Leo Panitch says it is the first left party to come to power since the 2007-2008 crisis of neoliberalism
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The leader of the left-wing SYRIZA Party, Alexis Tsipras, claimed a jubilant victory in Athens, Greece, on Sunday. SYRIZA took 36.5 percent of the electorate compared with the 27.7 percent for Antonis Samaras of the New Democracy Party. This is according to official election data. The far-right Golden Dawn placed third at at 6.3 percent, followed by To Potami garnering 5.9 percent of the vote party. To Potami Party is considered a potential ally of SYRIZA. Whether it is a clear majority is yet unclear at the time of the interview. But one thing is clear: the Greek people have won a battle of reversing austerity economic policies championed by the New Democracy conservative party. With me to discuss all of this is Leo Panitch. Leo is a distinguished research professor of political science at York University in Toronto. So, Leo, what did you think of Alexis Tsipras’s victory speech today? LEO PANITCH, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, he was punching the air with his fist in a show of victory before thousands of people in the square just outside the university. And what he said was, first of all, that this was a victory for hope, a victory against the torture of the Greek people, a victory against austerity. He made it very clear that this wasn’t just about a victory against the troika. He said the troika is history, given this victory. But he made it very clear this was a victory against what he called the elite and the oligarchs in Greece. I think people need to understand that this is a positive outcome of a clear class struggle. PERIES: So what does he mean by the oligarchs? PANITCH: He means the very small number of Greeks who own the Greek economy. This doesn’t get talked about much. The enemy gets portrayed as Angela Merkel, etc., but who she is defending, of course, is the ruling class of Greece, who brought Greece into the European Union on the terms it was brought in. We’re talking about the great shipowners, the people who used to identify with Aristotle Onassis, although he’s been succeeded by a new generation, who weren’t paying any taxes until last year. Since the military coup in 1967, the first thing they did was remove all taxes from Greek shipowners. And they weren’t paying any taxes until last year. We’re talking about the families who own the private media, the television companies, the newspapers, who own the development companies, the construction companies. They dominate merchant trade. And they are the ones who have benefited from privatization, in partnership with foreign companies who bought up parts of Greece. So it’s very much a victory for the people. And I think what is particularly remarkable is that it’s a victory for the Greek left. The left that fought the civil war back at the end of the war, having fought the Nazis, they were defeated in the Cold War. Part of the deal done between Stalin and Roosevelt and Churchill was to leave Greek in the Western sphere of influence. And although it had been the left that had led the struggle for Greek liberation, they were excluded from power, they were excluded from being teachers, civil servants, marginalized and defeated after the Greek Civil War. And it’s that left that has been chanting–as Tsipras went to cast his vote today in his polling booth in Athens, people were standing around in the streets saying, it’s finally our turn. Now, it’s been the young who’ve been energized, but there’s a tremendous sense of historical continuity in this respect, that it’s finally the turn of the left. And this is not an old Stalinist left. That old Stalinist left associated with the Greek Communist Party, the KKE, got about 5 percent of the vote, and they campaign vociferously against SYRIZA, who they see as traitors for trying to stay in the European Union for being the kind of party which is mobilizing, associated with the social movements, etc. So this is [incompr.] new left but has roots in the long, strong history of the Greek left. It’s a great moment for the Greeks. And because they’ve been the first ones to do this anywhere in the world since the onset of this crisis–you know what happened in Latin America and Bolivia and Venezuela, in Ecuador and so on, occurred before the crisis. This is the first breakthrough by the left since the 2007 and 2008 crisis began and neoliberalism became more deeply entrenched. PERIES: Now, Leo, this is a celebratory moment, of course, and we see a lot of youth out on the streets, very jubilant. However, we know this moment from the American elections when we elected Obama, and already there’s some criticism that SYRIZA is moving from its radical left position to one that is about negotiation, that is about renegotiating the debt, then reconsidering things. And people are suspecting that it’s already moving further right. What do you think of those comments? PANITCH: I think they’re misleading. I think there are things to be very concerned about that have to do with the nature of SYRIZA as a political party, as a coalition that formed a political party. But it’s a very, very different thing than the caution one should have always had about Obama. SYRIZA is not the American Democratic Party. A person becomes leader of the American Democratic Party has already been socialized into being leader of the American empire. There’s no way you become leader of the American Democratic Party unless you are part of the establishment already. So it’s very, very different in SYRIZA’s case. SYRIZA is a party of class struggle. It’s a party of modern class struggle, in which not only the working class in the old sense but much more dynamically the working class who are made up of knowledge workers, who are made up of women, who are made up–and SYRIZA has been marvelous on this–of immigrants, etc., are represented, and it’s one that embedded itself in the last decade in the social movements, including in the great student revolt. I mean, every high school was taken over in Greece in 2009. So it’s a very, very different