Kouvelakis: "The 'No' remains undefeated: we shall continue"
Capitulation? Betrayal? And what now? In an interview for Ballast magazine, Stathis Kouvelakis reflects on the events in Greece, arguing that the task of Syriza's left is now to give political representation to the OXI vote. Translated from the French by David Broder.
Let’s give a broad-brush summary of what’s happened. On 25 January 2015 Syriza won the Greek parliamentary elections with a programme for rupture; on 5 July there was a resounding 61 percent ‘OXI’ that had the masters of the European order on the run; the next day the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was pushed toward the exit; on Monday 13 July everyone learned that the eighteen hours of psychological warfare at the famous ‘negotiating table’ had got the better of the hopes placed in Greek government: it was a capitulation in open field, so we heard. Forced to swallow the austerity mantra in exchange for a hypothetical possibility of debt rescheduling, Tsipras told Greeks via the public broadcaster that he was ‘taking responsibility for a text that I don’t believe in’. On the Wednesday the Syriza central committee rejected the agreement, denouncing a ‘coup d’état against any notion of democracy and popular sovereignty’. The resigning ministers slammed the door behind them; the text got through parliament with the votes of the Right and the social-democrats; the general strikes kicked off again, and Syntagma Square was again in flames. The judgment has been passed – ‘Betrayal!’ But for the Francophone philosopher Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of Syriza’s central committee and a prominent figure in its Left Platform, the situation is a more complex one when we try to grasp the full measure of these recent events. This interview helps us to see things more clearly and, above all, to organise the response.
You have expressed reservations over the criticisms of Tsipras in terms of ‘betrayal’, which have been commonplace across the European radical Left since the 12 July agreement. Why don’t you think this is the right response?
I wouldn’t deny that the term ‘betrayal’ is appropriate for expressing a spontaneous perception of the Syriza experience. It is evident that the 62% who voted ‘No’ in the referendum and the millions of people who believed in Syriza do feel betrayed. Nonetheless, I would deny that this category is of analytical value, since it is based on the idea of conscious intent: as if the Tsipras government deliberately set out to do the opposite of what it had committed to doing. I think that this category obscures the reality of the sequence that is currently underway, which consists of the bankruptcy of a very particular political strategy. And when a strategy fails the actors who are its bearers only have bad choices, or, to put that another way, a lack of choices. And that is indeed exactly what happened to Tsipras and the leading circle in government. They thought it possible to reach a compromise by playing the card of negotiations – by combining realist adaptation with a firm position on its ‘red lines’, with the goal of securing an ‘honourable compromise’.
But the Troika of lenders were not in the slightest bit prepared to make any concessions, and they immediately reacted on 4 February by putting the Greek banking system on starvation rations. Tsipras and the government, refusing to take any unilateral measures like suspending the debt repayments or wielding the threat of a ‘plan B’ involving euro-exit, rapidly trapped themselves into a spiral that led to concession after concession and a constant deterioration of the balance of forces. As these exhausting negotiations continued, the coffers of the Greek state emptied out and the people demobilised – it was reduced to the state of a passive spectator of a far-away theatre that it had no control over. So when Tsipras said on 13 July that he had no choice but to sign this agreement, in a certain sense he was right. That is to say, so long as we also add in the caveat that he had proceeded in such a way as to deny him the possibility of other potential choices. In the particular Greek example we have seen the manifest failure of this strategy, for the simple reason that it had not provided for any fall back solution. Tsipras and the Syriza majority have truly been blinded by the Europeanist illusion: namely, the idea that we will ultimately get a hearing among ‘good Europeans’ even if there are still important disagreements on other matters; the iron belief that the other European governments would respect Syriza’s legitimate mandate. And, worse still, the idea that boasting of the lack of any ‘plan B’ was a certificate of Europeanist good behaviour: the very peak of their ideological blindness.
