Αναδημοσιεύουμε τη συνέντευξη που έδωσαν δυο μέλη του Κόκκινου Νήματος στο site “newmilitant” των ΗΠΑ, το οποίο διαχειρίζεται σύντροφος-πρώην μέλος της οργάνωσης ISO.
An Interview with Members of Kokkino Nima (Ex DEA)
We interviewed Alexis Liossatos and Vasilis Morelas of Kokkino Nima (Red Thread), a revolutionary organization composed mainly of comrades who left the DEA (International Workers Left) last year. The DEA was a sister organization of the ISO in Greece which had itself split from the SEK (the Greek affiliate of the UK’s SWP) and the International Socialist Tendency in 2001.
Much like in the case of the ISO however the split from the IST did not produce a break from bureaucratic organizational practices. Their experience has shown that the DEA suffers from many of the same problems as the ISO: a bureaucratic party driven by an opportunist tailing of reformist political forces.
The DEA participated in SYRIZA from 2004 to 2015. After SYRIZA took office and subsequently capitulated in 2015 DEA joined with a large part of the “broad party” split and helped create LAE (Popular Unity), another front dominated by reformists. DEA participated in and still participates within the LAE.
The comrades note that there is no homogeneity inside Kokkino Nima concerning the questions we have asked. They have not yet fully discussed them at a conference and therefore responses reflect their personal views, though they share many ideas.
The main website (In Greek) for Kokkino Nima is Redtopia.gr
Your organization started as part of the DEA, what were some of the key political debates in the lead up to your break/expulsion?
VM: There were two basic points: political line and internal democracy.
Concerning the first, there was the complete ineffectiveness of the DEA’s politics over many years, through periods of both crisis and capitalist development. There was the utter distortion of the United Front tactic into an entryism-like policy, one which resulted in a long-term fusion – electoral, organizational and finally political – with the reformists.
Apart from the line’s theoretical inconsistency (one combined with a total lack of theoretical training for the members for many years), this entryism-like policy failed completely at growing the organization. On the contrary there were significant examples of members leaving us for the reformist camp or for political retirement. Even many who remained with DEA found themselves initially deluded – and later bitterly disappointed – about SYRIZA’s potential.
When the split was provoked by the leadership there were 202-205 members – the same number as before SYRIZA’s ascension and its collapse.
Basically the organization started in 2001 as a theoretically and organizationally weak one, investing in a strategy with two pillars: working its own political initiatives (mainly in a few workplaces, anti-racist work and campus work) and close collaboration with reformists. However that collaboration quickly turned away from mass actions (the Social Forum and demonstrations). As soon as the antiwar movement receded the United Front was re-interpreted as being an electoral alliance.
The DEA had inherited a bad antidemocratic tradition from the IS, though it was less apparent and formalized. From the beginning it neglected to take balance of its own inadequacies and political mistakes (for instance, why did our most prominent trade-unionists leave us and join the reformists?) and never acquired a definite plan. Put all this together, you get an organization which abandoned the first pillar (building itself with its own specific initiatives) and which based its existence only on collaboration and fusion with the reformists.
Apart from the temptation and impatience of a shortcut to political influence, the financial factor was also an important component of the degeneration. Especially after 2012, when SYRIZA came second in the parliamentary elections, the DEA received great amounts of cash from parliamentary grants and also increased the number of paid organizers. The ratio reached close to one professional paid organizer per ten members. So an apparatus formed which failed to gain support among the working class and which was increasingly dependent on money from other sources.
Political disorientation and the anti-democratic gap between the leadership and rank-and-file had various symptoms. The Sunday Migrant School was an antiracist initiative of DEA from 2003. However more and more during the last years, all anti-racist work was neglected or dissolved. In the end, the only interest the DEA’s leadership found in anti-racism was the money involved: it used to “borrow” or pilfer money constantly from the Sunday School for the DEA’s treasury. Another telling financial scandal was the chronic embezzlement of around 250.000 euros by the DEA’s main founder and respected leader GH, something exposed in 2013. He was never prosecuted in court and his expulsion coincided with the DEA’s political turn in favor of the slogans of the “Left Government” and the “unification” with SYRIZA. While they were previously against these for years, the CC’s majority was somehow convinced otherwise. Of course this 180-degree turn was never discussed on the base level apart from a fast-track discussion in a 2013 Conference (which was filled with unanswered written questions, a rally around the leadership in the aftermath of the embezzlement scandal, etc).
The final result was gradual political decline. As a caricature, the internationalist DEA ended up fusing with the LAE (Popular Unity), an electoral “front” with nationalist left forces (and other social-democratic or even right-wing forces) and a capitalist-protectionist economic program. They have not gained anything but paid professionals out of it. (Our guess is that if the LAE doesn’t manage to enter the european parliament or the national parliament, the DEA will eventually leave it. It seems they are now preparing for this.)
AL: Many comrades were raising concerns for years about the United Front (UF) tactics and the way the organization was being built. In 2015, when Tsipras had already signed the 3rd memorandum and DEA had split with SYRIZA and joined Popular Unity (LAE), the disagreements within us had grown bigger as the goal of building a stronger and bigger organization after the betrayal of SYRIZA was not accomplished. On the contrary, the DEA had lost many members as it was considered to be P.Lafazanis’ (the reformist leader of LAE) partner, who meanwhile is trying to survive electorally by joining or trying to join forces with former social democratic, non-political or even right wing forces.
The balance of both SYRIZA and the LAE was definitely negative. Not only were there fewer members than in 2008, there was also a collapse of our union work and the Red Net (a hopeful initiative of the DEA, a network of non-integrated SYRIZA members that supported the DEA and the left wing of SYRIZA, which had reached a membership of 150). Many local branches weakened significantly. There was a conscious undermining of the “Deport Racism” initiative which went from a significant force in the Greek antiracist movement to a mere “brandname” since it was allegedly controlled by cadre disloyal to the leadership.
