Tsipras: No other way but radicalise further

Two new interviews from Alexis Tsipras’s visit to London make for fascinating viewing because they impart advice from a party that has challenged austerity and has seen enormous growth in support.

In his interview with Seumas Milne for The Guardian, Tsipras concludes by saying, ‘If we gain power and do not try to change everything then we have no chance of remaining in power.’

With the New Statesman, he says, ‘If of course Labour wins the next elections and opts to continue along Cameron’s tracks, then it’s almost certain that they will lose every bond with the social classes that support them.’

Of course, his urging of Ed Miliband to ‘be daring’ makes sense. Miliband has been most successful when he has rejected the wisdom of New Labour leaders and challenged Labour Right thinking on Murdoch, income tax or capping welfare payments.

Labour abstained on workfare, undermining its own support base and already causing a backlash from its own activists. Any party of the left taking power in a period of austerity and failing to offer an economic alternative will face a rapid and potentially irreperable collapse in support. We only have to look at Francois Hollande.

Tsipras and Syriza impress because of their resolute opposition to austerity and their commitment to tear up Greece’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika.

As he told the New Statesman, ‘More and more people realise austerity is not viable. There is no other way but to radicalise further’.

In Britain we need to take inspiration from this resolute stand.

There were some rare encouraging words from Peter Hain last week that suggests he understands what is at stake, when he wrote, ‘the coalition has managed to turn Labour’s road to recovery into the road to ruin – a dismal, reactionary consequence of failed policies that Labour must not think of emulating, even for a few post-2015 years. To do so would destroy trust, not earn it.’

Clearly Labour must reject any post-2015 spending plans, but it must be a real opposition before the election to win voter’s trust.

We must make the same demands on our own representatives, in the labour movement, but also build our own anti-cuts movement.

We can start this by making the People’s Assembly Against Austerity the largest possible expression of opposition to austerity, in order to create the conditions to achieve that alternative.


The Guardian interview

Greece could be the spark for defeating austerity across Europe

With Seumas Milne

SM: Alexis Tsipras, your party, Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left in Greece, has come out of nowhere in the past two or three years, going from 4% to close to 30% in last year’s elections and is now leading the polls in Greece.

First time since the 1970s that a party to the left of mainstream social democracy in Europe is a real contender for power.

Now this is obviously a product of the crisis in the Eurozone and the neo-liberal capitalism that we’ve been living through, but how do you explain Syriza’s electoral success and explosion politically in the last couple of years in particular.

AT: I think it is a very natural development given the crisis in Greece and that barbaric adjustment that has been chosen. It has torn apart the social fabric and has caused the political system to disintegrate. It has severed the links of political representation between the traditional political parties and the social groups that they once represented. Particularly, the links between social democracy and the middle classes in terms of the rights, demands and interests of the middle classes.

So it’s natural for the left to occupy that space that has consequently become vacant in Greece.

SM: One of the things that people have seen happening in Greece is that there’s a growing threat at the same time from the far-right, from the fascist Golden Dawn party and that the government is increasingly trying to play the security and immigration card against your party and to defend its own position.

Do you think it could even be said that there is a threat to democracy in Greece even when you have the situation where the Troika is dictating policy but also the threats on the ground in the situation of cataclysmic crisis, so how might that happen and how can you see it off and prevent it from happening?

AT: I think the only way to confront this phenomenon is by once again inspiring the people in Greece to believe that through their struggles, and through a democratic path, they are able to deal with this barbaric assault against them.

The only way to combat the spread of neo-Nazism is by halting this barbaric austerity programme. This is what is causing the spread of neo-Nazis across Greece. The Greek people do not have a tendency to follow such ideologies. On the contrary, they have crushed fascism during, before and after the second world war. They were a people who were at the core of resistance in Europe.

SM: Clearly the austerity programme which is being forced on Greece isn’t working and Greek debt is increasing and the crisis is increasing. Syriza has opposed the idea of Greece leaving the Euro and argued to remain in the Euro and renegotiate the terms of the austerity programme, the Memorandum of Understanding, of the Troika of the IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank

But from the outside the question is what leverage would a Syriza or left-led government have if the other parties in the European Union if the Troika opposed such a reneogtation. What’s the leverage, what kind of allies, could a Syriza-led government have in such a negotiation when even the Hollande government in Europe is moving to accept the European Union’s austerity programme?

AT: Greece, like any eurozone member, has a strong bargaining chip. What is this? Well, if any of the 17 eurozone members were to exit, the next day the euro would be unsustainable. In such a situation, Germany would be the one to revert to the Mark. This strong bargaining chip has not been utilised by any Greek government so far. And so far all Greek governments have accepted all these cruel austerity measures without negotiation.

