Interview with leader of the Greek Syriza Party: ‘The Euro is a Powder Keg that is Going to Explode!’

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Inter­view with Syr­iza leader Alexis Tsipras, con­duc­ted by Eduardo Febbro and ori­gin­ally pub­lished in the Argen­tinian news­pa­per Página/​12 on Wed­nes­day 19th Septem­ber.
 Trans­lated Richard McAleavey on Cun­ning Hired Knaves

Trans­la­tion originally published at Critical Legal Thinking 

Euro or no euro. That was the grand dilemma in which Greece, and in par­tic­u­lar, the Syr­iza move­ment that you lead, was framed. How do you ana­lyse the period of crisis that Europe is cur­rently under­go­ing, and which seems to put in ques­tion much more than the sac­rosanct sta­bil­ity of the euro?

I believe the European model has to be rebuilt from below. We can’t be sat­is­fied with what today is called Europe. The cur­rent crisis is not a European crisis but a global one. Europe today does not have the mech­an­isms to con­front it or con­trol the world­wide fin­an­cial attack against its peoples. Hence why Europe became a con­tin­ent where the attack of the global fin­an­cial sys­tem was fero­cious. We have no defences.

Might it be that the euro, the com­mon cur­rency, is an unvi­able cur­rency, which is to say, a cur­rency that does not rep­res­ent the real level of the 17 coun­tries of the coun­tries that make up the Euro­zone, and that hence, imposes sac­ri­fices on many nations that can­not meet the demands that the euro needs to exist?

The euro isn’t the only reason for the crisis, but it is part of it. The crisis springs from the archi­tec­ture of the euro within Europe. We need a com­mon cur­rency, but not a con­trolled cur­rency, which merely bene­fits big busi­ness and the rich. What we need is a cur­rency that cor­res­ponds to the need of the peoples. We have a com­mon cur­rency, but we need to have the abil­ity to have policies for every coun­try, espe­cially those coun­tries on the peri­phery, which are suf­fer­ing at the moment. The euro is a unique phe­nomenon world­wide: we have a com­mon cur­rency, that is, a mon­et­ary union, but we lack a polit­ical union and a European Cent­ral Bank able to provide assist­ance to every coun­try in Europe.

Is there not a con­tra­dic­tion in your stance: on the left and at the same time defend­ing the euro?

The con­tra­dic­tion would exist if we were defend­ing the way the euro works, what it rep­res­ents, what its archi­tec­ture is, and the hege­mony within this com­mon cur­rency. The prob­lem is not the com­mon cur­rency but the policies that go along with this cur­rency. The euro has become a prison for the peoples of Europe, espe­cially the weak­est eco­nom­ies on the peri­phery going through the crisis. The con­tra­dic­tion is in the base on which the euro was built. The euro is a powder keg that is going to explode if we con­tinue in this dir­ec­tion. The adjust­ment policies that go hand in hand with the neo­lib­eral model within the euro will lead us to the destruc­tion of the euro. But this situ­ation is going to be paid for by the peoples and not the banks, who will save them­selves, or try to save them­selves. The dog­matic sec­tari­an­ism of the European elites who defend this model is driv­ing Europe many dec­ades backwards.

You and the left have a bril­liant dia­gnosis of the prob­lem. But there is no sign of the same effect­ive­ness in the way of hand­ling the con­front­a­tion with the lib­eral sys­tem. How then does one leave behind the poetry of dia­gnosis and prop­erly enter a force­ful pro­cess of reform?

One good way con­sists of start­ing by chan­ging the cor­rel­a­tion of forces in soci­ety. In May and June the Syr­iza party was very close to break­ing the cor­rel­a­tion of forces that exis­ted. Greece became an ultralib­eral exper­i­ment, a guinea pig. Here the polit­ics of shock were tried out in order to spread them to the rest of Europe. But soci­ety reacts. People no longer have the every­day life they had before and it is those same people who reacted so that things change. Through its mobil­isa­tion soci­ety threatened the elites in our coun­try. That means that we are chan­ging the cor­rel­a­tion of forces through the crit­ical beha­viour of the masses. We have to remem­ber that after the Nazi and fas­cist occu­pa­tion of our coun­try, a few years later, in 1958, the left was on the verge of rising to power. We lost the last elec­tions by a nar­row per­cent­age. But we have to bear in mind that on the other side the adversar­ies were not only the polit­ical forces, but also a very power­ful global and European fin­an­cial sys­tem that fought us fero­ciously with all their weapons. But if we won the elec­tions Greece might have become the weak link cap­able of break­ing the chain that binds Europe. Per­haps in this way Greece might move from being a guinea pig to being the future baby, the embryo of hope. We have not yet lost that his­toric oppor­tun­ity. The peoples have not spoken their final word.

Was Greece a little like the Chile paradigm in Europe?

If we had won the elec­tions we would have become the Chile of Europe. But we don’t know today. The Latin Amer­ican exper­i­ences of recent years are very enrich­ing for us. What happened in Chile when the dic­tat­or­ship fell, what is hap­pen­ing in Venezuela today, what happened in Argen­tina ten years ago, when the IMF left Argen­tina, all this con­sti­tutes exper­i­ences that make us much richer and help us to per­fect and con­cret­ise our strategy, both in Greece and in Europe.