There was also the loss of political and organization skills like those involved in building a group in a workplace or university, dealing with peoples’ daily or local issues, speaking in public for non-electoral issues, discussions about ideology linked with the present conjuncture, etc. DEA membership supposedly exceeded 250 people back in 2014. In the 2018 congress we were officially informed by the bulletin that there were 202 members, half of which were practically inactive, and only 1/3 of them helped to sell the paper. Today we can estimate that they are around 100 members. In 2013-2014, we started demonstrating as Red Net (instead of demonstrating as the DEA like before) and demonstrating was not considered to be as important as it used to be. All this is backed by official bulletins and documents. Most rallies were a matter for one branch or a group of branches and not of the entire body of the organization (in Athens where there is more than one branch). The CC bulletin can prove this and because of this there were very small DEA blocks of 20 to 50 people in most cases.
Although between 2004 to 2009 DEA combined unity in action with the reformist forces alongside having independent activity in the workers’, students’ and anti-racist/anti-fascist movement, the turn towards centering around electoral politics as the focus of their work lead DEA’s fronts and initiatives (like “Deport Racism”, trade union groups etc.) to shrink or collapse. The focus was on building SYRIZA branches under “our example”. This had a major effect on the DEA’s composition, leading the above mentioned groups into becoming part of SYRIZA’s organizations or abandoning them. The organization itself lost its power and confidence throughout this.
In our minds, the United Front tactic is not a by-any-means, exclusive, long-term alliance with a certain reformist current. It is definitely not a transformation of joint platforms into political parties co-built with the reformists. As the reformist side was not being criticized sufficiently and openly, we were led to the struggle against the system under a reformist leadership. In addition by building the same party with the reformists it forced us to abide by the discipline of the majority. Thus reformism was falsely re-emerging as the leadership and strategy for the working class to struggle against the system. Revolutionaries were confined to an auxiliary role.
The “United front” does not mean working together with reformists in general, and is not long term. It is a tactic with two aspects: uniting around specific battles against the system with a simultaneous struggle (not “cooperation”) against reformism; with a clear position that the reformist leadership and the reformist program will lead to painful defeats.
The concept of a “broad party” in the DEA became synonymous with a gradualist and poorly thought out application of the united front. In the DEA collective procedures would only put their stamp on pre-made resolutions of the CC. The only meaningful debate about the resolutions was confined to the CC sessions. Illusions were cultivated that the “broad party” could alter its course “due to our work”, “if we put pressure on their members” and win the battle for the correlation of forces inside SYRIZA. Illusions were fostered about forcing the reformists to move in the right direction and thus become an appropriate instrument for our class. The political independence of our own organisation was undermined, specifically our right to public differentiation and confrontation, both in theory and in practice. If today, that is to say in this historical context, the needs of the struggle are covered by the “broad party”, than the need for revolutionary construction is undermined. How can a revolutionary left be built when it “signs on” to the reformist program and the suitability of the reformist (broad party) leadership?
After leaving SYRIZA, the DEA waited for approval from the LAE to organize any action instead of addressing the rest of the left-wing organizations (the LAE included) and attempting to pressure the LAE to follow a certain direction. The mistake became a crime particularly over the Macedonian case.
SYRIZA recently imposed an imperialist agreement to the detriment of Macedonia’s state, changing the small neighbor state’s name (“North Macedonia” from now on), its constitution, etc. The Right and the Far Right criticized this “national betrayal” (because they did not want the term “Macedonia” as part of the new name at all) and organized nationalistic rallies. The LAE as well as the Communist Party (KKE, still by far the largest left party with many thousands of members rooted in the working class, but stalinist and reformist) criticized SYRIZA from the right. They held a friendly attitude towards the “patriotic” rallies (organized by right and far-right parties) and some sectors of the LAE worked towards co-operation with and participation in these rallies.
Around such an issue which went to the core of the internationalist “identity” of DEA (its position on the self-determination of the Macedonian people had previously led it to be targeted by fascists), there was an explicit absence of initiatives around the question and no attempt to work together with other organizations to stop this. The justification was “in order not to publicize disagreements within the LAE”. The DEA in practice submitted to Lafazanis, the main leader of the LAE who is firmly on the reformist, right wing of the party. They accepted acting as a submissive and unchallenging minority with this great reformist “ally.” Even worse, in the National Committee of the LAE they voted for the LAE’s resolutions which they allegedly disagreed with – without even trying to organize a left wing – arguing that “we should not be isolated like leftists”.
About the democratic question now. The principle of democratic centralism and the autonomy of local branches includes and presupposes full freedom of criticism, even publicly, as long as unity is not disturbed in a particular action. The Stalinist distortion of democratic centralism has often influenced Trotskyist organizations. This is the case with the IST from which the DEA originates. Common action in organizations of the revolutionary left (where engagement is voluntary) depends on persuasion and the prestige of the leadership must depend on political persuasion and practical verification. However persuasion presupposes the free expression of disagreements and the intra-party struggle. This is the reason why as part of the DEA in the texts that we published in 2013 Chris Harman’s statement that: “Intra-Party Democracy is not an optional luxury … The concept of the monolithic party is Stalinist. Homogeneity and democracy are mutually incompatible.” Trotsky, concentrating on years of experience around the issue, writes in the Betrayed Revolution (1937) on Democratic Centralism that “In fact, the history of Bolshevism is a story of struggle between factions”.
Democratic centralism is not “unified thought”, nor unity in terms of tactical issues, but unity in action. Members’ rights are not limited to speaking and voting at the conference (once a year, in the best case) but involve controlling the leadership and shaping policy through open debate.