SM: Can you envisage a situation where a Syriza-led government would leave the eurozone and might find it advantageous to do so, or do you rule that out completely?

AT: Look, there are no landlords and tenants of the eurozone. If this is something that Mrs Merkel cannot understand, well then she must be convinced that this is how it is in terms that, unfortunately, may not be very polite. However in politics and the economy, we are often forced not to be polite. When, presently in Greece one and a half million people are unemployed, there are 700,000 families without a bread winner and we are confronted with such an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, we cannot be particularly polite to those who have caused this crisis.

SM: There is no question that Syriza has a very radical programme of complete opposition to a failed neo-liberal model, a programme of public ownership of the abnks and utilities, redistribution of wealth, for pulling out of Afghanistan and NATO, workers rights. But it’s been said both by critics of yours on the right and the left that a Syriza government in practice would be house-trained, would have to bend the knee to the realities of political power, and that already you’re having to start to shift your position for example on tearing up the Memorandum of Understanding, or unilateral rejection of this or that point, of restoration of the minimum wage. What’s your answer to that and what danger do you think there is in practise of a Syriza government having to make compromises on such a scale that it would alienate its own supporters and base?

AT: This is a long discussion that is also taking place in Greece as to whether Syriza would be coming closer to what some refer to as ‘realism’. However in light of the current brutal reality in Greece and Europe, there is nothing more realistic than to demand to change such reality. These days the only realism is to overturn this social injustice, to overturn these inequalities, and to overthrow this model of casino-capitalism, of profit-seeking capitalism that devours the flesh of European societies.

I believe that Syriza can be the spark that sets the field alight. We are at the tail end of existing neo-liberal capitalism in Europe. The crisis is not coincidental. It’s a structural crisis of capitalism and of its neoliberal model. Syriza and a Wuropean south following the electoral success of a government of the left in Greece – are capable of constructing an example for Europe.

Europe has always played a decisive role in developments in world events.We believe that at times of such barbaric events, what are demanded are radical solutions.

If we gain power and do not try to change everything then we have no chance of remaining in power.


New Statesman interview

More and more people realise austerity is not viable

With Daniel Trilling

NS: You’ve just given two lectures in London: one at the LSE, and one at Friends House, a well-known venue for left-wing events. How did you find the audiences?

Tsipras: Both at LSE, where I expected the audience to be a bit colder but it turned out that most were friendly, and at the [Friends House] one organised by Syriza London, the participation was amazing. At the second one I was surprised to see that almost 600 hundred people turned up. And not just Greeks either, many were British.

And I think this means that Syriza is not just a party with interesting positions, but a force that can bring change to the political landscape of Europe – not just for Greece, but for all the people who now need to reclaim their right to a decent society, justice and hope; against those who want to see them subjugated to this austerity that doesn’t just kill wages and pensions, but democracy itself.

Would you say you have political allies in Britain?

I had the opportunity to meet with two teams from the Labour Party: an official one headed by [Jon] Cruddas, the party’s head of policy-making, and another one with four to five Labour MPs. I got the impression that the Labour party today is in soul-searching mode, and the debate around austerity is on, so Greece is for them an interesting case study. Bearing in mind that in previous years they followed neoliberal policies, today Labour are deeply troubled about everything that has happened in Greece and especially by the collapse of PASOK [Labour's social-democratic Greek sister party]. They’re following the situation closely and I dare say they are one of the few parties so close to power in Europe with whom we share a lot of positions and with whom we can be in constant communication.

So Syriza can find common ground with Labour?

It will depend upon how daring [Ed] Miliband intends to be and especially when it matters most: during the next elections when pressure from the mainstream media and oligarchs in Britain start speaking of the “red dragon” that has come to drive away the City and submerge us in inflation and poverty. Of course this will depend not only on Miliband’s endurance but also on the circumstances under which this duel will take place. Because if elections are held in 2015, the two years in between will be apocalyptic as to the effects of neoliberalism in Europe. Britain is already in depression. Nothing is getting better. More and more people in Europe realise that austerity is not a viable prospect. I hope people realise that there is no other way but to radicalise even further.

Do you think there is potential for something similar to Syriza in Britain? A party emerging from outside the mainstream that will oppose austerity?

I can’t really know that. Every country has its own characteristics and in Britain there’s a long tradition of a two-party system. If of course Labour wins the next elections and opts to continue along Cameron’s tracks, then it’s almost certain that they will lose every bond with the social classes that support them. The void left there will certainly be filled by something new. That’s the way it works in nature and that’s the way it works in politics.

