On Friday 14 August, the Greek Parliament passed a new anti-working class memorandum. With 222 MPs in favour, but only 105 of the 149 Syriza MPs, Alexis Tsipras had to lean on support from the ruling class pro-memorandum parties of Pasok and Potami. Thus Syriza’s betrayal of their popular mandate was complete.
Of the 44 Syriza MPs who did not vote for the new memorandum, 32 voted against (these, predominantly from the Left Platform), 11 declared themselves “present”, and one MP was absent. Three differentiated by voting “yes” in principle and “present” for individual articles. These losses indicate weak parliamentary support for Syriza and does not justify Syriza maintaining itself in power.
Tsipras will now seek a parliamentary vote of confidence on 20 August and is threatening to call fresh elections in September. The last vestiges of the “Government of the Left” (albeit in a very diluted version) will be substituted with a government of “national unity/salvation”.
On 14 August Europe’s finance ministers also approved the third memorandum. In an interview on 15 August German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble expressed his satisfaction with the political agreement reached with Greece, his appreciation for the government’s efforts and his intention to support Alexis Tsipras. In that same interview Schäuble highlighted how Tsipras had realised that if Greece was to remain in euro, implementation of the third memorandum was inevitable.
As with the previous two memoranda parliamentary procedures revealed the illusory character of democracy in bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The same people in Alexis Tsipras government who used to denounce the governments of Papandreou, Papademos, Samaras and Venizelos for unacceptably quick “debates”, used the same methods and techniques in the name of the “emergency” and “special conditions”. MPs were given the 500 pages of the memorandum at 4.30 am on 13 August. This was “discussed” in the late afternoon of the same day in parliamentary committees, with MPs having the “right to state their opinion” for just two minutes. The “debate” was moved to the whole of the Parliament in the early hours of 14 August, with just short speeches by the leaders of the parties and their parliamentary representatives until dawn. The new memorandum was voted on at 4.30 am.
This is Greek democracy now. Greek citizens vote for a political party which promises to repeal austerity, then in government it violates commitments and implements the exact opposite, using laws that serve the interests of the ruling-class social minority and the imperialist creditors.
It is within this context we should assess the open bullying of the president of the parliament, Zoe Kostantopoulou, who has been banned from chairing any of the “critical voting” in parliament. With the effective endorsement of Syriza’s leadership, the ruling-class parties are asking for her to be removed.
And so a new cruel assault on the living standards of the working class and the popular strata begins.
The new memorandum will remove any remaining working-class rights and living conditions that were not attacked by the previous two memoranda. Pensioners old and new will face the brunt of it. Projected cuts of €7 billion will be made to pension funds within the next 18 months. The abolition of “early retirement” and the progressive extension of retirement age to 67 will be introduced. Even disabled pensioners will see cuts in welfare benefits and pension rights.
The aboliton of protection of Sunday as the rest day, and legislation to help capitalist bosses make collective redundancies will be passed.
Taxation for small and medium-sized farmers is increasing dramatically and the criteria for classification as “professional farmers” will become more stringent. This process will accelerate the concentration of agricultural production in even fewer hands.
The rigorous pursuit of government primary buget surpluses will inevitably require new cuts in health spending, education, welfare and insurance funds.
Finally the government will keep intact all the unpopular measures that were passed in the last six years though the first and second memoranda.
In fact the third memorandum will escalate the onslaught of the Greek capitalist class, the EU and the IMF, against the working class, deepens their exploitation, intensify poverty and unemployment. In Greece the capitalist monopolies will be strengthened against the petit bourgeois layers, privatization will be generalised and the public wealth plundered by multinationals.
Despite the slander put about by the government and ruling-class parties about the “affinity” of Schäuble and the Left Platform for an “unorderly Grexit”, Schäuble has been confirmed as a strong supporter of the Syriza-Anel government! Schäuble is now expected to help ensure German Christian Democrats MPs vote for the new Greek bailout in the German parliament.
The circle around Tsipras are saying that fresh elections can only be prevented if all 162 of the Syriza-Anel coalition give a vote of confidence to the government. This is impossible. The Left Platform, which consists roughly of 32 MPs, led by Panagiotis Lafazanis, has said that they will not give that. However, they will probably not be voting “no” against the government; more likely they will abstain or state present” in order not to be directly responsible for overthrowing the government. But Syriza’s leadership is saying that Tsipras refuses to govern by “borrowing the votes” of the other parties and so new popular mandate is needed. They are using the smokescreen of democracy to justify its opportunism.
What do they want?
In the 20 August vote of confidence they want to shift the “responsibility” of “express” parliamentary elections and the overthrow of the first “government of the Left” onto the Left Platform.