In the DEA, Stalinist bureaucratic centralism was being implemented. It is no coincidence that most of our members were relatively new to the organization: it took a few years for a member to gather enough evidence of the organization’s politics and practice to develop more general disagreements beyond narrow local issues and try to articulate them. The member would than face a mentality in the party that tended to prohibit disagreements beyond the limits of a personal network or a local branch. The combination of – objectively – failed political tactics and deficient democratic structures, results in the frequent disillusionment of more experienced members and an ever shrinking final sum…. In the DEA most of the old members had left, while most of the current members had less than five years of membership in the Organisation.
The DEA did not recognize the right of a minority to communicate its views even internally, except in the pre-congress period. Not even when it concerned a minority within the CC. No confrontation was allowed either in the newspaper or in the magazine. Horizontal communication between members of various local branches was not allowed. Although there were always many disagreements within the CC, they were never disclosed to the members. The fact that all members of the CC had accepted that the leadership must be “fortified” and that they should appear to be totally homogeneous to the outside meant that unfortunately no member of the CC took on the responsibility of testing their different views among the base of the Organization. Something which would have enriched the discussion and helped members to become more politicized and gain independence.
Members were often excluded from the decision-making process around vital issues (e.g. our participation in the Regional Elections of 2010 or our participation in LAE in 2015, when we changed our attitude towards supporting the slogan of a “left government”, and when it was decided to unify with SYRIZA) or were limited to a passive role in Conferences where the CC always proposed a pre-agreed line that was effectively impossible to change. The decisions of the Conferences were unclear; without measurable objectives, they could fit any interpretation and so avoided concrete reporting and accountability. For example, there was some ambiguity around crucial issues like our participation in the LAE and the electoral alliances. The leadership wasn’t committed to anything politically… In the absence of a political line, the members lost control over the CC and had to content themselves with voting that they trusted it in the CC’s decisions. In this environment, the leadership was increasingly unable to mobilize the base of the organisation or to inspire members beyond the paid organisers to take over duties and responsibilities.
So we result in dealing with the IST Heritage: Leadership is declared to be the essence of the organization as its most stable base, paradoxically it is emphasized even more when its own failures drive members out from the organization. Especially its most fatal mistakes should not be recognized because recognizing those errors would negatively affect the leadership’s prestige. This is an outlook which undermines political debate while preventing members from being politicized and controlling their leadership.
The IST imposed and inherited an organizational model characterized by a large divide between leadership and the base, and multiple tracks of members (those who “guide” and spend most of their time in the party office, those who “run” and “implement the party directions”, and those who just follow and pay dues to the organization). The “renewal” of the leadership was based only on the “reproduction” of the influence of “historical leaders” and organizational structures. Meanwhile there was a lack of substantial democratic debate or serious responses to any disputes, combined with suspicion towards disagreement. Political differences were not addressed openly, honestly in front of all the members, but either secretly within the leadership bodies (so the minority was forbidden to say its opinion to the members, so as to express a “united” leadership to the “outside”) or with some minor minorities in the pre-conferences (marginalized by the leadership or excluded from the congresses).
However, political differences continued to exist, to act underground and to force each leader to attempt to build personal influence on long term cadre and the broader membership. This logic created “courtyards”, “feuds” and a sort of “personalism” – there was isolated maneuvering by parts of the Central Committee and the leaders of the organization instead of truly collective leadership.
Bureaucratic distortions and professional dependencies were observed particularly around the creation of paid organizer roles. Long term and experienced members of ours estimated that in the DEA there were between 30 to 40 professional organizers (of varying levels of duties and salaries) in a group of 200-250 members. We say estimated because such details (number of members or professionals) were never revealed. So a kind of “caste” was created gradually, a caste that had material privileges to maintain its leadership, to ensure its survival and to fulfill its ambitions (prestige, office amenities, personal influence, etc.).
The Leadership evaded accountability and balances of serious failures of the Organization such as the loss of important trade unionists and the loss of many members who were active and devoted to the aim of building the organization…As far as the experiences of the Organization and the whole IST is concerned, the insufficient assimilation of their conclusions was dominant, if not total lack of them. For example, the ISO as a whole (“old” and “new” leaders and many more members) seems to completely ignore the experience of Greece, the failure of the work within SYRIZA and of its sister organization DEA. It is one reason why after the Greek experience, so many ISO members concluded that they should be “reconstituted” within the DSA, despite the DSA’s close relationship with the Democrats in the United States.
These characteristics shaped a leadership prone to all sorts of Machiavellianism and arbitrariness, as we have seen again and again in organizations of this type.
We must not believe that long-term membership in revolutionary organizations, nor the talent to memorize political and theoretical positions, are safe criterion for the character of the political commitment of whichever member is within them. All this without the presumption of real trials in the class struggle will prove to be insignificant. To some extent, the above problems reflect the global crisis of the world revolutionary left, which is weak and isolated from the working class. At the same time it lays about half a century since the last revolutionary attempt in Europe, having largely distanced itself from the trials of the class struggle that forged the revolutionary left as such. It is now much more of a “revolutionary left” in words, because it proclaims so, and not in practice, acting in conditions that make it difficult to prove. In such circumstances it is easy to have bureaucratic phenomena, deviations from the original declared goal and shifts rightwards.
How did the expulsion itself unfold? Was there a contested convention?
VL: Yes there was a convention, in late February 2018. It was the first time in the last 14 years that a significant disagreement appeared in the DEA in an organized fashion. It gained, despite adverse intra-party conditions, the support of 37% of the delegates of the convention. The leadership’s anti-democratic attitude skyrocketed after the formation of our opposition (just in 11-12/2018), the creation of our “faction” around the aforementioned issues.
