The goals of Popular Unity

November 25, 2015

The Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is continuing to drive through austerity policies that earlier this year led to the destruction of his radical left party SYRIZA as an opponent of neoliberalism when Tspiras capitulated to the demands of the EU blackmailers and signed a third Memorandum of austerity measures as a condition for further aid for the Greek economy. To win support for the Memorandum in parliament, Tsipras relied not only the votes of SYRIZA's coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) led by Panos Kammenos, but pro-austerity parties such as New Democracy and PASOK.

Antonis Davanellos is a leading member of the Greek socialist group International Workers Left (DEA, by its initials in Greek), one of the organizations that co-founded SYRIZA in 2004. He was a member of SYRIZA's Central Committee and its smaller political secretariat until the resignation of the party's Left Platform following Tsipras' betrayal. He currently serves on the national leadership body of the recently formed left-wing alliance Popular Unity (PU).

Here, Davanellos lays out the organizational challenges faced by Popular Unity in the coming months and suggests a perspective for moving forward. First published at the Red Network website in Greece, the article appeared, along with the introduction that prefaces it, in French at the socialist website A l'encontre, and was translated into English by Todd Chretien.

Introduction | By the editorial board of A l'encontre

In April 2015, the European Commission predicted 0.5 percent growth in the Greek gross domestic product for 2015 and 2.9 percent for 2016. It is not clear how it came to this conclusion. Perhaps its experts were enjoying low-cost vacations in the Greek islands?

Reality has been much tougher this October, at least with respect to these predictions. In 2015, the GDP will fall by around 1.4 percent and another 1.3 percent in 2016. Officially, an increase in 2.7% is being forecast for 2017! In other words, the full-blown recession will continue, so the predictions for 2017 will once again be refuted, even if, after finally hitting bottom, the economy rebounds a bit.

The drastic cuts called for by the third Memorandum (and the first and second in 2010 and 2012) have squeezed Greek capitalism. Tsipras, since the elections in September, has been promising economic relief--including for employment--by the end of 2016. But now that the electoral fog is dissipating, it turns out that the difficulties are only beginning.

Supporters of Popular Unity rally ahead of the elections
Supporters of Popular Unity rally ahead of the elections

Before his trip to Greece on November 3 and 4, European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici declared, "Challenges remain, and difficult decisions will have to be taken before the end of the year." (AFP, October 29, 2015) This goes to show that the 2 billion euro tranche "loan" will not be delivered unless the Tsipras-Kamenos government rigorously applies the austerity policies it has cosigned with the Troika. Another deadline has been slated by Eurogroup finance ministers for November 16, to decide whether or not to allocate 2 two billion euros.

With respect to the budget deficit, it is estimated to surpass 3.6 percent of GDP in 2016 and 2.2 percent in 2017, despite the theoretical recovery envisaged. Meanwhile, the debt burden remains heavy. Official figures peg it around 194.8 percent of GDP for 2015 and 199.7 percent for 2016. The debt-to-GDP ratio will only increase under the impact of the policies inflicted on the Greek economy, while restructuring the debt (extending deadlines, modifying interest rates, annulling a small part) lingers on as wishful thinking. All this while Popular Unity and ANTARSYA continue to demand the annulment of the bulk of debt.

According to the Greek media, the Public Power Company (DEH in Greek) announced potential electricity cutoffs for 2.1 million households. The total amount of unpaid bills has been estimated at 2.5 billion euros. Aside from some businesses that can't pay their bills--which adds up to around 1.8 billion euros--there are tens of thousands of households who cannot afford this basic necessity. For example, a household that pays 52 euros twice a month for its electricity, according to the rules set out by DEH, currently receives a bill of 100 euros twice a month because of the multiple taxes (IVA, among others) and interest charges for overdue past amounts.

DEH now plans on sending out payment notices. So just before the winter months, it will announce--of course, "with a certain social sensitivity"--that it is cutting off the lights if total arrears are not paid all at once. For many people, this will mark the Memorandum's nightfall.

