We publish a long interview with Christos Giovanopoulos, an activist of Solidarity for All, a group which facilitate the development of grassroots solidarity structures and of the solidarity movement as a whole in Greece. The interview was realized during the last international meeting of the Blockupy coalition, whose aim now is to organize the European demonstration of March 18, when the new building of the European Central Bank will be officially opened in Frankfurt. This occasion was not a coincidence. As already emerged from Akis Gacriilidis’ contribution, that we recently published, it is every day clearer that the possibilities and the consequences of the elections of January 25 are not only a Greek concern, nor this is an electoral date as many others. Again, we want to focus on two main questions: on the one hand, the relationships between movements and institutions. On the other hand, the signal that the Greek vote could spread all over Europe. Christos strongly put on the table the question of the power which is necessary in order to change the present situation, not only in Greece. This does not concern only the possibility of opposing the power of the Troika or of the European Commission, but also the necessity of accumulating power in order to impose a decisive change. In other words, the challenge is not that of practicing a counter-power, but that of establishing sites of power which could be able to act within society and to face autonomously political power and all subsequent contradictions and difficulties. Institutions, therefore, are not simply seen as the opposite of the movement, but as structures of power which allow freedom of movement and amplifying the possibility of class struggle. Accordingly, SYRIZA and its possible victory are not the deadline of the process started in 2008, but rather the chance of appropriating a possibility whose consequences will go both beyond Greece, and beyond the crisis which has been, until today, the background of every political discourse.
Taking into account the differences between what is going on in Greece and Spain, we think that both point to two main questions. The first concerns the relationship with the Troika and the European Union, the second is about the relationship between social movements and institutions. These questions are really general, but allow a preliminary assessment of these two points. How do you see them from the point of view of a country where elections are going to take place?
Let’s speak about the two topics. First of all about the relation between Greece and the Troika, that is the possibility of Greece to be in conflict with the decisions of the Troika, which is the neoliberal western capitalism, because the Troika is IMF, which is a global US kind of influent institution, the ECB and the EU, mainly driven by the German interests. I think that the possibility to have a SYRIZA government, that opposes the strategic decisions of the capital in Europe, and not only, it will reverberate around the EU in the conditions of stagnation, of crisis, which means instability of the system and the EU architecture and, at the same time, it will give a lot of hope to all these people that politically rely on a left different kind of alternative and, of course, it will show, in the case of a progressive government in Greece manages something, an alternative. This is another way to deal with the issues of the crisis in the favor of the people and against the new liberal kind of dogmas and interests. What makes things even better it is that you have Podemos in Spain and also Sinn Fein in Ireland. I talk only about these three paradigms because they are three different ways to be in a concrete opposition against the adoption and the implementation of this programs and also because the emergence of these parties is the result of the existing struggles in these countries. It confirms the opinion that if you want to change Europe, you have to start from the periphery, where the power relations are better for the movement and the systemic powers are weaker. And this will open up the fissure for a different alternative or to do things even in the metropolitan capitalistic Europe. So, this is for me the big question and this is the challenge if a left government in Greece will stand up to this task and to these expectations, not only of the Greek people but also for the European people, all related from trade-unions, to journalists and solidarity groups and movements that want to visit Greece (and they visited it the last year but now the trend is growing up). Even if it is of an institutional kind, this struggle works somehow as a moment that can solidify this refusal and the questioning of the Troika and the new liberal regime. So, what is the role now of the movement? I think that now the movement have to set up its own agenda and have to work, in one sense, for a forward opposition to governmentalism and statism, whis is the idea that, because we have the institutions, now we have the power. I think that it is far from truth, especially in Greece, where, because the neoliberalism and the Troika dictates the deregulation of the institution, democracy has been seriously wounded. My opinion is that the movement have to build its own counter-institutions (the Spanish say «extitutions», that is the external institutions) and to create its own public sphere and organization and, accordingly to their experiences, for example if we speak about the solidarity movement, accordingly to their experiences of how community participates in a joint effort to give a solution to their immediate needs, but there is a big know-how, a big expertise, that can be used for a different transformation of the existing institutions. So, the problem is not only to take over the institutions but to take over the institutions in order to block the implementation of these anti-popular and anti-social policies. Yet, for me the challenge starts from the 26th January, the day after the election, both for SYRIZA, because whatever government will be formed in Greece will be in conflict with the Troika and the bail-out regime, and for the movement, how it will mobilize to organize the society around the different fields of struggle, to enhance the participation of society and demand new changes in the institutions to foster the participation of the people that are concerned with the Greek problems. The deepening of democracy and the unmaking of the existing political system in Greece is the big problem, that is to be solved with the participation of people. So, there are two moments: the first one is a political moment and you need to get rid of someone that oppresses you and the second one is related to longer term struggles and both complement each others.
