This election can turn the tide in Greece

January 21, 2015

Greece's Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, continues to lead in polls in the days before national elections on January 25, making it more and more possible that the government will soon be led by a left party committed to reversing the savage austerity program that has plunged Greece into an economic depression and catastrophic social crisis.

SYRIZA emerged as a genuine contender for political power in the last parliamentary elections in 2012, when it twice lost narrowly to the conservative New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Along with the main center-left party PASOK, now led by Evangelos Venizelos, New Democracy has imposed the austerity measures contained in the so-called Memorandums negotiated with the Troika of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, in return for a bailout of the Greek financial system in the wake of the Europe-wide debt crisis.

The Troika's neoliberal program of slashed social programs and state services, privatization and increased regressive taxes has magnified the effects of the economic crisis that has sparked huge class and social struggles since 2008. With its promises to reject the Memorandums and reverse the austerity agenda inflicted on Greece, SYRIZA has won the support of millions of people who are bearing the brunt of the crisis. The party was founded as a coalition of various left organizations and contains different radical tendencies, including a strong left wing organized around the Left Platform.

Sotiris Martalis is a member of the Central Committee of SYRIZA and the Central Committee of Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), a revolutionary socialist group that co-founded SYRIZA 10 years ago and is now a leading force in the Left Platform. He was interviewed by Alan Maass about the atmosphere in Greece as the long-awaited elections loom.

CAN YOU talk about the atmosphere in Greece today ahead of the election? Is there a lot of excitement and expectation that a new government will end the era of austerity?

I WOULD say that there is more of an atmosphere of waiting and preparation. In the last four years, our side has participated in many important battles: more than 30 general strikes, occupations of public buildings, encircling the parliament building, the movement of the Greek "indignados" who occupied the public squares, the campaign to refuse to pay increased fees, tolls, etc.

But these failed to stop and reverse austerity policies. So people turned to the electoral process for their hopes to get rid of the government. Currently, opinion polls give SYRIZA a 5 percentage point lead over New Democracy, with SYRIZA running at 35 percent.

The ruling class policy has been to spread fear and panic. Every day, the media discover a new disaster that will happen if SYRIZA wins the elections. The constant threat that looms over everything is the "Grexit"--meaning that SYRIZA would lead Greece out of the euro. But there are many others. Two days ago, they claimed that SYRIZA would take away people's savings out of the banks.

SYRIZA supporters rally in Athens before the election
SYRIZA supporters rally in Athens before the election (Georgiou Nikolas | ABACA Press)

Yesterday, they tried to create panic when two of the four central banks applied for help from an emergency liquidity fund. This has been done many times before in the past, and for much larger amounts. Probably the timing of the banks' request, coming a week before the elections, isn't accidental.

But these threats have been used so continually, dating back to the 2012 elections, so people don't believe them anymore. In the working-class neighborhoods of Athens and Piraeus, the gap between New Democracy and SYRIZA has increased even more, running in favor of SYRIZA by 20 percent or more.

One former PASOK minister was asked what the greatest risk was of a possible victory for SYRIZA, and answered that it would be the expectations and hopes created among the people. Indeed, this is their greatest fear for their side, and the greatest hope for our side.

Yesterday, during all the media's scare broadcasts, there also reported that the fired employees of ERT--the public radio and television station shut down by the government in the spring of 2013--plan to occupy the central buildings of the station on the evening of the election. Many of the workers have continued their struggle, and they are looking to a SYRIZA victory.

So to answer your question clearly: Indeed, the unemployed, workers, seniors, youth--namely, our people--expect and believe that SYRIZA will end the austerity.

WHAT DOES the election campaign for SYRIZA look like on the ground?

THE GENERAL political slogan of SYRIZA is simply: "There is hope." But the ones that count the specific commitments made by SYRIZA. These include increasing the minimum wage from 511 euros per month to 751 euros; restoring the cuts in pension benefits; dropping taxes on incomes up to 12,000 euros per year; eliminating the unfair and punitive United Estate Property Tax; reducing the Value Added Tax on food and heating oil; and, most importantly, reestablishing collective workplace agreements abolished by the New Democracy and PASOK governments.

The election campaign is taking place over a very short period--about 20 days. So what prevails is an intense political debate everywhere--in workplaces, universities, coffee shops, everywhere. Will SYRIZA be able to challenge the Troika, or will the Troika choke Greece, like the experience of Cyprus? How will SYRIZA deal with the debt? Where will the money come from to fund benefits? Will SYRIZA win a parliamentary majority? If not, who will it cooperate with?

Local branches of SYRIZA and its members are involved in a flurry of activity that begins every day at dawn with tours and meetings in workplaces, and ends every night in meetings in neighborhoods, regional towns and villages, where the positions of SYRIZA and the political debates are analyzed.