The notion of ‘betrayal’ prevents us from analysing and challenging the strategy itself; it prevents us from talking in terms of strategic analysis and ideological blind spots; it reduces everything to ‘the actors’ intentions’ – which will always remain in the dark – and bases itself on the naïve illusion that these actors are the masters of their actions. Moreover, it prevents us getting to the heart of the problem, namely the impotence of this policy: the fact that it underestimated the violence of the enemy reaction, even though the very existence of the Syriza government sufficed to provoke its wrath.
More and more voices across Southern Europe are denouncing the straitjacket of the single currency. Has this debate seriously been had out within the Tsipras government and Syriza? After his resignation, Yanis Varoufakis stated that at the toughest moment of the negotiations he had proposed a euro exit plan, or at least a plan for the circulation of a national currency.
This debate has not truly taken place – or rather, it has taken place only in limited fashion within Syriza over the last five years. And even this was always against the wishes of the majority of the party leadership; it was effectively a situation created by a substantial minority positioning itself in favour of euro exit as a necessary condition for breaking with austerity policies and neoliberalism. The majority of the party leadership has never truly accepted that this debate is a legitimate one. It did not present euro exit as a political option that could be criticised on account of the drawbacks that it would entail, justifying its disagreement with it. Rather, it has purely and simply identified it with absolute catastrophe. We have systematically been reproached with the claim that to stand for euro exit is to be a crypto-nationalist, or that leaving the euro would bring about the collapse of the country’s economy and the popular classes’ purchasing power. In fact, here our comrades were taking up the arguments of the dominant discourse. So they were not looking for a real, reasoned debate, but instead sought to disqualify us symbolically, disqualifying the legitimacy of our arguments within Syriza and the radical Left. So when Syriza came to power this question was posed by the very logic of the situation, since it rapidly became clear that these negotiations were not going to lead anywhere. Already the 20 February agreement clearly showed that the test of strength was forcing Syriza onto the back foot. But this discussion took place behind closed doors: it was never held in public, and never with the necessary seriousness – except, of course, for the positions taken by the Left Platform
For his part, at various points Yanis Varoufakis did pose the question of a plan B. Panagiotis Lafazanis and the Left Platform regularly put these propositions on the table. We should be clear that the plan B was not simply a matter of taking back monetary sovereignty. It centrally posed the issues of interrupting the repayments to the creditors, placing the banks under public controls, and introducing capital controls at the moment that the confrontation broke out. In a general sense, this meant taking the initiative rather than being dragged along by negotiations that imposed one retreat after another. The government did not even take the minimal steps that would have allowed it to hold firm when the Europeans pressed the nuclear button, that is to say, when they totally stopped the supply of liquidity when the referendum was announced. The referendum itself should have been considered the ‘political element’ of the plan B: it gave an idea of what a realistic scenario for breaking with the creditors and the Eurozone might look like. Its reasoning should have been the following: Syriza’s initial mandate from the 25 January elections was to break with austerity, within the framework of the euro; we saw that it was impossible to do so within this framework; we again presented ourselves to the people; the people confirmed Syriza’s mandate, saying ‘No to austerity, do what’s necessary’. That’s effectively what happened with the ‘No’ camp’s crushing victory in the 5 July referendum; but it was already too late! The coffers were already empty, and nothing had been done to prepare an alternative solution.
You have laid emphasis on the power relations that have been at work within Syriza since 2010. How come it was the elements in favour of the EU and the euro that carried the party?
