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Greece: Syriza Congress – eye witness report

Martin Suchanek, Gruppe Arbeitermacht, Germany

Before last year’s elections in Greece, Alexis Tsipras was described by the bourgeois press as the „most dangerous man in Europe“. It was said that if he were to enter government the euro and the European Union would be in danger. A representative of the Merkel government in Germany accused him of wanting to take Europe „hostage“.

What he had done was to explain that stopping repayments on the country’s debts should not automatically lead to expulsion from the euro zone. Indeed, this blackmailing threat by the EU, the IMF and the ECB was itself much more unrealistic because an expulsion of Greece from the currency would destabilise it far more than any cessation of debt repayments.

From „left radical“ to „Golden Boy“

One year later, Mr Tsipras has learnt his lesson. He has turned himself into a smart politician not subject to such „slips“ and „childishness“. The „left radical“, which in any case he never was, has moved fast to the right under the pressure of bourgeois public opinion and his advisers, and has taken with him the apparatus of Syriza and its „Euro-communist“ core, Synaspismos.

As is well known, in the last Parliamentary elections, Syriza only narrowly failed to gain a relative majority when it achieved an enormous increase in support to 26.9%.

Both before, and immediately after, this electoral success, the bourgeois media, which, in Greece, is effectively monopolised by a few media companies all of which are close to the governing parties, increased the pressure on Syriza. That of course was reflected in the reformist core of the party, the former Euro-communist Synaspismos and in the apparatus. In apparent self-criticism it was said that the party had not been „fully prepared“ to take government office which, when decoded, means that they should have diluted their radical electoral promises (cessation of debt repayments, repeal of all the reactionary and anti-working class laws of previous governments, a Left Government and a refusal to form a coalition with PASOK) in favour of a „more realistic“ programme that would not be so easily understood and testable by the masses.

This orientation has been strengthened by a background of lower class struggle activity, even though it is still at a higher level than in other countries, and a resulting decrease in pressure from below. In addition, the apparatus, which is in reality controlled by the leadership, has become noticeably stronger, not least because of the electoral success which not only brought 71 seats in parliament but also hundreds of full-timer posts and juicy privileges for the leaders of the party.

Naturally, the rank and file members have also noticed this. The widening social gulf within Syriza is increasingly obvious, not least from the fact that Tsipras, and even more the clique around him, are referred to as the „golden boys and girls“.

The growth of Syriza

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to think that the development of a bigger and more elevated bureaucracy pointed to a decline in the popularity of Tsipras amongst the masses. Syriza, and Tsipras, still carry the hopes of millions because they are seen as the only realistic and foreseeable alternative to the present government.

Moreover, since the elections last June, so in little more than a year, Syriza has doubled its membership. The 3,552 delegates at Congress represented between 35 and 40,000 members. The Congress was intended to send a number of signals. First, to present Tsipras and Syriza as a future party of government, an „Alternative for Greece“ and its new programme as a programme for government. Secondly, Syriza was to be founded as a unified party. Until now, Syriza was formally an alliance of 14 organisations or parties. For more than a year, there has also been an individual membership and this has been the main area for the party’s rapid growth. There are now around 500 Syriza local branches organised on a district or workplace basis.

At the Congress, this alliance was to be transformed into a party. That in itself was not undisputed but, in addition, the leadership around Tsipras also wanted to use this to ensure the dissolution of all the separate groups within Syriza. It was therefore not surprising that the Congress, which was supposed to enthrone the new chief, was marked by sometimes heated controversies over political and, above all, constitutional, issues.

It is noteworthy that the left was strongly represented at the Congress and that an increasingly sharp political polarisation was evident.

The disputed questions

The intention of the party leadership to present Syriza as „ready for government“ could already be seen in the opening speech from Tsipras. Of socialism or anti-capitalism there was not one word. Nor did he deal with any of the central questions of the class struggle and the most important current mobilisations, such as the continuing occupation of the ERT television station, the general strike on July 16, the mobilisation against Schaueble’s visit and the drastic cuts and mass redundancies in the public sector.

When he did make reference to movements and actions from below, it was noticeable that this was always to do with forms of support for the poor, such as soup kitchens and self management projects, such as the self-managed steelworks,, all of which are essentially support projects to help people keep going, but none of them are in any way political class struggles.

This tendency was even more noticeable when it came to the draft programme and the text that was later adopted. Precisely when it came to the question of the Greek state and its apparatus of repression, Syriza presented itself as „statesmanlike“. While the military were indeed „unnecessary“, the „defence capability“ of the fatherland was not to be touched. In brief, the founding programme is a traditional reformist concoction.

However, on four points in particular Syriza has clearly moved to the right:

The debt question: instead of cancelling the debts and setting aside all payments, there is now to be a „renegotiation“ and an „examination“ of „legitimate“ and „illegitimate“ debts.

