[Marxism] An open letter by Stathis Kouvelakis to the British SWP

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 30 08:15:59 MDT 2012

An open letter regarding the Greek left

Disagreements are not only normal and, in any case, unavoidable 
within the left. They can also be productive provided they are 
formulated in terms that do not excessively distort the positions 
of the interlocutor.

In a recent issue of Socialist Worker answering the question “What 
shape has Greek reformism taken?” (the terms of the question seem 
already biased to me), Panos Garganas summed up Syriza’s position 
in the current situation as follows: “Syriza’s leaders promise we 
can escape from austerity by reforming the EU.

“They say a left government shouldn't take unilateral steps like 
cancelling the debt and breaking with the euro. They seek a 
negotiated exit from austerity. They claim a budget with a surplus 
would strengthen Greece’s negotiating position with its creditors.

“This effectively postpones the promise to end austerity until the 
German government and banks agree to it. That’s why Antarsya says 
we need a strong anti-capitalist left and a continuation of the 

With the exception of the last sentence, I’m afraid this statement 
is quite far from giving an adequate picture of Syriza’s position 
but also of the lines of demarcation within the radical left and, 
more broadly, within the current conjuncture.

It is true that Syriza’s general position is in favour of an 
internal transformation of the EU, but on the basis of denouncing 
all the existing European Treaties (Maastricht, Lisbon etc).

It is also true that Syriza is against exiting the eurozone, 
although significant currents both within Synaspismos and in other 
components of this political front (which, by the way, also 
includes many significant organizations of the Greek far Left, 
mostly from Maoist and Trotskyist backgrounds) are in favour of 
such an exit (or of considering it as an unavoidable consequence).

But Syriza won the support of the majority of the left electorate, 
and, as its leading position in recent polls suggest, probably of 
a relative majority of the Greek people as a whole, not by 
proposing to wait for an EU reform or negotiations to end 
austerity but by electing a unitary government of all the 
anti-austerity forces of the left.

Such a government would immediately, as “its founding act” like 
Alexis Tsipras keeps on repeating, abrogate, by a vote in 
Parliament, the whole framework of the infamous Memorandums. The 
Memorandum is non-negotiable, stating the contrary would be like 
“trying to negotiate hell” as Tsipras also recently said.

On that basis, and that unilateral move, an anti-austerity 
government would ask for a renegotiation of the debt in order to 
write-off the major part. If this demand for renegotiation is 
rejected then Greece would stop the repayment of the debt, declare 
a moratorium which would last as long as necessary in order to 
allow a favourable outcome of the renegotiation, along the lines 
that similar negotiations have taken in the past (more recently in 

Syriza says that these moves will not entail an exit from the 
eurozone nor the interruption of the current payments to the 
country given as part of the bailout plan.

The statements of EU officials and European leaders claiming the 
contrary are presented as a propaganda war aiming at putting 
pressure on the electorate and blocking the rise of Syriza. This 
position, it should be stressed, reflects the mood of the vast 
majority of the Greek population, which rejects austerity but 
doesn’t want an exit from the eurozone.

It also corresponds to the fact that, as Larry Elliott wrote in 
yesterday’s Guardian, ‘Europe has form when it comes to ensuring 
that electorates vote the ‘right’ way’.

It is nonetheless true that it seems extremely unlikely that the 
EU, representing the interests of Greece’s creditors, and more 
broadly of European finance capital, would not react to the 
unilateral exit from the Memorandum-based austerity framework.

Recent statements of Syriza leaders show an awareness of the 
necessity for such a contingency plan, but its lines remain very 
unclear, since it would almost inevitably amount to exiting the 
euro and immediately defaulting on the debt.

The two logical possibilities that appear, if Syriza wins the June 
17 elections and leads the next government, are either surrender 
and reneging on the commitment to abrogate the memorandum, which 
would amount to an unmitigated disaster not only for Syriza but 
for the entire radical Left and, moreover, for the Greek people, 
or engaging in a protracted battle which would almost certainly 
lead to results that go beyond the current objectives put forward 
by Syriza.

This would conform I think to a quite familiar in history pattern 
of processes of social and political change, where the dynamic of 
the situation, boosted of course by the pressure of popular 
mobilization, pushes actors (or at least some of them) beyond 
their initial intentions. This is what scares most the dominant 
forces in Greece and in Europe and explains their hysterical 
campaign against Syriza and the perspective opened up by its 
possible coming to power.

The stakes of this battle are immense, probably the more 
significant we had in Europe since the Portuguese Carnation 
Revolution. In such a context, all the forces of the radical Left 
should work together as closely as possibly, not only on the 
terrain of struggles and mobilizations, which is the indispensable 
starting point, but also politically, to help the situation to 
radicalise and to unleash its full potential.

Sterile polemics, reiterating the all-too familiar pattern of 
‘unmasking the reformist enemy’, should therefore be avoided in 
favour of fraternal discussion, which includes of course in-depth 
clarifications of the real and welcomed disagreements between the 
forces of our camp. Our responsibilities are huge, millions of 
progressive people have their eyes turned to Greece as a name, and 
place, for hope, and of a concrete possibility for a long-overdue 
popular victory.

Stathis Kouvelakis, London

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