Someone says that SYRIZA is taking its power from the struggles which took place in Greece since 2008, that it represents these struggles; others say that SYRIZA is weakening these struggles, since they declined after the growth of SYRIZA. Can you briefly try to explain what is the relationship between SYRIZA as a party, as a structure and as a movement and those struggles that we all saw on the media or supported and, at the same time, what is remaining from these solidarity structures created by the struggles and how much this has eventually become also a base for SYRIZA in this moment.
I will be honest with you, in 2008 (which, I agree, it’s the turning point of the revolt but the peak was the square’s occupation movement of 2011) SYRIZA was the only parliamentary party that supported unconditionally the revolt of the Greek youth. This is what gave SYRIZA the antisystemic brand or label of the times. However, the first month of the 2009 there was a big effort to suppress the SYRIZA’s influence, because SYRIZA was, in the polls of the times, taking something between 14% and 17%, while its electoral power was around 5-6%. This is how we had a part of SYRIZA that split and went to the Social-Democracy of the times, the democratic left, and then they joined the Troika government. This created a problem in SYRIZA, but SYRIZA has a part that was formed also by elements of the anti-globalization movement, a different strand of the left converging together to give life to the social forums etc. So, this was the space where SYRIZA was formed and came out. SYRIZA paid later for its antisystemic brand. It paid in 2012, but between these two moments SYRIZA was in real troubles and the party was very weak and almost about to collapse and the coalition to be destroyed in 2010-2011. So, in 2011 the Greek grass-roots movements were not created by parties or by political powers. This should be very clear. Not even the struggles, not even the strikes, despite the fact they were called by the trade-unions, that are the only ones that I can call strikes, but the agenda was imposed by the people who participated. So, the trade-unions said: «don’t touch the workers’ rights, don’t touch the wages…», and at the same time people were getting suck and they want just to get rid of the political system, the dominant political parties and Troika. They had a different agenda from the trade-unions and the parties and they imposed the way these central political struggles, that in reality amalgamated all the different struggles, gave boost again to other different struggles and created many of these kind of grass-roots initiatives, etc. But the backbone of this movement was people that we call the social left, people that supported SIRYZA, whose members were very present in this movement, and it was easier for SYRIZA to attract people affected by the crisis, that once voted for PASOK or whatever, and that were completed disillusioned by PASOK or even by conservatives. And in this process of struggle people started to understand themselves and the country according to the material conditions. This is something that many times is overlooked or ignored. It was the first time that trough this process in 2010-2012 people started to leave behind the idea that they were living in the middle-class and understand they were wage earners dependent from some other people in the power. So, this kind of class element, let’s say, came into the discussion again. This made the split that destroyed the reality of representation of social-democracy in Greece and people radicalized trough this conflict with the political elites in Greece. And, of course, they decided to intervene in the elections of 2012 and, in the same year, in reality the masses that created this opposition and resistance in Greece against the Troika, they decided to ally with SYRIZA, not because they were convinced by SYRIZA, by the SYRIZA program, but because they want to give a fight on this electoral level. So, in one sense, as before they had hijacked the strike and the agenda, they hijacked also this movement election. After that, of course, SYRIZA is still an open question, is an open challenge, there are no guarantees, but it’s a very asymmetric and strange coalition and also a fluid kind of coalition between this part of the society that waged the struggles and created the self-organized movement and the solidarity movement or whatever (other smaller or bigger struggles), and also many people that now they say «SYRIZA cannot be worse than the other parties that we can join». SYRIZA is a kind of combination of some old characteristics of the party and this new emergent potential subject. But, at the same time, in Greece you have a remaking of the old political structure, or the superstructure. If we speak about the State or the political representation, you can see the old parties waning out. It is an open question: what SYRIZA will become? Will it be a result of the social and the class struggle in Greece? Two are the main points in the determination of SYRIZA leadership. To go and conflict, you know, to give a real struggle against the Troika. I think that if SYRIZA doesn’t do that, it will produce a big disappointment and will be in a more difficult position than how they are now. And the second is how well the grass-roots and social movements, and the workers’ movements, organize themselves in order to support or to pressurize, to safeguard how SYRIZA will do this. Will SYRIZA contest the Troika or will it ally with the realistic approach in order to defend the party? So, you have both elements. But SYRIZA as a party, and not only SYRIZA, any party in Greece, where the political crisis means that parties exist in the parliamentarian level but their relations with the society is weaker than ever. So, the issue of the crisis of representation is still there and crosscuts SYRIZA as well. This creates this dynamic: the more general conflict became the common ground of meetings of the social movements and people with SYRIZA. It will play the main role.