At your lectures, you spoke of the need for a “European people” in order to find a way out of the crisis. Do you find the conditions are here for this to happen?

I think we are running a grave danger: to focus our thoughts on the Greek people, on the British people, on the Italians, like separate entities. The crisis threatens to drive us backwards, back to the idea of the nation-state, and to the antagonism between those states that will come about as an extension of neoliberalism, with false ideas of competitiveness and so on.

On the other hand, we need to see the actual solution: that in common problems, we need common answers. Europeans have nothing to fight over. This stand-off is not between the British and the French, the Greeks and the Germans. This is between the working class, the unemployed and part of the middle class against predatory capital.

This brings us to something current and highly relevant to what you were saying. What do you think about what’s happening in Cyprus?

I think it’s unbelievable and self-destructive.

I believe that in the next few days panic will spread to the rest of southern Europe. It is a very risky choice they [the troika] have made, and it proves they have no understanding of the objective dangers facing the eurozone. They’ve chosen to have a Eurozone operating under their rule, with the people subjugated, threatened with blackmail like this. I think the only chance Cyprus has, like other countries, is if the political system rejects this blackmail. If they accept it, then there is no way back. Cyprus’s economy will be ruined, its banking system will bleed capital as depositors will fear a second haircut, and this will spread throughout Europe.

On the contrary, if Cyprus resists, and rejects this deal by protecting its banking system, it would send a strong message of trust and credibility to the rest of the southern European countries as well.

One of the first things your opponents in the government said when details of the Cyprus bank levy came up was to claim that one of your own MPs, Manolis Glezos, suggested something similar recently.

Their claims are ridiculous.

They’re made, though.

They [the Greek government] can claim anything they want in their PR war. It’s the same team of people that has ruined the country and they can use what they want to attack us.

Of course Manolis [Glezos] never said anything like that. He spoke once about the possibility of a voluntary loan via bonds exchange. His idea has nothing to do with the proposed involuntary haircut imposed on Cypriot deposits.

Those who now govern us under the neoliberal dogma, under the dogma of subjugation, will go for anything, they’ll ask for no one’s permission to take measures like that one. They will turn us into Argentina [circa 2001] while at the same time proclaiming that their target is to avoid exactly that. De la Rua [the former Argentine president] was their ideological cousin anyway, and it’s likely a helicopter will carry them away too, when the time comes for the Greek people to reclaim their rights and bring back balance to our society, economy and lives. There’s no other possible outcome.

But your opponents will claim you are no longer that radical, and that you now resemble a centre-left party.

Well, it’s ridiculous that the same people who claim that we aid terrorists, accuse us of becoming more timid at the same time. They just spin it any way they can and hope it catches on.

So are you still radicals or have you become a party of the centre-left?

Syriza is what it is: a radical, left-wing party that feels the pulse of the times, knows what’s at stake and is after a wide consensus and unity for political change in Greece. This is something that departs from the narrow limits of the radical left.

And what of the transformations Syriza is going through? Because there is certainly something changing.

We are going through a process, as democratic as ever, and with the people’s participation it can only get better. We already accomplished much. Last year no one would have thought that Syriza could achieve this. Instead of factions, we are now a solid democratic party, that operates with the same freedom of opinions as it used to. This will lead to the formation of a new shape for us that will come about after our next conference which is taking place soon.

Are you making moves in the European scene as well?

We are looking into the new conditions now forming. Our aim is for an international summit on the re-negotiation and the cancellation of the debt of peripheral European countries. For this, we are open to co-operation with forces outside the European left as well.

So you still claim you’ll “tear up the memorandum” and not just repay Greece’s lenders at any cost?

Our reasoning is that the memorandum has already failed. It’s a disaster. We’ll put an end to it and replace it when in parliament. We’ll proceed to renegotiate with our lenders with the prospect of a reasonable, viable agreement that won’t just concern Greece, because this is not just a Greek crisis. We’ve seen that the problem is systemic. This means that when negotiations take place it won’t be Greece against the world but rather, the European South against Ms Merkel.

Let’s leave Europe for a moment; what about the rest of the world? What came out of your recent tour of South and North America, for instance?

This happened in the context of carrying a message to the outside world: That Greece is going through a humanitarian crisis and that it needs alliances with those powers that realise the danger austerity carries for the entire planet. It’s in their best interests to support Greece, not out of charity, but rather because they understand that this catastrophic tragedy needs to stop. Through these contacts we’ve had the chance to create such alliances, for today and for tomorrow.

Was something more specific discussed in terms of trade? Cheap oil from Venezuela, maybe?