Tsipras also wants a new quick manadate before the terrible effects of the third memorandum hits his supporters. Under the pretext of “emergency elections” he can make use of his constitutional right to bypass his party and decide on the electoral list candidates, getting rid of the Left Platform candidates, replacing them with candidates that are close to the leadership, and officially transforming Syriza to a ruling-class party that at best would be a form of social democracy, the political representation of the “memorandum with a human face”. The role of Syriza’s emergency conference, planned for the end of September, will be “cosmetic” and reactive.
Tsipras and Syriza’s leadership are aiming to disempower the Left Platform, forcing them hastily form a new party or electoral front. The Left Platform and Revolutionary Left are now discussing precisely that, a group that can represent the “Oxi” of the recent referendum and broaden the anti-memorandum struggle. They also want to weaken the parliamentary representation of the Left Platform. Therefore they hope to put an end to social movementism and the “old Syriza” of the radical left. At the same time Tsipras will be able to claim a victory for the new memorandum party of Syriza as the tough measures of the new memorandum are put through.
Ultimately Syriza will need the approval and ratification of the Greek ruling class and most importantly their EU partners/creditors to call an election. Ideally the Greek ruling class would like to avoid elections, believing these would become a cause of instability at a critical time. The other three ruling-class parties also do not want elections, due to their unpopularity. However, the Greek ruling class does not want to re-run a national salvation government within the context of the current parliament where 25% of the power is with the Left Platform; that could lead to further radicalisation of Greek society and the strengthening of the Left Platform. They fear that such a scenario will wear Tsipras out at a time when they have managed to control him. All these special circumstances make the Greek bourgoisie “tolerant” of the possibility of an election. For the same reasons, EU lenders are bit fiercely opposing a Greek election.
The European imperialists have achieved their core political and economic purpose of subjugating and humiliating Syriza and simultaneously maintaining the fragile cohesion of the eurozone, without substantial concessions, with the Greek people paying the cost yet again. Germany in particular has managed to present the prospect of a Grexit as a counter-example and a threat for any other potentially rebelling South European state. Given all that, the creditors do not have a good reason to prevent an election.
The voting through of a third memorandum has set back the prospect of radical change. Tsipras and his leadership will seek to transform Syriza, against the will of its members, into a political force devoid of its pro-working class radicalism and to support “critically” and as a “necessary evil” a pro-memorandum government.
A government that implements a programme which strengthens big business interests through throttling the incomes and bargaining power of the working class and the social majority, is nothing more and nothing less than a government in the service of the capitalist class. This categorisation holds, independent of any Syriza PR propaganda and attempts to distance itself from the implementation of anti-working class policies.
We need a movement of resistance, disobedience and subversion in line with the pronouncements, the programme and the struggles of “our” Syriza. The creation of a party that will be the vehicle of these struggles. A coalition of a left is urgent.
The defeat and collapse of the strategy of Syriza, which led to the mutation of Syriza, poses the need for political reflection, open discussion and self-criticism on the left, in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. A political, organisational and programmatic break with the Syriza of the third memorandum is also necessary.
Within the left the most important political discussions are the internal conflicts within Syriza, the opposition led by Panagiotis Lafazanis and the Left Platform. The expulsion of all the Left Platform MPs from the cabinet, the scapegoating of the former Minister of Finance, Varoufakis and the President of Parliament Zoe Kostantopoulou has exposed the split within Syriza very clearly. The 30-plus Left Platform MPs who have consistently voted against the government, are touring and rallying under the slogan “The Oxi referendum was not defeated, the struggle continues”. There has been a re-opening of communication between the Left Platform and other sections of the revolutionary left. All of this indicate a new party formation and/or electoral coalition will soon be announced.
The splitting of Syriza is the natural and inevitable result of the betrayal. And it is Tsipras’ group that is responsible for that split.
One could criticise the leadership of the Left Platform of not breaking up Syriza and overthrowing the “first government of the Left”. One could accuse them for not being bold enough and exploiting the favourable conditions within the party follow earlier betrayals. For not attempting to reinvigorate Syriza’s rank and file during the referendum struggle. The Left Platform was hesitant (i.e. Lafazanis and other MPs made confusing initial statements, said they were supporting the government but not supporting the memorandum). It did not aim to gain control of the party or renew the party’s democratic functioning. Or call for an emergency conference to confirm the Syriza’s commitment to the anti-austerity fight and subsequently expell the current leadership for their political and class betrayal. The Left Platform leadership did not provide a clear political direction to the escalating opposition inside the party especially among the youth, trade union front META, the regional and local constituents, the community and solidarity networks, the majority of the central committee. They did not go back to the streets and demonstrate outside the parliament.
More recently the Left Platform should have moved boldly to gain the control and the leadership of the party.
The most effective tool would have been a call for an emergency conference prior to the ratification of the third memorandum. The correlation of forces inside Syriza was and is in favour of the Left Platform. Moreover Syriza’s constitution requires only 15% of Syriza’s member’s signatures for an emergency conference to be called. The Left Platform passed symbolic resolutions at intermediate bodies and during the last Central Committee they called for a “Continuous Conference” which according to the Constitution does not have the authority to change the leadership and therefore is politically toothless.
