Interview with Greek revolutionary

We publish here an interview made by Erik Demeester - Editor of the Belgian Marxist paper Vonk - with Stamatis Karayannopoulosthe editor of the Greek Marxist Paper Epanastisi and journal Marxistiki Foni.

Q: The Greek parliamentary elections have shown great political polarisation and in particular the meteoric rise of the left wing Syriza. This has made a deep impression on and given hope to many activists in Belgium and in the rest of Europe. Can you tell us more about Syriza, how it came about and why it has succeeded to attract so much support?

A: The electoral rise of SYRIZA in Greece is the confirmation of a perspective which only the Marxists of the IMT all over the world have defended patiently. Here we have the prelude of a massive turn to the left in the heart of Europe. It is the reflection of the radicalization we have seen the last 10 years in Latin America and recently in the Arab world. The left turn in Greece is not an isolated phenomenon. In the last analysis is a clear reflection of the world revolution. SYRIZA is not a social democratic party of the “centre-left”. It is a representative of the Greek communist movement. It gave a political expression to the radicalization of the Greek working class and youth which in the last period has launched a series of general strikes and massive demonstrations and rallies all over Greece. It was the only party that gave a concrete political solution to the working class independent from the ruling class and its bosses in the troika. It proposed the slogan of a Left Government. That is why the Greek working masses and youth now strongly support SYRIZA and are ready to raise it to power on the 17nth of June.

Q: A bourgeois paper recently described Tsipras the leader of Syriza as one of the most hated and most popular political leaders in Greece and in Europe: popular with the poor youth and the working class and hated by the right wing, the banks and the oligarchs in Europe. They criticise his 'lack of flexibility' over the formation of a government in Greece. They also make him responsible for the political impasse and the calling of new elections on the 17th of june. Why was it impossible to form a government? And what were Syriza's demands for forming a government?

A: Alexis Tsipras is the new popular leader of the Greek working class and youth. He is trying to speak the language of the poor and of the unemployed people. That is why is gaining support to the youth, only 50% of whom has a job today and even less a "human" job, with a "human" wage and conditions. Tsipras correctly listened to the voice of the oppressed Greek people and refused to participate in a government as a hostage of ND and the leadership of PASOK. If SYRIZA had participated in a common government with PASOK and ND, it would have betrayed the main demands of its voters. Of course, this was not the best choice for the bourgeoisie in Greece and internationally. They denounced Tsipras for his "irresponsible" stance. But when your enemy is attacking you like this, you are certainly going in the right direction.

Q: Greece is going through a real economic and social meltdown. Can you give some examples of the grim reality for the working class today?

A: The situation for the Greek working class is becoming ever more horrible by the day. As a result of the orders of troika, under the previous governments we had the cancelation of all the collective agreements and now we have a generalized free fall of wages in the private sector. Over the last 2 years we had an average fall in the wages (public and private sector) of almost 30%. And after 15th of May we had a further fall of wages in the private sector of between 25-80%! The official target from the troika is to achieve in a few months the same wage levels as Bulgaria, but with the prices of Germany! To this we must add the 1.100.000 unemployed people. All this represents without any exaggeration the biggest and most sudden fall in living standards of any developed country in the history of capitalism. This is the material basis for the massive turn to the Left which is taking place now in Greece.

Q:There will be new elections on the 17th of June as a result of the failure to form a government. How is Syriza preparing, what is it doing?

A: Three weeks before the new elections SYRIZA is the target of a hysterical attack from the bourgeois press and the bourgeois politicians. They are spreading the well known "arguments" of the reactionaries against communism. They try to terrify the people and especially the petty bourgeois which have some money in the banks. On the other side, SYRIZA is trying to organize popular assemblies to mobilize the people for the electoral struggle. But the problem is that the SYRIZA leadership does not have the necessary political programme. The masses have the impression that their leaders are not prepared for the war against the new Left government which is the likely perspective after an electoral victory of SYRIZA. The SYRIZA leaders seem to believe that there is no reason for any radical change in the economy and the state. They imagine that by democratic means can persuade the capitalist bosses to accept higher wages for the workers, more taxes and to show an interest in investing again in Greece. In other words they have illusions in capitalism. But experience will show to everyone that today in Greece there is no room for any serious and stable pro-worker reforms under capitalism. The best case will be for the leaders to understand this as soon as possible and change their present minimum program for a program of overthrowing capitalism in Greece as the Marxists of SYRIZA are proposing. But this revolutionary socialist orientation of SYRIZA cannot be brought about without the active struggle of the members and supporters of the party around Marxist ideas inside the new party.

Q: What it is the attitude of the leadership of the KKE (Greek Communist party)? Is there any questioning of its sectarianism in its ranks?

