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.