All this equivocation gave space and time for the Tsipras leadership to use party mechanisms to fight back and get a slim majority on the Central Committee for a conference at the end of September, i.e. after the ratification of the third memorandum and possibly even after parliamentary elections. At the same time the most radical members of Syriza’s rank and file and leaving the party, compromising further the ability of the Left Platform to fight the internal battle.
Earlier the Left Platform did not openly oppose Syriza’s unacceptable alliance with the right-wing, bourgeois party of Anel. Or the decision to appoint a conservative politician, Pavlopoulos, as the President of the Republic. And the Left Platform’s political message has centred around the currency and the return to the drachma. It’s basic political premise (as epitomised by the analysis of Costas Lapavistas) is that the currency and the devaluation of the exchange rate can be for a tool of social struggles, and that is wrong.
So the Left Platform has been consistently weak. But the Left Platform has been the medium of opposition within and wihout Syriza and still has the political credibility to channel and lead an anti-memorandum and “Oxi” movement against the betrayal.
A political formation led by the Left Platform could play a key role in representing the political interests of the working class and the poor popular strata. The consistent stance of their MPs in voting against the memorandum government in all three critical votes, increased its prestige in the eyes of thousands of members, supporters and voters of Syriza and has already created strong support for a new left party/united front.
In these conditions such a new party can develop quickly and contribute decisively to reconstructing the left. Mass parties are born in the conditions of major historical events and the betryal of “Oxi” and the broader six years of anti-memorandum struggle is such a “big event”. The Left Platform and other leftist collectives decision to take an initiative and seek to organise this large class movement is correct.
The new party should not be “imposed” on the rank and file “from above” and should not exhaust its energy in the fight for strong parliamentary representation in the upcoming elections. It should not try to be a replica of Syriza. It could establish itself through a bold call to be self-organised in committees, it can develop workplace and neighbourhood organiations, base itself on appropriate policy, and try to move towards a founding congress.
Above all it needs strong political commitments. The new left party should defend its Marxism and a strong political condemnation of the betrayal of social democracy. The new party must be rooted in the most progressive class of society, the working class, especially in the most militant and advanced class-conscious elements, and also be clear on the political principles that will allow it to be the vehicle of struggle for radical social change.
Within this overall framework, the new party must avoid being identified as the party of the “drachma” and a quasi-nationalistic road to socialism. That can only be a distraction from tackling the problems of the working class in its conquest of power and the socialist reorganisation of society. The reintroduction of a national currency would reflect an attempt by sections of the Greek ruling class to load the burdens of the crisis on the working class and strengthen the position of the major export monopolies. Of course the introduction of the national currency will be a mandatory technical method for independence from the stifling monetary control of the ECB, a necessary technical means to operate a pro-working class programme, an anti-capitalist, socialist economic model of socialised, democratically-planned economy. But it is the economic model that should be at the centre of the programme of a left party, and not the technical device or currency that will serve it.
Of paramount importance is the question of political alliances, the new left party should firmly pursue the joint, class unity of action with the entire revolutionary left including the KKE (Greek Communist Party), against the common enemy, of capital and the governments which serve it.
The workers have no need to return to the “good Syriza of 11-12”, the “good old Communist Party” or the revolutionary left of “self-sufficiency”. The working class, the youth and the popular strata are looking for new answers.
Aiming again at a “left government” from above when the Syriza government has tragically proven that the imposition of cracks and the victory against capital requires more advanced weapons — those of the most extensive democracy, those of worker power, workers’ militias and control of production and distribution — is not going to work. A strong left equipped with the anti-capitalist programme and with Bolshevik emphasis on revolutionary strategy and tactics is needed.
From today begins the struggle for the overthrow of the third memorandum and repeal of the previous memoranda. This struggle is directed against the government of Syriza-Anel and aims at its immediate overthrow.
The dominant fight in Greek society is between capital and labour. This is on the one hand the fight of capital to demolish the post-war consensus and install as society of destructive capitalism to meet its current needs. On the other side is labour, the unemployed and youth fighting for radical subversive changes that put the working class at the steering wheel. The left’s direction now can only be anti-capitalist and the character of the programme can only be transitional — financial, social and political measures, binding social alliances and political experiments that link to anti-capitalist strategic goals. The experience of the new potential social power of the subordinate classes will show that the rupture with the capitalist system is necessary in order not to live as slaves.
We are living through historic moments, with great potential and high risks. Only a left that that does not tell half-truths, that does not stay in the middle of the road, that does not promise workers’ power in the long distance socialist future by refusing a policy of rupture today can meet the extreme social and class polarization that has now emerged.