In order to deepen this point, can you briefly explain the relationship between SYRIZA and the solidarity structure that it supported, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly?
SYRIZA respects the autonomy of the different movements, different social movements. So, this is, let’s say, the basic framework. This doesn’t mean that SYRIZA doesn’t try to intervene in the social movements but at the same time it respects, let’s say, the framework that these movements have set up about themselves or about how organize themselves, etc. In terms of solidarity movement, this is very obvious. Much more than in terms of the relation between SYRIZA and the trade-unions. The solidarity movement, that started even before SYRIZA became the main opposition party, was a result of the growing of this new kind of political struggles, especially after the square’s occupation movement, that was a transformation of this movement into something else. In the neighborhoods, SYRIZA recognized the importance of these communities of self-organized people and decided to create a fund where citizens give a portion between 10% and 20% of their wages. But this solidarity fund exists for the solidarity structures that want to use it. This solidarity fund doesn’t fund – or give money to – and it doesn’t create branches of SYRIZA. So, this is a different matter and SYRIZA provides political support in the struggles of the solidarity structures. In one sense, let’s say, we have access to the solidarity fund, but we also connect and facilitate the grass- with solidarity structures. We work as an assembly and we are completely independent from the party structures. People that are organizing the solidarity movement are not only SYRIZA members and they have very clear in their minds that these groups and their initiatives and infrastructures are organized by people themselves and belong to these people and non to the party. This kind of groundwork is the real work that can root and integrate the relationship between the political forces and the society; in addiction to this, this kind of work opens a space where it will be welcome the participation of the society in order to influence the political parties. This is the main consequence. Concretely, this is what we are trying to do. We are in the same condition of a humanitarian crisis: according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development the 18% of the Greek people can not meet their food needs. But we have a lot of stuff, agricultural projects that have been thrown out… so we have the experience of connecting with these farmers and taking this production that it’s not absorbed by the food-market, for whatever reasons, for distributing it certainly, trough the solidarity structures, to the people. If we had the political and institutional power for providing a different policy concerning the issue of the agricultural projects, we could develop a different network of distribution of agricultural production in Greece, without all the mediations that now are keeping the prices up. This is a sort of concrete example that can inform a different policy of SYRIZA. So this is what we created, this is what we codified, this is what we demand. We want a different political power that allows the generalization of practice of self-organization and solidarity. This has potentially the possibilities for facing or dealing with the issue of public goods as common. Potentially.
These things are you mentioning are, somehow, also part of the program that SYRIZA is supporting. Because SYRIZA is talking about the Troika but, at the same time, is talking about concrete measures for the people indeed. So, I guess this is also part of the strategy for the legitimation of SYRIZA and for its credibility…
According to my personal opinion, if SYRIZA does that only by allocating money and then sharing things with people, this process will exclude the participation of people in the solution. And this process will not become a political process. What the solidarity movement is trying to do it’s not only to meet the people needs immediately. NGO or the Church can do that. What we are aiming at it’s that this process should include the participation, and should take care of this participation, of people. This is how we want to use this program.
Next point comes to Europe, in a different shape. On one hand, you have the opposition to the Troika and the EU, on the other hand, what makes, for example, Tsipras different from other anti-Troika politicians is that he always stated that the answer to the Troika must be a European one. So, there is a sort of paradox: Greek people are against the Troika, there is a sort of being against Europe, understood as a prevailing Moloch, and, on the other side, a sort of solution can come only from Europe and the European level. So, what does it means Europe?
You are opening a very big issue. But I’ll try to put it simply. First of all, I think that SYRIZA and the struggles in Greece prove two things, one in relation to euroskepticism and one in relation to populism. Because SYRIZA is also accused to be a populist power. Both terms don’t have a concrete political meaning and content. There is a radical progressive euroskepticism, and this is good. And there is also a populism, that may mean the participation and the attention of the political power to the will of people. I’m saying this because many times, when you speak about this sort of contradiction between the anti-Troika and anti-Eu programs and the fact of being a European solution, people can see only a contradiction. But this is not a contradiction.
