left government, with wide popular mobilisation behind it, held office in Chile in 1970-3. It was overthrown by a bloody military coup in September 1973. So we asked: But with a different ending?
“Yes... Like Chavez in Venezuela. We want a popular government”.
Greece under a Syriza left government: would it be socialist or capitalist?
“We believe we can bring a socialist society, our dream, step by step. Of course the first left government of Syriza will have a socialist programme”.
What about the possibility of a violent retaliation by the state? [From 1967 to 1974 Greece had a military dictatorship, and its 20th century history included many other military coups].
“In the army and the police there are people who support us. The situation in Greece now is different from 20 years ago.
“The people in the army and the police don’t want to be involved in politics”.
But 50% of the police voted for Golden Dawn?
“Not of the whole police. 50% of the special [riot] police, MAT. The problem is the education those people have received. When we get government, we will abolish the MAT. We want a different kind of police”.
Miltos seemed genuinely perplexed, and asked another older Syriza comrade to talk with us. We re-posed the question, mentioning obstruction of reforming left governments by the top civil service as well as the possibility of reaction from the army and police.
“I don’t know... If there is a violent reaction from them, there will be a violent reaction from the people.
“Most likely is a refusal to cooperate. We had a case here in Thessaloniki recently when there was a problem among the anarchists. Some are more violent, some are more social, but the police arrested them all.
“We could have problems. I don’t know how to deal with it. It would be very difficult to change all the chiefs of the police and so on, but maybe that is the answer...”
Plainly the comrades went away to think about it more: since then we’ve had an email from the Syriza office detailing Syriza’s proposals on the police, which do indeed include the disbandment of MAT, demilitarisation of anti-insurrectional special troops, a ban on police wearing masks or using firearms during demonstrations, union rights for police, etc.
We also talked with revolutionaries within Syriza about this issue.
The Trotskyists inside Syriza
The leaders of Syriza are long-established reformists, long committed to a strategy of achieving socialism “step by step“ by successively better “renegotiations“ with capitalist power.
Some of the groups in the Syriza coalition, and indeed also some of the members of Synaspismos, the leading group within Syriza, are more left-wing.
Members of DEA (Internationalist Workers‘ Left) and Kokkino (Red), two Trotskyist groups within Syriza, spoke to us about the issue.
Nikos Anastasiadis. a DEA member in Thessaloniki, said that the leadership faction around Tsipras does not fully appreciate the seriousness of a confrontation between a left government and the state.
How would Syriza government would cope with non-co-operation from the state apparatus? “Tsipras thinks he can control the state apparatus with the help of the movement and of collaborators inside the civil service. In fact Syriza would have to rely on the labour movement and workers‘ control of services to implement its programme. For example, they would have to rely on the workers of the tax collection service rather than the heads of the service.“
Nikos sees DEA‘s task not as convincing the Syriza leadership of the real stakes and the real nature of a confrontation with the state, but rather of “building up the social forces that would organise a response“.
This will take time, he thinks. The Greek labour movement was, in his view, at a much lower stage of development than the Chilean labour movement of 1970-3.
Xaris, a Kokkino member in Thessaloniki, drew another analogy — that of the “Committees for the Defence of the Revolution“ which appeared in Venezuela during the right-wing coup against Chavez, and which operated public services and mobilised against the coup.
Nikos was scathing about the revolutionary groups who form an alternative electoral alliance, Antarsya, rather than participating in Syriza as revolutionaries: “Antarsya was set up to ‘protect‘ the members of the revolutionary left from the influence of Syriza.“
Xaris from Kokkino put it differently: “Antarsya and EEK [another Trotskyist group outside Syriza] are probably right about the intentions of [Syriza leader Alexis] Tsipras. You can see this not only in terms of his decision to talk about ‘renegotiating‘ rather than scrapping the Memorandum; but also in the way that the leadership ‘forgot‘ about migrants and the demand for open borders in their slogans.
“But Syriza is not just about what Tsipras says. It is also about the expectations of most workers. Syriza is the only hope for most workers. If you want to win people to socialism, you have to start from where they are. We need to organise workers to support Syriza in a move to the left. The position of Antarsya is defeatist“.
DEA and Kokkino agree on the need for the unity of revolutionaries inside Syriza to fight for a socialist programme.
But they also agree that if the large numbers of workers who supported Syriza as the electoral expression of their struggle against austerity are able to intervene within Syriza, that will have a more significant leftward effect than all the members of the existing left-wing currents within Syriza put together.