Provoking a split with the working class

Greece's parliament will hold a final vote next week on the SYRIZA-led government's proposals for drastic new austerity measures, as the party leadership around Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prevailed in a late July Central Committee meeting over left-wing rebels who want the radical party to return to its founding principles of opposition to austerity.

A vote in parliament on August 18 for the government's proposals would mean a capitulation to a third so-called Memorandum--the term for the collection of austerity policies and conditions that European governments and international financial institutions have demanded in return for aid to keep the Greek financial system afloat. Tsipras won two previous votes approving the agreement he negotiated with European authorities, but he had to rely on support from Greece's mainstream parties--including the center-right New Democracy and the center-left PASOK and Potami--after more than one-quarter of SYRIZA members of parliament voted "no" or otherwise registered their opposition.

At a stormy Central Committee meeting late last month, Tsipras was able to overcome further opposition mobilized by the party's strong Left Platform. In particular, Tsipras and the party leadership are planning an "emergency" congress in September--long after the crucial parliamentary vote this month. The opposition to the new Memorandum on the Central Committee and among MPs is also strong within the party's rank and file. The Left Platform is attempting to mobilize a further challenge to the leadership's retreat.

Panagiotis Lafazanis is the best-known leader of the Left Platform. He was energy and development minister in the SYRIZA-led government, but was forced out by Tsipras after he voted "no" in parliament against the new Memorandum. This interview with Lafazanis was published on August 8 in the Greek newspaper Kefalaio (which means "Capital"). It was reprinted at the Left Platform's website Iskra.gr and translated by Antonis Martalis.

The Greek port of Piraeus faces the threat of privatization (Manos K.)The Greek port of Piraeus faces the threat of privatization (Manos K.)

ARE YOU calling for SYRIZA MPs to vote against the third Memorandum? From what I understand, you are now on a path toward a clear break with the party's leadership.

PERSONALLY, I am on the same path I always was. I firmly believe, as I have throughout, that SYRIZA and the government must follow an anti-Memorandum path and take a more radical stance against austerity, subordination to the lenders, and the privatization of the public wealth. Frankly, I don't see any other way out of this nightmarish, prolonged crisis that our country is going through.

Unfortunately, it is the leadership of SYRIZA and the government that is on a path toward a break, after they entered the path toward a third Memorandum. It is a break from the essential commitments of SYRIZA since its founding--and, I would say also, a break with the social forces that supported SYRIZA and support the country.

THIS MEANS that with the choice that Alexis Tsipras describes as either voting for the agreement with the lenders or being responsible for the fall of the SYRIZA government, you chose in advance the fall of the government rather than the continuation of Memorandum policies.

THE CHOICE of either voting for a third Memorandum or causing the fall of the government is completely artificial. It repeats those countless false choices that the ingenious and imaginative come up with to trap and disorient governments into following the wrong policies.

Personally, I would say that the quickest way for the government to find itself alienated from its base and resented by the working class, and therefore on a path leading to its downfall, would be to implement the Memorandum policies with harsh new austerity measures, with a further debilitating neoliberal deregulation of the economy and labor relations, and with the sell-off public enterprises and natural wealth.

Instead, the refusal of many SYRIZA MPs to vote for the new Memorandum shows to the government the only possible direction to avoid losing its connection with its supporters at some point, as well as the only option for a positive direction to reconstruct the county.

The Memorandums have destroyed us. Perpetual austerity and the transformation of our country into a new colony of the German-dominated eurozone have destroyed us. Enough is enough!

THE EMERGENCY party congress called by the Central Committee at Tsipras' urging has been characterized as a farce because it will be held after the government has voted on the Memorandum proposals. Will you take part? With what goal?

I DON'T know what the point of having an emergency congress is if it will be held after the government has concluded the new third Memorandum, passed with the generous and poisonous support of New Democracy, PASOK and Potami in the Greek parliament and endorsed by the parliaments of other eurozone countries. The only aim of such a congress would be to blackmail the delegates with this unacceptable fait accompli, in order to get it ratified and legitimized by the party.

What we are seeking and fighting for is for the government not to proceed with the third Memorandum--to turn back, even at this last moment. It is unfair for SYRIZA to bring such a heavy blow of austerity to the country, which will cost the left dearly, and especially in our country.