Not a contradiction, but a paradox…
I don’t think it’s a paradox, but a real dialectical relation. Because Greek people want to participate in Europe as European and, at the same time, demand for Greece to be treated equally as a country and as a society and they don’t want to pay for the benefit of the European metropolitan capitals. So, they intervene with their struggles in this accumulation of power in extra democratic bodies; actually, they bring the issue of popular sovereignty, the possibilities for people to decide about their own will. This in economic terms it’s not a contradiction. The Greek people feel these two conditions. As people, they feel that they are condemned by the Troika and the European neoliberalism. But, at the same time, they understand that they can not change the situation on their own. This depends on the globalized interconnected world. This change is part of a larger change and explains what is happening in Greece, it explains why Greek people feel very close to Podemos or to the Spanish movement or to other movements, such as occupy movements. Or it explains how they understand that «We are all Greeks». «We are all Greeks», in this moment, is translated into Greece as «We are not alone». We are also European. I think this is the policy. Policy that Tsipras understands and SYRIZA understands, regardless the differences that exist within the party, concerning the fact, you know, that there are some parts more euroskeptic than others and see this struggle as a first step to go out of the European Union. But other say that cannot be a Greek solution but only an European-wide solution. I think that in the particular conjuncture of time and both these sides are out of the game, and I don’t want to explain you all the different ping-pong between these positions… What I want to say is that the importance is that with these positions, SYRIZA Europeanizes the issue of Greece and is not about SYRIZA alone, it is about how you can construct a platform, let’s say, or coalitions that can allow you to cause a change in Greece that then will inform and will encourage and empower struggles elsewhere in Europe. I see that it is true that we start from Greece in order to change Europe, and we start from Greece now but in May, that there will be the local elections in Spain and, in autumn, when the parliamentarian ones will take place, we carry it on in Spain, it’s a relay of struggles to create this kind of common platform, and makes more visible to the people that there is an alternative: I think that this really have magnifying and multiplying effect of how people behave and think in the European context. So as I said SYRIZA’s victory and a SYRIZA’s kind of good negotiate, its success of raising some bail-out, has the potential to kill Thina, the logic according to which There-Is-No-Alternative. I think this will open up different scenarios and it’s better than to have this solution of Europe turning left than to have this kind of nationalist drift.
Last point, about the State. Somehow there is the idea that through the State you can gain something more, you can overcome Thina, and this can be seen also in South America: a new role of the State is emerging, but at the same time, historically, the relationship between the State and class struggle is complicated and it is difficult to see the State as a tool for class struggle. In perspective, do you see this confidence on the possibilities of a State more as an ally, as an instrument or as a limit for this movement?
I think two things, as basic lines: first of all, I think that this statalism as a mentality in the left is the most problematic aspect and has been a challenge for SYRIZA. The second thing is that movements intervene in the elections, they support SYRIZA and they use SYRIZA as a tool, to get rid of these political power in EU – I repeat, political powers, because it is not all political power – because they realize that you cannot really change the situation without occupying the political decision-making processes where they decide the main policies. In Greece especially, where we have, as I said before, the collapse of all State institutions that were built after the dictatorship, and the collapse of the political system, you have the possibility not only to take over the State that has been built against you – something that has been forgotten by those that believe that the State can be turned into an instrument for good reasons, for good use. Even at the level of local authorities that SYRIZA has had for some months and now some mayors the biggest difficulty we have in organizing and implement different policies is not the lack of money, but the way the institutions of the States are organized themselves. So you have not only to take the institutions, but also to change these institutions and I think that the lack of SYRIZA was that it did not develop social institutions outside the existing ones, institutions that belong to the people. The people organize themselves, organize struggles and organize base-unions etc. and other struggles, and strikes but they remain fragmented and SYRIZA didn’t put a lot effort to create these extra institutions of power for the people as the main weapon you can take, through which you can break this State apparatus that exists now. Still the dominant opinion is that we need to take the State and through the State we will change the priorities of how we allocate money, etc., but I estimate that this will be the most difficult task for SYRIZA to do, because this depends on whether the Troika will give you the next extolment or not, since you may not have funds enough to support your public health care or to support the humanitarian program of SYRIZA, or to increase the pensions or the wages of the people. So, it seems to follow that the only line of conflict with the Troika is to organize different institutions from the bottom, because it is the only ally, and that what we can take from the South-American experience is exactly that: if you don’t do this step you may enter in the same policies, but now with a human face.
Just to conclude not being negative, but what happens on the 26th January if SYRIZA is the second party?
SYRIZA cannot be the second party in Greece. This is very obvious, everybody has accepted that. The challenge is if SYRIZA will be able to form its own government, a government on its own, or if it needs to form a government with another political party. This is where things get more complicated and it is the worst possible scenario. At that time SYRIZA will be very close to get the votes that will allow for a majority government. It’s very close but it’s not certain…