SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras' London speech: 'Our pragmatism is subject to our vision for radical change'

[For more discussion of SYRIZA, click HERE.]

By  Alexis Tsipras

March 15, 2013 -- -- Comrades and friends, Europe is on edge. Two worlds collide. On one side stand the productive forces of democracy, the people fighting to create a society of justice, equality and freedom. On the other side, a neoliberal biopolitical project unfolds. Its aim is to control bodies and minds through the politics of fear. To discipline human life in its entirety. To intensify the exploitation of labour and to increase the profits of capital. 

I am privileged to address you here in the heart of London today to declare that we are part of the experiment of democracy. 

We in SYRIZA believe that radical democratic changes are the only way out of the crisis for the people of Europe. 

This is not an optimistic illusion. 

It is the compelling conclusion of rational argument and detailed analysis. 

It is widely accepted that the strategy of European elites and the Greek government cannot provide a viable prospect of exit from the crisis. The only thing that austerity has accomplished is to plunge Europe into economic depression and to throw Greece in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Austerity is leading the Greek economy and society down a catastrophic path. This is not an assertion, it is a fact! Numerous reports of European and international institutions confirm it. 

I will only mention some of the most striking statistical evidence. This is the sixth consecutive year of economic recession. The latest Morgan Stanley forecast predicts the same for next year too. The Greek economy has contracted by 20% since 2008. Workers and pensioners have lost more than 30% of their income in the last three years. Unemployment keeps increasing and is approaching a scary 30%, with youth unemployment at nearly 60%. A new wave of emigration leads hundreds of thousands of highly qualified graduates and scientists abroad, undermining any future recovery. 

Austerity policies have led to cuts in benefits, deregulation of the labour market and the further deterioration of the limited welfare state.

Collective bargaining has been abolished and every aspect of life has been subjected to the demands of capitalist profit and fiscal discipline.

European elites and the Greek government have sufficient evidence that these policies cannot yield any positive results. The IMF has confessed that its economists have failed in any attempt to predict the consequences of horizontal cuts and of other austerity measures. Everybody now knows that austerity policies create a vicious spiral of austerity recession / increase in debt. 

Why then do the European and Greek rulers continue with this self-defeating strategy? 

The answer is obvious. Their true goals are different from those officially and publicly pronounced. They actually aim at a total transformation of the social framework. They seek the creation of an economic environment based on cheap labour, special economic zones, deregulation of the labour market, tax exemptions for capital and extensive privatisation of public goods and services. 

European and Greek elites use public debt as blackmail for the imposition of this transformative strategy. Their scheme is a subtle technology of power aiming to exclude alternative political programmes. 

If the debt did not exist, the elites would have to invent it. 

The austerity policies associated with the debt crisis are not imposed on Greece by the Troika. Samaras and his political allies, PASOK and the Democratic Left, play a crucial role in instigating, planning and implementing the austerity programmes.

This became more than obvious when the "internal Troika" refused our demand to renegotiate the loan agreement, even after the IMF admitted its repeated multiplier error.

The Greek government is prepared to go to the bitter end in order to please its social allies: Big capital and the corrupt elites. Its willingness to implement fully this catastrophic programme has dramatically transformed the state and carries unprecedented perils for democracy. 

The Samaras coalition has intensified the trend started by the Papadimos government: It circumvents the separation of powers and the constitution by passing legislation through ministerial decrees and without Parliamentary approval. 

Austerity has led to growing popular disobedience and resistance, and it has triggered unprecedented police repression. A near state of exception has been imposed in Greece. Unlimited state violence and repression has been unleashed against anyone who dares to resist. Basic civil liberties and constitutional rights are constantly violated.  

The torture of detainees by the Greek Police, revealed by the Guardian, is sadly just one of many examples. Violent police repression in Chalkidiki, where the local community resists an environmentally catastrophic goldmine investment, is another.

The continuous attacks on immigrants by fascist thugs, under police protection or tolerance, create a sense of undeclared war in the streets of Athens and throughout Greece.

The government does not hesitate to implement its catastrophic plans. It has launched a violent shift to the far right, endangering the European liberal and humanist tradition and democracy itself. 

Samaras’s plan is clear. Based on a pretext of law and order, he is trying to create a political pole that will halt the advance of the left. He exploits the conservative reflexes and the justified fear of the victims of the economic crisis, in order to attract those voting for Golden Dawn, the advancing neo-Nazi party. 

