The left challenge to Tsipras’ surrender

August 25, 2015

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' decision to resign and push for national elections prior to a SYRIZA congress has forced a split in the party, with 25 SYRIZA members of parliament launching Popular Unity with a public letter on August 20. The grouping is based among SYRIZA's Left Platform, led by former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, but it is also gathering crucial support from other groups and individuals on the left.

Popular Unity will run in the September elections on the basis of contrasting the SYRIZA program abandoned by Tsipras with the severe new austerity measures he accepted in exchange for an 86 billion euro ($97 billion) bailout from European governments and financial institutions. Even Tsipras has said he doesn't believe in the agreement, which is expected to further shrink a Greek economy that has already contracted by 25 percent in the last five years--an economic catastrophe previously unseen in peacetime Europe.

Some 32 SYRIZA members of parliament voted "no" and another 11 abstained when parliament gave its final approval to the agreement with the European institutions on August 11. That's more than one-quarter of SYRIZA's MPs--Tsipras' government was forced, once again, to rely on support from mainstream pro-austerity parties, including the center-right New Democracy and the center-left PASOK and Potami.

Citing the government's effective loss of a majority in parliament on this crucial vote, Tsipras resigned August 20 in order to trigger new elections. Bypassing SYRIZA's democratic internal structures, the prime minister made it clear that he intended to exclude members of parliament who had voted against the deal.

SYRIZA's left-wing rebels responded with a letter to Greece's president, announcing themselves as a new parliamentary grouping--the third-largest in the legislature. Following the procedures of the Greek system, first New Democracy and then Popular Unity were given a formal opportunity to form a new government in place of the one led by SYRIZA. Popular Unity's three-day window for this effort ends later this week, and new elections will then be called, most likely on September 20 or 27.

The split in SYRIZA is the culmination of a long-running conflict over the Tsipras government's steady retreat from its anti-austerity program since it won election on January 25. The battle came into the open in mid-July when Tsipras, despite an overwhelming "no" vote on a referendum on further austerity measures, surrendered to European authorities to sign what is effectively the third Memorandum--the term for the packages of austerity measures that have been the condition for the bailout of the Greek financial system. Like the previous ones, the third Memorandum will force Greece to slash social spending, privatize government assets, raise taxes on workers, and use any budget surplus to repay some $271 billion in debt.

Sotiris Martalis is a leading member of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek), and a member of the SYRIZA Central Committee and supporter of the Left Platform. Last week, he spoke to Lee Sustar about the launch of Popular Unity.

WHAT LED to the launch of Popular Unity?

TSIPRAS ANNOUNCED the resignation of his government and asked for elections before anything else, including a SYRIZA party congress. That made it obvious that he would exclude from the party election list all of the members of parliament who had voted against the third Memorandum or who had voted "present."

What would be the point of a SYRIZA party congress after all this? Everything would be finished--first, the vote on the Memorandum, and then the elections.

Tsipras and the other party leaders have once again failed to follow the decisions of SYRIZA. The decision of the last Central Committee meeting was to call for a party congress. There was no decision to go for new elections.

WHO IS involved in Popular Unity?

THE MAIN forces are coming from SYRIZA. But the process is not finished. We don't know exactly what parts of SYRIZA will participate in Popular Unity. We also don't know if it will be a new party, a front or a federation of organizations.

It has begun with 25 members of parliament who have gave their resignation to the president of the parliament and announced that they have formed new group named Popular Unity.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Also, four members of the Left Platform have resigned their positions on the political bureau of SYRIZA. They accused the leadership of failing to follow the decisions of the party. Those are the facts so far.

The foundation of Popular Unity will be all of the Left Platform--meaning the Left Current [led by Lafazanis and others] and the Red Network [initiated by DEA]--and, I hope, part of the so-called "53-Plus Group" [dissidents within the majority current of SYRIZA that supports Tsipras] that disagrees with the decision of the party leadership.

In reality, the 53-Plus Group is divided into three parts. One will participate in Popular Unity. Another part disagrees with the leadership, but hasn't made a decision on whether to participate in Popular Unity. A third part disagrees with the leadership and is very sad about the split, but also hasn't made a decision. There is a fourth group that remains in SYRIZA and agrees with the leadership. Some of them are members of parliament.

WILL LEFT-wing groups outside SYRIZA join Popular Unity?