Well, I don’t think there is any point to get into so much detail. What matters is that a number of countries both in South and in North America understand the the Greek program is not working and a government of the left can provide a way out of it not just for Greece but also for Europe. It will give a prospect of balance for the world economy as well, because the real threat right now is the spreading of austerity and depression.

Is the rumour true, then, that the US is positive towards the possibility of Syriza coming to power?

That’s a comment I’d leave for you journalists to make. The point is that the US are following a policy line radically different from that which Angela Merkel follows and enforces throughout Europe. The US have printed money, they intend to tax the rich in order to avoid the fiscal cliff.

These are things that sees anyone who dares to propose them in Greece and Europe, labeled an extremist, when at the same time it’s what Obama does. In that sense there are common elements, at least more than in the past, in the applied economic policy. Geopolitics are more complicated than that, I’m afraid.

One subject you seemed to leave out of your talks was immigration, an issue that the far right has exploited to frightening extent. What is Syriza’s policy on this?

Immigration is one of the most important issues on our agenda. The European South is an entry point and we need to look into a wider solution. It’s unfair for entrance countries to be forced into taking all the weight of the issue. Dublin II [the EU-wide agreement on asylum seekers] strips away the right of immigrants and refugees, to leave the country with proper documentation. They don’t want to stay in a country where they can’t get a job, but they are forced to.

So we need to examine what kind of Europe we want from now on: Do we want a Europe based on solidarity where hardships are equally distributed? Or do we want a Europe where the south is used as storage space for poor souls and the north lives on comfortably? We are approaching this both on an institutional level, trying to force a treaty change, but also through a humanitarian perspective. We can’t treat those people who arrive to our country like second-class citizens.

And especially for those kids who are born in Greece, we say nothing different than what Britain does: they should be able to get Greek citizenship. They take part in Greek education, they speak Greek and they know no other home. We need to see the future in a multicultural Greece, much like the way Britain worked it out, successfully in my opinion.

So, for a last question: how important is your role as the face of Syriza?

Faces and personalities are important sometimes, but it’s social conditions that create the context for them to act. I’ve been saying the same things for three to four years. The people accepted the message now, not because I changed it. I believe history will be written by those people, not leaders, despite the role leaders have to play in this.

Greek election should mark upswing in opposition to austerity

It is difficult to imagine the impact of austerity in Greece from here in the UK. Aside from the stark imagery of pensioners eating from bins, students forced into prostitution and children being abandoned in increasing numbers, the statistics make for uncomfortable reading. In February The Guardian reported that planned 15% wage cuts – on top of 30% already suffered – would still not be enough for EU officials. In recent days there have been reports that staff at the Finance Ministry itself have had a 60% cut in their total pay. Unemployment is currently at 22%, while for 15-24 year olds it stands at 54% with both figures still growing. GDP has contracted by 20% since 2008.

The attacks on living standards they face are being replicated across Europe, including here in the UK, but they are on the frontline and suffering more than anyone. After repeated mass protests and waves of strike action, they shocked the European establishment on the 6th May, however, and voted against austerity and dumped the governing parties out of office.

As they go to vote this weekend, the Greek people face two starkly different choices – continuation of poverty and privatisation demanded by the EU, European Central Bank and IMF Troika via the conservative New Democracy, or Syriza’s economic plan.

Having lost the last election on the issue of austerity, New Democracy and the European establishment has sought to recast this weekend’s election and sought to establish a false debate on single currency membership and therefore force Greek people to accept the continuing attacks on their livelihoods. Seeking to blackmail them, David Cameron, said, ‘you can either vote to stay in the euro, with all the commitments you’ve made, or if you vote another way, you’re effectively voting to leave.’
Those ‘commitments’, already rejected in the last election, include wholesale privatisation of major sections of the economy along with the attacks on wages and employment.

The alternative is posed by Tsipras who, writing in the Financial Times today said, ‘The people of Greece want to replace the failed old memorandum of understanding with a ‘national plan for reconstruction and growth. He has pledged his support to the Euro, talked about the need for investment to grow the economy, and will nationalise the recapitalied banks to deliver it. Another spokesperson for Syriza has said ‘our primary target is to ease the burden on the 35 percent of households whose income hovers around or below the poverty line’.
Rather than exacting punishment whilst supposedly bailing out the Greek economy, Europe needs to back the plan proposed by Syriza. Europe needs are mechanisms that will assist different sectors of the continent’s economy in times of need. An analogy can be drawn from the US and its Federal Reserve which ensures the weaker sections of the US economy are supported – not punished.

