The following is a letter to the Turkish and Kurdish organisation Day Mer by Kevin Ovenden regarding the situation in Greece and the lessons for the Left
Dear brothers and sisters, comrades and friends,
May I offer my sincerest apologies to you and to the organisers of today’s meeting. I very much wished to be with you to take part in this vital discussion about how the movements against austerity, racism and war in Europe – which we may for our purposes today extend to the Turkish state – organise politically.
I had planned to fly back to London last night to take part. I hope you will understand why I have not been able to. I am in Athens. You know that in that country which many of you know well as a neighbour in common struggle the working class and its allies have given the greatest battle against the elites and reaction for five very hard years.
That battle did not end with the historic fruit it bore in January – the election of the Syriza-led government from the left. It hails from the political tradition in Greece which was gunned down in civil war, exiled, jailed under dictatorship and marginalised by the political system.
For five months the concerted power of the European capitalist class, including the Greek, and its political instruments on the disgraced social democratic centre-left and the increasingly chauvinist and racist centre-right have sought to erase that victory.
They have shown that there is no progress through seeking rational debate, argument and friendly negotiation with them. There is progress only through a struggle. The Greek government did all that negotiation. It showed that the policy of the Troika – as the policy of David Cameron’s hard right government in Britain – is not good for the economy, not good for Europe, not good for Britain.
The negotiations have revealed a truth which many of us on the radical left had learnt from previous experience, including from the struggle of people’s in Turkey for democracy and social justice. The elites do not care about something called the economy, or Europe, or Greece, Britain, Turkey… They care about the interests of the capitalist class, of capital. That is a different thing. It has its own “capitalist national interests”. And it has a collective interest against working people everywhere. This is what the EU is about in both those aspects.
This has become more and more evident to the popular masses in Greece who voted for the left – Syriza and the left as a whole – in January. On Friday 26 June, the popular feeling registered directly in the political system. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras rejected, as thousands of us who demonstrated outside the parliament last weekend had demanded, the humiliating terms of the Troika.
There will be a referendum on Sunday 5 July to give a popular Oxi, No, Hayir to the forces of capitalism and reaction across the continent. Some will hope that the referendum – an unpredictable bourgeois mechanism – will put the popular revolt back in the old framework which has been rejected by many people in Greece at the heights of struggle over the last five years.
The government may hope that it will simply be a bargaining chip to secure a less humiliating deal from the Troika. That all may be so. But that is their business.
What is gathering now and in the next few days is a popular No. A No from the society. A social movement around a plebiscite. This is what friends in Greece have taken from the practical experience of the victorious referendum on sexual equality in Ireland and the Scottish referendum campaign.
This No is not just to the bad deal, but to the political order which has bled the working masses of Greece dry over the last five years. It is not a No to political engagement. It is a yes to a different politics, based upon popular mobilisation and directly challenging the instruments of oppression and exploitation.
Friends across the Greek radical left and social movements here have also drawn strength from the historic advance of the democratic, left and Kurdish forces in the last legislative elections in the Turkish state: teşekkür ederim, s’efharisto, thank you.
The evolution and development of the radical left is complex. There are national specificities. There are also some generalised lessons. I want to offer some here:
1 without struggle there is no progress. The growth of the radical left in Greece (also in the Spanish state, today in Germany with its beginnings of recovery of the labour movement and so on) is inseparable from the development of, and its immersion in, mass, collective social struggle.
This is what happened in Greece in the course of not only the struggles during the crisis years, but back to the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements at the turn of the millennium.
2 the left does not grow automatically or because of its analysis of the struggle or moment. It grows (or not) according to what it is seen to do to advance that struggle.
3 that means responding to sharp turning points and being prepared to offer a principled, internationalist argument even when it is not universal in the movement or popular. When young people rose up in Greece in December 2008 after the police killed a 15 year old schoolboy, Alexis Grigoropoulos, the best of the radical left supported the young people.
They did not gain votes in the election nine months later. But they gained a) the trust of many radicalising young people and b) the militant core among themselves without which the left can buckle and bend to the pressure from our enemies.
4 we cannot achieve anything worthwhile without principles – internationalism, militant anti-racism, complete strategic opposition to the neo-liberal capitalist order. But principles must find popular expression and become real in lived struggles. That requires tactical and strategic assessment and goals.
5 a condition for that to take place is that all wings of the movement and of the serious left are in communication with one another inside the common endeavours of the movements we seek to lead. There is a rich and involved discussion about socialist strategy. I cannot do justice to that here.
What I can say is that that discussion is ongoing, it is permanent, it does involve arguments and differences of assessment within ourselves. That is all good. Provided that it is within the common struggle we all participate in and that we all raise ourselves to the level of that struggle in terms of the intelligence, courage, and wisdom of what we have to say and how we try to lead.
6 organisation. Without organisation our side is nothing. How we organise and in what parties and so on is not laid down by some eternal principle. It is concrete and depends on so many factors.
But before organisation comes politics – radical left, principled politics based upon the fighting potential of the working class and its allies.
In Britain, we have sometimes looked at the organisational question at the expense of the prior task of winning common action and common understanding over the politics of what we do.
The organisational debate will not be resolved tomorrow. The political minimum agreement to give force to the movements against austerity, racism and war must be arrived at sooner rather than later.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) decided to support the mobilisation in solidarity with Greece on Monday of this week.
Following the 250,000-strong anti-austerity demonstration called by the People’s Assembly two weekends ago the TUC then decided to call a demonstration outside the Tory party conference in Manchester this autumn.
One conclusion is evident from this. If you want to move the big forces of the labour movement then you need to take initiatives aimed at mobilising wider layers.
The condition for that is that the left is organised. The prior condition is that it is independent politically of the bureaucracies and old political expressions – social democracy – of the movement and is prepared at all times to seek a fighting unity with those who see the need to fight.
And it as against the logic of that battle that all political positions, strategies and organisations will be measured.
Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.
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