Solidarity with Syriza: Challenging Austerity at Home

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A slide from the presentation given by Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos and economist Dimitris Sotiropoulos at the solidarity rally in East Wall chaired by Mandate Trade Union last weekend. 

A slide from the presentation given by Syriza MEP Kostas Chrysogonos and economist Dimitris Sotiropoulos at the solidarity rally in East Wall chaired by Mandate Trade Union last weekend.

An article by Brendan Young and Eddie Conlon

The election of Syriza has sparked a rash of speculation on the possibility of a left government in Ireland at the next election. Contributing to this were the recent inferences from SF sources that they would not go into a coalition with the Troika parties – in particular FF or FG. Such a commitment would be welcome.

This note addresses three issues:

  • there is little prospect of a left government coming out of the next election, so what should the anti-austerity movement do to build a political alternative in the light of the Syriza victory;
  • the movement against the water charge is the source of a new political alternative and new, anti-austerity candidates in the coming election; any slate of anti-austerity candidates must therefore champion the non-payment demands of the movement because otherwise it will remain isolated from it;
  • should any new political formation accept the rules laid down by the defenders of wealth and privilege – or be prepared to lead a challenge to those rules?

No to Coalition with the Right

Explicit rejection of coalition with the Right – FF and FG – is a pre-requisite for discussion of a left alternative in Ireland. We cannot develop an alternative to the ravages of capitalism by forming a government with parties committed to the preservation of the wealth and privilege of the capitalist minority. But as yet, no clear statement has come from SF on this matter. Nor is it clear that SF would not do something analogous to what Syriza has unfortunately done: formed a coalition with a party of the Right, in this case ANEL – a populist right wing, anti-immigrant party – rather than form a minority government and demand the support of the KKE on concrete issues. The fault in this lies with the refusal of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) to support a Syriza government.

Hopefully this coalition deal will not derail the pre-election promises by the Syriza leadership – or become an excuse for not implementing anti-austerity or socially progressive measures. Socialists across Europe should support the actions of the Syriza government against the continued imposition of debt and austerity in Greece and build active solidarity with Syriza. The best way to do that is to actively challenge the austerity regime at home.

As to a left government in Ireland, in our opinion this is not in the offing at the next election. Assuming that SF would be part of such a government, it’s clear that SF will not win 80 seats in the coming election. If SF got enough seats to be the biggest party in the Dail but not enough (80) to have a majority, coalition with FF or even FG might be very tempting. Nobody is seriously predicting that SF will get above 50 seats and left independents 30 – either as independents or as part of an anti-austerity bloc. (There are lots of independents that have FF or FG politics). And the willingness of the Left to support a SF administration would depend on the anti-capitalist measures in their proposed program for government. The victory or otherwise of the movement against the water charge will also be a factor in the election. So as things are likely to evolve, a coalition government including SF would also involve either FF or FG. 

Whether or not SF was the biggest party in the Dail, coalition with the Right would be as disastrous for working class people and SF as it was with Labour and the Greens: it would lead to compromise and capitulation to the Right, sabotage by the FF or FG minority, or both. The only way to ensure that didn’t happen would be mass mobilization to enforce measures that meet the needs of the majority, not the rich minority. The approach of SF to the water charge campaign doesn’t bode well in this regard.

In the current phase of the fight against austerity, cuts in public services, etc. the experience of the campaign against water charges shows that mass mobilization is more effective than Dail speeches. While the formation of a left government and the fight for control of the apparatus of the state is important, the decisive political factor is mass mobilization and organization – and a willingness to challenge the rules. This is equally important in the case of a left government, like Syriza, as for parties that are not in government. Syriza will face sabotage by the wealthy, the financial institutions and elements of the state itself (reports indicate 40% electoral support for Golden Dawn amongst the police, with this neo-nazi party being the third largest party in Greece; Tony Benn’s efforts were sabotaged by state functionaries in Britain in the 1970’s); mobilization outside parliament will be vital to defeat such sabotage and to begin to create bodies of workers / popular opposition as the struggle to impose an alternative to austerity develops.

Water Charge Campaign is Key

The further development in Ireland of the movement of resistance to austerity, and any organized political expression of that, will be determined by the outcome of the current battle against the water charge – in which non-payment is key. If we win – and sustained mass non-payment will be the determinant of that – the prospect of other victories opens up. If we lose, the opposite is the case. The current SF position of ‘respect for the law’ and individual non-payment by leading SF members ‘in solidarity with those who can’t pay’ (what about those who won’t pay?) is inadequate. It also indicates an unwillingness to actually give a lead in struggles against austerity when that entails a challenge to the state, in deference to parliamentarism and an implicit acceptance of laws that sustain the domination of the wealthy over the rest of society.