In what sense does what happened in Chile, Venezuela or Argen­tina bring some­thing to the rad­ical left move­ments in the Old Con­tin­ent? [Europe]

The most import­ant les­son lies in that the left can­not deploy their weapons merely by try­ing to change the polit­ical sys­tem – no. The left has to base its hope and its work in the upris­ing of the people. The peoples rise up and they struggle. If in the future we in Syr­iza end up with a gov­ern­ment, in order to trans­fer the power of the power­ful to the people, this pro­cess has to be accom­pan­ied bv the par­ti­cip­a­tion of the masses, so as to reverse the situ­ation. A gov­ern­ment alone can­not do it. New demo­cratic insti­tu­tions are also neces­sary. We can­not change clothes and put on the suit worn by the pre­vi­ous powers. That suit does not fit us well. There­fore we have to cre­ate new social and polit­ical insti­tu­tions to raise the forces of the people, which at the moment are mar­gin­al­ised within the sys­tem and have neither par­ti­cip­a­tion nor power. We have to trans­fer this power to everyone.

Many com­pare what happened in Argen­tina in 2001 with what is hap­pen­ing in Greece. People recall that Argen­tinian slo­gan that said “All of them out” [que se vayan todos]– Does this hold for Greece currently?

Here you still hear voices say­ing ‘all of them out’. The major media out­lets sup­por­ted this slo­gan which, in real­ity, has no polit­ical con­tent. But what was the res­ult of this: in a coun­try such as Greece, where what we call demo­cracy was born, we now have the rebirth of fas­cist ideas at the hand of the neo-​​nazi party Golden Dawn, which now sits in the Par­lia­ment. Golden Dawn is even find­ing sup­port among the pop­u­lar classes. There are many sim­il­ar­it­ies between what happened in Argen­tina and today’s Greece. The polit­ics of lib­eral shock that were imple­men­ted in Argen­tina in the 1990s under the orders of the IMF were also applied here. We are in that pro­cess, slow but destruct­ive, a pro­cess that acts very viol­ently against the peoples and the mar­gin­al­ised: adjust­ment plans, attacks against wages, unem­ploy­ment. But since we are in the Euro­zone the IMF does not have things so easy as with Argen­tina. If they aban­don us, the con­sequences would be very sig­ni­fic­ant for the other coun­tries of Europe. Our eco­nomy rep­res­ents 2.5% of the European total. Moreover, the euro is the second reserve cur­rency in the world’s banks.

What les­sons do you take from the Argen­tinian dis­aster of 2001?

The Argen­tinian exper­i­ence is very import­ant for draw­ing polit­ical con­clu­sions. I would say that the most import­ant con­clu­sion is rooted in the fact that the polit­ics of neo­lib­er­al­ism is cyn­ical and inhu­mane. It is a dead end. But, on the other hand, Argen­tina showed us the way in which a people can put a stop to this sys­tem and rebuild its bases in order to live bet­ter, to reor­gan­ise the State and soci­ety. I had to respond in the Par­lia­ment to the Greek Eco­nomy min­is­ter when he made a very racist attack on Argen­tina. The min­is­ter said: “We are not like the Argen­tini­ans”, and I respon­ded to him that we were far worse than Argen­tina. That is the truth.

Argen­tinian demo­cracy was revital­ised with the crisis. In Greece, how­ever, a very power­ful neonazi move­ment arose. This leads one to spec­u­late that there may be in future a neonazi major­ity with a strong rad­ical left oppos­i­tion, or vice versa.

I don’t think we will end up with a far right gov­ern­ment. The Greek people is the heir to a great anti-​​fascist his­tory. This people has a his­tor­ical memory and it will not allow it. But there is some­thing that has to be said clearly: neo-​​Nazism and Golden Dawn are not an anti-​​systemic force, no, they are a force of the sys­tem within the sys­tem. It is the strongest arm of the sys­tem which will be used if it senses it is in danger. The only danger for our coun­try are neo­lib­eral policies, the troika (IMF, BCE, EU), and the neo-​​nazi move­ment, which is their ally for trav­el­ling along this route.

You recently broke the silence by pro­pos­ing in the Greek Par­lia­ment that Greece should con­cern itself with the fate of the Greek dis­ap­peared in Argen­tina. What happened with that call?

Among the 30,000 dis­ap­peared in Argen­tina dur­ing the 1970s there were cases of around 17 people who were chil­dren of Greek people. Their par­ents still do not know what happened to their chil­dren. We raised this mat­ter in the Par­lia­ment in order to try and ascer­tain with the help of the Argen­tinian gov­ern­ment what happened to those young people. We can­not for­get how an auto­cratic régime that ruled Argen­tina brought gen­o­cide to nearly a gen­er­a­tion. The viol­ence, the dis­ap­pear­ance and the murder of so many people at the hands of those auto­cratic regimes must not be for­got­ten about. In mod­ern his­tory there is a par­al­lel between Greece and Argen­tina, because here too there were dic­tat­or­ships backed by the great empires. We must pro­tect with demo­cracy future gen­er­a­tions from those dic­tat­or­ships with democracy.

