Thanasis Kourkoulas and Sotiris Martalis from DEA (Internationalist Workers’ Left), a Trotskyist organisation in the left of Syriza, spoke to Micheál McEoin in Athens on 24 January, just before the election.
Sotiris began by setting out the backdrop to the election and the crisis in Greece:
GDP went down 25%, which had only happened before during the Second World War. Wages are down 35-40%. Taxes have increased eight-fold, and now we have near 30% unemployment. They destroyed laws protecting workers such as collective bargaining, and there are no restrictions on lay-offs.
We have had big struggles against these measures. The peak was in 2010-12. We have had over 35 general strikes now. Three were 48 hours. There have been occupations of state buildings, the squares movement and the “we won’t pay” movement against road-tolls. The people succeeded in overthrowing two governments — Papandreou and Papademos.
But they didn’t succeed in stopping austerity, so they turned to the electoral solution and choose Syriza. The social democrats [Pasok] collapsed. Why choose Syriza and not the KKE or Antarsya? The KKE had 7.5% in 2009 while Syriza had 4.5%. It was better organised, with a larger network.
Syriza was involved in and supported resistance movements. Antarsya did too, but not the KKE. During general strikes the KKE organise a separate demonstration with their own members. In the squares movement, they said it was petty-bourgeois and that they would not be involved.
After 2012, the workers’ struggles didn’t stop. Struggles happen every week, with ERT, the cleaners at the Minister of Finance, dock workers, and public sector workers who organised public assemblies against cuts to jobs. Forces from Syriza have been supporting these struggles, so you can understand why the people are looking to Syriza.
Syriza gave an alternative, a solution. Tsipras called for a government of the left. Everybody laughed when he made that call because Syriza had little more than 4%. In the election in [June] 2012, Syriza went up to 27%.
Syriza called for unity of the left against the ruling-class, capital and the austerity measures. That was different from the KKE and Antarsya.
In the current elections, the ruling class are trying not to give Syriza the majority of 151 seats, so they are supporting To Potami — a creation of the mass media. All the TV channels show their leader speaking, a journalist from one of the biggest channels.
The KKE attack Syriza and say they will not give their support. To Potami is using this to argue that people should vote for them as the reins to not give a majority to Syriza.
The left has a big tradition. We had the Civil War. We have 45 left organisations and a tradition of involvement in the workers’ movement.
After the rise of neoliberalism in Greece, the left had problems at the end of the 90s. It was fragmented in the face of attacks. The KKE policy was sectarian, as was that of many revolutionary organisations too.
The Syriza experiment began as a unity of the left in the beginning of the 2000s, and the first time it stood in elections as Syriza was 2004. Syriza is not like Podemos, Die Linke or the Left Bloc in Portugal; it is completely different. Syriza has local branches and assemblies. They have a balance of tendencies inside, and roots in neighbourhoods.
Podemos is undemocratic. You vote online for Pablo Iglesias’s candidates in internal elections, and you can’t really have a discussion of different opinions on the internet. On programme, they really say nothing on questions such as Catalonia. The Syriza programme is more left.
It’s not been easy, and DEA has twice split away. In 2009, they want to put a social democrat as head of the list in the municipal elections in Athens. We said that was not acceptable, and went outside and stood with the ex-Maoists. We got 2.4%, which was half of what Syriza got. There have been conflicts.
Syriza has been difficult to build. It’s not a model you can just take and apply anywhere. There have been lots of fights, back and forward.
After the success of the Syriza experiment, the NAR and others created Antarsya, basically in order to survive. The best of their results are in local elections. They got 0.36% in 2009 and 0.72% in the Euro-elections of 2014. This is very small compared with what is needed.
As for DEA: in 2000, we split from SEK [the Greek group linked with the SWP in Britain], mostly on questions about how we build organisations and our relationship with the rest of the left. We involved ourselves in the movement against European capitalist globalisation and we had a relationship with Synaspismos, who were then outside Parliament. Synaspismos, one KKE split, and one Eurocommunist split formed a committee for unity which involved DEA. For this we were denounced by the rest of the left, but in thirty years of building the revolutionary party to resist attacks, where did we get?
It wasn’t easy. We have big differences with Syriza. In the PT in Brazil, Trotskyists were involved because it was a workers’ party with links to the unions. PSTU [the Morenoists] were sectarian, and the Fourth International section stayed in, but dissolved under pressure. When Lulu controlled the party and they left, they had less than when they started.
In Podemos, Pablo Iglesias said that the Trotskyists must dissolve. The Fourth International section had a congress and dissolved.
We have our independent organisation. On demonstrations, we sell our paper and have stalls. In neighbourhoods we are known.
In the last Congress of Syriza we had 120 delegates. We elected six members to the Central Committee and one to the Politbureau. We resist the huge pressure to dissolve or else be forced out of Syriza.
