The following interview is with Kostas Skordoulis, a leading member of OKDE-Spartakos. The OKDE is Socialist Action’s sister party and the Greek section of the Fourth International. The interview was conducted by Josefina L. Martinez; it first appeared in English in the on-line journal Left Voice (October 2015), associated with the Trotskyist Faction-Fourth International. Socialist Action has slightly edited the text for stylistic and grammatical purposes.
Left Voice: After the historic retreat of Syriza to the Troika, Tsipras won the elections on Sept. 20. How do you evaluate the results of these elections?
Kostas Skordoulis: First, I would like to thank you for your interest in the class struggle in Greece and for giving us the opportunity to inform left-wing militants in Europe and Latin America about the political developments in a country that has been chosen to be a huge laboratory of social engineering where the strength of the resistance of the working class against austerity policies is being tested for some years now. Also, I would like to thank you for your constant support for the anti-capitalist project in this country, which by any measure is the most successful anti-capitalist project in Europe nowadays.
Let me elaborate at a point that I am sure we both share. The majority of the international left believed, and some still do, that SYRIZA had the adequate politics to lead the working class out of austerity but could not withstand the combined pressure exercised by the Greek and European bourgeoisies. Some leftists even talk about “Tsipras’ capitulatio.” Capitulation is a moral term. But the matter is political, not ethical.
Right from the very beginning of the wholehearted alignment of the vast majority of the international left behind SYRIZA and its “left government” project, we have warned that such a project is just another reformist illusion, that had no chance whatsoever for a modest success.
And I must say that this unconditional support that most of the international left gave to SYRIZA, and some continue in this line of support even now, have a share in the wrong tactics that its Left Platform followed during the course of the last months by making for them difficult to split from a party with such an ecumenical acceptance.
With respect to the election result now: The result is not a success for the working class not a complete disaster either. It shows in the clearest way possible the limits of militancy of the working class in the present period.
A few months ago, the working class areas voted massively in favor of “NO” to a new memorandum. In September, under the weight of the third memorandum already signed, the same people voted in favor of the lesser evil. And there is another important element: abstention, which rose to a good 45% of the electorate. SYRIZA, in this election, got something like 300,000 votes less than in last January.
There are of course other matters that somebody could label as technical, i.e. short election period, media coverage, material resources, election law etc. But in the last analysis nothing is purely technical.
L.V.: How do you define the new government of Syriza-Anel?
K.S.: The new Syriza-Anel government is a continuation of the previous one with one exception, openly pro-austerity policies. We had defined the previous government as left reformist. This government can be clearly described as a bourgeois government in the sense that it has a program to save the “national economy” through the imposition of austerity measures on the working class. There is not the slightest programmatic reference in favor of the poor social strata. This government functions in the interests of Greek and European capital.
Let me make an analogy at this point. Back in the late ’70s, Ernest Mandel wrote a series of articles in Inprecor, later to be published as a book “From Stalinism to Euro communism.” In this book, there is a chapter: ‘The PCI and Austerity,” ending with the phrase: “…unless the workers prevent Berlinguer from extracting the Italian bourgeoisie from the tight corner it is now trapped.” I will reflect on this.
Capitalism in crisis, austerity upon the working class and the objective role of reformist leaderships is nothing else but saving the “national economy,” which means keeping the profits of the capitalists rising.
Tsipras, leader of a party descending from Euro-communism, is saving Greek capitalism by sending the bill to the working class. In fact, he is doing what Berlinguer would have done if he were trusted enough by Italian capital.
L.V.: The big losers of the election are the Popular Unity. How do you explain this failure?
K.S.: Let me state in the clearest way that I am not at all happy with the failure of Popular Unity to enter parliament. It is not good for the balance of forces in the parliament. In the new parliament the only left voice is the Communist Party (KKE), a party that in the recent years has followed a sectarian line in the trade-union movement, undermining the success of important mobilizations. I have to mention that the KKE, although it shows a rise in percentages, its total vote has declined in absolute numbers. The fact that KKE abstained in the referendum had an impact in its electoral performance.
There are two main reasons for the failure of PU. The first reason has to do with their tactics in handling the crisis in Syriza, and the second has to do with the vagueness of their program. I will elaborate further.
As I mentioned previously, the Left Platform (the main predecessor of PU) had themselves illusions in Syriza. They supported the “left government” project; they could never imagine that Syriza would turn so rapidly into a pro-austerity party. They also had illusions on the internal functioning of the party. I can recall international public meetings where we debated the Left Platform assuring the audience that they control the Central Committee (or 40% of the Conference delegates, at another occasion) and that they soon are going to have the majority in the party. Of course, none of these proved to be realistic.
But these miscalculations proved to be catastrophic for them. Having illusions in the functioning of the party asking for an extraordinary Conference, being in the government right from the start and being late to abandon it, declaring even in August that they support the government, not its policies, all these created a confusion among the workers.
Then it is the question of programmatic clarity. PU defended the Thessaloniki program. They wanted to present themselves as a good left Syriza.
At some point, they have been attacked by the media for being the drachma party. Their replies were more confusing than illuminating. They could not effectively defend a position of “No to the euro,” because their “No to the euro” is within the framework of capitalism.
I must say that there are anti-capitalist groups in PU, but they have been marginalized right from the very initial formation of this party/front. This was not only reflected in the election lists, in the speakers’ platforms, etc. but most importantly in the programmatic documents of PU.
The election result was a shock for the ordinary members of PU. It is more than certain that there will be internal debates and perhaps a Conference in the near future and perhaps programmatic vagueness will give its place to more concrete statements. I am not at all optimistic that the anti-capitalist groups will manage to influence the program of the PU. PU will remain a left reformist front/party.
I will repeat that within a united front framework we are going to cooperate with the PU militants in the workplaces and in the social movements, but it is a different issue altogether to engage in programmatic discussions with them with the prospect of joining a “broad left party.”
In any case, because now I see new analyses in the international left press praising the role of the PU in a future realignment of the Greek left, I would like to state with the strongest emphasis possible that the “Broad Party Strategy,” where anti-capitalism concedes to the programmatic hegemony of reformism, proved itself bankrupt in either the form of Syriza or PU. The sooner we understand this, the better for the working class.
L.V.: Two groups of Antarsya supported Popular Unity. You defended an independent position and against the reformists. What are the discussions in Antarsya now?
K.S.: Three weeks before the elections there was a convention of the National Council of Antarsya to decide on the election tactics. Of the 85 members present, 15 voted in favor of a common electoral slate with the PU, or to be more precise, in favor of joining the PU, because the PU never accepted a common electoral slate but favored Antarsya groups and individual members joining the already existing PU structures and accepting the PU program.
These 15 members of the National Council were the delegates of ARAN and ARAS, two groups that I will descriptively call “Euro-Maoist.” These two groups left Antarsya and joined the PU. I am not in a position to know the precise conditions of their agreement with the PU, and I think it adds nothing important in the course of events that followed. However, for the historian of the future I have to mention that a minority of ARAN decided to remain in Antarsya and did not follow the majority in the PU.
Antarsya then formed an electoral alliance with the Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK), the sister party of Argentinian Partido Obrero (PO) in the CRFI. It is important to mention that although PO has published various statements in favor of Syriza, EEK continued to criticize Syriza and have an independent stance in the previous elections. I am not in a position to know how happy the PO was with this decision of EEK.
The Antarsya members fought a “heroic” battle in these elections. I visited various regions in the periphery of the country and I was astonished by the devotion, the militant spirit and the high morale of members and sympathizers that fought this battle. Even in the most remote village one could see Antarsya posters and leaflets. This is something we have not seen before.
The election result of Antarsya, at the level of the left vote, and taking in consideration the introspection of the last months where discussions about the relation with the Left Platform were at its peak, was good. Antarsya increased its vote in absolute numbers and percentage in both the urban regions and the periphery. Still the national average (0.86%) does not correspond to the potential and the dynamics that Antarsya exhibits in the streets, in the workplaces, in the universities and in the neighborhoods.
In my view, the problem is still there: how to transform the influence in the mass movement into electoral support. Although a formal discussion has not been launched yet in Antarsya on this issue, the question is central among Antarsya membership. Interesting pieces of work have been written on this problem touching matters of programmatic clarity, political culture, front tactics, etc. Soon enough, the pre-Conference discussion for the 3rd National Conference of Antarsya will be launched, and this discussion will be conducted in an organized way.
L.V: How do you prepare to fight against the measures of the third memorandum?
K.S.: The austerity measures that this third memorandum, signed by the Syriza government, plans for the working class are really hard, e.g. for the first time contains measures such as confiscation of housing property already implemented in Spain. It is more than certain that the working class and for the first time the poor peasantry—this memorandum plans austerity measures for the peasantry as well—are going to react.
We are entering a new period of social instability, a new period of struggles. In this new period OKDE-Spartakos and Antarsya will fight in their privileged terrain, the workplaces and the mass movement.
Our first task will be to launch “action committees” in the workplaces, bringing together militants of Antarsya, PU, KKE, and the rest of the left. These committees are instrumental in coordinating action since the National Trade Union Federation (GSSE) is in the hands of bureaucrats supporting the memorandum. So, any mobilization has to be the work of the “Action Committees.”
Furthermore, OKDE-Spartakos will campaign around the slogan “Occupy, operate the closed factories.” Hundreds of industrial plants have been abandoned by the capitalists, and the workers have been fired. We want to extend the example of VIOME (a self-managed plant in Northern Greece), which for the last five years remains isolated, and bring workers self-management and workers’ control of the economy back in the agenda. We also see this as a necessary answer of the workers’ movement itself to the problem of unemployment that runs still at 25%. Workers and unemployed should not depend on the mercy of the capitalist state to survive. They can emerge in the scene as active agents.
Workers self-management in conditions of crisis is not an easy task, and its shortcomings have been discussed again and again in revolutionary Marxist literature. But under the present circumstances, it is a unique way to solve immediate problems of survival and in the long term restoring confidence in the consciousness of the working class.
Photo: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (center) holding a banner for Syriza.