Greece says no to austerity and yes to solidarity
Greece voted "no" by a landslide margin against the blackmailers of Europe in a referendum on whether the government, led by the radical left party SYRIZA, should accept further drastic austerity measures on top of those that have plunged the economy deeper into crisis over the past five years.
The vote on Sunday, July 5, came more than five months after SYRIZA won the January 25 elections and formed a government based on the promise of reversing austerity measures ratified by previous governments in return for a bailout of the Greek financial system. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to a deal with the eurozone finance minsters in February that retreated on many of SYRIZA's promises, but the rulers of Europe kept demanding more. With the lenders refusing to make any concessions--and cutting off desperately needed funds for the Greek government as blackmail--Tsipras finally announced a vote by the Greek people on whether to accept the eurozone's latest humiliation or not.
The lopsided victory for the "no" side has echoed around the world. SocialistWorker.org will publish more analysis of the referendum and its impact, plus reports from Greece. Here, we print statements by two Greek socialists,. Both are members of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), a revolutionary socialist group that was a cofounder of SYRIZA more than a decade ago. They are also members of SYRIZA's Central Committee and well-known voices of the party's Left Platform.
Sotiris' words are excerpted from a speech delivered to the final rally of Socialism 2015, a conference attended by more than 1,000 people over the July 2-5 weekend and co-sponsored by SW and the International Socialist Organization. Antonis' statement, written before the results of the referendum were clear, was sent from Greece to be read at the rally.
EVERY ONE OF you knows the news, but I want to have the pleasure of telling you again. With all of the ballots counted, the "no" vote has won with 61.3 percent of the vote.
The second thing I can tell you is that in Syntagma Square, there is a huge demonstration taking place right now against austerity and in celebration of the "no" vote. At the same time, in the opposite camp, the conservatives have asked for the resignation of the former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as head of the New Democracy party. Meanwhile, a meeting has been called of leaders of all the governments in Europe because Europe faces a crisis.
This was a hard struggle. They used everything against us. They closed the banks. They canceled bank cards. Every day in the news, for hours and hours, they would show pictures of lines of people out of banks. They spread fear, promising that tomorrow, you will have no money. Tomorrow, you will have no medicine. Tomorrow, you will have no pension.
The European governments and media also helped to spread the terror. They changed the question of the referendum from "yes or no on the austerity agreement" to "yes or no on the eurozone."
They tried everything. And against all this, the people succeeded.
We have come a long way, but we have a very long way still to go. Our goal--socialism--is a long way off. This was the second victory in the battle, but the war is not over. We must continue the war. We have many problems in front of us, and we must work to overcome them.
How did we get to this point? The first victory came with the election of January 25, which created a huge disruption for the ruling class and its austerity program. They tried all through these months to reverse the result of the election. But today's vote showed that the opposition was deep, and that people want to continue this fight.
What was the basis for these victories for SYRIZA? One was the party's promise to stop austerity. But the leadership of SYRIZA said to the people that there would be an easy way to accomplish this. They said they would be able to stop austerity by negotiating with the lenders. They said that because the right's program has reached a dead end and is destroying Greek society, we could make an agreement with the lenders that will be a win-win agreement--one where both sides will benefit.
But from the beginning, the Left Platform in SYRIZA said that this promise was false. From the beginning, we said there must be a hard challenge to the lenders.
In February, the leaders of the government made an agreement that was a serious mistake. They said that we would pay all the debt, and do so on time. And for this, the promise was that the lenders would release some funds for the bailout. But in the five months since then, nothing has gone to Greece. On the contrary, they have taken 17 billion euros from Greece--7 billion euros since the victory of SYRIZA in January.
And still, the leadership of SYRIZA retreated further and went back to the lenders with a proposal that was unacceptable to the people inside and outside the party that supported it. Their proposal accepted the privatizations, increased the value-added sales tax and so on.
The Red Network stated its disagreements with this proposal. We said openly and publicly that we would not vote for this kind of agreement, either in the Central Committee of the party or inside the parliament. We organized with other forces to make this statement at public meetings. And other forces of the Left Platform said the same thing, at least with respect to the vote in the Central Committee.
Tsipras was caught in the crossfire. On one side was the lenders, who want to smash this government in order to show Sinn Fein and Podemos and every other force of resistance in Europe that there is no alternative--that this is what happens if you challenge austerity.
But on the other side was the left of SYRIZA. We said we would not vote for this agreement, and Tsipras knew that the government would fall.
How will Tsipras act now that the referendum is over? His main line was that we needed a "no" vote so that he will have the democratic demand of our people to go back to negotiations in a stronger position. Our campaign for a "no" vote was different. In the unions, in the branches of SYRIZA, in the communities and everywhere, we said simply that a vote for "no" was a vote to stop austerity, to stop the privatizations, to stop the layoffs and to increase the wages of the people.
These are very different positions. And this is the problem we will face in the coming days. I can think of 20 scenarios of how this might play out, but the point is not to guess about them.
The important point is that the left is in a much stronger position going into the next steps of the struggle.
I want to finish on a personal note.
