Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘There is mobilisation. People are looking at ways to defend themselves, to ally with social movements and political initiatives. I would say we are in a new era, where little by little but in a decisive way the social movements are being reconstructed,’ Zoe Konstantopoulou, former speaker of the Greek parliament, reflects.
She is one of the MPs who left the governing party Syriza when prime minister Alexis Tsipras accepted the third bailout programme last summer and called a snap election. She says this was held ‘with the support of and in communication with the creditors, in order to do away not with austerity but with those members of the parliamentary group who wanted to implement the initial commitments and programme of Syriza’.
The strategy was successful: almost half of the voting population abstained and Syriza won. Konstantopoulou says that at the time of the election, the Greek people had not yet realised the impact of the third bailout.
Just like previous agreements with creditors, it has brought harsh austerity. The latest nail in the coffin of the party’s past resistance was a law making it easier for banks to seize people’s homes. It was passed in late November, not long before I spoke to Konstantopoulou in Barcelona. Other measures have included cutting pensions, facilitating privatisations and raising VAT.
By then, the new austerity measures were starting to hit home, Konstantopoulou said, making people realise the government’s true colours. A general strike on 12 November brought tens of thousands onto the streets.
Konstantopoulou still believes in the political institutions. ‘It has always been my contention that if the parliamentary synthesis reflects the society a lot can come out of it,’ she says. ‘Unfortunately, at this point there is no radical anti-austerity force in parliament, so our only field becomes the field of social movements and mobilisations. But I think we should reconquer the institutional field,’ she adds.
As the speaker of the parliament, Konstantopoulou used her position to institutionalise important work started in the social movements. In particular, she initiated the Greek Debt Truth Commission. It examined the country’s contracts with its creditors, concluding that the debt was illegitimate, illegal and odious and should not be paid (its reports can be found at cadtm.org and greekdebttruthcommission.org).
Since 2011, there had been a grassroots campaign for a debt audit, which inspired her to establish the committee. Its report could have been a powerful weapon in the rejection of Greece’s debt. But even though it was published in June, in the heat of the negotiations, Tsipras chose not to use it. Instead, he gave in to the creditors’ demands.
For a long time Konstantopoulou had believed that Tsipras would resist the pressure from both creditors and those within the party who from the outset had advocated a ‘noble deal’ – but as we now know, that did not happen. ‘It was well after the capitulation that I got a full idea that this was not Tsipras bending under pressure, this was Tsipras trying to disguise a deal he had previously agreed upon under this pressure.’
What happened with the debt audit highlights the difference between Tsipras’s promises and actions. One of the initial commitments of Syriza, it was announced in March and started its work in early April. Konstantopoulou says that the audit committee was extremely well received and there was widespread interest in its work, which was broadcast by the official parliament TV channel.
‘The reaction within Syriza was inexplicable. There was a clear satisfaction among the members of Syriza, but a very ambiguous stance among the MPs.’
When the committee was created, the prime minister and president were present, as were nearly all the members of the government. When the preliminary report was published in mid-June, a petition signed by 55 members of Syriza’s parliamentary group called for it to be discussed in parliament. But even after agreeing to it, the government never set aside a date for the discussion to take place.
‘When it was clear parliament was about to dissolve, I provoked this discussion on 25 August. But most members of Syriza and all other parties abstained from the discussion, so there was never the appropriate number to have it,’ Konstantopoulou explains. Despite this, the committee continued its work, issuing another report on the third memorandum after the September election.
The new speaker has removed the debt audit reports from the parliament’s website, tellingly reflecting the new direction of Syriza. But Konstantopoulou is adamant that the work will continue outside parliament – the committee is currently figuring out the practicalities. Konstantopoulou is also involved in a Europe-wide initiative for a ‘Plan B for Europe’, whose first meeting in Paris took place in January (www.euro-planb.eu).
Konstantopoulou sees several options for the future of Greece. Usually, the debate focuses on leaving or staying in the Eurozone, but she emphasises that there is no universal view that this is the main question.
She believes the creditors’ blackmail has brought a ‘complete annihilation of democracy’. She says this was also the case in Cyprus in 2013 and will happen again if it is not brought to an end. ‘It is clear that the euro is being used as a blunt weapon against the European population, and this should not be the purpose of any currency.’
Konstantopoulou says you are obliged to come up with ways to protect the population and society when faced with such an attack. ‘The solution of a national currency is one. There are plenty of others as well: a parallel currency, IOUs, digital currency, etc. And of course the currency is not the only question – there is the question of supporting production, reforming the taxation system that right now is favouring the same oligarchs and corrupt interests, enhancing public expenses for education, healthcare, justice, social security – and on the other hand reducing extreme expenses in the field of armaments.’
As an example of how intertwined Greek finances and international financial institutions are with the interests of corrupt elites, Konstantopoulou talks about the ‘Lagarde list’.
This was the Greek part of the list of accounts in the Swiss HSBC branch connected with tax evasion. ‘It was given to the finance minister who introduced the memoranda, Mr Papakonstantinou, by the then French minister of finance, Christine Lagarde, current director of the IMF. This list was scandalously not registered through the finance ministry’s protocol. It was not and still has never been used,’ Konstantopoulou explains.
Papakonstantinou himself went on trial for removing his relatives from the list but received only a light suspended sentence. There has still been no action on the over 2,000 names, including politicians, oligarchs and those implicated in public sector deals.
‘There has never been a political will to collect taxes from those who really should be accountable to render them,’ Konstantopoulou says. She calls it ‘scandalous’ that the IMF knew about the list and discouraged its officials from looking into it, while simultaneously implementing harsh austerity measures and tax inequality. ‘There is a common lack of political will to have a really effective tax system, and a common political will to always attack the poor and the general population instead of those profiting from it,’ she says.
But Greece’s taxation system is currently controlled by the Troika – the IMF, European Commission and the EU. An equal tax system remains one of the alternative paths Greece could take if it reclaimed its sovereignty from the creditors. Refusing to pay the debt as illegitimate could have enabled this – but after the failure of a supposedly anti-austerity government to do this, it is once again up to the social movements to exert pressure for real change.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control.
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going