I met Panagiotis Morakis on a quiet Sunday afternoon in a cafe near Syntagma Square in Athens shortly before Greece’s September election.
He is 28 years old, was born in Athens and is currently unemployed. He left Syriza in late August to join the new radical left group, Popular Unity. Whilst we discussed for over two hours many of his friends passed by and said hello. This included Mariza, a young feminist comrade from Syriza Youth, who was to stand for Popular Unity in the 20 September elections. Morakis, like thousands of young people in Greece, has been at the sharp end of the crisis. He tells me that most of his friends work “illegally” in precarious work, for less than the minimum wage, or without national insurance contributions. He described the high levels of mental health problems amongst the young. For Morakis, what is most painful is that, without political change, he could see no future for his generation.
DLC: Prior to the election of Syriza in January 2015, what was going on in Syriza youth?
PM: After Syriza came second in the elections of 2012, there was a necessity to form a single party. This meant the many disparate youth sections became a single youth section. In December 2013 Syriza Youth was established at a conference. It was one member, one vote. It was democratic, and always on the left of the Party. There were three major factions in Syriza Youth. Firstly, there was “Anasynthesis”, which made up 48%: it was broadly euro-communist (that is, broadly against Stalinist practices) and mainly made up of Synaspismos members. Its main focus was with “liberation” matters: feminism, LGBT rights and so on. They believed that you can overcome capitalism by way of creating a model society. For example, you may create a small business without bosses — this would act as an example for society to change. At this time it was opposed to exit from the Eurozone, although this later changed. Secondly, there was the “Left Movement”. They are close and loyal to the leadership, and made up about 35%. Lastly, there was the Left Platform’s youth faction, which made up 17%. In this faction, Left Stream and DEA were the major organisations. Syriza Youth had local committees in neighbourhoods and in universities. They were separate from the local groupings of the party. There was a lively democratic life: there were regular debates and votes at a local, regional and national level. There was a central committee of 71 people, of which I was a member; and also a committee of 15 above this that ran the work of the section, of which I was also a member.
DLC: If, hypothetically, I was a left-wing member of Syriza youth in late 2014, I would encourage debate and discussion about what Syriza should do in government, and encourage planning on the role of the youth section once Syriza forms a government. Did such discussions take place?
PM: Prior to the election there was a shutting down of democracy which affected all members of Syriza. For example, the public documents and decisions of Syriza were not being followed by the leadership. The entirety of the youth section criticised this, as did every faction. But because we were independent we were largely unaffected. At this time some people — mainly the Left Movement and some from Anasynthesis — who were saying that we must form a government at any cost. They did not foresee that anything like what has happened later.
DLC: What were the Left Platform faction in the youth arguing for?
PM: We said that it does not matter what the leading team in Syriza wants to do, it is about what can be done. We argued that it was not possible to do things inside the Eurozone; we would be trapped. We also argued for our programmatic demands to cut the debt, to nationalise the banks and so on. Whilst we were doing this we were working together even if we had our differences. We all believed that this party, if elected, would make a difference.
DLC: 25 January 2015, Syriza is elected: what was happening in Syriza Youth?
PM: It was something strange. Up to the referendum, there were protests backing the government. This was something I had never seen. Of course we were participating in this and continuing to argue for our politics. There was the deal of 20 February, in which it was decided the government could not act without permission from the eurozone. Some of Syriza’s youth thought that Tspiras was doing his best, and that Syriza would still succeed. They believed that they couldn’t kick us out of the eurozone without damage, and that we had the upper hand. That we could find a mutually beneficial agreement. They didn’t see what the 20 February agreement signified.
DLC: Was there an attempt to shift the policy of Syriza youth to put pressure on the government at that point to change course?
PM: Yes, there were debates in the central committee. We were meeting every two months. The Left Platform were arguing that Syriza had to have an alternative plan in case something went wrong. Moreover, we have to prepare the people for alternatives. We were also concerned that some promised improvements, such as an increase in the minimum wage, were not forthcoming. In May 2015 we decided that we would have a second youth conference in July. In June 2015, our Syriza Youth Central Committee sent a resolution to the Central Committee of Syriza stating our opposition to its plans; we said the party had to prepare plans to exit the eurozone. This was pushed for by Anasynthesis and Left Platform comrades. However, since 2012, a result of the decline in democracy in Syriza, the leadership did not care about what the youth were saying. Syriza Youth was said to be “silly kids”, saying “lefty” stuff, and so on.
DLC: And now?