These have been disastrous times for people like us in Greece. They have cut salaries by 35 percent. The cost of taxes has increased by eight times--not by 8 percent, or 80 percent, but eight times. There are 1.5 million people who are unemployed, which is 30 percent of the working class. And in addition to that, there are 800,000 people who are working, but they haven't been paid in weeks or months.
There is so much misery. But at the same time, I am happy. We are making history in Greece. We are living history now. These are chances that revolutionaries do not always get even in their whole lifetimes. And I have seen it twice in my life--once after we overthrew the dictatorship in Greece, and now we have a chance to overthrow austerity.
You are fighting in very difficult conditions here. We know that you are in the heart of the capitalist system, but you must know that at the same time, we fight for you and with you, and we have gained a great deal of support from your organization.
And so I will close with the words that have been chants in Greece: SYRIZA, Podemos, venceremos! Oxi, oxi, oxi!
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Dear comrades, we are living in a historic moment in Greece. As we write this message, we don't know the result of the referendum. We don't know whether we will suffer a major defeat or we will achieve a huge political victory, against mighty enemies.
As all the leaders of the European Union have said, the referendum in Greece is a choice between accepting and rejecting austerity policies. That is why the neoliberal leaderships all around Europe are weighing in decisively in favor of a "yes" vote.
They are openly blackmailing and threatening the population of Greece with economic strangulation. Their stated goal is to overthrow the government of SYRIZA, the first government in modern European history that is led by a party to the left of social democracy.
Inside the country, the referendum has created a clear class and political divide. On the side of the "yes" vote are the capitalists, the rich, the upper middle class that still has savings in the banks. Politically, they are supported by an alliance of the right wing, the social democrats and the "post-political" center-left Potami party. Most importantly, they are supported by the mass media and the constant blackmail of employers who are campaigning actively in favor of a "yes" vote.
On the side of the "no" vote are the workers, the popular classes, the poor. Politically, they are supported mostly by SYRIZA and--thank god--ANTARSYA, which had the courage to overcome sectarianism and take a clear stand in favor of a "no" vote.
The Communist Party, in this incredibly polarized situation, chose the road of abstentionism. They advocated a spoiled ballot, neither yes nor no! They are giving a better chance of victory to the worst enemies of our class. They will pay a price, both in elections and on the streets, in the years to come.
We state again that we don't know whether we will win or lose. What we do know is that we fought, we are fighting, and we will continue to fight. That is why we believe that the left in Greece will remain strong and continue the struggle.
Many people, even among the international left, believed that SYRIZA was like a star falling from the sky in the middle of the night--that it would shine for a while before it disappeared forever. Underestimating the harsh difficulties we were facing, they preferred to provide us with predictions, rather than solidarity: SYRIZA will be a betrayer in the future, SYRIZA will be a betrayer right now, SYRIZA has already betrayed us. Together with thousands of activists of the left in Greece, we have proved them wrong.
Today, all around Europe, our class is facing a major assault, one of historic importance. This is what neoliberalism is about--a war unleashed by our enemies, a war that until now they are winning.
In Greece, the workers' resistance escalated to such a point that it caused a political break. It gave rise to an anti-austerity party, SYRIZA and brought it to power in government.
We are aware that we are the "advanced guard" unit of the European left that has reached the enemy lines and is facing the ferocity of the enemy forces. As a unit that is leading the charge, it is possible that we might be defeated--that we might suffer major casualties. But we will have paved the way for our brothers and sisters who are coming after us--in Ireland, in Spain, in Portugal.
We will hold on as long as we can until the major battalions of our class arrive at the battlefield--the left in France and Italy. And then we shall win.
Forgive us for the warlike tone of this message. But this is how we are experiencing the situation in Greece right now. We are facing a merciless political and class war, and we are under heavy enemy fire.
We understood SYRIZA and related to it in this open way from the beginning, with our most important criterion being the escalation of class struggle and the political struggle. This never meant that we underestimated--or even worse, collaborated with--the retreats of SYRIZA's leadership. We could easily provide you with a long list of persistent and difficult conflicts with the leadership of SYRIZA.
But for us, the important thing was that we had built the left wing of SYRIZA systematically and in an organized manner. This left can raise its voice on the front lines when it agrees with the party's policy, but it can also prevent compromises and unacceptable retreats when it disagrees. Today, everyone, from Angela Merkel to the Greek mass media--knows that they cannot make plans for Greece without taking into account the strength of a genuinely radical left current inside SYRIZA.
This is why we are standing before you with pride, because we know that we have done our duty. And that is why our organization is stronger and healthier than ever.
Dear comrades, we know that you are fighting for the same goals we fight for, and in this struggle, you are facing the mightiest enemy on the planet. The best help you can give us is to keep up this struggle. With one additional goal: Defend and strengthen the International Socialist Organization. You are providing an example--as we do and as other comrades all over the planet do--that in the most different situations, the insistence on the building of revolutionary socialist organization is an indispensable part of the more general plan for the political victory of our class.
And in this struggle, you should know, dear comrades, that on the other side of the seas, in a small country called Greece, a large and active left will continue, under all circumstances, to fight for you, too.