When it comes to health care, hundreds of thousands of people lack insurance. The Coalition of Doctors in Solidarity with the Community in the Attica region recently stated:

Our public health system requires urgent funding. Yet on the contrary, it is being placed under the control of a private structure for auditing and management. On the contrary, the third Memorandum [of Tsipras] imposes cuts to the budget of more than 3 billion euros for three years...; the few remaining subsidies still available to disabled people will be cut and may even be eliminated.

On November 12, Popular Unity, the the Communist Party (KKE by its initials in Greek) and the unions called for a day of protests and strikes, and at least 20,000 took to the streets of Athens. Fifty days after Tsipras' September electoral victory, three themes are driving these first mobilizations: First, the brutal cuts set out in the budget framework; second, the fall in employment triggered by privatizations and budget cuts; and third, the threat of evictions from primary residences if mortgage payments aren't paid to the banks.

The Troika reduced the annual income limit that protects the poorest families who cannot pay their mortgage from foreclosure. For the rest, the price ceiling for mortgage support will be the price of the residence as determined in 2007, and not the market price for 2015, which will reduce protection by a considerable amount for these indebted families, with respect to the 250,000-euro limit set before the new Memorandum. In this way, unemployed and retired workers will be in greater danger of losing their homes because the recapitalization of the banks is a major priority for the Greek ruling class and its "partners in the eurozone."

This is the background to the November 12 strike. It is one of the first tests of strength for the Tsipras government, the social movements and the forces of the radical left who, among others, emerged from the break with SYRIZA, especially Popular Unity.

The Goals of Popular Unity | By Antonis Davanellos

THE DEBATE about the radical left's orientation in Greece is at a turning point. The terms of this debate are defined by the start of the third Memorandum's assault on the Greek people, under the political direction of the SYRIZA-ANEL government.

This raises the question of the possibility/plausibility of mass worker and people's resistance, as well as the question of how this resistance will express itself politically in the post-SYRIZA era--"post" in the sense of coming after the government led by Tspiras between when he was elected in January 2015 through its evolution until the signing of the third Memorandum on July 13, 2015.

Popular Unity (PU) is the central site of this discussion because, despite its electoral defeat on September 20, 2015--when PU won 2.86 percent of the vote, below the 3 percent threshold necessary to win seats in parliament--it is recognized by a very important number of militants at the national level.

It is seen as a means, although very rudimentary, to bring together within local and sectoral organizations the efforts of militants who share a common reference to Marxism (even if coming from diverse angles) and a socialist perspective. Within its ranks, there is a gathering of militants who have accumulated important experiences within organizations based on struggle and mass action.

At the same time, PU can and must play a key role in attracting men and women who have left SYRIZA (and who continue to leave) and in building a relationship with all the militants who belong to ANTARSYA (the Front of the Greek Anti-capitalist Left), as well as in creating possible links to rank-and-file factions in the Greek Communist Party.

All of this points to the great importance attached to the discussion inside the PU in the run up to its first national pre-Conference at the end of 2015 and its first national conference at the beginning of 2016.

1. The results of the September 20 elections were an important victory for the forces behind the Memorandum and most of all for the Tsipras (SYRIZA) and Kamenos (ANEL) leadership. Of course, this victory was coerced: It was obtained before the masses were able to come to grips with the concrete reality of the third Memorandum and it was based on the misleading promise that certain "corrections" would be made to the austerity policies, along with a parallel humanitarian program.

The election took place under the supposed threat of a return to government by the traditional, pro-Memorandum forces of the right (New Democracy, to Potami, Pasok) as well as with the support of the entire political-governmental system, the national bourgeoisie (with their influence over the media) and even the international creditors (Hollande, Merkel, Lagarde, etc.). In this sense, the victory of Tsipras and Kamenos on September 20 is unstable and shallow.

2. The signs of instability are present in the election results themselves--for instance, in the decline of SYRIZA's absolute vote total, the unprecedented rate of abstention and the apolitical vote for media personality Vassilis Leventis, who won 3.43 percent. But most of all, the instability and uncertainty derive from the government's obligations pertaining to the July 13 agreement.

The government of Tsipras and Kamenos must immediately begin the work of imposing the rigorous class program of the third Memorandum. All the campaign promises about "corrective" measures and a "parallel" program are now finished. And we are, once again, on the chopping block.