We have to put these debates back in a wider context: the context of Greek society, and, more generally, the context of the societies on the European periphery. Before the 2008-2010 crisis, the most Europhile countries in the European Union were precisely the countries of the South and of the periphery. It should be understood that for these countries, EU membership signified a certain modernity, both politically and economically speaking: an image of prosperity and power that the euro validated at a symbolic level. This is the fetish aspect of money that Marx emphasised: when the Greek had the common currency in his pocket, symbolically he attained the same rank as the German or the Frenchman. In this there is something of a ‘subaltern complex’. And that allows us to understand why the ruling elites in Greece constantly played on the fear of euro exit – their most powerful card ever since the beginning of the crisis. All the ‘sacrifices’ were justified in the name of staying in the euro. The fear of Grexit is foreign to economic rationality: it is not based on a consideration of the eventual consequences of returning to the national currency, for example the difficulties this would pose for imports or, conversely, the boost it would give to exports. At the level of ‘common sense’, euro exit would entail a sort of symbolic Third-Worldisation. For the average Greek resistant to the idea of leaving the Eurozone, the justifications for his opposition relate to the fear that the country will regress to the ranks of a poor and backward nation – like the situation of a few decades ago. Let’s not forget that Greek society has evolved very quickly and that the memory of poverty and hardship is still present among the popular layers and the older generations.
What I have just said also explains the apparent paradox of the mass youth ‘No’ vote. Le Monde newspaper reported on this, asking ‘How come this generation of 18-30 year-olds, who have grown up with the euro and the European Union, who have benefited from the Erasmus and higher education programmes [the level of access to higher education in Greece is among the strongest in Europe], have now turned against Europe?’ The reason, in fact, is that the younger generations have less reason than others to share this subalternity complex! The ambient ‘Europeanism’ in Greek society has nonetheless remained hegemonic, including among the forces opposed to neoliberal policies (with the exception of the very isolated and sectarian Communist Party, the KKE). And that explains why Syriza chose from the outset to adapt to Europeanism and to follow a short term, electoralist strategy rather than embark on a pedagogical effort that would consist of saying ‘We are not against Europe or the euro on principle, but if they are against us, and they stop us achieving our goals, then we have to respond’. That kind of discourse would have demanded a certain political courage: something that Tsipras and the majority of the Syriza leadership have shown that they are now totally devoid of.
So the referendum wasn’t at all an opportunity for a rupture, but a simple tactical move in order to strengthen Tsipras’s negotiating position?
Tsipras is a great tactician. It would be a great mistake to think that everything that has happened has conformed to some pre-established plan of his. What has instead predominated has been day-to-day management of the situation, without any strategic vision other than that of seeking an illusory ‘honourable compromise’, like I spoke about before. Right from the outset he conceived of the referendum as a tactical move, as a way out of an impasse that the government found itself in at the end of June when the Juncker plan was presented to it as an ultimatum. But when he announced the referendum, Tsipras unleashed forces that went well beyond his own intentions. Here we should emphasise the fact that the right wing of the government and of Syriza understood very well the potential for conflict and radicalisation that the referendum dynamic objectively entailed, and that’s why they were strongly opposed to it. I’ll give you an anecdotal example: on the day of the big Friday evening rally [3 July] an immense crowd gathered in the centre of Athens. Tsipras arrived on foot in Syntagma Square, having come from the Prime Minister’s residence a few hundred metres away. What followed was a Latin-American type scene: an enthusiastic crowd formed behind him, and led him in triumph to the human tide in the square in front of the Parliament building. What was Tsipras’s reaction? He took fright, and cut down three quarters of the speech he’d prepared.
You have said that Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister after Yanis Varoufakis’s resignation, prepared his Eurogroup intervention like a university professor drafting his contribution to an academic conference. Isn’t this one of the problems of the radical Left: that while it can produce perfect analysis of phenomena, it is incapable of shifting power relations, of setting out winning strategies and playing on the contradictions in the enemy camp? Is this due to the promotion of academic knowledge in the radical Left, to the detriment of other kinds of knowledge?