A: The tactic of KKE is extremely sectarian. This tactic is contrary to the genuine Leninist tradition and is a modern edition of the Stalinist "third period" tactic of the late 20s and early 30s in the previous century. The ruling political group inside KKE is trying to impose the “silence of a cemetery” inside the party by systematically violating the democratic rights of the members. If you are against the official party line, against Stalin, against the splitting the working movements and youth, you became "an enemy of the party and a petty bourgeois”. This is not the tradition of Lenin and Marx but the monstrous anti-communist tradition of Stalin and his stooges. That is why, at least for the moment, there is no serious opposition inside KKE. But it is certain that many activists and cadres of the party are opposed to the leadership’s policy. At this stage they are giving to the leadership the benefit of the doubt, at least temporarily, until the elections. If, as seems likely, the KKE gets a bad result - maybe losing something like 1/3 of its votes to SYRIZA - all the possibilities for an open opposition are there. It is sure is that such an opposition will have a strong support from the half of the voters of KKE, which - as a recent opinion poll show (of the company "Publik issue") - are in favour of a coalition government with SYRIZA.

Q: You are the editor of the Revolution, the paper of the Marxists in Syriza. What do you think are the strengths and the weaknesses of Syriza and the left in general?

A: The strong point of SYRIZA is its willingness to give a political voice and a clear political solution to the oppressed Greek workers and poor people. The weak point is the absence of the necessary programme. Many ordinary supporters of SYRIZA are telling us: "Yes of course, you are right to be in favour of socialism. But now is not the time for this. Now it is time to overthrow austerity, the Memorandums and the troika laws." To such views of ordinary activist we have to answer:"Comrades, we are together in the struggle for the cancelation of every anti-working class measure. But we must realise that capitalism cannot exist without Memorandums and austerity. All these measures are the symptoms of the sickness of capitalism. In order to secure a human future for us and for our children we must fight against the sickness, we must fight against capitalism. That is why our programme must have the target of replacing the present anarchy of the capitalist market by a democratic socialist plan and the founding of a new real democratic power to serve this radical economic and socialist change. Marxists are not at all utopian. They are the most realistic political tendency in society. Capitalism means massive unemployment and massive poverty everywhere. Today realism means to have no trust in this system. That is why in Greece and internationally we need the implementation of a socialist program.

Q:What is your activity in this period and what echo do you have for your ideas inside Syriza?

A: The Marxists of SYRIZA produce two papers and a magazine Marxistiki Foni (Marxist Voice). In SYRIZA there are other groups that call themselves Marxists: the Maoists, some of the supporters of Tony Cliff’s political tradition - and for a short period of time - the Greek supporters of Peter Taaffe. They have all received large amounts of money from the state [as a result of a subsidy to political organizations]. We are the only Marxist political force inside SYRIZA who have no state substitution and who are self-financed by the sacrifices of our activists. Our main paper Epanastasi (Revolution) sold 2.500 copies in the massive movement of last summer. At present we are selling hundreds of copies in SYRIZA assemblies and rallies. Our influence is gaining ground day by day. We were the first SYRIZA tendency to make a clear and comradely criticism of the present political mistakes of the leadership and we are the only tendency inside SYRIZA which supports a clear Marxist political alternative to the political programme of the SYRIZA leadership. Now we are preparing a public meeting in Athens at the 6th of June to present our Marxist platform for a Left government. All over Greece every day we are throwing all our forces into the struggle for a SYRIZA victory in the elections and for a government which will give a socialist way out of the present capitalist nightmare.

Q: Will the elections of 17th of June solve the political crisis? What are the prospects for after the elections?

A: If the election will bring to power a SIRIZA government that will be a great victory for the Greek working class movement. But this victory will pose the question of power. The definitive solution is depends upon two factors: the necessary programme and the active struggle of the working class to give a massive and organized response to the aggression of the Greek bourgeois and of its troika bosses against the Greek people. After victory in the elections the Greek workers will be asking the new government for concrete measures against poverty and mass unemployment. The troika and the bourgeoisie will demand the immediate obedience from SYRIZA and the Greek working class. The attack of the Greek bourgeoisie can become extremely vicious, in line with its reactionary traditions. That is why the Marxists of SYRIZA are insisting on the need for a socialist programme which will take the control of the economy and the state out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. We also stress the vital question of forming a mass political organization of the workers, the youth and the poor masses in the neighbourhoods and the workplaces.

Q: You know that the working class and the youth in Europe and further is looking to the dramatic events in Greece. What is your message to them, how can they help?

A: My message is very simple and concrete. Comrades and colleges, Greece is not an exception. Greece is reflecting the future of Europe and not only the South of Europe. Greece for the European capitalist is only an experimental field for the workers of all the European nations. That is why the German, the French, the British and the other European capitalists are prepared to punish Greek people who are opposing to their measures by social and political struggle and are turning to the communist movement. The capitalists are pursuing the same reactionary austerity programme all over Europe. If the European capitalists manage to carry out their programme in Greece they will try to apply it everywhere. All the European workers and youth must unite in common straggle against capitalist austerity, fighting for a genuine solidarity and unification of Europe: for the Socialist United States of Europe!