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Radical Left Party SYRIZA has a good opportunity to win if there is a snap election in Greece, which we will know by 29 December, says Costas Lapavitsas, professor of economics at SOAS, University of London

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of Greece has to win over 12 members of Parliament to avoid a snap election. That might allow SYRIZA, the left party led by Alexis Tsipras, to gain power. The Greek parliament has had two votes to secure the government, but failed to do so.

Now joining us from London to discuss what’s happening is Costas Lapavitsas. He’s a professor of economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He teaches political economy of finance. And he’s a regular columnist for The Guardian.

Thank you so much for joining us, Costas.


PERIES: So what is the situation in Greece, and what can we expect in the next few days?

LAPAVITSAS: The situation is very fluid and very unstable at the moment. There’ve been two votes in Parliament attempting to elect the new president of the republic. They’ve been inconclusive. And we’re heading towards the third and final vote on 29 December. It looks as if the government will find it very difficult to make the required number. They need 180 MPs out of 300. They’re 12 short. It looks as if they’ll find it very difficult. If they do, there’s going to be an election. That’s what the Constitution says. The election will probably take place towards the end of January or beginning of February the latest. If there is election, then we can confidently expect the main opposition party, SYRIZA, which is the main party of the left, to win and form government, either by itself or with the [incompr.] historic moment for Greece and very important moment for Europe.

PERIES: And why do you make this prediction that SYRIZA will win? What are the indicators?

LAPAVITSAS: Every election poll the last six months to a year has put SYRIZA ahead. There is no doubt that there is a groundswell of support. And if the election polls show that SYRIZA is ahead by a good few points, then, come election time, the undecideds, of whom there are quite a few, are likely to vote for the party that is most likely to form a government. This is how [that’s how (?)] it works. So SYRIZA will probably emerge even stronger.

We don’t know if it’s going to have enough support, enough support to form a government by itself, but it’s almost certain that it will be the biggest party. It would be a major surprise if it’s not the biggest party. The main reason for this, of course, is not so much what SYRIZA has said itself, which is fine, and we can talk about it a minute I’m sure; it’s mostly that the government coalition has basically fallen apart. By applying the austerity measures and all the various other economic policies that the European Union has foisted upon Greece, they have basically destroyed their electoral support. The country is against them. There’s no question. Even the hard core of their support is ebbing away.

PERIES: Now, Costas, SYRIZA is a broad coalition from left to radical left. What are some of the points of contention?

LAPAVITSAS: Let me put it this way to you. Ever since the Eurozone crisis broke out–it’s now four years ago–there’ve been two major lines of argument within the left across Europe. One line of argument basically said, we need hardline policies, we need to go against austerity, and we need to break out of the Monetary Union, and we need to go for radical /riˈsɛbɪŋ/ of economy and society. The other line has been saying, we need radical measures, we need to go against what the European Union is imposing on our countries, but we don’t need to get out of the European Monetary Union, we can make these changes within the Union, and by making these changes within the Union, we can change the Union itself. We might call the first line the get out of the euro line and the second line the good euro line.

Politically, the good euro line has triumphed. That is what the main line of SYRIZA is, that it will make profound changes, that it will oppose what the European Union is imposing on Greece, but it will not get out of the Monetary Union, it will not break unilaterally with the European Union in its power.

Within SYRIZA, however, you will find supporters and people who think along the other line, too. SYRIZA is a big coalition. It contains all kinds of left currents. And it contains a very strong element that basically thinks there will be conflict with the European Union. That’s going to play out now. We are a few steps away from that.

PERIES: Now, the business press is reporting that even if SYRIZA gets in, that Alexis Tsipras is actually speaking from both sides of his mouth. On one hand he’s saying he’s not averse to staying in the European Union, but he has no fetish with the euro. What does he mean by this?

LAPAVITSAS: He hasn’t actually said that he’s got no fetish with the euro. This is old news. Tsipras and his group in the leadership of SYRIZA used to say that some time ago. That’s how they fought the last election in 2012. The current line of SYRIZA, the current line of Tsipras and the group around it who runs SYRIZA is that they will stay in the euro, they will not–they’ve got no plans, no intention to break out of the euro. So they will make all these changes, all these radical things, which–they’re very nice, actually; they–very desirable, and they ought to happen. But they are promising that they will do them by staying within the euro. And we will see. That will be tested out very soon, in the–early next year.

PERIES: And do you think that’s a good idea?