The Left Platform of Syriza is the left-wing of Synaspismos and DEA, and it’s more than 30% of the Syriza congress. A third of that 30% is the Red Network [around DEA].
In the unity Congress, when the leadership slogan was for a “party of the members”, we said we couldn’t dissolve ourselves. We made an alliance on that with the Left Current and the left of the majority. They told Tsipras that he couldn’t wipe out DEA. Tsipras stepped back and made a compromise. He gave us “reasonable time” to make a decision but now they no longer even speak of it.
We have kept our independence and our newspaper ever two weeks. We sold more than 1200 of the last two issues through distribution by the members, and we also sell through the kiosk distribution network. We have two MPs, a mayor in the Philadelphia neighbourhood of Athens, and a lot of local councillors, as well as 25 members elected to leading bodies in the trades unions.
Which road now depends on what happens inside Syriza. The big bourgeois papers say that they cannot accept blackmail from the Left Platform. If you have 20 or 25 Left Platform MPs, it’s “blackmail from extremists.” They openly ask Tsipras to get rid of [Panagiotis] Lafazanis, leader of the Left Platform and expel our comrade who is on the Syriza Politbureau.
There is a battle over where Syriza will go. Maybe the Syriza leaders will succeed in controlling the left, but it’s a battle and all the hopes of the left now are focused in Syriza.
You can imagine if Tsipras makes a compromise with the ECB and cuts wages, those 25 MPs could bring the government down. DEA is building a visible organisation with an audience in Syriza and in a small part of the working-class.
All the other organisations in Syriza dissolved. The ex-Maoists who support the majority and are on the right. Even the autonomists dissolved; they are in the left-wing of the majority.
Our organisation is 80% workers. It is smaller amongst youth and has big successes against fascism. We’ve built Sunday schools for immigrants, with between three and four hundred volunteers, working with over a thousand migrants. We built the “Expel Racism” movement and recruited some immigrant members. Lots left during the crisis, back to Albania and other countries, but we have involved migrants in trade union demos as part of the same fight.
Thanasis Kourkoulas added:
This is not a pre-revolutionary period. People have not decided to take power and the economy into their hands. If they did, Syriza would not have just over 30,000 members and us 350... In 2012, after the elections, people hoped Syriza would be the government and that we could stop austerity by the electoral road.
That didn’t happen so we still have a movement at a low ebb and many struggles here and there which continue to have a left political direction but are not able to stop austerity. Many more will vote Syriza but do not have self-confidence to fight on the streets and in workplaces, with some important exceptions.
We believe that Syriza should have a transitional programme ending in socialist revolution. You can still find some parts in the Syriza programme but not others. We still have big fights on the Eurozone and the nationalisation of the banks.
Our alliance says “no more sacrifices for the Euro”. This is the Syriza Congress decision but not the leadership position. We also fight over the issue of coalitions. The last Congress was for coalition only with the left and no one who supported the austerity measures.
We fight over democracy in Syriza. The Congress decided to vote for the President as well as the Central Committee. We disagreed because it created two things that are equivalent. The result we can see now. Tsipras is doing things without asking the Central Committee and the Politbureau. We find out Syriza decisions through newspapers.
And we fought for is the independence of our revolutionary organisation. People who asked us why we didn’t dissolve at Congress now say to us that it was a good idea because more people disagree with Tsipras. Some agree with the Left Platform over programme, and some of the left part of the majority agree over coalition. There are now thousands in the party who support us over coalition.
We try to widen the circle of people we know, build the Red Network, and at the same time have an independent intervention into the movement, workplaces and the anti-fascist movement.
We have 75 billion euros of bonds falling due in July/August. Either they accept a loan with new measures or they don’t.
We try to have good relations with all parts of the movement. Our MPs have been involved in hundreds of struggles and have built trust. We also try to link up with the revolutionary left outside Syriza in neighbourhoods, workplaces and anti-fascist committees. Some Syriza and Antarsya people in unions participate in joint work.
The DEA Congress decided not to be in government or any state positions. A government of the left is not a workers’ government. We support it to take forward the self-confidence of workers. It’s unacceptable for us if Syriza make a government with bourgeois parties. We do not accept any national unity or national salvation government. It’s a line we cannot cross.
The youth is part of the majority. During the last democracy discussion and regarding coalitions, they moved towards us. But they never voted in the Central Committee with us. They are part of the left of the majority but they do not openly vote with the Left Platform.
The Thessaloniki programme is an attempt to be more specific about Syriza’s initial measures. We did not vote for it because it leaned to the right. In theory, it is true that the rest of the programme is still there. In theory.
But to enact the Thessaloniki programme they will need to go into direct confrontation with the ruling-class. In the crisis, there will be a fight over wages and taxation. There will be a conflict from day number one even on this short-term programme. We will not have to wait very long to see what shape the government takes.
This will give people confidence to fight. We are not optimists for the intentions of Tsipras but for the new openings for the radical left in Greece and in Europe.