The Memorandum and the euro: come what may, Greece is to stay in the Eurozone, even if that means that not all the cuts introduced by previous governments can be reversed. With this decision the previous demand for the reversal of all cuts is negated.

Banks and major corporations: the private banks and big companies are not to be nationalised but to be better regulated, obviously by the existing state apparatus. This removes the previous demand for the nationalisation of major companies and private banks under the control of the workers‘ and the population and the amalgamation of all banks into a central bank.

The slogan of a „Left Government“ is to be replaced by „a government in which the left is central“. The right wing of the party even toyed with the idea of a government of „national“ or „social“ salvation. The left wing of the party, by contrast, continues to argue for a left government with only the left parties KKE and Antarsya. In his speech, however, Tsipras only excluded a coalition with the fascists (Golden Dawn) and any parties that collaborate with them. Decoded, that means he is prepared to form a government with PASOK.

These four points were also the main points of difference with the left of the party. In the votes on these four disputed questions, the party leadership had a consistent majority of around two thirds of the votes. However, for Tsipras and company it was not just a matter of gaining majorities on programmatic questions. Whoever wants to make a party which, until now, incorporated the hopes of millions of workers, into one that is „fit to govern“ must also remove any possible internal obstacles. Ultimately, the kind of government that Tsipras and the party leadership want may be called on to do nothing less than save Greek capitalism.

Such a government must inevitably disillusion and attack its own basis. In order to be seen as „fit for government“ the Syriza leadership must give the Greek bourgeoisie more than just programmatic positions as evidence that it could serve as the last resort, should the cabinet of Samaras have to step down and new elections become necessary, even if at the moment that looks highly improbable.

A frontal attack on the Left

That is why the founding party congress was also a frontal attack on the left of the party. The programmatic questions were not the central issue. Above all, what mattered was that the left of the party should lose the right to form their own organisations, thereby sending a signal to the ruling class and possible coalition partners that Syriza’s leadership had acted decisively against those who would „never learn“.

The slogan „one party, one voice“ was used to provide a „democratic“, but actually demagogic, justification for requiring all the groups in Syriza to dissolve and to no longer appear in public. In addition, Tsipras was to be (and was) elected from the Congress and not from the 200 strong party leadership, the Central Committee. This was to ensure that he is not responsible to that body and it cannot remove him.

As well as that, the party leadership is planning that, in the future, workplace branches of Syriza, that is, the structures that are directly based in the working class, will be dissolved and the party will be built only on the basis of local branches. That has not yet been implemented but can be expected soon. With regard to the question of the party chair, Tsipras got his way. On the question of the dissolution of the inner party groups, a concession was made to the party Left. The various currents were to be „requested“ to dissolve themselves and in a few months this „process will be evaluated“.

These constitutional questions were the key ones over which the leadership was prepared to use any degree of demagogy. The continuation of the inner party organisations would disadvantage the „ordinary members“ it was said. This was a favourite „argument“ of those who, naturally just as „ordinary“ members, monopolise the whole party apparatus and constitute the majority fraction. The demand for the dissolution of all other groups therefore really only means that any oppositional current would be fragmented and limited in its ability to act as a political opposition.

The majority

Thus, the proposal from the party leadership was nothing less than an attack on party democracy and on the increasingly strong Left in Syriza. What are the currents within this leadership?

The majority is formed first of all from the majority of Synaspismos. This was the biggest organisation in Syriza. It originated as a split from the KKE which was oriented towards „Euro-communism“ and has since developed into a left Social Democratic group. This group constitutes the apparatus of the „new“ party and the greater part of their MPs. Synaspismos itself formally dissolved before the Syriza Congress in order to „set a good example“ and thus increase the pressure on their opponents.

In this, they were supported by the „Communist Organisation of Greece“, KOE, a Maoist group, the sister organisation of the MLPD in Germany and a section of the IKOR. KOE supported Tsipras throughout the whole of the Congress and has also formally dissolved itself. Tsipras also gained support from the „undogmatic“ „network for social and political rights“ and the autonome wing in Syriza.

This is no accident, in the case of the KOE it shows how close it is programmatically to the leadership. For the KOE, the issue in Greece is not about socialist transformation but rather a „National Democratic“ revolution, an entire long stage of „independent“ national, capitalist development to be carried through by a broad alliance of the national bourgeoisie, the workers and peasants. And thus Tsipras’s politics find their justification amongst the mothballs of Stalinism.

The autonomes and the „Post Marxists“ distinguished themselves as even louder supporters of the party leadership with fiery speeches against the left not only to draw attention to themselves but to put themselves forward as future candidates for posts in the apparatus.