There are dozens of examples: attempts of electoral fraud;arbitrary removal of members from the lists (that meant their expulsion); biased changes in the electoral regulations during the Conference process; bullying, threats and physical violence during a session of the CC itself; the official internal bulletins advising the members not to talk to each other, but only to their local organizers; annulling decisions of the plenary meetings of local branches “because the CC had not been informed of the meeting” etc. It was the first time that half of the members were excluded from the hall of the Conference, the first time ever that a delegate only conference was held in order to limit criticisms against the leadership.
After all, the same CC used to describe as a “sample of political health” the absence of an Internal Dialogue bulletin for fourteen years. The CC grudgingly accepted the opening of the internal dialogue under the pressure of a member of the CC (myself), and immediately interrupted it when other members appeared eager to discuss the matters raised. Therefore the CC majority organized a conference to “restore order” and prevent the opposition from organizing. The leadership prevented signing and decision-making by local base organizations on the issue of the Conference of Delegates and publicly declared its refusal to change these decisions “even if all members of the organization would sign against these decisions”! They used the Special Internal Bulletins to attack the faction, to conspire about “entryists and a faction motivated by external factors”, they even unofficially accused members of the faction as being “pawns” of the resurrected embezzler from 2013! Sadly, some young members mistook all this for bolshevism.
The climax was the expulsion of the 3 opposition members out of the 9 member CC. They were accused of … sending documents with the opposition’s views to other members! And this just two months AFTER the Conference had decided NOT to dissolve our “faction” and therefore to keep the discussion going! All this, lasting from late November 2017 and the formation of the opposition (the first ever in DEA) until early April 2018, was making clearer and clearer for all of us that the DEA could not be reformed. Of course, after the expulsion of the 3 comrades, another 65 members (out of DEA’s total 205) publicly announced their withdrawal from the DEA. Soon afterwards, most of these founded our present small organization (keeping the most precious lasting initiative, the Sunday Migrant School, now flourishing with migrants and youth volunteers, open to radical politicization).
You can read our split declaration, translated to english and sent to Socialist Worker (no response though) in 2018.
AL: The need to form a faction was proved in practice, otherwise no disagreement would even reach the members’ ears, let alone be understood by them. The four months that the faction lasted showed that it could push the leadership to the left, but the leadership could not tolerate this pressure. In hindsight, it turns out that the leadership’s tolerance had two hard limites: The policy of tailism towards the reformists and its conception of democratic centralism.
Already in the pre-congress dialogue, the majority of the CC threatened to violently break up the faction after a “dialogue” of two and a half months. In the conference itself, they knew that they did not have the required ⅔ majority (according to the statute they themselves had voted for) so they presented themselves as relatively democratic – it was a relatively quiet conference despite the verbal challenges on their part. When their proposal for dissolution of the faction was finally voted against in the conference, they tried to dissolve the faction in practice by imposing silence. The faction did not obey. Then, breaching their own statute, they caused the split with the expulsion of 3 CC members.
Much of this disease is similar or identical to what you described in your article about the arbitrariness and lack of democracy in the old ISO leadership.
How do you relate to the “International Socialist” tradition now?
VM: We have no real contacts with organizations abroad, although we would be very interested. The IS tradition is in question, there are opinions that we should revise almost everything using as our reference just the classics of Marxism, relating them to present problems and struggles. While other comrades maintain a more devoted approach to the IS tradition. Honestly, while there are different opinions, we do not prioritize this issue over more demanding problems our tiny forces face.
AL: The tradition of the IST (including ISO and DEA) has offered a great and important theoretical body (state capitalism, socialism from below etc.), important lessons on projecting ourselves, in re-establishing the newspaper as a tool of intervention and party building, etc. The contribution of the trend of Tony Cliff and IS (International Socialists) remains important politically and ideologically, both to understand capitalism and imperialism today as well as to restore socialism as a society of emancipation for workers and the oppressed; getting rid of the stigma created by stalinism.
We have already begun some international contacts, and we seek to expand and deepen them. We do not want to limit them to the tradition of IS, every revolutionary current has its own positive elements, we can all gain and give. Besides, the left’s forces are small and the tasks are great. We do not have to build such tall walls between us. We are looking for ways to keep the good and dispose of the bad elements of our tradition by interacting with other revolutionary traditions.
What has your group’s position been in relationship to Syriza?
AL: Most of us had “slipped” into a logic that accepted SYRIZA as a United Front, although we had occasional objections to greater or lesser degrees. In retrospect, we found that SYRIZA had nothing to do with the United Front. Our ex-leadership had been submerged in the logic of assimilation into or “reconstitution” with reformism, tailing the reformists.
VM: I do not believe SYRIZA was a United Front of any kind except for a farcical distortion. For many reasons like timeframe, it being electoral and not in action, DEA’s lack of a plan and DEA’s gradual assimilation into Syriza). It also was not planned entryism. The DEA constantly denied that entryism was the plan from the beginning. SYRIZA is another example of a “Broad Party”, a project which international experience highlights continued failures leading to defeats for both the movement and the (wannabe) revolutionaries. The LAE is a caricature of this same “tactic” since it is not even “broad”. There are comradely opinions that one would be allowed to enter such a Broad Party, on strict conditions of a) a definite plan (basically of entryism) with specific target-groups (and not “the broad audiences” or “masses”, b) a short stay (e.g. a year), c) the preservation of an organizational structure (organs, publications, meeting etc), d) a democratic organizational structure able to highlight inadequacies and rally people together, e) financial independence, f) the preservation of a political structure and autonomy from the reformists on the grounds of constantly monitoring and criticizing knowing that your split is unavoidable, g) the relative political and organizational slackness of the reformists in such a Broad Party, allowed by a period of radicalization in its base. The DEA’s intervention only met one of those conditions, c).