The latest episode of this political drama took place three days ago, when it was revealed that the minister of the interior has appointed a Nazi apologist and holocaust revisionist as an adviser on issues of nationality and immigration. Despite our calls for his resignation he is still in his position.

SYRIZA has a political and moral responsibility to put an end to this social disaster. We are responsible not only towards ourselves and future generations. We are responsible towards the European tradition and the European vision. Towards our own past and future.

But do we have an answer? Is there an alternative to neoliberal domination in Greece and in Europe? 

Or are we, as our critics say, just demagogues and populists who only know how to deny the obvious and to deceive?

It is always easy for our political rivals to call anyone who resists a populist and a demagogue. Every political force that has an alternative political agenda and vision, every political agent that dares to deny their one-way solutions, is either a utopian or a fraud. 

To this we emphatically respond: We do affirmative politics! 

Every single of our "No"s is followed by a decisive "Yes". We affirm a political strategy for justice, equality, and freedom; a plan for human emancipation. 

But we are no utopians. We know that in order to change the situation we need to be both idealists and visionaries, but at the same time also brutal pragmatists. 

Our pragmatism, however, is subject to our vision for radical change. It is not a step back but a necessary precaution. Because we know that to be successful we must trust in the power of the people, in the productive power of democracy and participation. 

We will never compromise our principles. 

What is the alternative then for Europe and Greece? 

SYRIZA has stated that a future government will put a stop to the austerity policies while, at the same time, renegotiating the loan agreement with our creditors. SYRIZA argues that an economically viable strategy must follow the model of the 1953 London Debt Agreement, which gave the post-war German economy a kick start and helped it create the “economic miracle” of the post-war era. 

Let us re-emphasise the point. Without the London Agreement, there would have been no German economic miracle. The central planks of that deal were debt reduction, a huge investment drive through the Marshall Plan, and financing terms linked to export and growth performance. 

We see no reason why in 2013 such a settlement is not also the appropriate way forward for the whole of the South, and for Greece. Why can’t we have a new conference on the debt in the South of the Eurozone? 

Why have we accepted such diminished expectations, such a conservative approach, now that the step-by-step and country-by-country approach has so evidently failed?

This new settlement is only one aspect of our political plan. We are well aware that the Greek economy cannot recover if we don't implement a series of economic, institutional and democratic reforms, which will radically change the picture of the Greek society and state. 

Our first priority is to freeze all measures reducing wages and pensions and to restore the minimum wage to pre-Memorandum levels. This will be a crucial step in our effort to stop the downward spiral of economic depression and to restore the dignity and prospects of the Greek working class. The restoration of the minimum wage is a precondition for exiting the crisis and would be a victory for the social classes and forces that the left represents.  

It is also time to put forward a radical tax reform that will redistribute the burden of taxation and restore justice. It is common knowledge among progressive politicians and activists, but also among the Troika and the Greek government, that the burden of the crisis has been carried exclusively by public and private sector workers and pensioners. 

This has to stop. 

It is time for the rich to contribute their share in our attempt to exit the crisis, and we commit ourselves to that task. We will confront the long standing problem of tax evasion and tax avoidance. We will pursue and tax the capital removed from Greece, to buy luxury flats in Mayfair and Chelsea. 

We will secure the viability of the banking system by introducing social and public control of banks. The banking system we envision will support environmentally viable public investment and cooperative initiatives. It will promote quality regional products, renewable energy sources and crucial infrastructure improvement projects. 

What we need is a banking system devoted to the public interest--not one bowing to capitalist profit. A banking system at the service of society, a banking system that serves as a pillar for growth. 

Economic reforms, however, are required but not sufficient for exiting the crisis. They need to be supplemented by drastic changes in the political and administrative system. We need to restore confidence in the ability of democracy to provide solutions for the whole population. 

This is of course an enormous task. It requires the mobilisation of all the social forces who have an interest in fighting corruption, cronyism, clientelism, and public sector inefficiency. 

None of these political aims can be achieved, of course, without popular support and participation.  

This is exactly the new element that we want to introduce in the political system. Workers, pensioners, the youth and the unemployed are only passive observers of political developments. They are almost entirely excluded from processes of decision making. 

This, too, has to stop. 

All vital forces of our society need to return to politics and decision-making. And the state must be radically transformed in order to support the vision of a society that takes its present life and future prospects in its own hands. 

The political programme that SYRIZA puts forward presents a complete hegemonic project. It is not just about winning elections and forming a government; it is about gaining power and moving Greece in a democratic socialist direction. 

