Will the Greek Left Unite to Oppose Austerity?
Dr. Panagiotis Sotiris, member of Antarsya, talks to Dimitri Lascaris about Syriza’s failure to implement its anti-austerity program and the political options that are now available to the left in Greece
DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News. On July 13, the Greek government entered into terms with the creditors of Greece for the purpose of effecting a third bailout of the country. The Real News has dispatched a team to Athens in order to explore the consequences, the aftermath of this agreement. And here to discuss with me these developments is Dr. Panagiotis Sotiris, an academic in Greece with a doctorate in philosophy who is also a member of the coordinating committee of a political party known as Antarsya, or the Front for the Anti-Capitalist Left. Thank you for joining me.
I wanted to start by talking to you about the distinctions between Antarsya’s platform and that of Syriza. What do you view as being the primary differences between the two?
DR. PANAGIOTIS SOTIRIS: Well, the primary differences have to do with the political program. From the start of the crisis we have insisted that the only way for a potential progressive exit from the Greek crisis was by a strategy of ruptures, which included an immediate stoppage to debt payments and the annulment of the Greek debt, and also an exit from the eurozone and an exit from the European Union as starting points for a program of immediate measures such as bank nationalizations, nationalization of strategic enterprises, and a more general process of social transformation.
We believe that it is impossible to get rid of austerity without doing something with the debt, and especially without getting out of the eurozone and the constraints of the European Union treaties, because the euro is not a [technical issue], it’s not just a currency. The euro is a whole set of institutional political and monetary arrangements that in a certain way sort of creates like an iron cage of austerity from which it is impossible to escape if you accept its terms.
And basically this is exactly what happened in Greece in the past week. I mean, the Syriza government wanted to get rid of austerity while remaining inside the euro, and this was the dilemma that the Greek government was faced. Either to accept a severe bailout package, which in certain aspects is even more aggressively neoliberal than the former ones, or to exit the eurozone. And unfortunately he did not opt for the exit from the eurozone. He opted to accept this humiliating deal, it chose to capitulate.
This is the problem. And this is basically the dividing line. But it’s interesting that this dividing line is [not really] a dividing line between Syriza and Antarsya anymore. It’s a dividing line inside Syriza, it’s a dividing line in society. And basically you can say what the Greek crisis brought forward was it as also the crisis of what we could describe as the European road. For 50 years we’ve been told in Greece that Europe, united Europe, European integration is the road to prosperity and modernization. And what we’ve got is the worst recession since the great depression and extreme rates of unemployment, and basically social devastation. So this is why we need to think beyond this frame.
This is why it is necessary to think the exit from the euro, and potentially the European Union. It might be difficult, especially the first transition period, but at least it offers forms of democratic and social control, economic decision processes that we now lack. It will offer a new sense of popular sovereignty, and it will offer the opportunity for all this society, a society which is a society in struggle, to actually put together its collective efforts to rebuild this country.
LASCARIS: You talked about the dividing line that this has opened up in Syriza itself. What do you anticipate, recognizing that there are significant uncertainties associated with how this will all play out? But what do you anticipate is most likely to occur within the party itself in the weeks and months ahead?
SOTIRIS: Well, I think that this is the end of the road for Syriza as we’ve known it. People might think that Syriza is still a left party, and many of the people inside of Syriza including people that have voted yes to the agreement perhaps can–their self-consciousness is that of being to the left.
But the harsh reality is that for the next three years, Syriza will only implement aggressive neoliberal measures. For the next three years, all policy choices will be dictated by creditors, by the Troika. For the next three years there will be no room for more progressive politics. And in classical philosophical terms, usually what you do in the end defines what you are. And at the end of the road, Syriza will be a pro-austerity, systemic social-liberal party. No longer a left party.
So in this sense, although I can understand fully the existential tension for the people who have built Syriza and now cannot recognize its policies it’s chosen, still they have to make a choice that there has to be a different political situation if we want to exit the vicious circle of austerity. And this in my opinion at least requires a break in Syriza, and the fusion of all the forces that in one way or the other oppose austerity, but also realize that opposition to austerity also means rupture with the euro and the European Union, to get together and try to change the political and social balance of the forces in Greece.
LASCARIS: Now, in the last election held in January of 2015, in which Syriza ran explicitly and unambiguously on a platform of remaining within the eurozone but ending the austerity regime, Antarsya I believe garnered less than 1 percent of the vote and not enough popular support to obtain a seat within parliament. How do you anticipate that these developments have affected the electoral prospects of the party, and those on the left who advocate for a Grexit?
SOTIRIS: Well, I think that that’s a very different situation. I think that this period around the referendum, around the breakdown of the negotiations and the new deal were moments of very important politicized–repoliticization of Greek society. A big debate opened. And people started realizing that although they might have preferred staying in the eurozone but without austerity, that perhaps these are two incompatible options.
Although from the past–we know that for the past year there’s always a significant minority of the Greek population that is in favor of a rupture with the European Union. It can even reach 20, 25, or even 30 percent in different opinion polls. Of course this is not represented by a single political party or organization [inaud.] but it is there.