THE LEFT Platform has argued that a left government will be dependent on a working-class and social mobilization to support it? What are the signs that this will happen?

THE LEFT Platform does insist that the success of a government of the left depends on the mobilization of the working class and social forces.

Despite the decline in social struggles after the high point from 2010 to 2012, the resistance never stopped. In recent months, we have the ongoing struggle of women cleaners for the Greek Finance Ministry, who were fired and their jobs contracted out. There have also been battles by laid-off school guards, teachers and office workers at universities.

The government tried to implement evaluations for government workers, with the measure counting toward being able to fire workers. This provoked mass meetings by government workers and actions at the workplace that forced the government to retreat from their new requirements. The latest general strike took place on November 24, 2014.

All of these struggles--and the wider frustration in society that these are an expression of--contributed to the collapse of the government of Samaras and Venizelos.

Nevertheless, we can't say that we are going into the election with a rise in the level of struggle. Instead, there is a feeling that that the electoral response will defeat the government's austerity policies, so all that is needed from the working calss is waiting, hope and expectations.

The confidence that people will gain with a victory for the left in elections will hopefully open a new cycle of struggles that can continue pushing a government of the left. Overthrowing austerity will further encourage the radicalization and reinforce the longer-term direction of SYRIZA.

This direction is based on the decisions of the SYRIZA congress, which took up nationalization of banks and an end to privatizations so the government can recover some measure of public control over enterprises such as the Public Power Corp. This policy, even if it is carried out in a staged or transitional way, will lead to conflict with the neoliberal agenda that capital has installed in the eurozone over the last 20 to 30 years.

HOW CONFIDENT are you that SYRIZA will win by enough to form a new government?

WHETHER SYRIZA wins a parliamentary majority depends not only on wheter it comes in first place, nor even by the percentage of the vote it wins.

A poll that came out today gave SYRIZA 144 seats in parliament--that includes an extra 50 seats that goes to the party that wins the popular vote--compared to 81 for New Democracy, 18 for the KKE, and so on. There is a total of 300 members of parliament.

Whether SYRIZA will get a parliamentary majority depends on whether it gets a high enough percentage of the vote, probably over 36 percent--and also on the size of the vote that goes to smaller parties that won't pass the 3 percent threshold for getting seats in parliament.

We believe and hope that SYRIZA will get the vote it needs to win a majority--it is very close already. But no one can say for sure that this will happen.

IF SYRIZA falls a few seats short of an outright majority in parliament, what will happen? Can it count on support from the KKE, which will likely have a dozen or so seats? Or will the KKE maintain its sectarian attitude?

ONE OF the main arguments of the ruling class and its media is that SYRIZA will not have any allies if it forms a government. For its part, the Stalinist KKE not only denies any cooperation with SYRIZA, but attacked the party systematically.

So one of the points in the media's propaganda is that the small bourgeois parties like Potami (which means "the River") and PASOK should be strengthened, with a double purpose in mind: One is to take votes away from SYRIZA and stop it from getting the percentage it needs to get an outright majority. The other purpose is to force SYRIZA into a coalition government, operating with some of the smaller parties that can then become a brake on the "extreme" policies of SYRIZA.

The implementation of the SYRIZA program will depend on the mobilization of the masses of people in Greece. Winning a full majority is the only way for SYRIZA to avoid being held hostage to parties that aren't its natural allies at all.

Because of this, a large part of the SYRIZA membership, and not just the Left Platform, support a unity of action between SYRIZA, the KKE and the anti-capitalist left organization ANTARSYA. It's obvious to everyone that the political scene the day after the elections will not be the same as it is now, and the pressures, even on the KKE, not to refuse all collaboration, will be immense.

If we have a result where SYRIZA doesn't have enough seats for a full majority, then there are three possible solutions.

The first would be an attempt to form a government of the left with either the explicit participation of the KKE or, barring that, passive support from KKE representatives. The second possibility, if the KKE continues its sectarian attitude, would be another call for a general election. Finally, the third possibility is an alliance with one or more bourgeois parties for a government of national unity--something that is not acceptable at all, not just to the Left Platform, but also to the majority of SYRIZA members.

PEOPLE IN SYRIZA and on the left talk about the importance of solidarity. What does that mean concretely before the election and after?

RIGHT NOW, there is a growing number of support meetings in different cities of the world, and petitions in support of SYRIZA, which is positive. After SYRIZA's victory, there definitely needs to be internationalist solidarity. This will be very important in helping Greece break with the isolation that a government of the left will suffer.

At the same time, we hope that a victory for the left in Greece will strengthen the confidence of workers and ignite a spark that catches across Europe. One thing for certain is that the most important and biggest struggles haven't happened yet, and we need to take part in them all together, but our struggle is a common one.

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