The neonazis have a lot of strength. Part of it comes out of the social work that they do, their street actions, their offer of safety. Could it be that the left lacks the abil­ity to defeat the far right in con­crete situations?

What the left needs to do is cre­ate an ideo­lo­gical front and, at the same time, build a model of soci­ety based on res­ist­ance and solid­ar­ity. Solid­ar­ity is not phil­an­thropy but how to res­ist together. We can­not allow these groups to present them­selves all cleaned up when in real­ity they rep­res­ent the his­tory of the greatest viol­ence suffered by human­ity. Our struggle in the street needs to have a dif­fer­ent model to build that ideo­lo­gical front for pro­tect­ing the people. It is a mat­ter of a dual front: against neo­lib­eral forces and against fascism.

–The so-​​called rad­ical left has many enemies, start­ing with those who should, at least, be a par­tial ally: social democrats.

In Europe and in the world social demo­cracy has under­gone an incred­ible muta­tion in recent years. Social demo­cracy oper­ates as a kind of plastic sur­gery with which they want to change some­thing that does not get changed. This casino fin­an­cial cap­it­al­ism can­not change its image how­ever much sur­gery it gets. Social demo­cracy is incap­able of provid­ing solu­tions to the real social prob­lems that peoples con­front. In Greece, the party that rep­res­en­ted social demo­cracy, PASOK, was no dif­fer­ent from the right wing. They are a duplic­ate. That is why our left can become a pole of alli­ances with a true social and pop­u­lar base.

What would be your ideal model: Chávez in Venezuela, the Castros in Cuba, Lula in Brazil or the Per­on­ism of Kirch­ner in Argentina.

Latin Amer­ica was always an incred­ible social and polit­ical labor­at­ory that gave res­ults. Every coun­try and every move­ment has its own spe­cific qual­it­ies. We are inter­ested un know­ing what is the best vis­ion of social­ism for the 21st cen­tury for the whole planet. Des­pite the spe­cific qual­it­ies we need a com­mon vis­ion and the same enemies. We fol­low very closely the pro­cess of integ­ra­tion in Latin Amer­ica. That pro­cess is not the­or­et­ical, it is being prac­tised and it provides responses to neo­lib­eral dog­mat­ism. But what is closest to the Greek model is Argen­tina and Brazil. In social real­it­ies and his­tor­ical par­al­lels, we have much more in com­mon with what happened in Argen­tina and Brazil. Of course, we also have things in com­mon with Venezuela and Cuba. Our enemies say that Syr­iza wants to turn Greece into the Cuba of Europe. We respond to them by say­ing that they want to cre­ate a Cuba in Europe, but the Cuba before 1960. That is where they want to take us.

You rep­res­ent a gen­er­a­tion marked by an era in which there was a great depol­it­i­cisa­tion. What would be the for­mula for rein­tro­du­cing polit­ics, and, spe­cific­ally, interest in a polit­ics of the left?

At the moment we are liv­ing through the final phase of cap­it­al­ism and not of social­ism. We are in the fall of the cap­it­al­ist sys­tem and that brings us to a dif­fer­ent ana­lysis of social beha­viour as a gen­er­a­tion, so much more so if we con­sider the con­di­tions we are liv­ing through today. My gen­er­a­tion entered polit­ics as a very small force in the uni­ver­sit­ies and col­leges when there was a near com­plete hege­mony of neo­lib­er­al­ism, when there were eco­nomic growth rates that were huge but at the same time abstract and when the examples of the good life were those of super-​​consumerism. Now we are in a dif­fer­ent real­ity. Today, in Greece, half of young people between 24 and 35 have no job. They are con­demning that gen­er­a­tion to live a lot worse than their par­ents, they are con­demning them to live without dreams. What we can give and say to this gen­er­a­tion is that in its con­scious­ness it has to recover hope within struggle. In order to rebuild those des­troyed lives a bet­ter future has to be built, there is no other way. Social justice and dig­nity are two very import­ant things for a gen­er­a­tion that wants to win its future back.

You play foot­ball and you’re sur­roun­ded by people from Argen­tina, one of them is an Inde­pendi­ente sup­porter. In a while you will be going to Argen­tina. Which club do you fancy? Let’s take three: Boca, River or Independiente.

I’ll back Boca because Maradona played there. I have that myth­ical image of La Bom­bonera that I saw in pho­tos and films. I have a lot of faith in the polit­ics of Syr­iza because we have that fantasy foot­ball that is Argen­tinian football.

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One Comment on “Interview with leader of the Greek Syriza Party: ‘The Euro is a Powder Keg that is Going to Explode!’”

  1. june van ingen says:

    Impressed by M. Tsipras. Reminds me of France in 1968–let’s hope such a movement can develop in Greece–but keep on. Good chances–no DeGaulle type in the Greek opposition. June van Ingen


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