I am very reluctant to resort to sociological explanations: I don’t think that they allow us to understand the situation. Indeed, in an interview with Mediapart Tsakalotos explained that when he went to Brussels he prepared his arguments very seriously. He was expecting to hear counter-arguments, but instead of that he was faced with a wall of technocrats repeating rules and procedures. He was shocked by the low level of the discussion – as if it was a matter of a university conference where the best argument wins. But while I am myself an academic, and indeed a longstanding party-comrade of Tsakalotos’s (we were both in the Greek Eurocommunists in the 1980s) I nonetheless profoundly disagree with him. And precisely what he ought to be criticised for is a lack of analysis! The Left, as a whole, has considerably underestimated the need for serious analysis of the European Union. Instead of that, we have had decades of resorting to a long litany of pious wishes: a ‘social Europe’, ‘a citizens’ Europe’, ‘shifting the terms of Europe’, etc. This type of discourse has been repeated without let up for decades, in which time they have flagrantly proven impotent and incapable of having the slightest grip on real life.
A final remark on the sociological status of Europeanist discourse: I am part of a European Studies department in an English university. I can assure you that my colleagues, who are of mainstream views and who are academics that know the European machine intimately, have always refused to take Syriza’s vision seriously. They are forever making fun of the naivety of those who think that it is possible to succeed in breaking with the framework of European policies – that is, neoliberalism and austerity – simply by way of the blows struck in negotiations and the exchange of good arguments. No one among the ranks of informed people has taken this discourse seriously; whereas it unleashed a sort of ecstasy among the cadres and a good part of the militants of a number of European far Left formations. Here we are dealing with a political question with a big ‘P’; with the power of the dominant ideology and a lack of analysis and strategic thinking. So it’s far from possible to explain this reductively, in terms of the actors’ sociological position.
On 20 July Slavoj Žižek wrote that ‘With ruthless pragmatism and cold calculation, [Syriza] should exploit the tiniest cracks in the opponent’s armour. It should use all those who resist the predominant EU politics, from British conservatives to Ukip in the UK. It should flirt shamelessly with Russia and China, playing with the idea of giving an island to Russia as its Mediterranean military base, just to scare the shit out of Nato strategists. To paraphrase Dostoevsky, now that the EU God has failed, everything is permitted’. What are your thoughts on that?
There’s two questions in one, here. First and foremost, it’s a matter of asking about the European Union’s internal contradictions, and then of asking what needs to be done outside of this framework. On the first point, the strategy of the Tsipras government consisted precisely of exploiting its internal contradictions – its real, or, above all, supposed contradictions. They thought that they could play on the Hollande-Renzi axis – these being seen as governments who would be more ‘open’ to an anti-austerity approach -, Mario Draghi – also seen as taking a line diverging from that of [German finance minister] Wolfgang Schäuble’s rigorist orthodoxy -, and, finally, on the American factor, which they perceived as being able to exert pressure on the German government. All this proved to be completely illusory. Of course, that is not to deny the existence of contradictions in the enemy bloc: for example, the IMF’s priorities and functional logic are partly different from those of the European Commission. That said, all these forces do come together on one fundamental point: when a real threat emerges – and Syriza was a threat, since it challenged austerity and neoliberalism – all these forces formed a solid bloc in order to destroy it politically. Let’s take the example of François Hollande. He tried to give French public opinion the impression that he was playing the role of a so-called friend of the Greeks. In reality he was merely a helper in the German government’s crushing of the Greek government. So these actors were in agreement on the essential thing, which was a class strategy: the differences were only a matter of nuance.
And then what, outside of the EU context? As we’ve seen, thinking it’s possible to rely on the Obama administration is an illusion. As for Russia, that was without doubt an avenue to explore. Syriza did try, but without truly believing in it: in reality, Russian diplomacy is very conservative. It isn’t at all interested in encouraging splits within the European bloc. In its talks with Syriza, what Russia was looking for was a government that would dissent from the West’s anti-Russian attitude following the Ukraine affair and the economic sanctions. But that depended on it remaining within the European Union and the euro! Despite a few big words Russia has never been an ally of the Syriza government: for me it’s doubtful that it would have been ready to do more if things had gone as far as a rupture.
Some people suggest that Tsipras is buying time, and waiting for the Spanish general elections in November in order to have Pablo Iglesias’s support – that he is counting on a Podemos victory. Do you think that’s credible?
