Defeat and Demoralization in Greece (1/2)

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Stathis Kouvelakis, member of Popular Unity, says the SYRIZA capitulation to creditors was followed by a voter turnout of 44%, the lowest in the country’s history.

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Story Transcript

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

Popular Unity in Greece was only founded on August 21 of 2015. Just one month before the second snap election for 2015 took place on September 20. The election was triggered when Alexis Tsipras, the current prime minister of Greece, had to resign on August 20 after serving just seven months as prime minister. Following two major votes on the bailout agreement implied a de facto non-confidence in the Tsipras-led government. What resulted was heated party meetings between those who supported Alexis Tsipras accepting the bailout package and those who wanted to exit the Euro, default on the debt, and go back to using the drachma and form a new economy in Greece. This forced a split in the Syriza party. The Left Platform camp went into the Popular Unity party headed by former energy minister Lafazanis.

In the election, the Popular Unity party received only 2.86 percent of the popular vote, just short of the required 3 percent to be permitted entry into parliament. This unfortunately has left much of the progressive left former MPs out of parliamentary debate. Now joining me to discuss the future of Popular Unity is Stathis Kouvelakis. He is a member of Popular Unity. Prior to that he served on the Central Committee of Syriza, and he was a member of the Left Platform of Syriza until the party then split in August. He’s the author of many books and a reader in political theory at King’s College, London. Stathis, good to have you with us.

STATHIS KOUVELAKIS: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: Stathis, we were there during the July 5th referendum. We witnessed the political bind that the Left Platform was in when Syriza capitulated to the demands of the creditors, disregarding the results of the referendum. The split and the formation of Popular Unity became necessary, but running in a snap election with a month’s notice was a tall order, how are those who followed your lead in the Popular Unity feeling about all of what happened and what is the mood in Greece at the moment?

KOUVELAKIS: Right. The first thing that needs to be said, I think, is that the dominant mood in Greece is a mood of disappointment and demoralization. And I think that this is quite easily understandable. When, you know, the general of an army capitulates it’s a bit difficult to expect from the soldiers not to be affected by this capitulation. So in that context of demoralization and of defeat, there were two reactions to that that prevailed. The first is the logic of the lesser evil. And this is why a majority of those who had voted for Syriza, the coalition of the radical left in January, voted again for that same party in the September elections. The thought, they have the illusion, that Syriza could still somehow soften up some of the austerity which is included in the new package.

Now, another very substantial part of the electorate is just completely alienated by politics. Deeply disappointed and angry. And those people abstained. And this is why those elections registered the lowest turnout ever in Greek political history with official abstention rates reaching 44 percent. So this is also an indication that those who had put their hope and their aspirations for another cause in Syriza now feel deeply demoralized, deeply disaffected, and in some cases we might say that the lowering of expectations has been absolutely dramatic.

So it was very difficult for us to wage a battle in those circumstances. We had very little time. This whole move of calling for early elections in mid-August, you know, for God’s sake, in Greece in mid-August calling for early elections. And essentially this move was meant to prevent us from running in the elections, or at least for giving us as little time as possible to organize. And so we had to face an enormous difficulty. We had to start everything and in less than a month go to the elections.

And it also took by surprise the electorate, because the other aim of that move was for people to vote before the concrete impact of those draconian austerity measures could be felt in broader society.

PERIES: So now Popular Unity should have garnered more votes because it honored the July 5 referendum, where 62 percent of the people voted no to accepting the bailout packaged offered to Greece, of course, by the eurozone. So then what happened? Why did the Oxhi vote, or those who voted no in the referendum, not follow suit and vote for Popular Unity?

KOUVELAKIS: I think indeed that what lacked in the campaign, partly due to the objective lack of time, partly also because we were not sufficiently prepared for that, was a more elaborate programmatic statement explaining why the option of maintaining the anti-austerity direction and going for a confrontation with the European Union and the European institutions, which means leaving the Euro, because what we have seen actually all these months is if we stay in the Euro then inevitably we’ll have to swallow memorandums and even more of austerity and those memoranda. So we needed to explain how this is a viable and sustainable option for the country, and why this is beneficial for the working people.

But what I want to also add is that the dominant narrative in Greece, the narrative of Tsipras, of the government, and of course of all the media and the system supporting this policy is that, is the, you know, the well-known team now. There is no alternative. They don’t say, you know, we are happy about the new memorandum or that, you know, it is intrinsically good. Although they start saying a bit of that now, because they are quickly adapting to this new course, and integrating that in their identity and their profile. But however, the dominant justification remains: we had no other option.

Well, we think exactly the contrary. But we clearly need to develop in a more systematic way the reasons we believe so. And what is I think essential here is that we see that opportunity, we see that possibility, as an opportunity to bring the deep social change Greece needs. And this is how we see things. You have mentioned before that our project is to develop the national economy. Well, of course it is to reconstruct a destroyed economy, to reconstruct a destroyed social fabric, and to reconstruct a proper state, a proper set of public institutions which also have been dismantled these last five years of the Troika rule and of the memoranda.

But our goal is to bring a shift in the balance of social forces in Greece, and to bring exactly all of those changes that are necessary for the social majority, for the working people actually to improve their life and to change also their, their position within, within society. So this is what our aim is for. We want actually to put forward a transitional program that will lead to deep social change.

PERIES: Stathis, as a result of the election and as a result of the split in Syriza, now what has come about is a situation in parliament where the left resistance and the former Left Platform resistance in the party is vacant. What will this mean for Greece?

KOUVELAKIS: Well, of course it’s a very negative outcome, which is due to the fact that we haven’t reached, by a very narrow margin, the 3 percent threshold that would have allowed us to enter parliament. And the only left-wing force in parliament now is the Communist Party, but the Communist Party has proved during all those years that it is actually, despite its very ultra-leftist rhetoric, that it’s actually a toothless opposition that is completely powerless, actually, and anodyne for the system. And the other anti-memorandum force, the other force supposedly opposing austerity, is the far right. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. And this is of course extremely dangerous and very, very concerning.

Now, the point is that it was absolutely impossible for us to stay inside Syriza once this memorandum was signed and once Tsipras had capitulated. It was absolutely no possibility for us to stay inside the party. And what I have to also make clear is that the membership had started leaving by thousands before us formally leaving Syriza at the top level, if you like. So in any case, the split of Syriza started the moment Tsipras decided to surrender and to sign up the new, the new memorandum.

So our choices were very limited. And the time we were given was even more limited, in a way. So we had to move very quickly in a very difficult situation, and obviously in a very hostile environment. This explains partly, not entirely, but to a very large extent this negative result and outcome. For the moment. But this is just, you know, the beginning. This is just the first, the first phase of what is to come now.

PERIES: Stathis, let’s take up continuing this discussion about what’s going to happen to Popular Unity in the future in our next segment.

End

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