AL: The debate around “broad parties” is no longer in the phase of ascent but rather is in the phase of decadence; strategic defeats, concessions and betrayals. The reformist strategy of class compromise was defeated. There is the defeat of SYRIZA (a political example of international significance and influence) and the Latin American models (equally important international references), for which the bankruptcy of reformism is responsible as the leadership of both models. This is the main reason for the international retreat of both the movement and the Left. However, the failure of the revolutionary Left itself is also responsible for this defeat, because with its right and left mistakes it has failed to defeat reformism.
For example: How and why did the left wing inside and outside SYRIZA fail to stop Tsipras? How and why was the left wing inside SYRIZA locked in its crib at the most crucial moments? It was paralyzed by illusions and indecision, it failed to prepare an alternative for the movement to stop the betrayal of Tsipras.
The general failure of DEA (and large sections of the revolutionary left internationally) is, at least in part, due precisely to the fact that the united front was not being practiced; rather it was abandoned in favor of the tactic of a “broad” party.
Today, SYRIZA has been transformed into a basic party of the bourgeoisie, trying to substitute traditional social democracy (which had collapsed after 2012), governing until the present by implementing the memorandums successfully without encountering serious social resistance. The Left is in a period of crisis and looking for ways to rebuild.
In our opinion, hope is mainly found in the existing social resistance and the parts of the left that are more actively involved with them. Also, in the parts of the Left trying to generalize conclusions from the struggle, recognizing on the Left a role as a workshop of ideas rather than dogmas. For our part, we are already trying to respond to both tasks, the particular struggles and the left-wing dialogue. We are willing to work for a left-wing partnership in action, ie an effort much closer to the logic of the United Front, as we have shown with our initiatives and our response to anti-war efforts. The goal remains: to build an organization that will properly combine the United Front for action with the building of a revolutionary organization.
How did your group view the efforts of the left opposition within Syriza and the attempt to construct Popular Unity?
VM: The only consistent left opposition would be a revolutionary and pragmatic one. That is an opposition consciously on its way to split, an opposition not allowing any rightward turn by SYRIZA’s leadership BEFORE 2015 to pass unnoticed for the sake of “SYRIZA’s unity”. Although DEA was on the far-left wing of the existing opposition in SYRIZA, it was neither sufficient nor effective, as described above. In 2015, the DEA vacillated many times. For instance, its MP correctly refused to vote for the conservative President of the Republic whom Tsipras had proposed; but soon afterwards DEA’s MP wrongfully voted FOR the confiscation of the treasuries of public organizations by the government to service the public debt, rebuffing any guilt with a simple critical statement.
At the end of that 11-year course (2004-2015) the DEA did not have the organizational or political confidence to start a split, therefore they (we all) waited for the Left Current reformists (the organization of P.Lafazanis, leading LAE) to do it. When the latter did so, they did so belatedly and erroneously -and comically placing DEA at their tail (they didn’t even ask DEA to co-organize the initiative in its beginning).
During its first year, LAE had managed to gather people from different left trends of SYRIZA together with others having split from ANTARSYA. This potential, for whatever it was worth, was wasted after the LAE’s first Congress. The Left Current showed no willingness to cooperate but rather sought to impose on “allies” both its views as well as its permanent rightward political characteristics (seeking alliances with “patriotic”, non-left organizations, a capitalist protectionist program entrenched in currency-devaluation development etc.). It was the breaking point for many of the people that had participated in the Congress. But not for the DEA…
AL: The leadership of DEA succumbed to a logic of retreat before Tsipras in order “not to be isolated and let him drive us off”. A logic of alignment, awaiting initiatives by Lafazanis in SYRIZA and avoiding the promotion of our own initiatives “not to show that there are disagreements within SYRIZA’s Left Platform”. Eventually, there was a lack of public opposition to Tsipras, a failure to prevent the memorandum, Tsipras got rid of us easily and sowed mass disappointment, while the LAE did not even enter parliament despite having been the 3rd largest parliamentary group with a daily TV presence before the election. The most modest left people charged LAE with a lack of a realistic reformist plan (as Lafazanis “played football in Tsipras’s home arena”, the one of capitalist management and governmentalism), while the most radicalized left comrades blamed the Left Platform (“You knew and did not speak, you did nothing to prevent this”).
The left wing inside SYRIZA was too late to distance itself from Tsipras, it reached consensus on memorandums, began to broadcast contradictory messages that prompted indecisiveness (“we vote for the government, but do not support it”, “we support, but do not vote” etc) and showed that it stayed with SYRIZA for the parliamentary privileges, waiting for Tsipras to drive them out. The DEA missed many opportunities to claim the Left Wing, to push the left wing of SYRIZA to the left, and to determine the composition of the LAE because it did not want to clash with Lafazanis.
The problems became more entrenched later on in the LAE, with LAE’s leadership expressing more right-wing views and becoming more authoritarian even than the SYRIZA of 2012. SYRIZA had a line of opposition rather than a line for governing before 2012. Yet as SYRIZA moved to the right the DEA became much more submissive to the reformist leadership!
The LAE choices were made in the name of “national-patriotic resistance” to the memorandums of “foreign powers”. It is a sketch of the old Stalinist analysis of a stage theory that eliminates local bourgeoisie and class analysis, aspiring to manage Greek capitalism, to “consult the bourgeoisie for its sake”, to make “productive reconstruction” and much later to see “socialist transformation” (a version of “socialism from above”). This logic has led them to bankruptcy, as they are expected to get 1% at the next elections and in the recent European elections only achieved 0.56%. The DEA was fully subordinated to this right wing leadership of the LAE by Lafazanis.
What is your view of and relationship to Antarsya?