PM: Syriza Youth supported the referendum with all its powers. We succeeded in a way: 75% of the youth voted “oxi” — this was a significant victory. We were delighted but also scared. We understood that this may lead to leaving the eurozone. But the”agreement” that would later lead to the third memorandum was reached in Brussels a week or so later. We held the last Central Committee of Syriza Youth after the agreement. At this committee meeting there was shock and disbelief that the agreement had been signed. There was a debate about when to have a party conference — before the third memorandum was to be signed, or after. People arguing for the latter said we had lost and should decide what to do next. People said that Greece might sign the third memorandum, but we can start to make an alternative plan to evade it. As a Left Platform we were arguing for a party conference immediately before the memorandum was signed. Unfortunately Anasynthesis and Left Movement won the debate. They argued that whilst we should not support the third memorandum, we should go to a conference after the memorandum was signed. This was the first time that the Syriza Youth section collectively said that we should start making plans to exit the eurozone, even if the government sign. As a Left Platform we were pleased with this, but unhappy that we did not have an immediate conference. This was a mistake in our view: there was no clear instruction to Syriza MPs about what they should do in Parliament as regards the vote for or against the memorandum. Some MPs voted Yes, some voted No. [A party conference was finally called (after the signing of the memorandum) and then was cancelled.] Most of Left Platform anticipated that something like this would happen.However, the other two factions, who had supported the initiative of going to a conference in September felt betrayed. They felt that Tspiras had signed this memorandum; that he had agreed to a conference to discuss the future of the party; and then, without asking anyone, and against the wishes of the Central Committee, there were going to be elections. This was a breaking point for most in Syriza Youth. The Left Platform at this time wasn’t sure even if it would leave Syriza as there was going to be a conference. As elections were called, we decided to leave Syriza and form Popular Unity (PU). For a long time the other Syriza Youth factions weren’t sure what to do. I, alongside seven other Syriza Youth Central Committee members, left Syriza on 25 August. Those who remained tried to have a Central Committee but they couldn’t reach quoracy for the meeting. On 27 August another 37 members of the Central Committee decided to leave Syriza. This was a combination of Left Stream and DEA members, most of who will join PU. Of the Anasynthesis members that have left, most are part of that 37. Some intend to have their own conference. Some will also join PU.
DLC: In Syriza Youth’s leaving statement they touch on reassessing their stance on the eurozone and EU as bastions of neoliberalism; they definitely place their emphasis on European and internationalist solidarity. They seem to implicitly criticise the Popular Unity for advocating an elusive national road to socialism, for being confined to the parliamentary road and not placing enough emphasis on dual power and structures and formations from below, from the rank and files. For being a recooked Syriza without sharp working-class politics, for being confined within capitalism and trying to use outdated tools of currency and devaluing currency to get out of the crisis; of placing emphasis on restructuring of production and productivism. An extract: “We think that because nothing will be given to us, society must be able to claim everything and therefore we place emphasis on the forms of social organisation and the organisation of power from below. It is with this thought path that we conceive the break with the eurozone and the EU with a left, radical sign which simultaneously becomes a means to unfold an internationalist strategy by European working classes, far from any sense of national retrenchment or exit from the crisis through ‘competitiveness’. We believe that the social democratic demands and benefit programmes and exacerbated productivism are outdated.”
PM: It is criticism made of PU and was criticism of the Left Platform of Syriza. How do I respond to this? I think there is no way to have “national” socialism in a country surrounded by capitalist countries; I don’t think that [a change of] currency itself will change things. Returning to the national currency could be chosen by a right-wing government. What we say as PU is stop austerity and end the memorandum — this is the way to have jobs, to have public education. There could be a development in the agricultural system. Greece has a rich agriculture, but due to European Union rules some of it is left behind. We need to try to use agriculture as a means to increase jobs. In order for this to happen we will have to leave the Eurozone. Because the Eurozone is not just a currency , it is a set of free market policies and economic rules that, if you are in the eurozone, you have to obey. We don’t think that returning to the drachma will magically solve things. We have our programme. We say that if you want that to become a reality then you have to return to the national currency. There have been many countries that have done things that we support, like Venezuela. Producing something and selling it in order to buy something does not antagonise the other working classes. The best thing for other European working-classes would be to witness a country fighting capitalism and to win, to see that another way of running society is possible. Let [our fight] be a good example. PU is a coalition of left parties; and in working together we should not think there is an absolute truth. That way belong to the past. I think that having different opinions is worthwhile. Therefore while I disagree with the criticism of PU’s strategy, I don’t see it will lead us down different roads. I think debate is needed for PU. I have encouraged people to come to PU to debate.