This type of argument is obviously false. In signing this agreement, Greece has been subjected to a straitjacket far worse that which the previous memorandums imposed. It is an institutional mechanism for putting the country under supervision and dismembering its sovereignty. It is not simply a matter of a list of very harsh austerity measures, as the naïve might imagine, but also means structural reforms that will reshape the core of the state apparatus: the Greek government is effectively losing control of the main levers of state power. The tax system will become a so-called ‘independent’ institution; in fact it is passing into the Troika’s hands. A budgetary policy council is being established, with the authority to impose automatic budget cuts if there is the least sign of Greece not meeting the surplus targets fixed in the memorandums. The statistics agency is also going to be ‘independent’, which in reality means that it will turn into an apparatus for the real-time surveillance of public policies – an apparatus directly controlled by the Troika. And all of the public assets that it is considered possible to privatise have been placed under the control of a body run by the Troika.
Now lacking in any control over their budgetary and monetary policy, Greek governments of any coloration will now be deprived of any means of action. The only thing that will remain under the control of the Greek state is the repressive apparatus. And we can clearly see that it is beginning to be used like it was before; that is, in order to repress social mobilisations. The tear gas discharged on Syntagma Square on 15 July, followed by the arrests of activists, the beatings and now trials against trade unionists, are only the foretaste of what awaits us when the social situation deteriorates, when the foreclosures of people’s main residences multiply, when retired people suffer fresh pension cuts, and when workers are dispossessed of the few rights still left to them. The fact that the highly authoritarian Yannis Panoussis has been retained as the minister in charge of public order, as well as being handed the immigration portfolio, is a clear signal of the repressive turn that is now on its way. So for me, the people who talk about a strategy of ‘buying time’ can only provoke my disgust and revulsion.
You analyse the results of the 5 July referendum as a class vote. Do you think, like Frédéric Lordon does, that the [crisis in the] European Union and the euro offers the radical Left a historic opportunity to rebuild a class frontier in our societies, across Europe? Do you think that it ought to draw on a kind of ‘emancipatory patriotism’ (‘defending the Greeks against the Troika’, as some say) in order to constitute ‘national-popular’ identities (as Gramsci put it), like in Latin America?
In my Marxist intellectual culture, I situate myself on the terrain where these two dimensions converge; that is to say, associating the class dimension with the national-popular one. I think that is all the more appropriate in the context of dominated countries like Greece. Let us say it in no uncertain terms: the European Union is an imperialist project – imperialist in relation to the rest of the world, certainly, but also internally, in the sense that it reproduces the relations of imperial domination within its own bounds. We can identify at least two peripheries: the Eastern one (the former socialist countries) serving as a reservoir of cut-price labour power; and the Southern one (which is a geopolitical South and not a geographical one: it also includes Ireland). These countries are subjected to régimes of limited sovereignty, which are ever more institutionalised via the Memorandum mechanism. As for the strength of the ‘No’ vote in the referendum, it came from the articulation of three parameters: the class dimension, the generational dimension and the national-popular dimension. This latter one is what explains why the ‘No’ won even in traditionally conservative parts of the country. I think the Left has to hold on to both [the class and the national-popular dimensions] in order to become hegemonic. Which firstly means a class identity that is adapted to the demands of the neoliberal era, finance capitalism and the new contradictions that result from this – the question of the debt and the banks is an essential (though not unique) modality on which the antagonism between Labour and Capital is now based. Moreover, these class forces have to take the lead of a wider social bloc, capable of orienting the social formation along a new path. To put that another way, this bloc would thus become a historic bloc that ‘becomes the nation’, assuming a national-popular hegemony. And yes, Antonio Gramsci worked a lot on that, articulating the class and national-popular dimensions.
This is a complex question, and one that is posed differently according to each nation’s history. In France and other former colonial and imperialist nations, the dominant national-popular idea is not posed in the same way as in Greece; just as it is not posed in the same way in Greece as in Tunisia or in an Asian or Latin-American country. The important thing is to analyse the contradictions proper to each social formation. That said, Syriza’s strength – and more widely, the strength of the Greek radical Left (which has deep roots in the country’s contemporary history and its struggles for national liberation) is that it combines that class and national-popular dimensions.