AL: ANTARSYA is a front of the far left. It was formed under the pressure of SYRIZA, its main organizations are constantly in conflict with each other, arrive to make different ANTARSYA printed material and participate in different factions in workplaces and universities, hold separate demonstrations, and now they also participate separately in the local elections, eg in Athens and Thessaloniki. ANTARSYA was more of an occasional bind to organizations than a real front. It suffered from problems of ultra-leftism, sectarianism, mistaken political emphases (eg anti-EU instead of anti-capitalist central slogan-project) and failed to connect adequately with the left-wing people who had illusions in SYRIZA. The left wing of SYRIZA, despite its serious problems, proved to be the most important opposition to Tsipras. In September 2015, ANTARSYA gained 0.7% and failed to emerge as a serious opposition to SYRIZA (LAE took 2.9%) and two of its four main organizations joined LAE. ANTARSYA has also had problems around a lack of democracy and respect for minority views inside the left front.
Both the LAE and ANTARSYA are responsible for the fact that there was no common electoral front in September 2015, otherwise now there would be a left front with parliamentary representation in the Greek Parliament. In recent years, ANTARSYA’s crisis has deepened, and it is now considered to be an abortive force, like LAE, while most left-wing people are not organized in communist organizations. Parts of ANTARSYA have left it. Many organizations within LAE, ANTARSYA and beyond, agree that a new wider front must be built, based on and with emphasis on democracy, the transitional program and the United Front, with comradely criticism, without injustice against any member or organization, with pluralist representation etc. Nevertheless, ANTARSYA remains today by far the most important pole of the far left and has maintained an internationalist stance on the Macedonian problem.
VM: We are open to co-operation with EVERYBODY (including LAE and DEA), but on practical matters, concerning an action or campaign. With ANTARSYA (and LAE and others) we have already done this a few times, in anti-imperialist or anti-racist demonstrations. We are inclined to vote for ANTARSYA in the coming elections, but we cannot participate in it for the reasons mentioned above, but also because of our reservations against all kinds of makeshift electoral combinations of quite different organizations. By the way, almost all of the greek organizations seeking a new alternative “front”, imply a primarily electoral one. This is the same logic that led to the failures by revolutionaries in SYRIZA and LAE…
What relationships do you have with other communist and trotskyist organizations in Greece?
AL: In the movement we are working with all the left-wing organizations, we want even the KKE, LAE and the anarchists to collaborate against the fascists, for example.
VM: Our criteria is the same for all organizations. From time to time we cooperate in distinct activities with the organizations of ANTARSYA (NAR, OKDE-Spartacus etc), autonomists (Diktyo-Network), OKDE, Ksekinima (CWI), Anasidaxi,ex-SYRIZAns (ARK, DIRIZA etc) and others. We have also held joint events with some of these organizations. There are a few municipal lists that will have campaigns in the coming local elections that these organizations support and we will participate in.
Syriza’s victory and subsequent betrayal of the expectations of millions has clearly had a major demoralizing impact on the Greek working class and what was once a vibrant resistance movement. How do you see this demoralization being overcome? Is it possible to return to the kind of militancy which distinguished many of the General Strikes that brought down PASOK?
VM: That is a dual matter. First, when is the crisis going to strike again? That depends on the international situation as well as domestic financial problems (bank insolvency). Second, the level of organization of the working class and the revolutionary left. These are both far worse than 4 years ago. There are rare and visible efforts to build or rebuild unions in the private sector (eg, courier / delivery services) or the public sector (eg teachers) but with no definite results until now, as far as I know. Of course, another financial fallout may provoke some massive spontaneous movements (again!), but its direction depends mostly on what is happening today in the working class Left.
AL: The defeat looks too heavy, but the attacks of capital and the class struggle continue. Moreover, the escalation of fascist attacks and the growth of the fascists in turn rallies the left and activists.
At the moment, the anti-fascist movement is the most powerful, there are signs of strengthening the feminist and anti-homophobic movement (especially as rapes, beatings, murders of LGBT people, are spreading), as well as scattered labor struggles. They are small but real resistances. Unfortunately, there is no longer a political force that plays a role in parliament and in the media as a “loudspeaker” of the struggles (as SYRIZA did until 2012) but mass struggles can break out independently of it.
It will be necessary for ordinary people to gradually generalize their experience against the new bipartisanism, to realize the mockery that is SYRIZA and the Right, and to turn to the claim of social justice rather than against immigrants or against neighboring peoples. The threat of war persists (in particular with Turkey), and it is not clear whether the extended or even growing rage and depreciation of the political system (because of the large or even growing poverty) will push people to the left rather than the far-right. At the current moment, the far right is better positioned than the left. Nevertheless, the Left still has serious organizational forces despite SYRIZA’s betrayal. We need to build on this. The possibility of massive labor resistance, such as that in 2010-2012, cannot be ruled out theoretically. It would be quite a long-term process, presupposing a series of new important class struggles and the accumulation of experience for our class in parallel with a crucial role for the Left in these struggles. Individual movements (anti-fascism, anti-nationalism, anti-sexism, etc.) must be directed from the Left towards strengthening the labor movement.
But we must emphasize that, along with the support in every class and movement’s struggle, we must strengthen the revolutionary Left at the expense of the reformists – in the direction of creating a revolutionary party. The next time that there will be a rise in class struggle, the revolutionaries will have to be much more ready to fight and learn from their mistakes. Otherwise, we will repeat the mistakes of the Trotskyists who participated in the broad parties and – without realizing it – reinforced reformism, undermined their own growth and, at the same time, the possibility of defeating reformism when it would prepare the capitulation.
What sectors of the Greek working class and what social movements do you see as the key strategic focus for the left right now?
VM: For a small organization like us, it is inconsistent to answer such grand questions. We focus on the workplaces where we already exist (the public sector, social security workers, teachers) and on anti-racist work. We also have in mind the anti-war issues and we try to take initiative when possible, since the situation in the eastern Mediterranean greatly concerns us.