But I think now–now this has broadened. I mean that many people have realized that if we are going to stay within this devastating austerity, then we need a radical alternative. I think they are more ready to accept it, to accept the exit from the eurozone.
And I will also make one simple point on that. The referendum was held under extraordinary conditions. I mean, the banks were closed. And there was a giant propaganda machine from the part of corporate media in Greece. They were open interventions from the part of European officials in total disrespect of the electoral procedure and their supposed neutrality to that. And everyone was saying if you vote for the no you will exit the eurozone. I mean, in this sense people who voted so massively for the no knew. It was a conscious choice that perhaps the rupture with austerity will perhaps require also an exit from the eurozone. I’m not saying they endorsed it fully, but they accepted it as an acceptable risk if we are to exit austerity.
So in this sense I think the actual ideological balance of force regarding the question of the euro in Greece is rather different. Many more people are now ready to accept the necessity of a rupture, the necessity of exit.
LASCARIS: People have been focused upon the economic, social and political aspects of what has transpired over the last few weeks. Something that received a lot less attention was a geopolitical development involving the Greek government. And that is that the minister of defense who is the leader of the right-wing populace coalition partner of Syriza, ANEL, traveled to Israel and entered into what is reported to have been a military cooperation agreement with the Israeli government.
Many on the left believe there is widespread, in fact overwhelming evidence that the Israeli government has committed systematic war crimes against the people of Palestine, and in particular that the settlements constitute a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention.
Do you believe there’s any way to reconcile this military alliance with the Israeli government with the principles of radical leftism? And if not, why do you believe Syriza has entered into this agreement at this time?
SOTIRIS: This is one of the most [sudden] aspects of Syriza’s policies in the past months. That is, their foreign policy options have been very, very specific. They’re trying to maintain political relations both with the United States and with Israel, and this is supposed to be the axis of security for Greece in the broader region, that is, the cooperation with the U.S. and with Israel.
I think this comes in contrast to the sentiments of the Greek people. We’ve traditionally had very much sympathy for the Palestinian cause. For the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. We have already, always condemned–and I mean not just political organizers, I mean the Greek population in many instances. The crimes committed against Palestinians from the part of the Israel state.
And we think that this is something really wrong. I think that in political terms, Israel with its current policies, its current policies of crimes committed against the Palestinians, and in a broader sense the destabilization caused by Israeli policies in the broader region. In this sense it is very negative that the Greek government tries to ally with such a force. I think that the right choice would have been solidarity with struggling peoples and not with such governments.
LASCARIS: In the ’80s as I recall, during the regime of the elder Papandreou, Andreas Papandreou, there was a lot of talk about Greece’s place within NATO and about Greece withdrawing from NATO. That doesn’t seem to have been a subject, at least in the international press, that has even played–that has played any significant role in the discussion about the direction that Greece is taking.
What do you believe the proper place of Greece is, if at all, within NATO? And what do you expect, going forward, that Syriza’s attitude towards NATO membership for Greece will be, if it remains in power?
SOTIRIS: Well, we strongly oppose the participation of Greece to NATO, and we strongly oppose this, the kind of Euro-Atlanticist line that is mainstream today in the European Union. We think that this only involves Greece into the imperialist designs, and also it exposes Greece to the dangers of such designs.
And in certain cases this can have very direct consequences with just one problem. The whole–.
LASCARIS: If I may interrupt. When we say we, you’re referring to the position of Antarsya.
SOTIRIS: Antarsya, yes.
LASCARIS: And so if you would also elaborate on the position of Syriza, and what you anticipate will happen.
SOTIRIS: Well Syriza officially, it has various pro-peace, anti-NATO statements. I think that still in the party’s statutes somewhere there is the exit from NATO. But there–you have this kind of geopolitical realism that we could not now discuss such things. And there is a certain, I’d say, infatuation with the U.S. from the part, certain parts, of the Syriza literacy which is also expressed in terms we can play the American card versus the European card, and sort of make something out of this, of this contradiction. Whereas in reality of course there is a limit to what the U.S. can do, especially in economic terms.
And also, this kind of alignment with the American line also exposes to many geopolitical dangers. To give just one example you have the [grain] crisis. For example, Greece has some direct consequences from the part of the grain crisis. Which means in American and in a certain–in a secondary aspect, European design. For example, Greek cultural products cannot be exported to Russia because of the sanctions imposed. The countermeasures, sorry, imposed from the part–Russia, against European sanctions. Greece had no problem with Russia until now, but now we have a problem with our exports.
So we are paying the price of this kind of alignment with imperialist designs. So I think it’s, for a country which has suffered from imperialist interventions, for a country whose fate was determined after the second world war by a brutal imperialist support, first by the British and then by the Americans during the long Greek civil war, it’s very wrong to see a Greek government trying to appease in a certain way big, imperialist organizations.
LASCARIS: Thank you very much for joining us today. And this is Dimitri Lascaris for the Real News.
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