Leo Panitch interviewed by Sharmini Peries at SYRIZA Headquarters in Athens: In spite of the differences within SYRIZA over the new deal, the government remains enormously popular.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Athens. I’m in front of the Syriza headquarters, and this week there’s been a conference going on all week called Democracy Rising, in which our regular guest Leo Panitch has been participating in. The debate has been intense, so I’m going to begin by giving the mic over to Leo so that he can explain to you some of the tensions that is arising within Syriza, within the left coalition and also the Left Platform of the coalition. So Leo, let’s just begin by outlining what some of the tensions are within Syriza. LEO PANITCH: Well, of course if you have been involved as a union in a long, long, long period of collective bargaining against a management which has been making the life of the workers in the plant miserable, and you finally say we’re going to call a strike vote to show you we really have support. And you win that strike vote overwhelmingly, and you come back to the negotiating table and say you see what kind of, the support we have? And they say you know, what, forget it. We’re closing this plant. It’s just not worth it for–we see you’re not just the problem. The problem is that these workers can’t be disciplined enough to make us a lot of profits. Then what is that union leader should do? We’re closing the plant. We’re closing it this week. Most usually the union leadership signs the agreement. If it has any integrity and comes back and says, this is not a good agreement. We’re never going to say it’s any good. We’ll find loopholes in it as much as we can. But of course it disspirits the workers. They voted for this, they’re militant. Many of them–some of them at least want to let off steam in the strike. And that’s what’s happened inside Syriza. There’s enormous popularity of the government. Enormous popularity of the government. If they had an election now they would form a full clear majority. They have over 21 percent of the lead over New Democracy. Most of the people you talk to in the street are actually impressed with Tsipras and the way he stood up to this. They blame the Germans rather than Tsipras. The party, however, is very disappointed. It felt that with this tremendous mobilization for its strike vote it should have been able to get a victory out of this rather than a defeat. And I understand that. But that’s the situation here, so those in the party who all along have said it’s impossible to square the circle, you can’t strike a collective agreement inside the framework of the Eurozone, now say you see, we were right all along. They won’t let you do anything. And that sounds plausible to people. And that’s partly what’s going on. Most people in the party don’t–and let alone those who voted in the referendum still don’t want to leave the Eurozone. In fact, what the Left Platform is presenting could not be done within the Eurozone. You would have to break the European Union in order to do what they were doing, and they’re not honest about saying that. They too are trying to square a circle. Everybody is trying to accommodate the fact that most people–it’s like [a plant]. We want to be militant but we don’t want to lose our jobs. PERIES: Okay, Leo, so this is an interesting analogy but it doesn’t quite get at the tensions that we are sensing as we have been walking the streets and covering what’s going on in terms of the debate, in terms of the 61 percent that had voted to say no. In defiance of that Prime Minister Tsipras went and signed a new memorandum, parliament passed a new memorandum and accepted the deal that was offered, which most people are A, saying it’s impossible to deliver on and B, it’s a capitulation and not a democratic response to the no referendum. PANITCH: Sharmini, if I grabbed you by the neck and asked you to do something and you did it, would you say you had capitulated? If I put you on a cross and crucified you would you say oh, you–would someone say you capitulated? Of course it wasn’t a capitulation, it was forced. Had they come back and said it’s a good deal, that would be different. They came back and said it was a bad deal. They came back and said we’re going to try to make the oligarchy as much as possible wear this deal. Of course they’ll be constrained by it. The notion that you can simply walk out when they threaten to close down the economy–people want to let off steam. But if you’re serious political people, which presumably people in the party are, you want to find some strategy for now moving on. So you want to say, let’s find loopholes. If they are adding to the VAT on food, which they are by 2 percent, yes, let’s make sure that all of the trucks in the country that aren’t being used by police and soldiers, in between demonstrations are handed over to the solidarity networks to collect and distribute food to the people who have to pay and can’t pay the higher tax. The higher VAT. Let’s do that for the pensioners who are having their pensions cut, the poorest pensioners. Let’s throw resources into the solidarity networks. That way we’ll deepen what we’re trying to do anyway in order to compensate for this. That doesn’t cost anything in the budget. The imperial accounts who are coming here can’t prevent that or say anything that would prevent it. In other words there has to be a way for the party to get beyond this in and out of the Euro business, for which it’s not an immediate possibility not least because the Left Platform in saying that they could manage an exit from the drachma are being no more honest about this than is the leadership in saying we can win this inside the Euro. Because in order to manage its successful leaving the drachma you would have to be able to convert the economy so that you’d have a furniture industry again. All of the things that were lost by joining the European Union and having free trade, and all the things that are in this agreement that now we’re going to have the tourist industry opened up to the travel agents of German capital. It’s not just about the money. It’s about the whole way in which European integrated neoliberal capitalism operates. And it’s a pretense. And it’s–in fact, it’s a monetary illusion to think the problem is the drachma or the Euro. PERIES: We’re going to continue this discussion with Leo Panitch, and we’re going to talk about the memorandum that has been signed, and whether it is possible for Syriza to actually deliver on that in our next segment. Thank you for joining us, and Leo, thank you for joining us. PANITCH: Thank you, Sharmini.
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