AL: The old public sector and the very few private sector industries that still have unions are fields where the revolutionary left should build roots. New parts of working class are building unions (eg couriers) and launch struggles, these efforts must be strengthened consciously. Larger sections of workers remain unorganized- without unions. It is an emergency to rebuild the working class and give some examples of victorious combat and revolutionary unionism to reverse the situation. At the moment the concept of trade unionism has been skewed by employers-reformist leaderships in existing unions. It’s not an easy job, but if we don’t do it, there can be neither a strong labor movement nor a seriously strengthened revolutionary Left able to play a role in the class war.
The anti-fascist movement is central today, it is rallying the most of the movement of the movement and still achieves some successes against the fascists. Anti-racist, feminist, LGTBQI +, anti-nationalist movements are important in trying to politicize workers and orient their anger left against the far right.
What is your view of the current state of Greek Fascism, organizations like the Golden Dawn, etc.? What have been the most effective left strategies to combat them?
AL: For both“fascists with boots” and “fascists with ties”, the forthcoming European elections are an important opportunity. Due to a large international section of the radical left integrating and retreating after the SYRIZA’s betrayal after 2015 as well as the defeats and breakdowns of the “pink” governments in Latin America, all Europeans, nationalists and extreme right-wing racists, have found the opportunity and they are selling false anti-system rhetoric in order to politically benefit from “Euro-skepticism” ( a current that expands its influence within popular classes throughout Europe as a form of disorientated reaction to the right and social democracy).
The fact that most extreme right-wing politicians succeed in avoiding identification with Nazi paramilitary battalions and posing as major political forces does not make them less dangerous. On the contrary, they enhance Nazism in the medium term as they broaden the impact of nationalism and racism on national audiences. After all, the racist policies that use fascists with a tie like Salvini in Italy encourage pure neo-nazis like Casa Pound to go to city streets and attempt pogroms. Nor does anything exclude the conversion of extremist parties or their parts into fascist organizations with paramilitary battalions at the “appropriate” juncture if they think they will increase their political dynamics. Finally, in a possible collapse of the far-right versions due to their identification with system choices, it is very likely that their political audiences will be shifted to “pure” fascist powers. This happened in Greece with the disappearance of LAOS of G.Karatzaferis and the strengthening of Golden Dawn from 2010-2012 onwards.
In Greece, the far-right has hopes of reconstruction and counter-attack, mainly due to disappointment and devaluation of the left, with SYRIZA treachery, KKE depredation, LAE tragedy, the weakness of the revolutionary left. Nevertheless, it has not done well until now.
The forces of the movement and the left therefore need to take the threat seriously and form a broad united front against the right-wing and fascist response.
The fascists face difficulties at the level of international co-ordination. The main reason is that the far right-wing represenst the interests of a part of their bourgeoisie in each country and so do not share perspectives around basic economic and political issues. These contradictions can be exploited by the anti-capitalist left, as long as it attempts to take root in society and the popular classes; advancing our perspective against the austerity of Brussels from a class conscious workers and internationalist point of view.
Golden Dawn in Greece is currently debilitated by the criminal organization’s trial and is decimated by the continued withdrawal of its leading members; there is a break-up of groups of members into scattered fascist groups.
VM: After the first wave of the crisis was overcome, the fascists have been preserving their electoral forces. They cautiously try to reemerge, taking advantage of the government’s rightward policies (anti-turkish and anti-macedonian imperialism and nationalism, racism, concentration camps, deportations, turning a blind eye to torture and murders of refugees, the preservation of austerity). It is of great importance that the GD is convicted in the ongoing trial, but even this will be a result of pressure from below: anti-racist campaigns and anti-fascist responses where fascist attacks occur. In case another wave of economic crisis arrives given the present state of the Left, the far-right will have the potential to grow.
AL: On the eve of the May elections, they attempt to reactivate the paramilitary battalions and escalate their fascist attacks. To stop them, a precondition is the activation of the forces of the movement and the left, so as not to give public space to the fascists, as well as our unity in action to move forward. Such a mobilization is able to marginalize neo-Nazis in the neighborhoods and lead to their weakening at the May ballots. The Left must highlight the criminal nature of the Nazis, but we cannot limit ourselves to just this. We must prove the systemic character of the extreme right-wing, of their nature as hostile forces to the interests of the working class and the poor. Above all, they are the forces of capitalism, system, capital. It is no coincidence that the Golden Dawn members are working with the shipowners in Perama, setting up a strikebreaking “union” of henchmen and at the same time a job-finding agency with poor pay and no rights. They also have been against environmental movements and in support of business interests, e.g. supporting mining operations οf the “Eldorado” multinational company in Halkidiki. Their only concern is criminality- they blame this on immigrants, refugees and Roma in an attempt to awaken the most reactionary forces.
In Greece a significant disadvantage for the fascists is their identification and the co-operation of their ancestors with Hitler, which alters the image of the “patriots” (Hitler conquered Greece and ruled it from 1941 to 1944, leading workers and the poor to their impoverishment and death, while the Left played the leading role in the resistance movement that expelled Hitler). The rise of fascism can not be countered by the xenophobic screams of the right-wing executives. The co-operation of local right-wing, right-wing, junist, former and current members of Golden Dawn, as in the town of Ptolemaida, is also something which must be denounced. We must also denounce the close relationship of mutual support between them and the armed forces (e.g. Police).
But the left also needs to face a front against the Social Democrats’ airways about creating a “progressive pole” against the far right. No anti-fascist pole can depend on inhumane concentration camps for refugees in the Aegean islands, the operations of the police against refugees or closed borders, as the SYRIZA government does. No anti-fascist front can be made with those who evict refugees from apartments and throw them in the street. SYRIZA’s leaders have strengthened their relations with priests friendly towards the Golden Dawn and have made common appearances with Golden Dawn deputies, especially around “national issues.” The only progressive pole that can be set up against the far-right is the one of solidarity towards refugees, resistance to the racist policies of Greece and European Union and the demand for open borders and the free movement of victims of poverty and war. Such a pole needs to be set up urgently.
