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Greece: Phase One


Syriza is the Left’s best chance at success in a generation. But for socialists, the hard part starts after election day.

ith Syriza approaching the gates of power in Greece, the Internet has been full of analyses, opinion pieces, and endorsements and denunciations. In this interview with Stathis Kouvelakis conducted earlier this month, we take a critical distance to understand the origins, trajectory, and possible challenges of this political formation.

To do this, we have not hesitated to delve into some of the internal complexities of the astonishingly diverse Greek radical left. But Kouvelakis also talks to us about some of the immediate and concrete challenges that will face the party once in power.

Kouvelakis is a member of the central committee of Syriza and a leading member of its Left Platform. He teaches political theory at King’s College London and is the author of Philosophy and Revolution from Kant to Marx and coeditor of Lenin Reloaded and Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism. He was interviewed for Jacobin by Sebastian Budgen, an editor for Verso Books who serves on the editorial board of Historical Materialism.

Tell us about Syriza: when and how did this coalition of radical left parties come into being?

Syriza was set up by several different organizations in 2004, as an electoral alliance. Its biggest component was Alexis Tsipras’s party Synaspismos — initially the Coalition of the Left and Progress, and eventually renamed the Coalition of the Left and of the Movements — which had existed as a distinct party since 1991. It emerged from a series of splits in the Communist movement.

On the other hand, Syriza also comprises much smaller formations. Some of these came out of the old Greek far left. In particular, the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), one the country’s main Maoist groups. This organization had three members of parliament (MPs) elected in May 2012. That’s also true of the Internationalist Workers’ Left (DEA), which is from a Trotskyist tradition, as well as other groups mostly of a Communist background. For example, the Renewing Communist Ecological Left (AKOA), which came out of the old Communist Party (Interior).

The Syriza coalition was founded in 2004, and at first it had what we might call relatively modest successes. Nevertheless it managed to get into parliament, overcoming the 3 percent minimum threshold. To cut a long story short, Syriza resulted from a relatively complex recomposition of the Greek radical left.

Since 1968, the radical Left had been divided into two poles. The first was the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which itself underwent two splits: the first, in 1968, under the colonels’ dictatorship, which gave rise to the KKE (Interior), which was of a Eurocommunist bent, and a second one in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Eurocommunist party underwent a split in 1987, with its rightist wing constituting the Greek Left (EAR) and joining Synaspismos from the outset, and the leftist one reforming as the AKOA. The KKE that remained after these two splits was peculiarly traditionalist, clinging on to a Stalinist framework that became considerably more rigid after the 1991 split. The party was rebuilt on a both combative and sectarian basis. It managed to win a relatively significant activist base among working-class and popular layers, as well as among the youth, particularly in the universities.

The other pole, Synaspismos, opened out in 2004 with the creation of Syriza, which itself came from the joining together of the two previous splits from the KKE. Synaspismos has changed considerably over time. At the beginning of the 1990s, it was the kind of party that could vote for the Maastricht Treaty, and it was mainly of a moderate left coloration.

But it was also a heterogeneous party composed of various distinct currents. Very hard-fought internal struggles pitted the left wing of the party against the right wing, and the right wing gradually lost control. The foundation of Syriza sealed Synaspismos’s turn to the left.

What is the influence of the Communist tradition on Synaspismos?

The Communist matrix is clearly perceptible in the majority culture of the party. One part came out of the Eurocommunist-influenced tendency that opened up to the new social movements from the 1970s onward. It thus proved able to renew its organizational and theoretical reference points, grafting the traditions of the new forms of radicalism onto its existing Communist framework.

It is a party that’s at ease among feminist movements, youth mobilizations, alter-globalization, and antiracist movements and LGBT currents, while also continuing to make a considerable intervention in the trade union movement. Another part comes from the layer of cadres and members that left the KKE in 1991, the largest part of them being now in the Left Current, although many members of the majority group of the leadership and of the cadres, also come from that strand.

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Tratto da www.jacobinmag.com