As Gramsci once wrote, the Modern Prince, the political party of the left, needs to "become the basis of a modern laicism or popular transformation, of a complete popular remaking of the whole of life and all customary relations". 

We don't start from scratch in this endeavour. We, the movements and the political forces of the European Left have achieved much. Much more than someone would have expected a few years ago. After the uprisings of 2011, from the indignados of Puerta del Sol and Syntagma Square, after the unprecedented resistance all over the world, nothing is the same. 

Last summer, SYRIZA came close to winning the elections and making another step in the overthrow of the dangerous and corrupt political elite in Greece. 

We did not succeed then. But we will very soon. 

And we are not alone anymore. A new wave of popular struggles is emerging all over Europe. The balance of power has started to shift. From Lisbon to Madrid, from Paris to Athens, a new wave of mobilisation and resistance has begun.

Soon it will reach London. 

The politics of austerity will come to an end. What we need to do is to oversee its demise.

Resistance is in the air and from resistance grows the seed of change. For the first time since the 1980s, Europe is on edge. It finds itself at a crossroads. It will either follow the path of a permanent state of exception, aiming to control growing popular resistance, or it will choose -- we will choose -- a radical act of change that will entirely transform the field of economy and politics. 

We, the European left, need to learn from the resistance of the popular movements, and at the same time we need to express their aspirations at the political level, exactly in order to change what politics means. 

We need to leave the managerial attitude of technocrats and bureaucrats behind. We need to unite with the people and express their aspirations for a just and egalitarian world. 

Our aim is not just to rescue the economy from the death throes of neoliberal austerity. Our aim is to change the dominant capitalist paradigm. 

We will not be able to achieve our aims without the solidarity and the help of the European left and of the trade unions. 

Our struggle is the same. 

The future of Greece, the future of Europe depends on our success.

By Panagiotis Sotiris[1]…

In a recent speech in London Alexis Tsipras insisted on the need to put an end to the politics of austerity in the Eurozone. More specifically he suggested that it is necessary to have a new “Marshall Plan” in Europe and he proposed a big debt relief such as the one agreed upon for Germany in the 1953 London Conference.

Naturally, there is nothing wrong per se with using historical analogies to suggest that there have been times when bourgeois governments were ready to accept redistributive aid or debt relief as necessary policy measures. The problem is to forget under what terms and in what historical circumstances these measures were taken.

The Marshall plan aimed at the restoration of capitalist power in a post-war Europe marked by the rise of the communist Left and the existence of soviet bloc. It did not aim at social justice but at implementing bourgeois rule and a fordist regime of accumulation, in terms of full employment but also of unchallenged capitalist rule in the workplace. That’s why it was accompanied by the anti-union and anti-communist campaigns of the early 1950s and all the Cold-War security arrangements. At the same time, the 1953 London Conference on the German debt, however important it is as an historical example, cannot make us forget that the rationale was to make sure that West Germany, the most critical west-European country in terms of Cold War antagonisms, would avoid any kind of economic and social turbulence and become an export economy. Official anti-communism, reduced ability for militant trade union action and an anti-inflation obsession was the price paid for this kind of agreement.

The question that can be raised is simple: is this a strategy for the Left? Do we really believe, in the current conjuncture, that we can devise solutions that would at the same time accommodate the immediate demands of the subaltern classes and the long-term stability of international capitalism? Can the Left be the leading force for the emergence of a new social democratic developmental paradigm to replace the failures of neoliberalism?

I do not deny that dealing with the leading capitalist countries, Greece’s creditors, and international capitalist organizations such as the European Union and International Monetary Fund, sometimes it is necessary to use a rhetoric that might suggest that radical solutions might be to the benefit of international stability and growth, or to suggest to working people in other countries that they have every right to demand a different strategy from their respective governments. But at the same time is obvious that any attempt to avoid the social disaster inscribed in the current form of the neoliberal project, is in reality a process of rupture.

The problem with this kind of arguments from the part of SYRIZA is that they are the only logical conclusion one might draw if we accept as inescapable premises Greece’s participation to the Eurozone and the need to remain, in one form or the other, within the international money markets. Greek society, under such terms, can only survive through some form of good-will from the part of the EU and the IMF. The question is: is it possible for the EU and the IMF to actually change course so dramatically? Everything points to the opposite direction. The EU and the IMF attempt to impose an even more aggressive neoliberal strategy and new forms of reduced sovereignty, in a desperate attempt to deal with a structural capitalist crisis in the absence of an alternative strategy.