LAPAVITSAS: I think that–before I answer that, let me tell you something that’s very important. At the moment, the forces of reaction in Greece, the forces of conservatism, which have basically ruined the country, are engaging in a campaign of terrorizing people again. That’s how they won the last election in 2012, on the basis of fear, that if you don’t apply these policies, these austerity policies, if you don’t do that, then the country will be forced out of the Monetary Union, and then the sky is going to cave in. If they were forced out of the Union, the Monetary Union, it would be a disaster. They scare people. And they’re trying to do the same thing now. They are trying to do exactly the same thing now. And if there is an election, the scaremongering will reach fever pitch. There’s no question. It’s clear. And it’s not a reasoned argument. It’s not a rational argument. It’s just fear. So we’ve got to be very careful when we discuss the options and the possibilities of action by SYRIZA.

Now, the program that SYRIZA has proclaimed is actually very desirable and quite modest. They are not particularly radical in what they are promising to do. They are not revolutionary. What they want to do is basically achieve a significant reduction of the debt, a debt write-off, which the country needs, and then they want to lift austerity, they want to lift tax, the huge burden of tax on the country. They want to reconnect people to electricity, do something about food supply, do something about unemployment, and do something about public investment. These are minimal measures. They ought to happen, and they ought to happen immediately. So all right-thinking people and all people of the left ought to be supporting SYRIZA. And that’s what I do.

However, I have serious doubts as to whether that is feasible within the Monetary Union. I don’t think it is. I think there will be conflict. And then we will see what will happen.

PERIES: So, Costas, isn’t it a bit contradictory, being able to address the debt and pay back or renegotiate with the European Union and address austerity at the same time? These seem to be contradictory goals.

LAPAVITSAS: I personally have been one of the most outspoken critics of this line, and I have pointed that out many a time. But history and politics doesn’t always move along rational lines.

The Greek people at the moment are moving away from the right and from forces of conservatism, and they’re going to SYRIZA. That’s a very important moment in Greek history, and it potentially could be a very important moment in European history, because we might see something happening for the first time against austerity across Europe.

Now, it’s not happening along lines that I would find rational, as I said, no, or logical, and it’s not happen along lines that I would prefer in terms of a radical challenge to the status quo in Europe and to capitalism itself. But these are the lines along which it’s happening. So, in my view, SYRIZA ought to be supported. And those who understand that there is likely to be struggle and serious conflict ahead ought to be preparing for it, even if that doesn’t include the leadership of SYRIZA. Even if the leadership of SYRIZA think that they can achieve it within the Monetary Union, which I don’t, those who understand what is likely to happen ought to be supporting SYRIZA and preparing for the battles ahead, I think.

PERIES: Costas, now, the business press is reporting that the economy is doing very well. And is that so for ordinary people? Are the situation of employment and ordinary life for people who suffered during the crisis, are they doing better?

LAPAVITSAS: The recession is coming to an end. It’s clear. The Greek economy has basically stopped contracting. It has contracted by an overall amount of 25 percent. It’s a monumental contraction, comparable to the /ˌintəˈgwʊl/ great crisis in the United States, 1930s. Unemployment reached 27 percent during that period and poverty exploded.

Now, the recession is coming to an end. The economy is not contracting anymore. There might be some weak, anemic growth this year and possibly the next year.

That doesn’t mean at all, however, that the condition of everyday life, the conditions of everyday life are actually getting better. On the contrary, poverty, despite the end of the recession, is actually getting worse still. Greece is facing a peculiar humanitarian crisis that is kept silent, but it’s actually humanitarian crisis. In a way, that’s why SYRIZA has made headway, because it has understood it and it has promised to deal immediately with the humanitarian dimension of the Greek crisis, which–very shamefully, it has been kept quiet. If SYRIZA will reconnect people to the electricity network, it will do something about soup kitchens, it will do something about homeless people, and it will deal with the deepening absolute poverty, especially for children that the country’s facing–these are not getting better. So neither the economy is going anywhere very fast, nor is Greek society improving in any serious way.

That’s why there’s such anger among people and such a turn away from the conservative parties and towards the party of the left. The party of the left had better deliver. Whatever else it does, it has an obligation towards the Greek people and towards everybody else in Europe to apply its program. If that means conflict, so be it.

PERIES: Right. So, Costas, I want to thank you for joining us, and we will keep an eye on what’s happening in the next few days and will definitely come back to you for an update.

LAPAVITSAS: We will know after 29 December, when the third vote in Parliament will take place. Then we will know whether we’re going to have an election. And the month of January is bound to be very, very interesting for socialists and left-wingers across the world.

PERIES: Great. I thank you for joining us.

LAPAVITSAS: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Costas Lapavitsas is a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London