Alexis Tsipras has been inspiring in his refusal to bend to Cameron and Merkel and with his support still growing, there is now also the suggestion that the Greek left is following him. Pasok are warming to some of his ideas, particularly with their co-ordinated call with the Democratic Left for re-negotiations of the most onerous terms of the bailout and cancelling cuts in the minimum wage they had previously implemented.

A coalition is likely but the best chance they have of them being implemented is the strongest possible vote for Syriza. As progressives, we need to offer our support in the battle that Greek working people, students and the unemployed have been thrown into. We need to challenge policies that will see finance provided only on that condition that there is a fire sale of Greek state assets and the country entrenched as a low-wage nation with ordinary people’s living standards decimated.

One concrete suggestion we should raise is for whole sections of Greek debt to be written off – just as the Jubilee Debt campaign demanded for many countries a decade ago – allowing the Greek economy to begin to grow again

Who will win on Sunday is not clear but in the last poll, Syriza was on 30% when only two years ago they only won 4%. It is clear a consistent message is winning support. The election should mark an upswing in the continent’s opposition to austerity – a Europe-wide response to a Europe-wide problem. Good luck to them.


Across Europe, the left advances against austerity

The neo-liberals austerity agenda is finally coming under some scrutiny as polling across Europe has seen the pendulum swing back to the left. Elections in Greece, France, and Germany and opinion polling elsewhere have shown left advances – though not uniformly for the ‘official’ parties of social democracy. Some of them have benefited by attacking spending cuts, whilst elsewhere it has been parties to their left who have won increased support.

But public opinion everywhere is hostile to the impact of spending cuts on people’s livelihoods and that anger is being directed at incumbent governments. Candidates who have most strongly condemned austerity have benefited most.

In Greece, this has meant Labour’s governing sister party PASOK, responsible for implementing the so-called Memorandum from the troika of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF, has reaped the rewards of savage cuts ripping apart the country’s social fabric. With measures including public sector workers facing 50% wage cuts and food queues becoming a regular sight, voters exacted revenge by cutting the two main parties down to size. Where PASOK and the conservative New Democracy regularly receive 80% of the vote between them, that was slashed to just 32% in the Parliamentary election last week. Some of the right-wing vote has gone to the openly fascist Golden Dawn, but it is parties to the left who have benefited most, Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) on 16.8%, the Communists (KKE) on 8.5% and the Democratic Left (Dimar) on 6.1%.

Syriza, under the astute leadership of Alexis Tsipras, has since emerged as the most credible political force. It has been prepared to negotiate with all parties (other than the fascists) to seek a coalition government, but has resolutely stuck to the terms of its five points, notably including ‘cancellation of all impending measures that will impoverish Greeks further’ – requiring a renegotiation of the bailout. As a result, Syriza has been the largest party in two polls carried out since the election, with one putting them on 27.7%.

But elsewhere, the message is the same. Hollande won the French presidential election making a ferocious assault on austerity, declaring, ‘Our real adversary has no name, no face, no party, it will never be a candidate, even though it governs… it’s the world of finance’, at his campaign launch and pledging to renegotiate the EU fiscal treaty to focus on growth rather than austerity. Throughout the campaign, he faced pressure from the left by the insurgent Front de Gauche, combining the Communist Party and the Left Party – a split from the Socialist Party led by the charismatic Jean-Luc Melenchon. In the first round, Melenchon polled 11.1%.

In Germany, the Social Democrats have advanced in both Schleswig-Holstein and the far more significant North-Rhine Westphalia. In the most recent election, the SDP came from behind to take 39% to the CDU’s 26%. In Holland, it is the Socialist Party, to the left of the Labour Party, which opinion polls now predict could actually be the largest party in the next parliament.

What does this mean for Labour here in Britain?

We clearly won the recent elections. 38% nationwide is a decent recovery from the depths we plumbed at the end of the Blair era and under Gordon Brown. But in France voter turnout was 80%, in Greece 65% and North-Rhine Westphalia 60%. Francois Hollande and Jean-Luc Melenchon addressed crowds of up to 100,000 on occasions. Here in the UK turnout was 32% and there is no chance of a political rally on anything like the same scale as was seen in the French Presidential election.

While the Coalition parties are becoming more unpopular, and a section of voters defaulting back to Labour in hard times, there is still little enthusiasm for politics. Whilst we turned out enough voters to win the day on a low turnout, we can’t be sure that will translate into winning back the lost millions to wina general election.

Miliband has yet to deliver a message to energise the left and revitalise the political scene in the way Tsipras and both Hollande and Melenchon have. He is doing a steady job, but the evidence is a stronger attack on Tory austerity and a positive economic alternative for growth, with a more ambitious and radical version of the five point plan, would reap greater rewards.