Consequently it is much better to use different starting points. The only way to avoid social disaster is to think in terms of radical ruptures with existing policies. Breaking away from the monetary and financial architecture of the Eurozone, is the central aspect of a transition program that apart from regaining monetary sovereignty and an immediate stoppage of debt payments, must also include nationalization of banks and strategic enterprises, income redistribution in favor of labour, introduction of forms of workers’ control and self-management. With unemployment almost sure to reach 30% in 2013, a total contraction of the Greek economy exceeding 20%, and a 20%-40% loss of income for households, thinking in terms of radical ruptures is more than justified.

There has been a strong debate in the Greek and international Left regarding such a radical program. Most of the criticism has centred upon the supposed danger of nationalism of such proposals or on the impossibility of implementing a radical anti-capitalist program only in one country. Regarding the question of nationalism, I think that I do not consider it nationalist to fight for the exit of a country from what can only be described as an “iron cage” of extreme neoliberal social engineering. Regarding the question of “isolation” I think that despite the problems posed by the current international environment, social and political movements do not have the luxury to wait for the potential Pan-European uprising.

But I think that the central node of this debate, whether we admit it or not, is elsewhere. Do we think that in the current conjuncture, in the current unstable balance of forces in countries such as Greece, it is possible to have ruptures and radical reforms that could initiate the social and political sequence of a new and necessarily contradictory transition to socialism, or do we insist that “times are not ripe and people are not ready” and instead try to experiment with some form of progressive left wing governance until people realize the need and get ready for socialism?

I am not downplaying the difficulties nor am I denying the weight of the historical strategic crisis of the Left in all its variants, but I think that we must again start thinking in terms of the actuality of socialism. This will enable us to engage in the collective process to rethink social transformation, to incorporate the knowledge and experience coming from struggles into political projects, to articulate different ways to organize production, distribution, governance in order to think of these demands and these specific policy choices that will guaranty the survival of a country and at the same time open processes of transformation. I am not referring to empty anti-capitalist verbalism or the simple reproduction of catch-phrases such as worker’s control, but to the collective elaboration, sector by sector, of changes that starting today would put an end to the “death spiral” of austerity, unemployment and recession and at the same time prove that it is possible to have a better life without the constraints of the market. It will take time; it would require new forms of power “from below”; it will necessarily lead to hard struggles; it would require radical transformation of state apparatuses. But at least it is better than betting on the possibility of benevolence from the part of international capitalist organizations. It would also enable a much more extensive involvement of social movements and people’s initiatives and help create not an electoral alliance but a new historical bloc, a collective process of transformation and experimentation.

Historical conditions are never “ripe”, one can only hope for narrow “windows of opportunity” when the combination of social crisis and collective struggle and the changes these bring to how people define themselves and their “self-narratives”, open up the possibility for radical change.

On the contrary, if we insist on the situation being not ripe enough, then there is no other option than thinking in terms of a more humane and just Eurozone. It is not that the solutions proposed are irrational or unviable. It is that they do not understand the aggressiveness of “actually existing neoliberalism” and the political logic of confrontation that the forces of capital are opting for, preferring the disciplinary aspects of austerity and unemployment to the economic benefits of an earlier exit from austerity. That is why the EU and the IMF will be fully aggressive against even the mildest version of left-wing governance and use every means at their disposal to enforce their agenda.

And here is the danger: a left wing government trying to renegotiate austerity with the EU and the IMF, only to find itself entrapped in its own commitment to the Eurozone and to the need for bail-out funds. A potential failure to bring change under such conditions will only open the way to even more reactionary solutions. With the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, the Greek Right is becoming the laboratory for a new hybrid of economic neoliberalism, social conservatism, racism and authoritarianism.

In the past years Greek society has gone through a cathartic experience. Nothing seems the same any more. In many forms, people have shown that they are ready to accept radical change as an option against an evolving disaster and embrace a collective project of transformation. There has been a tremendous display of hope, collectivity and demand for an alternative narrative for Greek society. At the same time the harsh realities of the everyday struggle to survive induce despair, individualism and even cynicism. Which tendency will prevail depends exactly on the ability of the Left to offer not pragmatism and realism but a radical alternative, a roadmap of collective mobilization and experimentation, a new hegemonic project for the Socialism of the 21st century.

[1] Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social theory and social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology of the University of the Aegean. He can be reached at