An article in a recent issue of the SF paper – An Phoblacht – said SF is interested in discussing a political alternative with social movements, trade unions and the ‘non-sectarian’ left – whatever that means. This is a welcome move. But if they mean they don’t want to consider arguments that are critical of what SF is actually doing at present – especially the leadership’s unwillingness to call for non-payment and their willingness to implement Tory cuts in the North rather than pull out of the executive – then these discussions are not going to deliver very much of a real alternative. This is because a real alternative must be prepared to break the rules in order to defend the rights and living standards of ordinary people – not be hidebound by rules laid down by the defenders of wealth and privilege.

So we think the focus should move away from what any party or left bloc would do about the formation of the next government and look at what can be done to create a new formation that could lead mass struggles on a range of issues – more than likely including opposition to the next government. An electoral slate, including the Left and candidates from the water charge movement, would give political focus to the anti-austerity movement and be a step to a new political formation on the left. Trade union support would greatly strengthen such a slate and/or new formation. The key challenge facing us now is how to open up a meaningful discussion between the organised left, political activists and those involved in the water campaign with the aim of agreeing a slate of candidates who can offer a real challenge to austerity at the next election.

The objective of a slate should be to create a dynamic towards the development of a political alternative committed to real social change and willing to give a lead in mass struggles. Speculation on the formation of a left government, that is not actually in the offing at the next election, is leading to a willingness to accept whatever SF decides to do and is parliamentarist in its approach.

The question is not what SF leaders think of the Left, or the attitude of the Left to SF forming a government. Rather it is a matter of the demands that are necessary to defend the rights and living standards of ordinary people – including non-payment of the water charge, debt write-down, taxing the rich, opening the books, repeal of the 8th Amendment, etc; and what methods of struggle can win them – mass action and civil disobedience to enforce legislative change, or reliance on lobbying and parliamentary votes.

Challenging the rules?

This also poses a question for us who want a new, left, political alternative. Should a new political formation or party accept without challenge the rules that currently serve to impoverish people and restrict the ability to effectively resist austerity – for example the coming demands to pay the water charge? Or should it judge what action to take or advocate based on an assessment of what is needed to win a particular struggle, and mobilise accordingly – in breach of the rules, as necessary? Non-payment of the water charge, or the Greyhound dispute, are examples. A parliamentarist approach means accepting the rules, however grudgingly; prioritizing the needs of the struggle means being willing to challenge or break the rules as necessary and appropriate.

In the run-up to the next election championing non-payment will be necessary if we want to build on the struggle of the water charge movement. Why would those fighting the water charge support or put up candidates as part of an anti-austerity slate if that slate does not champion non-payment, but simply says wait for the election – of a party that may not be in government or a coalition government that will resist abolishing the charge? To ensure abolition the charge must be made unworkable now: mass non-payment is central to that. While getting FG or FF out of office is desirable on many grounds, it’s worth remembering that the charges were finally defeated in the 1990’s by the political threat of the non-payment movement to the existing parties: we don’t need to wait for their replacement by a left government – nor should we depend on that happening.

In this the evolution of Syriza as a political party and the growth of its support is also instructive: Syriza is a coalition of the radical left and its participant groups have been involved in the mass struggles in Greece in recent years. In the absence of these struggles, the current electoral success would not have happened. The development of Podemos in Spain is similar.

For the purposes of creating a political alternative in Ireland, there is now agreement across the Left and the community-based movement against the water charge on the centrality of non-payment – in effect, mass law-breaking. There could now begin discussion involving the Left, the movement against the water charge, and interested trade unions on a slate of candidates that would champion non-payment and mass action to achieve it – as well as a number of key demands to lift the burden of austerity and repressive legislation. For example, breaking the forthcoming requirements of the Fiscal Treaty for debt reduction will be necessary to challenge austerity.

In the formation of a new, left alternative, rejection of coalition with the Right is a pre-requisite. So is a preparedness to focus on mass mobilisation and civil disobedience to resist austerity. Inevitably this will lead to a discussion on when it is necessary and appropriate to break the rules of the EU, the Trioka etc. and the laws of the Irish state that enforce such rules. We need to be clear amongst ourselves on what a left alternative actually means before jumping into discussions on the formation of a left government that is not in the offing.


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One Response

  1. Alan Gibson

    February 10, 2015 10:13 am

    Sorry to burst the bubble of the triumph of hope over the hard lessons of the class struggle but this Popular Front coalition is already beginning the process of betraying the aspirations the Greek working class has in them.

    The Syriza/ANEL coalition is starting negotiations with its “European partners” promising to keep in place 70% of the “reforms”. What else are they prepared to compromise on as they seek a solution within the framework of capitalism?