The demolition of the social security system, the fiscal racket played out on the backs of the popular classes, the rapid and massive privatizations, the rigid insistence on reducing salaries and social spending--all of these constitute a program aimed at supporting the capitalists and the creditors while degrading working-class and popular living conditions.

At the same time, the recapitalization of the banks entails dealing with bad debts made to certain businesses. Settling these debts implies a change in the relations between various fractions of the ruling class. Such operations never go smoothly. The Tsipras government is going to have to confront intensified rivalries in the heart of the bourgeoisie, likely provoking very severe political tensions.

3. The history of the Greek class struggle reminds us that social resistance to these sorts of policies has already brought down various government--be it George Papandreou's government in November 2011, or that of Loukas Papdemos in May 2012, or that of Samaras and Venizelos in January 2015. There is no reason to expect that, in the medium term, this resistance will be any more "tolerant" in the face of the current Tsipras-Kamenos government.

Overall, the fact that this time, the Memorandum's attack will be carried out by a party that speaks in the name of the left and uses anti-austerity language and symbols means we will face particular tasks. We cannot and we must not wait passively for the movement to spontaneously come to maturity. The radical left must take initiatives to help overcome the electoral shock suffered in September and aid in the recovery of the movement's confidence by mobilizing workers and youth.

Decisions by PU to organize specific campaigns (regarding social security, privatizations, the rights of the youth) are a critical part of a political overhaul.

4. A key component of this overhaul is bound up in the elaboration of a political program. In our opinion, the experience of the SYRIZA era provides evidence for four pillars that should be kept in mind in developing a distinct political program for PU.

a) We should maintain our commitment to overturning the Memorandums by opposing and tearing down austerity.

b) To effectively put this policy in motion, we must continue fighting to stop payments to the creditors, annul the debt (or at least the vast majority of it), nationalize the banks and abolish capital's basic "freedoms."

c) Based on the experience of Cyprus, but even more so based on the Tsipras government's experience of "negotiations" with the "institutions," which went on for seven months, we must be clear that it is necessary to insist on the possibility of exiting the eurozone as well as entering into conflict with and disobeying the eurozone and the European Union.

d) All of the points referred to above must be integrated into a clear perspective aimed at social emancipation. This is the key element that politically clarifies all our demands, both intermediate and transitional, and that frees the radical left from confused anti-Memorandum or semi-bourgeois politics.

It is true that, during the electoral campaign, PU suffered from an insufficient elaboration regarding its proposal for leaving the eurozone. This discussion should continue until it is possible to come to a conclusion, one which not only includes a "technical" presentation, but above all explains how our "anti-euro" policy fits into an overall program for the radical left. This program must speak in the name of the laboring masses and provide an alternative in the face of neoliberal capitalism's aggression.

5. Popular Unity's response to the question of alliances is equally important. The proposal for unity in action of the political left (between PU, ANTARSYA and a part of the KKE's rank and file, without abandoning a critique of the party leadership's orientation and practice) is another necessary condition for linking together and giving political expression to the "world of resistance."

6. It might be that the most important of the four pillars is how PU understands its own role, how it organizes itself and how it projects these decisions. Today, a political front is what we need--a front composed of organizations and individuals with a clearly defined internal functioning, a front which puts its emphasis on "organizing the base" and devolves responsibilities and rights to the regional bodies in which the party's members participate directly. Its structures should be based on the principle of "one member, one vote," and decisions should seek to develop consensus or, when necessary, be taken according to the principle of majority rule.

We need a front, but we are also aware that PU is "under construction." This means that we must insist on the necessity of its expansion, with an orientation to political groups leaving SYRIZA as well as political groups from the other left beyond SYRIZA's circles. This means that we must put the accent on recognizing the fact that political and programmatic decisions, as well as the leadership organs, are temporary and cannot be solidified until the first national conference.

We hope that this conference will attract the participation of many activists beyond only those who joined PU at its birth during the hot month of August. This is an ambition best served by adopting an open approach, one that is fully democratic and based on building a new common space for the Greek radical left to fight the Memorandum--a goal which is absolutely necessary and possible.

This article and its introduction were published in French at the A l'encontre website and translated into English by Todd Chretien.

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