A New Strategy

Yiannos Giannopoulos

As the Greek elections approach, the Left is determined to keep alive the alternative to austerity.

A Popular Unity rally on September 15, ahead of the September 20 election. Epoca Libera / Flickr

Interview by

In this interview, Yiannos Giannopoulos, a civil engineer and now candidate with Popular Unity, discusses why Syriza’s time in power ended in “strategic defeat” and what the Left can do differently going forward.

The interview was originally conducted by AnalyzeGreece! in the lead-up to tomorrow’s important election vote. Syriza is looking to finish ahead of New Democracy and form a government, while Popular Unity will have to pass the 3 percent threshold to have any parliamentary representation at all.


How do you evaluate the experience of the government of the Left these seven months?

Yiannos Giannopoulos

In order to draw useful conclusions for a new strategy for the Greek and the European radical left in general I think that we should focus on the main picture and not parts of the government’s action. The first government of the Left in a eurozone country during the crisis years ended up in a strategic defeat. The defeat is probably most due to the shortcomings of our (since I was a member of the Youth of Syriza till recently) analysis for the eurozone, and not the way of governing itself.

However, I would like to stress three important issues. The first one is that during the negotiations with the lenders, the movements’ role was completely underestimated. The government did not try to use the power generated by the motivation of the masses to support its position in the negotiations in general, with the exception of a short time interval before the agreement of the twentieth of February, and the week before the memorandum.

The second one, which is linked to the first, is that no changes were made to the structure of the state that could have allowed the people — the productive forces of our society, the ones that experience the problems and can, hence, address the problems more directly — to propose solutions. A wider and deeper democracy — that has no financial cost — was not established. Moreover, and here comes the third point, not even the democratic force within Syriza was taken into consideration.

The party was totally absorbed by the state, exactly in the way that Michalis Nikolakakis predicted some months ago, and so were its chain of command and decisions. People in key state positions were playing a significant role, whereas party officials had no idea what was going on. This meant that the government lost track of the society and the party, and it also probably explains the confidence of Alexis Tsipras to pronounce the elections, probably expecting that the party would not undergo major losses.

We might want to reread the enlightening interview between Aristides Baltas with Leo Panitch, where the most famous Greek Althusserian philosopher practically tries to relativize structuralism, while he admits that spending twelve hours per day in the ministry did not allow him to communicate with the party.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the things the government did do for the prison system, higher education, and migration policies. Sectors where the government really tried to implement a different logic in its first steps, and this is why the polemic of the bourgeois opposition concentrated on these fields. These progressive reforms are going to be fought against by the right wing of the probable government coalition that is going to be formed after the elections.


After the whole period of negotiations, we would like your opinion on (a) the eurozone and whether Greece should stay or not in it, and (b) the European Union (EU) as a field of struggle (for the movement, the Left, etc).

Yiannos Giannopoulos

Being a member of the left Eurocommunist tendency of Syriza, I thought that the strategy of changing the equilibrium of power or implementing anti-neoliberal policies inside this eurozone was possible. I think that we must honestly admit that we made a huge mistake there. The threat to destroy the currency was not enough, let aside that we did not even have a plan for that.

Moreover, I think that we somehow subconsciously assumed that the Left would rise in parallel in other European countries. We actually made the same mistake that the architects of the euro made. We did not take the economic crises into consideration, and during the crises, the political changes that took place in the affected countries are really asymmetric.

The dilemma we are actually facing is not euro or drachma. It is euro or democracy. The political importance of crushing the different example that could be made by the Left is much more important to the ruling classes of Europe than the cost of taking the risk of a Grexit.

The common currency might not survive such an event, but we will not find out till it happens, and it seems as if Dr Schäuble is very willing to take the risk. Apart from the fact that no one believes that the new memorandum can be implemented successfully, and that the Grexit may lead to an even worse situation after the end of the program.

In addition, the clash of the ruling classes of Europe against each other during the crisis that is still not over cannot let anyone be reassured that there might not be a schism in the eurozone caused by France or Italy in the next years, since some of the capitalists in these countries would favor exiting the euro. It is shortsighted not to have a plan B after everything that happened during the negotiations, even if one would not choose this path himself.

Regarding the EU, I think that we shouldn’t rush to answer this question. However, leaving the eurozone might have to be combined with leaving the EU. We have to analyze if it is possible to stay in the EU and follow our own policies in strategic areas, such as energy production and distribution, or the common agricultural policies, while the common EU, and not just the eurozone policy, is strictly neoliberal.

In any case, we must not ignore the importance of the international character of our strategy. Even if we need to leave the EU to be able to exercise independent policy, Europe remains a geographical space where a socialistic strategy can prosper, due to historical, political, and economic reasons, and we should not forget that.


The Greek left, after several years of initiatives of collaboration like Syriza and Antarsya, is again being split and divided. How do you evaluate the current situation, and what do you believe are the future perspectives?

Yiannos Giannopoulos

I am deeply concerned that we may experience a similar situation to the Italian left in the last decades. Numerous splits and social-democratic mutations that will bury the ability of the Left to form a massive movement to take power. And this is what we need nowadays — fighting for our rights is not enough. If one also takes into consideration the really poor situation of the Greek syndicates, the concern grows.

However, the formation of Popular Unity as something that wants to evolve into a front is a step for the Left to survive from the crash and the mutation. The previsions would be more optimistic if the cooperation with Antarsya had been achieved. This did not happen, though. Syriza will continue to dissolve, and we need to start to discuss very seriously after the elections on how we will manage to create a new party that will be able to serve our new strategy.


What do you think are the immediate political priorities for Popular Unity after the elections of September 20? (Basic demands, priorities, fronts of collaboration, and tasks.)

Yiannos Giannopoulos

The importance of the electoral success of Popular Unity is to have a strong left in the central political scene after the elections (since the Communist Party acts as if it does not want to be involved with real politics, especially after suggesting to voters to cast an invalid vote in the referendum). From this position it will be able to help the struggles of the next day to blossom again.

However, we must not be fooled. The question now is not whether we will be able to gain part of what we lost in recent years. We need to form a proposal and a plan to gain power — not only governmental, but political power in general, inside, outside, and against the state and the ruling class’s coalition, which will not retreat easily.

This will be a very tough thing to achieve since almost none of the really big enterprises wants to leave the euro, perhaps apart from the pharmaceutical industries. We need to build a plan that will confront and “detour” the classic capitalistic economic and administrative functions of our society as we know it, a plan that one would call, in traditional terms, semi-revolutionary.


In recent years, Greece became the center of interest for the international movement because of the struggle of Greek people against austerity and also because of Syriza becoming the first left government. Where do you think we stand today after the signing of the third memorandum? What is your message to the people that struggle in Europe and in the whole world?

Yiannos Giannopoulos

There is a severe concern that the defeat and the mutation of Syriza will affect the Left in the other European countries. We will have to wait for the elections in Spain to estimate the impact of what happened to the other left parties, especially in the eurozone countries. One has to admit, though, that in any case Syriza was a beacon for the European left, and the consequences will be severe.

I think that we need to confine the repercussions, and start forming an internationalist strategy to break down the eurozone in a way that will favor the youth, the unemployed, and the working classes of Europe, and not the different lobbies that want to profit from returning to national currencies.

We need to cooperate on that, and we need to reach the next level as far as coordination goes. The coordination of the movements does not meet the requirements of the new era. We need to coordinate the strategies, from now on.