That of course is also no accident. An „autonomous“ or „Post Marxist“ politics which wants to know nothing of the key elements of Marxism (class independence, necessity of working-class power, fundamental rejection of the reformist strategy etc) imagines itself to be above all the „bickering“ of the right and left wings. For them, the insistence of the Left on organisational and political independence and on organisational and fraction rights, is „old-fashioned“ and „sectarian“. These currents are indeed also critical of the reformist leaders but only in the role of „critical and constructive advisers“.

The left wing

Who then forms the left wing in Syriza? Apart from some minor groups, this consists of two main currents. The first of these is the „Left Platform“ which is led by long-standing representatives of Synaspismos such as Lafanzanis. This had 7 – 800 delegates at the Congress and represented around 9,000 members. The left platform originally came out of Synaspismos in which it formed a left-wing for several years.

Politically, it represents a left reformist programme. Both before and during the Congress this current wavered between opposition to Tsipras and the search for a compromise. This was not least to be seen in the fact that they did not present their own candidate for the leadership.

The political significance of the „Left Platform“ comes first of all from its size and secondly from its social composition. It represents the great majority of the trade union wing in Synaspismos. It is particularly strongly anchored in the public sector and its workplace base is the key for the political transformation of the Greek labour movement.

The left platform was pushed further to the left during the Congress as a result of the attack by the leadership. For example, anyone who had been at their meeting on the evening of July 13 would have noted that many delegates only became aware of what separated them from Tsipras and the leadership in the course of Congress. What was clear was that, although they had political differences, they had come also as supporters of Tsipras – but their hopes had been shattered. There is no doubt that this is one of the most important results of the entire Congress. A section of the delegates, representing thousands of workers, has begun to recognise that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the policy of Tsipras and the class interests of the workers and that the „Golden Boy“ stands with Greek capital and not with the Greek proletariat.

What will be decisive, however, is whether this development continues and, if so, in what direction. From the side of the Syriza leadership it is to be expected that they will try to divide the Left Platform, drawing in the „constructive“ whilst isolating the „incorrigible“.

What is certain is that the polarisation in Syriza will deepen and become sharper. In this, the smaller but more radical wing of the left in Syriza will play a key role. At the Congress, the Network R Project, which consists of DEA, Kokkino and APP, had over 100 delegates but was also able to strengthen its cooperation with the Left Platform. The organisation of the R project, in which DEA is by far the biggest component and the political leadership, has around 400 members and in addition some 2000 sympathisers.

In the voting for the party leadership, the common list of the Left Platform and the R Project, gained 30.56% and thus a corresponding proportion of the Central Committee. The majority list around Tsipras gained some 65%. The rest went to three smaller lists.

The R Project can play a key role because it has consciously set itself the aim of fighting for an anticapitalist and revolutionary orientation. Unlike the greater part of the Greek radical left, DEA and the other organisations recognised the potential and the necessity of political work in Syriza. As a result, today, they stand in the centre of the most important political argument within the working class vanguard and the prospect of political regroupment.

Ultimately, at the Congress, two class lines clashed, it is unavoidable that this struggle will sharpen and ultimately outgrow the framework of Syriza.


We must, however, also recognise the weaknesses in the politics of the left in Syriza which it needs to overcome. The left concentrated on the constitutional and political questions which were presented by the leadership. Of course, to a certain extent, that was unavoidable, ultimately the leadership wanted to see through the dissolution of the left structures and force through a turn to the right. However, that meant that the key questions of the class struggle in Greece today were scarcely mentioned by anyone. Here, we will just name the following:

The need to overcome the fragmentation of the struggles and the limitation of general strikes to merely symbolic, one day, actions. The government will never be brought down by that. In our opinion, it would have been necessary to pose the question how the struggles can be brought together into an unlimited, political general strike.

That inevitably raises the question of the united front, the formation of a fighting unity of all the workers‘ parties, trade unions and workers‘ organisations and the question of what policy to pursue in the trade unions.

The question of self defence against racist and fascist attacks, against police provocations and the attitude to the Army. An unlimited general strike will raise all of these questions, which must be answered as part of an action programme.

The question of a Left government was discussed, particularly by the leadership, as a purely parliamentary matter. Leaving it at that level, such a government, even the kind intended by the Syriza leadership, is unlikely to be established in the near future. If the question of a „left government“ is to be raised, it is much more likely as a result of a general strike.

In any case, what remains true is that the different currents in Syriza and even more so amongst the workers across the country, have very different ideas about what a Left government would be. It is, therefore, absolutely essential to give this slogan the content of a workers‘ government that is based on the fighting organisations of the class; strike committees, self defence militia, soldiers‘ councils et cetera which will also constitute the transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The need for the elaboration of a revolutionary action programme of transitional demands in order to form a revolutionary wing inside Syriza and to win to it the supporters of the Left Platform.

Martin Suchanek attended the Syriza Congress as an International Observer representing the Neue Anticapitalistische Organisation, NAO, in Germany

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