The work of the anti-fascist movement is important and effective as it does not let the fascists impose their law in the neighborhoods. An example is the riot following the assassination of P. Fyssas in 2013 that led to the Golden Dawn’s trial, to its crisis and to its eradication in areas such as Saint Panteleimonas (which they had once fully controlled and practiced terrorism there). There are examples of cities that have recalled permits for the events of Golden Dawn due to a general outcry of society and the mobilization of the Left.
There are attempts in Greece to re-articulate the Right and Far-Right, initiatives to create a “serious Golden Dawn” by the rest of Europe’s standards. The small town of Ptolemaida (close to the border with the state of Macedonia, where the system has consciously cultivated nationalism against the neighboring state) provides an example of how to deal with it: after targeting a member of our organization “Red Thread”by the block of right and far right, we moved forward addressing organisations, movements and unions, and we received 23 resolutions of sympathy, calling all the Left and antifascists for united action in the streets to break right wing terrorism. The result was a very massive event for the town’s size. This campaign led to the far-right (of Right-Far Right) front to be marginalized and ultimately to shrinking, crisis and splits. The big party of the Right (New Democracy) and institutional pillars (Media-Municipality-Church) were forced to withdraw from the common front leaving a handful of Fascists and the Nazis shouting but no longer having a chance of success in their goal of dominating the city.
The pro-Syriza political position has been reflected internationally throughout the left by efforts to construct or to liquidate into broad political parties; Podemos in Spain is one of the major and most influential examples. What lessons from Greece’s experience with Syriza do you see as the most important for leftists facing similar phenomenon in their own countries?”
AL: Surely SYRIZA acted as a “broad party” model. The debate on broad parties was generalized with the new anti-globalization movement when revolutionary and reformist organizations were found on the same road together, so it was thought that this could be generalized at a political level to rally forces. In Greece, SYN (the reformist party in SYRIZA) made a left turn after 2004 and favored such a project. It had very good moments, such as the very substantial support of the winning occupations of 2006-7 in universities or the wild revolt of youth in 2008, that SYRIZA supported and which the system didn’t compel it to suppress seriously. Lastly, SYRIZA played a positive role in the widening of the workers revolt in 2010-2012 and in the decline of PASOK (the main party of Social Democracy, then shrunk in favor of SYRIZA) and the Right in the first phase of the movement.
However, SYRIZA from the middle of 2011 began to “water down” its program and to orientate itself on the electoral expansion of this movement through a “left government”, but not in the direction of escalating the class struggle which would bring it into conflict with the system. Then the treachery was launched, the one we saw later. The left wing of SYRIZA (and us together with them) did not have a clear mind then to find and on that basis to organize the opposition or even the split much earlier, leaving the venture to degenerate and left-wing political assets and possibilities to be exhausted.
Mistakes were made by other organizations internationally too. The SWP with Respect, the NPA (where the LCR was mistakenly dissolved), while the comrades of Anticapitalistas followed DEA’s model and seemed to be in stagnation at best following the Crisis and right retreat of a Podemos that is rapidly social-democratizing itself in the way SYRIZA did. Finally, it seems that ISO comrades had confused views on the united front, and in combination with the fact that the conclusions of the defeat of the DEA were transferred insufficiently or in the wrong way, this led to the prevalence of opinions that support diffusion into the DSA and the dissolution of the organization. Such views, in our opinion, will prove catastrophic in the next period.
The Far Left has tried both right-wing dissolution within the broad parties and ultra-leftism, but despite its mistakes it is bound to march ahead. For our part, we see our big mistakes in retrospect, as we have experienced SYRIZA and LAE for 15 years. The key is to build revolutionary organizations, not to build reformist broad parties, however radical they seem to be in the “era of their youth”. The dilemma of «reformism or revolution” will never be abolished no matter how left wing and promising the messages that reformism is sending are: at some point it will betray, turn right and comply with the demands of the capitalists. So we must be ready, must have built connections and the base to grow in numbers, so that the workers will not to be disappointed. This is the debate about the United Front, for which neither we nor anyone has prefabricated recipes. We are in a constant search for how this is applied in small and big battles of the movement but also at a political level. We know what was NOT a United Front (SYRIZA, LAE) but the “right” tactic must be shown in the future.
VM: I’m afraid I have to contest the importance of SYRIZA’s support for the occupations of the 2006-7 student movement, where both Alexis and myself were present. SYRIZA had never had any substantial politics and forces in universities and workplaces to critically influence the struggle; rather it would support it politically and earn electoral gains afterwards. The usual left-reformist way! The same applies for -probably all of the- other struggles of that period (except for the struggle against the privatization of water services in 2014 in Thessaloniki, where they indeed played a significant role as far as I can remember). On the other hand, there were increasing betrayals of workers’ struggles, starting from 2012 and onwards, that DEA did not condemn, but on the contrary neglected or even advocated! (So it happens that my old local branch had protested against our leadership’s support for the betrayal of the 2013 teachers’ strike by SYRIZA’s majority). These cases offered serious reasoning for the revolutionaries to raise a rebellion and eventually split from SYRIZA, affecting parts of its membership. But DEA was already too assimilated to attempt such… “leftist immaturities”.
Anyway, I think the short lesson is: United Front “Yes”, Broad Party “No”. Stay away from any kind of Left Broad Party, except if you meet the prerequisites I outlined above for entryism – and just that. We do not know of A SINGLE example of that “tactic” (or should I say “tailism”) which ended positively for either the movement or the revolutionaries, from Brazil to Italy to Greece, from the 1920’s to the present…