The Greek situation has allowed the people who upheld the idea of ‘the other Europe’ to open their eyes. And isn’t that Syriza’s great success: the fact that in just a few weeks it has revealed the anti-democratic nature of the European institutions? For example, the last vote in the Greek Parliament gave us the appalling spectacle of MPs having to pass judgment on a 977-page text that they had received 24 hours earlier…
Well, some good must come from these defeats! Unfortunately the dominant thing I’m seeing on the radical Left, even now, is a self-justification reflex. Despite everything, people feel the need to find excuses for Tsipras, to muddy the waters and give the impression that it’s just a difficult moment we have to get through, etc. My hope is that this is just a temporary psychological mechanism for dealing with the extent of the disaster, and that soon we will have the courage to look reality in the face; the courage to reflect on the reasons for this disaster. I don’t know, for my part, what more striking demonstration could be needed of the inanity of the position that tells us that we can break with neoliberalism within the framework of the European institutions! One of the most shocking aspects of the developments following the signing of the agreement is that we have returned to exactly the same situation we had in 2010-12, with regard to democratic process – or rather, the denial of democratic process. Even the formal procedures of parliamentary democracy are not being respected – and indeed we can see that they are not only formal, when we look at the efforts that are being made to suppress them. MPs only had a few hours to get to grips with these monstrous tomes that change the civil code procedure from top to bottom: 800 pages removing the obstacles to foreclosures and strengthening banks’ juridical position in the case of disputes with borrowers. Moreover, in this same bill we see the imposition of a European directive on integration into the European banking system, which would allow a so-called ‘bail-in’ in the case of bank collapse, raiding deposits in order to keep the banks afloat. So the Cypriot example is being generalised across Europe. All this was voted through on 22 July using the very same emergency measures that Syriza has consistently denounced all these years, and which it is now forced to accept because it capitulated to the creditors. To say it was a ‘capitulation’ is putting it lightly: I feel truly ashamed when I see the party – a party that I am a longstanding member of – giving itself over to this type of practices in government, making a mockery of the most elementary notions of institutions functioning democratically.
After the Greek Parliament’s vote in favour of the austerity deal and the so-called ‘structural reforms’, how has the Greek political chessboard now been redefined? Are we headed for a split in Syriza, or at least a recomposition of radical Left forces? Especially now that the strikes have resumed, and Syntagma Square is again filled with people…
Certainly there will be recomposition, and it will be very wide in scale. Perhaps it is too early to determine the exact contours of this recomposition, but I would like to emphasise two considerations. The first is Syriza’s internal situation. It is important to understand that Tsipras’s choices in government have no legitimacy within the party. The majority of the members of the central committee signed a joint text rejecting the agreement, which they considered the product of a coup d’état against the Greek government. We have demanded the immediate calling of a central committee meeting – and Tsipras, the president of Syriza elected by its party congress, has flatly refused to do so. Almost all of the party federations and local branches have passed motions in a similar vein. So we have a blocked situation. Those close to Tsipras have adopted an extremely aggressive tone with regard to those who disagree with the choices that have been made. It is truly shocking to see certain members of the party repeating word-for-word the arguments propagated by the media, even including the slurs that portray people like Varoufakis and Lafazanis who have argued for alternative strategies as putschists, the ‘drachma plotters’, or agents of the Grexit plan suggested by Schäuble. So we have little reason to be optimistic with regard to the development of Syriza’s internal situation.
But that’s not the heart of the matter. For the left wing of Syriza (in its various manifestations – even if the Left Platform is its backbone) the essential goal now is to give expression to the people who voted ‘No’ to the Memorandums and to austerity, representing them politically. This is the political construction effort that we now have to undertake, and it will involve the very wide rallying of political forces both within and outside of Syriza. The first signs that we have received have been positive ones. But it is vitally important that this new project also involves actors who are not strictly political ones: social movement actors who led the battle for ‘No’ at the grassroots. It was absolutely extraordinary to see the initiatives bursting forth in in workplaces and neighbourhoods in the space of just a few days; others were created in the wake of the referendum, or are taking shape at the moment.
The image that the media are promoting tells us that ‘in Greece everyone is relieved and Tsipras is very popular’, but that is very far from the reality. There is very widespread disarray, confusion, and difficulty in accepting what has happened. One friend called it ‘post-traumatic shock’. Meaning that part of the ‘No’ electorate is in such disarray that it no longer knows how to react, and it is telling itself that maybe there was no possible alternative. But there are also a lot of people, especially among the parts of society with the greatest mass commitment to the ‘No’ vote – that is, popular layers and the youth – who have been left outraged, and who are ready to participate in or support an alternative project. The Left Platform is holding its first public meeting on Monday [27 July], an open-air rally in Athens with the title ‘“No” remains undefeated – we shall continue’. We have to re-construct the class, democratic and anti-EU ‘No’ vote in a new way.
Is that the strategy that the French radical Left should have taken after the ‘No’ victory in the referendum on the European constitutional treaty in 2005?
Yes, that’s exactly it. But instead of doing that it regressed, and got bogged down in internal turf wars. Rather than pushing the critique of the EU further, starting from the point of advance that it had reached with the ‘No’ campaign, it turned back and kept harping on about a ‘social Europe’ and reforming the European institutions…
Do you think the project of a common platform of the southern European radical Left, setting out a concerted programme for euro exit, is a viable one?
For 35 years I have tried to be a communist activist. What interests me is an anti-capitalist strategy for the here and now, in a European country and in the conjuncture that we are living in. And indeed I think that this is the necessary mediation for setting out an effective anti-capitalist strategy, based not on abstract propagandism or the temptation to repeat old schemas that we are perfectly aware are no longer valid, but on the actual contradictions of the day. A strategy that draws the lessons of recent political experiences, struggles, and social movements and that tries to make progress in such a direction, posing the question of power and political strategy. So it is not simply a so-called ‘anti-European’ project, and nor is it one limited to southern Europe, but an authentically internationalist one – which does indeed suppose more advanced forms of coordinating the forces opposed to the system. What we need is a new anti-capitalist Left. And one of the conditions for this – a necessary but not sufficient one – is to open up a solid front against our current adversary, namely the European Union and all that it represents.
In your interviews, articles and other writings you have a habit of putting the words ‘Left of the Left’ or ‘radical Left’ in quote marks. Does this incapacity to define ourselves clearly – without inverted commas or equivocation – show that the political identities inherited from the twentieth century have become at least partly obsolete?
The term ‘radical Left’ is without doubt a useful one, since it corresponds to this shifting situation. We are currently at a kind of interim stage, and flexible formulations are necessary – or at least, unavoidable – in order to allow these processes to develop in a new manner, breaking with the pre-established schemas. What characterises Syriza are its very deep roots in the communist movement and the Greek revolutionary Left. In other words, Syriza came out of the recomposition of movements whose common goal was to challenge not only neoliberal or austerity policies, but capitalism itself. So there is a real radicalism to it, but on the other hand we have seen that its chosen strategy was profoundly inadequate, speaking to fundamental weaknesses and, indeed, contradictions within Syriza’s very make-up, which did not resist this terrible test of governmental power. The contradiction thus ultimately exploded. What we need to do now is to take this fact on board and to pass on to the next stage, so this experience that the Greek people and fighting Left forces have acquired at such great cost will at least serve to open up a perspective for the future.
1. Interview (in French) online at http://fischer02003.over-blog.com/2015/04/interview-d-euclide-tsakalotos.html.
2. ‘Greece: the courage of hopelessness’, online at http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2015/07/slavoj-i-ek-greece-courage-hopelessness