beast. That said, that said, the mobilization increase the last couple of years has declined. In the streets until 2013 were more Greek people per capita, probably, than anywhere else in the world, or at least very closely running behind Spain. But people got tired in the last two years. And insofar as SYRIZA has done so well in this election, it hasn’t quite been matched by a resurgence of the mobilization. It’s a very difficult thing to transform the state. This will be an honest government. But whether it’ll be the kind of government which is capable of mobilizing and organizing the unorganized, whether it will pay as much attention to putting people to work from inside the state, helping people help themselves, form co-ops, organize into new forms of political structures, that’s the question. And when I was in Greece just under a year ago–it was March 2014 I was last there, for a meeting I was invited to speak at by SYRIZA–there was great concern that the party did not have the mobilizing capacity. It wasn’t–even though it was winning people to vote, it wasn’t winning people to join the party. And I must say one of the reasons for that was that people don’t want to go into a party branch meeting and hear an argument about whether you’re going to stay in the euro or not stay in the euro between the hard left and the pragmatic leadership. They want to hear about what is to be done in their communities. And I think if we only ask this question in terms of will you negotiate, won’t you, well, of course you need to negotiate. This is Greece, after all. I mean, not even the United States can tell Germany what to do. Of course you need to negotiate. They need to negotiate hard. And I think they will negotiate hard. So I don’t think we ought to get caught up in determining everything in terms of what is said about plan A, i.e. staying in, or plan B, pulling out. We need to look much more concretely about who forms the government, who is appointed inside the state, whether they will challenge the old structures of the Greek state and democratize, introduce a fresh air of creativity politically. That’s the crucial thing. PERIES: Right. Leo, so SYRIZA, if they manage to achieve a majority, which is at this moment unclear as we’re doing this interview, what other options do they have? Will Tsipras be able to actually govern with a sense of majority? Will he be able to form a coalition with some of the other left parties? PANITCH: They’ll be able to form a government. Right now it looks like whether they’re a seat short or a seat ahead of 150, which gives them a majority, they’ll be able to form a government. There’s no question that even if they’re just short, that they won’t get the parliamentary support with this kind of overwhelming vote in their favor. I think they’ll be able to form a government. They may find it in their interest, if they’re just short, to cool things down, to say–at least, the more pragmatically inclined leadership of SYRIZA may say, well, we’ll form some coalition with this River Party, which is going to get about 6 or 7 percent of the vote and some 15, 16, 17 seats. I hope they don’t. That party is very much a matter of the modernizers, the postmoderns, those who present class politics as irrelevant, those who think that it’s an easy thing to compete in a global capitalism so long as you’re technologically high-tech oriented and so on. This is very superficial stuff. So I hope that they don’t do this. And we’ll have to see. But there’ll be some tendencies, of course, inside PASOK, who will think that they’ll be able to add that type of flavor to what they represent and not be under as much pressure from the old powerhouses, inside Greece, as well as out, who aren’t going away overnight. So we’ll have to see. I think that there’s an enormous difference between what SYRIZA represents as a party and that type of modernizing party which got some 6, 7 percent of the vote. PERIES: And what about the Communist Party? They are looking like they’re going to actually secure about 5 percent of the vote. And where do they stand? And does SYRIZA have a relationship with them? PANITCH: Well, a good many of SYRIZA’s leaders came out of the Communist Party originally, including Tsipras, who was in the Communist Party youth wing in the 1990s. And earlier than that, the core of the party was formed by people who broke with the party even in the 1980s on a more euro-communist, democratic communist type of line. The old communist party is a bunch of tankers, as we call them, old Stalinists. They dislike SYRIZA, intensely campaigned against them, in part because SYRIZA does want to stay in Europe. The leadership does want to stay in Europe, a large part. And the Communist Party has always been very much against that. So they have done more poorly in this election than they traditionally have done. Nevertheless, they’ve done slightly better than they did in the last election in 2012. They’ve picked up about 1 percent. So if you’re looking at who’s voting for class parties, you’d be adding SYRIZA in the high 30s, with the communists getting some 5 or 6 percent, and you’re really getting into the mid 40s of the population voting either for this small now, tanker Communist Party or for SYRIZA. That’s remarkable. In my country, you had a majority government with this very right-wing leader, Stephen Harper, who gets there with support in the mid 30s rather than the mid 40s. PERIES: Right. Leo, thank you so much for joining us. PANITCH: Well, you have to keep talking about this, Sharmini. The time for critical attention to this is now. The time for ensuring, for trying to ensure international support for a radical democratic Greek government is now. But we want it to be the kind of support that’s oriented to a party that’s really trying to democratize the Greek economy and take the lead in democratizing Europe, turning it away from a United Europe which is based on neoliberal principles. PERIES: Right. Leo, we’ll have you back later this week. PANITCH: Happy to do it, Sharmini. Great day. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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