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

This is a trans­la­tion of an 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

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 re­gime 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.

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

  1. mayta munson
    24 September 2012 at 9:27 am

    TRANSLATION ERRORS?: “The viol­ence, the dis­ap­pear­ance and the murder of so many people at the hands of those auto­matic re­gimes must be for­got­ten about” Should this read “must not be for­gotten”? “auto­matic re­gimes” should read “auto­cratic re­gimes”? Great interview.

    • Admin
      24 September 2012 at 1:51 pm

      Thanks Mayta,

      We have made the changes.

  2. andrew f
    24 September 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Great to read he’s much more to the left than I had ini­tially thought him to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *