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= a coalition of anti-austerity leftwing organisations that won the Greek elections January 2015, but that eventually surrendered to European demands

Discussion 1: Before the accord of 2015

The New Greek Government Endorses Commons-Based, Peer Production Solutions

David Bollier:

"All attention in Greece and global financial circles has been understandably focused on the new Greek Government’s fierce confrontation with its implacable European creditors. Less attention has been paid to the Government’s plans to help midwife a new post-capitalist order based on commons and peer production.

A commons colleague, John Restakis,wrote about this possibility a week or so before the January 25 elections. Now, speaking to the Greek Parliament last week, the new Deputy Prime Minister Gianni Dragasakis explicitly stated that Greece will develop new sorts of bottom-up, commons-based, peer production models for meeting people’s needs.

Dr. Vasilis Kostakis, who works with the P2P Foundation’s P2P Lab based in Ioannina, Greece, has been following the situation in Greece closely. Kostakis, a research fellow at the Ragnar Nurkse School of Innovation and Governance in Tallin, Estonia, writes:

Syriza seems to be adopting policies and reforming certain laws in a fashion that resembles the Partner State Approach practices, with regard to education, governance and R&D.

To mention a few:

· opening up the public data;

· making openly available the knowledge produced with tax-payers’ money;

· creating a collaborative environment for small-scale entrepreneurs and co-operatives while favoring initiatives based on open source technologies and practices;

· developing certain participatory processes (and strengthening the existing ones) for citizen-engagement in policy-making;

· adopting open standards and patterns for public administration and education.

These plans/initiatives could be seen both as seeds of a new model for economic development and as solutions to exiting politico-economic, or “structural” problems: revealing and controlling corruption, improving lax tax enforcement etc. It is true that from program to implementation, several steps are required, however the first step seems to have been made: Syriza appears to not only be aware of the advantages of free/open source technologies but also to realize the potential and the new political economy of this emerging proto-mode of production.

Thus, the question is, Will Syriza create (and will be allowed to create) the conditions for a transition towards a full-mode of Commons-based peer production?

Kostakis notes that Andreas Karitzis, member of Syriza’s think tank on digital policies and an unsuccessful candidate MP, wrote an article in the Greek version of the Huffington Post before the electiions. Karitzis mentioned his party’s commitment to free/open source technologies, transparency and participatory democracy. Syriza also apparently intends to develop the new CopyFair licenses for open hardware and support the creation of networks of distributed micro-factories (fablabs/makerspaces).

Amateur translator Eleftherios Kosmas – a member of a commons based collective like and a strong supporter of the commons – provided a translation of Deputy Prime Minister Dragasakis’ speech and considered the following remarks the most interesting:

I would like to, conclude with the permission of the President, with a general thought. Often in everyday life we all live events happening whose importance is only clear in hindsight. We live, then, not only in an historic era characterized by the crisis and the collapse of obsolete models, but we live a crisis that will eventually spawn new models and new social organization models, as was done in the past.

In this sense, then, this is an opportunity to take up the deficits of the past, to close this modernization deficit, but by addressing the contemporary social problem of unemployment, social security and social exclusion. This could establish a new paradigm in Greece and other countries of southern Europe, combining advanced forms of democracy, social self-motivation, social justice on a strong foundation of common goods, a society-centric model, which would give dignity and confidence in society hope to the people, optimism in the new generation.

Thus Greece, from being the guinea pig of austerity and destruction, could be a ground of pioneering ideas and policies, and the benefit would not be just for us. The world would become a security goal in a region of insecurity, and “aged” Europe could rediscover through the symbiosis of different development models inside.

Let’s not rush some to say that these are utopias because there are utopias that are realistic. There are those whose implementation depends not on supernatural powers, but by the unity and collective action of ordinary people in Europe, in Greece and worldwide. Thank you. Kosmas helpfully provides a link to Dragasakis’s speech in Greek here.

There are a number of knowledgeable and committed commoners internationally who have been in touch with Syriza officials, including a number of Greek commoners and P2P activists. Two of the most notable are Vasilis Kostakis and George Papanikolaou, who are the administrators of the P2P Foundation’s Greek branch. The Greek Government may wish to turn to the many concrete commons/P2P policy approaches on display at the Commons Transition Plan." (

How the victory was rooted in the Syntagma Square occupations

Costas Douzinas:

"The multitude in the squares became a demos of resistance and disobedience. We met people from other ideologies and histories, different times and places. The people remained singularities in plurality with a common political desire, to get rid of a corrupt and incompetent poitical systemt. The post-civil war divide between victors and defeated dissolved in the populas assemblies and the clouds of teargas. On May 6, the rainbow of the squares met again in the polling stations and voted for the unity of the left. The radical left won all the big cities where the occupations took place. In places wher civil disobedience campaigns dominated the previous period, the radical left won handsomely. Direct democracy acquired its parliamentary companion.

A hegemonic strategy chooses an antagonism that transverses the social diagonally and turns it into the cetnral line of confrontation unting classes, groups and people on the popular pole. The people, the multitude, the party cannot become poitical subjects without such a hegemonic intervention. The popular pole does not pre-exist the hegemonic intervention, it must be created in its confrontation with the power system. To succeed, a hegemonic intervention must marginalise, even temporarily, regional differences and local rivalries in the popular pole and promote the cetnral antagonism. The two camps, the people and the elite, are assembled on the sides of the line of antagonism.

Three such policies were promoted in the squares and adopted by the radical left manifesto. First, an attack on the austerity measures which have led to economic collapse and the dissolution of the social fabric. This is an attack not on the debt but on the elites desire of debt and their attempt to re-arrange the social contracts using the debt as excuse. Secondly, defence of popular sovereingty and national indepedence. The IMF and the EU imposed a state of exception, suspending the legality and legitimacy of the social state. Greece was introduced to a colonial and postcolonial condition without ever being a colony. Popular sovereignty and national independence are therefore the second line of defence and antagonism. Independence can be interpreted in a radical way, as in the anti-colonial struggles, or in a reactionary xenophobic and racist way. Hegemonic intervention is necessary to prevent the exploitation of national independence by the nationalistic right but also because in times or great crisis and fear, the certainty and homeliness of national identity becomes a safe and dangerous haven.

The third line places the defence of democracy at the centre of antagonism. Neoliberal globalised capitalism has persistently and violently attacked liberal democracy. The Post-political condition, hte promotion of technocratic and expert governance in place of government has undermined democracy and turned citizens away from the machinations of elites and parties. Only a different conception of democracy can assemble popular resistance for its defence. This was the achievemnt of the squares. For the first time since the establishment of liberal democracy and its recent decay, the squares performed a direct form and inscribed its possibility in the political and institutional archive.

The hegemonic strategy that emerged in the squares changed the political discussion transfering the line of antagonism from the debt and its repayment to the re-foundation of the social bond, the protection of popular sovereignty, finally, the re-setting of institutional and constitutional parameters. These were also the three axes of the radical left: the freedom of the disobedient citizen, the equality of direct democracy and social justice, finally, the solidarity and power of the plural singularities in assembly. In the elections the multitude became a people and voted the radical left." (

The Impact of the Greek Elections of May 6, 2012

1. Costas Lapavitsas:

"Syriza has caused an earthquake by denouncing March’s bailout. It has called for a moratorium on debt payments, an international commission to audit Greek debt, aggressive debt write-offs, deep redistribution of income and wealth, bank nationalisation, and a new industrial policy to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector. These measures are exactly what the Greek economy needs. Implementing them depends entirely on rejecting the recent bailout and stopping payments on the debt.

Syriza believes that the measures can be introduced while the country remains within the eurozone. It has been unwilling to call for Greek exit, thus increasing its appeal to voters who worry about the aftermath of exit and believe that the euro is integral to the European identity of Greeks. In my view, and that of many other economists, it would be impossible for Greece to stay in the eurozone if it went down this path. Moreover, exit would be both necessary and beneficial to the economy in the medium term, and remains the most likely outcome for Greece. If Syriza really wanted to contribute to solving the crisis, it should get itself ready for this eventuality.

Nonetheless, the pressing issue at the moment is to free the country from the stranglehold of debt and austerity. As long as Syriza is prepared to take action to achieve these aims, and the Greek people wish to give it the benefit of the doubt on the euro, its role can be positive. At the very least, it offers a chance for Greece to avoid a complete disaster that might truly lead to the rise of fascism.

The current round of domestic political negotiations is unlikely to lead to a government being formed, especially one that could continue to implement the terms of the bailout. There will probably be new elections in the near future and Syriza stands every chance of winning decisively, thus forming a coalition government of the anti-bailout forces. But for this, Syriza should realise its own limitations, and actively seek to create the broad political front that Greece needs.

It is important to seek unity at all times, avoiding both gloating and the ancient factionalism of the Greek left. Syriza will need the active co-operation of the rest of the left if it is to muster sufficient forces to deal with the storm ahead. It is equally important to improve its appeal to experienced and knowledgeable people across society, for it will need many more in its ranks.

Finally, if there is a new government led by Syriza, it will rely on the support of people across Europe to tackle the catastrophe inflicted on Greece by the eurozone crisis. The first major battle against austerity is about to begin in Greece, and all European people have an interest in winning it." (

2. Matthaios Tsimitakis:

"A winner stands out. This is Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), a previously minor party of the left. In the May 6 election, SYRIZA came in second place, tripling its share of the vote from the 2009 election. SYRIZA received 16.78 per cent of all votes, just two percentage points fewer than the conservative New Democracy party. SYRIZA “won” the elections not just because it came to be the rising force against an inept and corrupt political system, but because it managed to persuade the Greek public of two things:

1. That Greece’s problem is really a structural European problem; and

2. That the troika (the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Union) are waging a class war against workers’ rights, in Greece as well as the rest of Europe, with fiscal discipline as their main weapon.

This is extraordinary not only because of the historical significance of having a radical left party leading the conversation, but because it managed to bypass attempts to polarise the political agenda around issues such as illegal immigration, national security and social order, instead bringing to the forefront the issues of economic justice and social coherence.

Despite the apparent fragmentation of the political system of this small but symbolically important corner of Europe, the elections – considered by some European leaders to be an unacceptable luxury – have already had a cathartic effect. The elections seem likely to undo the state of emergency that the country has lived through, when every two or three months it needed to ensure the next instalment of the rescue package by imposing further austerity measures.

The elections also restore, to a certain extent, the self-confidence and pride of a people who have been repeatedly slandered in an almost racist fashion – not only by parts of the international press, but by its own government and its representatives in European and international fora.

sipras has managed to restore some dignity by turning the struggle for economic equality into a struggle for respect, justice, and democratic rule. Soon after he received the mandate to form a coalition government from Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Tsipras made the following statement:

“3,300,000 citizens abandoned the two parties of the memorandum and put an end to the plans for the elaboration of 79 new austerity measures in June, the plans for 150,000 lay-offs in the public sector and the extra measures of 11bn euro, which were supposed to be elaborated, starting next month. The Greek people decided: Neither 151 seats, nor 51 per cent, for the parties that support the memoranda.”

Tsipras also demanded that Greece’s two main parties (PASOK and New Democracy) withdraw their signatures from the bailout agreement before he negotiated a coalition government with them. He declared a set of five pre-conditions, among which were the cancellation of all anti-worker laws, the establishment of an audit committee to investigate the legitimacy of the Greek debt, and the cancellation of the bailout agreement.

As was expected, he failed to form a government. But he now dominates the political game in Greece, and is having an impact in the rest of Europe, too. During the two days that he held the mandate to form a leftist government, prices in stock markets fell, Fitch revised the possibility of a “Grexit” from the euro from 40 per cent to 50 per cent, and conservative European leaders felt forced to start putting pressure on newly elected French president Francois Hollande not to challenge the European stability pact.

Greeks are asking for a European Union that will not punish them for their politicians’ sins, but help them get their state together and put it back on the path of growth (one should not forget that Greece was the world’s 25th wealthiest state until a couple of years ago). SYRIZA might have a strategy to express this demand, and even achieve something for the benefit of the people." (

Discussion 2: After the Accord of 2015

How should constituent power (social movements) deal with constituted power (government parties)?

Theodoros Karyotis:

"Throughout the years of resistance to the neoliberal assault, two conceptions of politics played out within the social movements: on the one hand, politics as “the art of the possible,” related to the growing influence of SYRIZA in social struggles; on the other hand, politics as an exercise of radical imagination and experimentation, put forward by the commons-based alternatives.

Since 2010, the severe crisis of legitimation of the political system and its satellites—parties, trade unions, and so on—brought forward new political subjects and innovative projects that aimed to challenge the state and the capitalist market as the dominant organizing principles of social life, to propose new avenues towards social and economic wellbeing. Movements based on equality, solidarity, self-management and participation, which proposed innovative models of collective use and management of the commons.

Even when they do not explicitly state so, these movements are deeply anti-capitalist, as they aim to cut off the lifeline of European capitalism by weakening the market’s grip on society (through workplace occupations, solidarity economies, barter networks, food sovereignty, and the like) or by resisting attempts to commodify the natural commons (through movements against mining and water privatization, for instance).

Despite the admirable efforts of innumerable people across the country, these new commons-based movements failed to produce a political expression—and by political we should not necessarily understand electoral, but rather a unifying force to gather the disparate experiments in social creativity and bring them together into a coherent proposal of wholesale social change. SYRIZA took advantage of this shortcoming in the movements, allowing it to ride the wave of social mobilization in Greece and construct a solid hegemony within many social struggles in the past five years.

Syriza’s hegemony within many social struggles came at a great cost for the movements.

This hegemony, however, came at a great cost for the movements. By its nature, SYRIZA is much more understanding of the type of struggles that envision a stronger state as the mediator of social antagonisms. This has resulted in the curtailing of demands that did not fit into a coherent program of state management—including most projects that revolve around popular self-management of the commons.

Starting in 2012, the meteoric electoral rise of SYRIZA put an end to the crisis of legitimation, since it produced a long awaited institutional response to the crisis. With it came a relative demobilization, and a desire of institutionalization of the struggles. This desire was not peculiar to the Greek context: Spain is another country where powerful grassroots mobilization gave way to a desire to “storm the institutions” (“asaltar las instituciones”).

Important theorists who championed and celebrated the horizontal movements of 2011 soon found themselves seduced by the electoral rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and advocated for alliances between the grassroots and the rising left-wing parties that fought for control over the state—or in Negri’s terms, between constituent and constituted power.

Negri’s theory undercuts a lot of the analyses arising amid the post-squares hangover. As expressions of constituent power, the movements aim to transform social reality and propose alternatives from the bottom up. The party, by capturing the heights of the constituted power—the state and its institutions—is responsible for bringing about widespread social change, based on the social creativity of the constituent power.

While a small part of (the old) SYRIZA has always had a grassroots mentality, from 2010 onwards the party has invested quite a bit of effort in consolidating its influence within grassroots struggles. Despite having only a negligible presence within trade unionism—a sphere traditionally dominated by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the now near-extinct PASOK—SYRIZA steadfastly established its presence within all grassroots social struggles.

A strategic part of this was the founding of Solidarity4All, a party-funded organization which, despite having its legitimacy as a facilitator or mediator called into question repeatedly by many grassroots groups, has had a remarkable presence and activity among the endeavors in social and solidarity economy in Greece. Its organizational capacity, its ability to have full-time paid organizers, its access to funds and the media, and a promise of political solution to conflicts, allowed SYRIZA to establish a conflictive but lasting hegemony within the social movements.

Despite the centripetal influence of SYRIZA, the Greek grassroots movements have molded themselves into a genuine constituent power. Despite the centripetal influence of SYRIZA, the Greek grassroots movements have in the past five years molded themselves into a genuine constituent power, using their radical imagination to bring into being new institutions, new social relations and new approaches to the organization of social life. The occupation and self-management of the Vio.Me factory in Thessaloniki; the self-management by its own employees of ERT, the national broadcaster shut down by the previous government; the dozens of solidarity clinics; the proliferation of workers’ cooperatives; the proposal of Initiative 136 in Thessaloniki to bring the city’s water provider under citizens’ control—these are just a few of the more visible efforts to transform society through social self-initiative.

Has SYRIZA also fulfilled its part in the implicit bargain, that of the administrator of a “constituted power” that will turn these experiments in social self-determination into legitimate institutions? Has SYRIZA’s capture of state power been an opportunity for the movements to achieve institutional recognition of their demands and struggles?

Quite the contrary: it soon became obvious that SYRIZA’s state project does not quite dovetail with the demands of a society that is exploring ways to govern itself, but also that SYRIZA is unwilling or unable to deliver on its own electoral promises. This realization has led to a bitter divorce between SYRIZA and its former allies within the movements, and has largely lifted the veil of illusion regarding top-down solutions to social, environmental and class conflicts.

It has become obvious that SYRIZA’s state project does not quite dovetail with the demands of a society that is exploring ways to govern itself.

Of course it is evident today that the national government represents only a tiny part of real power. There are parts of the Greek state that are permanently out of reach of the government, especially the deep state of the judicial power, which is by its nature very conservative; the armed forces, which are penetrated by the extreme right; and the state’s entrenched bureaucracy. There is also, of course, the all-pervading power of the mass media and the oligarchy that controls them.

SYRIZA does not only seem incapable of confronting these powers; what is more, elements within the SYRIZA-led government (such as the influential former Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis) have actively aligned themselves with the domestic and international elites, thus guaranteeing the continuation of the policies of the previous governments in many areas.

This is not only a weakness inherent to SYRIZA: it is an indication of the inadequacy of modern representative democracy. Vast areas of real power are completely out of reach of democratic control, even for the flimsy democratic control afforded by the institutions of representation. Prime Minister Tsipras spent months reiterating that “we have the government but not the power.”

However, his vision for the active involvement of society goes as far as organizing impromptu pro-government demonstrations, as was the case during the recent debt negotiations and the mobilizations ahead of the referendum. This conception of “popular power” as an accessory to governmental power is simply a caricature of what a real popular democracy would look like.

So, what can a government that has a financial gun against its head do to deserve its “progressive” or “left-wing” credentials? Many people, both within the government and the movements, hoped that it could use its power to help expand the spaces of action of the popular movements, help safeguard the conquests of the popular struggles, side with the weak in their fight against the powerful.

Rather than raising a criticism of the government’s approach in the field of Greece’s relation with its creditors, a criticism which seems to be the main concern of the new Popular Unity party and most of the left-wing opposition, let us focus on lost opportunities and broken promises: let us look into some examples where the SYRIZA government, instead of ratifying what the popular struggles have conquered, has—by action or by inaction—sided with the old regime against those who have nominally been its “allies” in the previous years." (

Case studies on Syriza and the Commons

Syriza did not support commons solutios to the crisis, by Theodoros Karyotis: :

"Let us look into some examples where the SYRIZA government, instead of ratifying what the popular struggles have conquered, has—by action or by inaction—sided with the old regime against those who have nominally been its “allies” in the previous years.


Until it was shut down by the previous government in 2013, ERT was Greece’s national broadcaster. Many of the workers became unemployed and some found work at NERIT, the new public broadcaster set up exclusively on partisan criteria. A great number of militant media workers, however, occupied the ERT buildings and kept broadcasting in a self-managed way, with all decisions taken in a horizontal manner, and with the citizens playing a protagonistic role in shaping the broadcaster’s programming.

The workers thus set the blueprint for a new kind of public—or common, in this case—radio and television. They repeatedly described their vision in detailed proposals for the operation of ERT. SYRIZA was involved in the struggle and promised the broadcaster’s reinstatement and a victory for the proposals of the workers.

The government ignored society’s proposal to create a new model of broadcasting as a commons. However, the new law passed by the SYRIZA-led government in May totally disregards the period of self-management. It reinstates the workers under the same top-down structure and imposes a CEO of questionable intentions, with no provision for society’s involvement in content creation. The new management went as far as cancelling the shows of the media workers who heroically kept ERT open for two years as “too radical.” All in all, the government ignored society’s proposal to create a new model of broadcasting as a commons, and it reinstated the pre-crisis model of corporatized public television.


Vio.Me was a building materials factory in Thessaloniki. As so many other companies in Greece, the owners abandoned the workplace leaving millions in unpaid wages. The workers of the factory, with the support of a vibrant solidarity movement, seized the means of production, and have been manufacturing and distributing ecological detergents out of the recuperated workplace through horizontal and collective procedures.

However, the state-appointed trustee, in collusion with the ex-owners and powerful business interests, are trying to liquidate the premises, and thus create the legal ground to evict the Vio.Me cooperative. Through militant action and continuous struggle, the workers demanded a political solution to the conflict: that the state activates legal mechanisms of expropriation (since the state is one of the main creditors of bankrupt Vio.Me) to ensure the continuation of production.

The nominally “left-wing” government lacked in political will to side with the workers against capital. This mechanism, which has been used with significant success in Argentina, presupposes that employment, the continuation of production and society’s efforts to reactivate the ailing economy are valued higher than the private interests of those who want to see through the destruction of this experiment in popular industrial self-management. That is, it presupposes the political will to put the interests of the many over the interests of the few.

However, despite the initial commitment of the government to push forward a political solution and create an adequate legal framework, the corresponding ministers kept silent, and the promises to use governmental power against economic power remained unfulfilled. All the while, the trustee is stepping up the legal battle against the recuperated factory to anticipate any political solutions to the conflict. Despite the imminent threat of liquidation, the nominally “left-wing” government lacked in political will to side with the workers against capital.


In 2011, the government announced the privatization of the water and sewerage company of Thessaloniki. Democracy activists who were at the moment deliberating in the squares united with the water workers to propose an innovative model of water self-management as a commons. They created Initiative 136, with the aim of participating in the public tender to claim the water company in the name of the citizens, and bring it under social control through local non-profit cooperatives, inspired by the Bolivian water committees—briefly discussed in this issue by Oscar Olivera.

Syriza_WaterPoliticians linked to the SYRIZA party upheld the state management of the company and, totally unfamiliar with the vocabulary of the commons, tried to marginalize the plan of Initiative 136 and defame it as “popular capitalism”, despite the obvious absence of a profit motive.

Notwithstanding the internal divisions, Thessaloniki’s water movement organized to confront the common enemy, in the face of the transnational water company Suez. After a non-binding grassroots referendum that demonstrated the overwhelming opposition of Thessaloniki’s inhabitants, as well as a decision by the constitutional court that upheld the public character of water, the privatization process was paralyzed.

It is ironic that the party that claimed hegemony within Thessaloniki’s water movement will now oversee the partial privatization of the company: according to the terms of the new memorandum, a considerable part of the water company’s shares is up for grabs. Although the majority has to remain state-owned, in line with the court ruling, this partial privatization of the water company is only a preamble to capital’s assault on this vital element. The water movement now has to rise up against its former ally and today’s administrator of neoliberal policies.


In Skouries, Halkidiki, a gold mine is in development by the Canadian company Eldorado Gold in collaboration with AKTOR S.A., Greece’s “national contractor”, owned by Giorgos Bobolas, the personification of Greek oligarchic power. The local population has waged a long and radical struggle against the environmentally disastrous mine, which is built among the region’s old-growth forests, and which will poison the aquifers that provide irrigation and drinking water to an area of 500km2, endangering the local flora and fauna and putting on the line thousands of jobs in agriculture, bee-keeping and low-intensity tourism.

All the while, the mining company, despite having acquired the mining rights in a scandalous deal with corrupt politicians that was condemned by the European courts, uses the language of “progress” and “investment”, utilizing the miners as a human shield, effectively promoting a civil war climate in the area.

While in government, SYRIZA proved incapable of opposing the plans of the Eldorado mining company for the gold mine in Skouries. SYRIZA took a central role in the struggle while it was in opposition, but it always pushed for a “political” solution and it opposed the more radical actions of the movement and its efforts to coordinate and mobilize outside of formal institutions. While in government, it proved incapable of opposing the plans of the mining company. Instead of delivering on its electoral promise to cancel the mine, it engaged in a small-scale “bureaucratic war” with the mining company, revoking and re-examining permits, all the while reassuring the miners that their jobs are not in danger.

Even the halting of Eldorado’s activity in August 2015—perfectly timed with the announcement of national elections—does not seem to be aimed at stopping the mine, but rather at obliging the company to “adhere to environmental regulations”—seriously degraded by five years of structural adjustment. Prime Minister Tsipras declared that he cannot “destroy 5,000 jobs” by shutting down the mine—a gross overestimation of Eldorado’s real number of staff. This stance has already sparked mass resignations of party members in the area.

The anti-mining movement is now well aware that the strategy of the government is to gain political time, without planning to confront national and transnational capital in the area. Trusting SYRIZA’s “political solution” now looks like a lot of wasted time, while the police keep violently repressing all protest and the judicial powers go on criminalizing the struggle and prosecuting local residents in the hundreds." (

Discussion 3: Why did Syriza surrender ?

Analysis by

Excerpted from an interview by George Souvlis, of Andreas Karitzis:

* On Syriza’s strategy after the defeat of the new memorandum agreement: can we perhaps historicize this defeat by separating it in two different moments? The first one is between two electoral periods, 2012 and January of 2015. Which were the main pitfalls of the party during this period?

As you can imagine, there are various levels of analysis for this question. I will focus on examples of internal party functioning that reveal the underlying conditions in terms of political imagination, methodology and organizational principles that shaped the range of our preparation, rhetoric, decisions and the eventual strategy.

In the summer of 2012 – in the midst of a joyful atmosphere that comes with being the major opposition party – there was a fundamental issue, at least to my mind, we had to address: the allocation of human and financial resources. We had the opportunity to employ several hundred people, mainly due to having a larger parliamentary group than before. The allocation of human and financial resources is not a secondary issue but the material basis of one’s political strategy. However, instead of engaging in a serious assessment of the present and future needs of the party and an operational distribution of resources (for social organizing, the growth of neo-Nazi groups, trade-union organising, preparation for being in government and for the negotiation process, and so on), there was instead an attitude of “business as usual”. The traditional political imagery, methodology and priorities prevented SYRIZA from assessing the importance of the “material” conditions for its political strategy of countering austerity and neoliberalism. SYRIZA didn’t focus on this crucial issue of preparing for government, and instead reproduced outdated organizational modes and habits.

The outcome was that it maintained the traditional priorities and party functions, as if this were a normal time of social and political activity. The inertia that came with seeing parliamentary work as the most important duty of the party, mainly under the influence of the MPs who tend to prioritize their work in political planning together with the fact that the MPs were the ones who employ all these people, created a framework that ended up with only small changes. That is, a bit more collective work within the parliamentary group, the solidarity4all institution and a minimal increase in various aspects of party functioning. Instead of having a radical rearrangement of forces, SYRIZA just improved the traditional ways of party functioning which were becoming outdated and insufficient to back up its political strategy.

Another example is the exponential deterioration of collective internal functioning. The problem I would like to underline is not the obviously negative fact of the marginalization of democratic decision-making and accountability. The problem was even deeper. During this period, the implicit premise that rapidly transformed the political behavior in the party was that the competing views within SYRIZA should be promoted via the occupation of key-positions in the parliamentary group, the government and the state, after a victorious electoral result. This premise led to marginalization of collective planning, competition between groups and individuals and the fragmentation of SYRIZA. Fragmentation deprived the political organs of the ability to collect information, assess it and deploy a complex strategy. Eventually, enormous amount of time was consumed in the efforts of the political personnel to take the lead regarding future positions in the parliamentary group and the government. Of course there was always a political reasoning justifying this move to ever increasing competition among various groups and individuals.

The interesting thing was that the decline of internal collective functioning was predicated on an implicit common premise. That is, that what is needed to stop austerity and neoliberal transformation was an electoral victory along with people supporting the government through demonstrations. Apart from that, the only thing that seemed to matter was who and what group would have more influence and hold the key-positions in the government and the state.

There was an ignorance and indifference towards issues such as the subtleties and the complexities of the implementation process when in government, the operational demands of the negotiation process (multi-level, multi-personal, highly coordinated processes etc), and the methodology and the expertise needed to mobilize people in order to develop alternative ways of running basic social functions. Let me add here that it is necessary to gain some degrees of autonomy in terms of performing basic social functions in order to stop the strategies of the elite (in any way one may think is the right one), since the latter have unchecked control over those functions and can easily inflict collective punishment on a society that dares to defy its power. Issues like these necessarily promote a collective/democratic functioning instead of fragmentation and competition and a focus on people’s capacities and methods of “extracting” them effectively in order to upgrade people’s leverage.

The underestimation of similar issues was even more striking at the Programme Committee and its working groups. It was extremely difficult (if not impossible) to restructure the forms of work from the usual articulation of lists of demands towards managerial/organizational issues regarding steps and methods to implement our policies. Instead, they were sites of political argumentation in the most general and abstract terms.

The ignorance and indifference towards questions of how you implement power was supported by the dominant rhetoric within SYRIZA: that the crucial issues are political and not technical. So all we have to do is decide what we want to do, rather than explore the ways in which we can implement them. The implicit premise here was that the crucial point was to be in the government taking political decisions and then, somehow, these decisions would be implemented by some purely technical state mechanisms.

Apart from the fact that this attitude contradicted with what we were saying regarding the corrosive effect of the neoliberal transformation of the state and the complexities of being in the EU and the Eurozone, the major problem was that a mentality like this ignores the obvious fact that the range of one’s political potential in government is determined by what one knows how to do with the state. The implementation process is not a “technicality” but the material basis of the political strategy. What was considered to be the political essence, namely the general, strategic discussion and decision is just the tip of the iceberg of state-politics. Instead of just being a “technicality”, the implementation of political decision is the biggest part of state politics. Actually, it’s where the political struggle within the state becomes hard, and the class adversaries battle to shape reality. The tip is not going to move the iceberg by itself as long as it is not supported by multi-level implementational processes with a clear orientation, function and high-levels of coordination. This is the integrated concept of state-politics that we have forgotten in practice and by doing so we tend to fail miserably whenever we approach power.

Being at the leadership of SYRIZA during the period of preparation for power, I came to the conclusion that one major failure of the Left is that it lacks a form of governmentality which matches up with its own logic and values. We miss a form of administration that could run basic social functions in a democratic, participatory and cooperative way. The fact that we are talking about a current inside the Left which includes governmental power within its strategy, the low level of awareness regarding the importance of these governmental processes (among other equally worrying weaknesses) reflects the degree of obsolescence of the Left organizations and justifies fully the need for a radical redesign of the “Operating System” of the Left.

* A second period would be between the electoral victory of Syriza and the signing of the third MOU past August. What about this period? Were there mistakes and miscalculations made by the party’s leadership during this time?

I think that the mistakes made during this period reveal crucial structural weaknesses of SYRIZA – and of the political left more broadly – due to the inability to adapt to the new way you must do politics in the institutionalised neoliberal framework of the EU and the Eurozone.

It seems that the weaknesses of SYRIZA in power resulted from the failed preparations in the previous period that I mentioned above. The appointment of government officials was dictated by the outcome of the internal power games during the previous period, and their mandate was to do whatever they could do in vague terms without having concrete action plans that would support a broader government plan.

In the same vein, there weren’t any organisational “links” that would align the government actions with the party functioning and the social agents willing to support and play a crucial role in a very difficult and complex conjecture. The lack of connecting processes was mainly – among other things – the outcome of a widely shared traditional political mentality that reduces, firstly, the party from a network for the massive coordination of people’s action, deliberation and production of popular power into a speech making device that supports the government, and, secondly, peoples’ mobilization from a generator of real popular power and leverage against the elites’ hostility into traditional forms of demonstration.

The government was gradually isolated and the pressure on it from various domestic and international agents initiated a process of adjustment of the new government to the existing neoliberal norms and regulations. Deprived of any real tool for reshaping the battlefield, the government and the party gradually moved from fighting against financial despotism towards merely a pool of political personnel with a good reputation that could reinvigorate the neoliberal project. In an era with a complex network of political antagonisms and class struggles, SYRIZA, as a collective agent, couldn’t even realise the form of the fight it had been involved in. This is still true for plenty of people in the Greek Left today, but things are changing and the difficulties force us to adapt.

The negotiation process and especially the way it had been understood and experienced within SYRIZA is indicative of the sloppy and cursory way that preparation for power took place, and of the inability of the party to adapt. But it also reveals the underlying premises that supported those qualities. Starting with the agreement of the 20th of February until the day that the lenders announced that the only real possibility was the continuation of the neoliberal project (1st of June), a pattern emerged regarding the way in which the government and party officials assessed what was occurring. Although the negative indications were overwhelming compared with the hopeful ones, they were focusing on the latter, distorting reality. Or better, they were replacing reality with what they hoped for; what they would have liked to be reality. I am not saying that the problem was that government and party officials were being dishonest; although some of them might be; individual dishonesty cannot explain a collective pattern.

The non-existent reality they were clinging onto was the only one in which the traditional political left knows how to do politics. And since people and collectives are determined not by what they say but by what they know how to do (a material dictum that has been forgotten in political left), it is impossible to become relevant with the real reality without a modification of methodologies, organizational principles and political imageries related to a practice that reflects reality. The problem was that collectively we hadn’t adapted sufficiently into how to do politics in reality. In the case of lack of adaptation of this kind, reality will be imposed on people and collective bodies the hard way…

This non-existent reality that government and party officials were clinging on to was built on the assumption that the elites were committed to accepting the democratic mandate of an elected government. If they do not like the policies that it promotes, they would have to engage in a political fight; opposition parties must convince the people that the policies are not desirable or successful and use the democratic process for a new government of their preference to be elected.

Supposedly, the post-war global balance of forces inscribed in the state institutions a considerable amount of popular power, rendering them quasi-democratic. This consists simply in tolerating – on behalf of the elites – a situation where people without considerable economic power have access to crucial decisions. SYRIZA knew how to do politics based on the premise that the institutionalised (in the past) popular power was not exhausted. By winning the elections, the remaining institutional power – mainly in the form of state power and international respect of national sovereignty – would be enough and it would be used to stop austerity (in all versions of how that would happen, within eurozone, leaving eurozone etc). Based on the premise that the framework within which politics is being conducted hasn’t changed significantly, SYRIZA did what the traditional way of doing politics dictates: supported social movements, built alliances, won a majority in the parliament, formed a government. We all know the results of doing politics only in this way today.

During that summer, the gap between the kind of politics we collectively knew how to do and the new reality grew massively, producing both hilarious and tragic events. The referendum and its aftermath was definitely the peak of this. From the “traditional way of doing politics” point of view, we were using all democratic means available. It was obvious to me and others that we were engaged in an escalation that was not supported by anything that would make the lenders accept a compromise. The traditional, democratic means are simply outdated for doing politics in the new European despotism (although, if embedded in a different methodology of politics, they can still be very useful). But it was a way for the people to step in at a historic moment and give a global message that transcends the SYRIZA government and its short-term plots.

During the week of the referendum a massive biopolitical experiment took place: the closure of the banks; the extreme propaganda by the media, the threats by the domestic, European and international political and financial establishment; the terrorism in workplaces; the hostility and threats towards “no” supporters on interpersonal level and so on, created an environment we have never encountered before. Our opponents used all their resources and they lost! Greek people refused to voluntarily declare that they embrace a life without dignity in order to avoid a sudden death. We are talking about an extremely hopeful and important event for the battle against neoliberalism. Greek people proved that the biopolitical control and influence over people is not so powerful as we might think it is. The message was crystal-clear and gave courage to plenty of us despite the ominous predictions for the immediate future: the battle is not over yet; human societies will not surrender easily.

On the side of SYRIZA, the transformation of government and party officials had already occurred. The Greek government didn’t negotiate strictly speaking. There wasn’t a coherent negotiation strategy, no improvement of our position in time, no gaining of some leverage, etc. There was only a desperate act of postponing a decision it had to make. By the time that the referendum took place, things had changed. The leadership had shifted the central features of its assessment regarding how best to serve peoples’ needs: from “non-compliance with financial despotism” to “stay in power”. What happened after the agreement is just the natural outcome of this process of adjustment." (


Unitary party

In July 2013, a SYRIZA Party Congress was held to discuss the organization of the party. Important outcomes included a decision in principle to dissolve the participating parties in SYRIZA in favour of a unitary party. However, implementation was deferred for three months to allow time for four of the parties which were reluctant to dissolve to consider their positions. Tsipras was confirmed as leader with 74% of the vote. However delegates supporting the Left Platform (Greek: "Αριστερή Πλάτφορμα") led by Panayiotis Lafazanis, which wants to leave the door open to quitting the euro, secured 30%(60) of the seats on SYRIZA's central committee.[47] A modest success was also claimed by the "Communist Platform" (Greek section of the International Marxist Tendency), who managed to get two members elected to the party's central committee.[1]

2014 elections

Local elections and elections to the European Parliament were held in May 2014. In the European elections Syriza placed first with just over 26.5% of votes cast, ahead of New Democracy on 22.7%. The position in the local elections was less clear-cut, due to the number of "non-party" local tickets and independents contending for office. Syriza's main success was the election of Rena Dourou to the Attica Regional governorship with 50.8% of the second-round vote over the incumbent Yiannis Sgouros. Its biggest disappointment was the failure of Gabriel Sakellarides to win the Athens Mayoralty election, being beaten in the second ballot by Giorgos Kaminis with 51.4% to his 48.6%.

Situation in 2015

Still radical

While Rosa Luxemburg may adorn its offices, Syriza is not the revolutionary force that her Spartacists represented in Germany a century ago.

As the party draws closer to real power, it has softened many of its sharp edges and tried to build bridges, even with City hedge funds. Syriza is vowing to keep Greece within the eurozone and has reassured creditors it will refrain from unilateral decisions on the debt issue.

Far from being destructive, Syriza's political proposals offer a reasonable way out of austerity and a chance to replace existing bailout laws with new ones, argues political economist Yanis Varoufakis.

"The first priority is renegotiating with creditors. Syriza needs to speak the language of truth about the continuing triple bankruptcy of the country - public debt, banks, private sector - something no Greek government has done so far. Then they need to table positions that the average German will find reasonable."

But Syriza and its 40-year-old leader are still seen by many in the Greek and European establishment as unknown and potentially dangerous quantities.

Mr Tsipras has warned markets that they "will have to dance to the tune" of his government, while Syriza promises to boost public spending, reverse privatisations, increase salaries and pensions and repeal bailout laws liberalising the markets.

Nikos Samanidis emphasises that the prospect of power has not blunted the radical nature of the party, despite its meteoric rise from relative obscurity to frontrunner in little over two years.

"The rich, the elites, the markets, the super-rich, the top 10%, yes, they obviously do have reason to worry," he says.

"They will lose their privileges. Our voter base has expanded greatly, but the grassroots, radical nature of Syriza has been preserved thanks to the crisis. Our party has not and will not sever its ties with the streets, with the social movements it arose from."