THERE WERE two meetings to discuss this, involving 13 organizations, groups and initiatives. They signed a common declaration and will prepare a bigger text with their political position.

Most or all of these 13 groups will participate in Popular Unity. They will include two or three groups from the anti-capitalist coalition ANTARSYA. One is ARAN, or Left Recomposition, the second-largest group in ANTARSYA. Another is ARAS, or Left Regroupment.

Other groups involved in the meetings to discuss Popular Unity include Xekinima, a section of the Committee for a Workers International, and Paremvasi [which means "Intervention" in English]. The Initiative of the 1,000 also participated. Some ex-social democrats, such as DIKKI [the Democratic Socialist Movement], were involved.

The groups in ANTARSYA that have not decided to participate in Popular Unity include NAR [the New Left Current]; SEK, the Socialist Workers Party, a part of the International Socialist Tendency; and OKDE-Spartakos, the Greek section of the Fourth International. But the participation of important ANTARSYA groups in Popular Unity will put pressure on them.

WHAT POSITION has the KKE--the Greek Communist Party--take toward Popular Unity?

FROM THE first day, the KKE attacked Popular Unity. Its main argument is that Popular Unity is just like SYRIZA and will continue the same policies.

But the formation of Popular Unity will put pressure on the KKE, as well. There are two small splits from the KKE that are involved. One is Workers Struggle, and another is Kordatos, named after a left-wing Greek historian who was a member of the party.

WHAT IS the perspective of the SYRIZA leadership?

THEY SAY three things.

The first is: "We put up a fight. But they're blackmailing us, so we are obliged to do this, even if we don't believe in it." Their second claim is: "We changed the situation in Europe. We opened the discussion about solidarity and stopping austerity, so we will wait to see the result." Thirdly, they say, "Our members of parliament overthrew us because they didn't vote for the Memorandum, so we are obliged to go to new elections."

They accuse Popular Unity of having the same plan as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, because Schäuble proposed a "Grexit" from eurozone.

In reality, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that Tsipras' resignation was "part of the solution" to the problem--not part of the crisis. In other words, Tsipras had the agreement of the European authorities to call new elections.

As for the rulers of Europe, they have no other political solution either. The alternative of the Greek capitalist class and the Europeans is to work through Tsipras. He is still very popular in Greece, with 61 percent support. The European powers and the Greek capitalists know that Tsipras will be winner of the elections.

I believe Tsipras will lose a part of his left-wing vote from SYRIZA, but I can't tell you how much. As you can imagine, Popular Unity is a new formation, so it doesn't have any resources, no headquarters, no money, nothing. And in 20 days, it will have to contest elections. That will be very difficult. But I believe Popular Unity will exceed the 3 percent of the vote necessary to have members elected to parliament.

For his part, Tsipras may not get an absolute majority. He may be forced to form a coalition with the Independent Greeks, the conservatives who were part of the previous coalition. Otherwise, he could form a coalition with Potami, a pro-austerity moderate party, or the social democrats of PASOK.

This was the plan of the ruling class from the beginning--to push SYRIZA into forming a national unity government with the social democrats. If they make such an alliance, that will be best for the capitalists.

HOW WILL Popular Unity prepare for the elections?

NORMALLY, GREECE is on holiday until the weekend following the August 15 Santa Maria holiday. Parts of the left hadn't come back when Tsipras announced the resignation of the government. So it is difficult to have a clear picture. Lots of shops are closed, and people are out.

Another big problem is that it there has already been four elections in about a year. The first was for European Parliament; then there were local and regional elections in May 2014; then came the national elections in January 2015; and in July, we had the referendum vote on austerity.

So this is the fifth election. And the people feel disappointed. They voted "no" in the referendum in the hope of stopping austerity. Now, some people are saying that Tsipras did the best he could. Others say the Left Platform was honest about this, and they mean what they say. You can find both those two basic opinions in workplaces.

But now begins a fight in the local branches of SYRIZA. We will see how many come with us, how many will stay with the leadership, and how many will just go home. We will call for meetings and assemblies, but the outcome depends on the balance of forces in every local branch.

In parallel to this, we have begun discussions on a text with the positions of Popular Unity. We will also have a nationwide assembly of the Red Network. The campaign for the election, including selecting the list of candidates, will begin.

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