GIVEN THE willingness of the government to sign the new agreement, is there a way to avoid a split in SYRIZA?

AS I told you, if the government continues to follow the path of the Memorandums of New Democracy and PASOK, the last thing that anyone should be concerned about is avoiding a split inside SYRIZA. A SYRIZA government that will implement Memorandums, regardless how they justify them, will be heading on a dead-end path that will soon bring it into conflict with the people, because of its reversals and shifts.

YOU HAVE started touring as a speaker. Are you preparing to form a new party?

FIRSTLY, I have done speaking tours constantly. I never stopped them. But they lacked the publicity they have now. Speaking tours, gatherings, events--discussions of all kinds involving the Left Platform have taken place and will continue to take place with greater intensity and scale, even though this is August, due to the extremely critical and rapid developments in this period.

I would like to assure you that we are preparing as much as we can to inform the Greek people about the devastating effects of a new Memorandum and to argue that SYRIZA should not sign such a Memorandum. The passage and adoption of a new Memorandum by the parliament will be a historic error by SYRIZA and a heavy blow to the future of the country, especially the youth.

DO YOU think the country should return to a national currency? What do you say to those who believe that a return to the drachma would mean further economic destruction and the isolation of the country?

I HAVE repeatedly said that if Greece does not have any other possible way of stopping the blackmail of the lenders, and of warding off new Memorandum policies, supervision of the government and other humiliations, it must not hesitate in resorting to a national currency, and it should be well-prepared for such an option.

The coordinated return to a national currency, despite the insistence of propagandists to the contrary, would not mean the destruction of the country, nor its isolation. On the contrary, resorting to a national currency--provided it is accompanied by an overall progressive program based around the nationalization of the banks to play a new developmental and social role and provide strong liquidity for the economy with a large productive public investment program and favorable financing for small- and medium-sized businesses--can pull the country out of the quagmire and gradually revive the economy.

With a national currency, Greece could seriously boost its exports, and substitute and reduce imports, particularly luxury items. It could upgrade its production base in all sectors, significantly increasing employment, and it is certain that a national currency would give a strong boost to tourism.

Equally important, a national currency would restore the country's monetary sovereignty, which is the basis of national sovereignty, democracy and an independent multi-dimensional foreign policy. The significant positive economic effects could drive the country forward.

I do not claim that the path of a national currency is strewn with flowers, especially in the first few months of transition. But it is much preferable to a unique destruction of Memorandum policies and the dictatorship of the euro that has been imposed on Greece and on the euro area.

SO DOES Plan B finally exist? Have you prepared it? What does it involve?

THE RETURN to a national currency is not merely a technocratic maneuver accomplished by specialized and isolated bureaucrats.

Certainly the transition from the euro to the drachma would have technical and techno-economic aspects, which are important and require deeper study. However, making the transition is, first of all, a profound political choice, which most of all requires political preparation, by the government and especially by the population at large. There must be substantial, thorough and open public discussion of the matter. The restriction of public debate about a national currency must give way to an open and sober one, without scaremongering or prejudices.

WHAT IS your opinion of the plan put forward by Varoufakis? [In his last days as finance minister of the SYRIZA-led government, Yanis Varoufakis convened a group of advisers to discuss the creation of a parallel currency to the euro, should negotiations with the lenders fail; he has been accused of exceeding his authority and even treason.] Why the rush to provide political protection?

I AM not a political "godfather" who is able to offer political protection to anyone. I cannot do this and don't want to.

It is well known that, from the beginning, I disagreed with the negotiating tactics of the government, as practiced by the prime minister and Yanis Varoufakis. This strategy was characterized by retreats, contradictions and illusions, which I repeatedly pointed out to other members of the government and within the party.

Beyond that, I reacted, and continue to react, in response to the threat of proceedings against Varoufakis, which will effectively make it illegal to make any plans for an exit from the eurozone or even discuss them. We must react, because this represents an unprecedented totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it seems that totalitarianism, the eurozone and neo-colonialism within Greece are tending to become synonymous.

Translation by Antonis Martalis.