It is a great pleasure to be here and meet with my European comrades, with whom we shared a lot, all these years. And I am certain that here, today, at this conference with a topic rather important and timely, an important discussion occurred.
I wish to begin with a reference to yesterdays’ mass crime in Egypt. A horrific terrorist act which appalled the whole world.
There no words to express and condemn such an act. Greece as the whole world expressed their solidarity towards the victims, their families and, of course, the whole world.
I would like, though, to comment on blind terrorism, it is not a problem which fell from the skies. It is related to the conditions which prevail in the world and in a way it works as a bridge to today’s issue of the conference.
The lack of security, poverty, inequalities, the absence of any prospect for millions of people, create an enormous gap.
This gap allows the rise of religious fanaticism and intolerance. As well as the reinforcement of nationalism, open or disguised fascism of the xenophobic populist extreme right, which is strengthened in the heart of Europe.
That is why I would say that it is extremely important to realize that precisely because we are in the presence of such phenomena. The phenomena of absolute disregard of the value of human life, the root causes of which are inequalities and the widening of inequalities, so this is why today our demand is extremely important. The demand of the Left for a different world. With less disparities, justice, solidarity. A world that is sustainable, safe and tolerant towards everyone.
The crucial question, however, is this, how can we overturn the current balance and the current power correlation to reach this better world. Because in recent years our understanding is that things are even worse.
The answer, I will give to you, is that I do not know whether we can or not, but that it is necessary. We must try in this direction. And in this sense, a discussion of inequalities in today’s world, I would say, covers a huge field. An injustice grid seems to cover almost the whole world.
What do we discuss when we talk about inequalities? Are we talking about inequalities in Europe? Are we talking about inequalities between the North and the South, the Center and the Region? Are we talking about the inequalities between developed and developing countries? Inequalities within countries – whether they are developed or not? Class, regional and social inequalities.
Whichever of the above we refer to, I think, we are in the same denominator. Because at the same time that unimaginable wealth accumulates in the hands of the few, very few on the planet, and on the other hand hundreds of millions of people across the globe are denied access to basic social goods.
For example, food, water, basic education, as well as the right to secure employment and decent living.
These conditions are the reason for these huge refugee flows and of economic migrants.
And we must not believe that the refugee crisis – which we experienced two years ago and we are still living today – is a temporary phenomenon. Flows, of course, which will intensify in the next few years. Precisely, because we now have poverty all over the world, destabilized vast areas and increasingly larger parts of society – at the same time – of the developed countries are pushed to the brink, poverty and social uncertainty.
But I would like to say a little more about this last one. About social uncertainty.
After the end of the Second World War, the correlation of power within the western social formations imposed specific restrictions on the expanded reproduction of capital.
A strong labour movement but, also, a Left reinforced by the anti-fascist struggle managed to force the political power, the elite, but also the governments, with its dynamic, with the change of correlations, to succeeded in influencing them. It therefore managed to force the political power to take measures to protect the social majority, measures to strengthen the bargaining power of workers.
Safeguarding collective bargaining, the constitutional safeguarding of the right to strike, the founding of the social state, and a redistributive policy based on wealth taxation.
Obviously, that period was not easy as the social inequalities remained large, but now, at this time from a distance, one can easily distinguish that it was a period of limitation – let’s say it – of not abolishing but restricting the power of the capital and the economic elite.
One could, however, assume that between capital and labour a treaty of relative balance had been formed, on the basis of which tools, useful, important tools of balancing policies were established.
And it was precisely this situation that allowed the Left to think and discuss models of organization even beyond capitalism. Either we have characterized them or we still characterize them – these tools – to be of a social-democratic nature, they were tools that favored the dynamics of the Left. And even the Left, which had and still has as a project to exceed capitalism.
And I say this, to compare it with the current situation, where today we are in the unpleasant position of having to argue again for self-explanatory issues.
The need, in other words, to create the necessary tools for the defense of the social majority and of the workers against the pursuit of an unbearable capitalism.
Because, even through a series of political defeats – much later – from the late 1970s, the 1980s occurred, these tools have come to be officially declared obsolete in the early 1990s.
The new dominant and indisputable for years perception was the one that described that we should allow the capital to act as pleased in order to find the way to create wealth and opportunities for all.
And therefore, on the basis of this perception, which began to become dominant in the 1990s, social achievements, were considered as unnecessary.
All that was needed to unleash the unbridled market forces to free them from taxation, labour costs, environmental rules, accountability.
But it was proven that those who judged the globalization system – and we were among them, and this is – if you wish – an important part of the identity of the radical Left in Greece and Europe. In the critical movements of neoliberal globalization. So it soon turned out that those who judged neoliberal globalization were not in the wrong.
Market liberalization may have created wealth, but it has also created huge inequalities.
And the reality is that without redistribution of wealth you cannot create social prosperity.
Anyway, this narrative came and burst like a bubble in 2008 with the huge crisis.
Because profits of the global elite not only did not secure social prosperity, but they were also the damages of the global elite, that transformed in a blink of an eye into social suffering.
Loss of jobs, falling living standards, greater deregulation and weakening of the welfare state.
And all these, of course, here in Greece we had the misfortune to know very well. In a way, we also became an international experiment. How it was possible within a very short time, through a hard internal devaluation model, apply all the neoliberal ideas and concepts that had not been applied so quickly in any other European country. As IMF advised, in the period of disaster, as I describe it, 2010 – 2014, disastrous based on the results, we lost 25% of GDP within two years because this adjustment was very short. Unemployment rates rose from 7.5% to 27%, just before we took office. However, it remains high, but it has fallen by about 6 points. In brief, I want to say that we had the misfortune to know one of the worst forms of this neoliberal perception, the implementation of measures that led a very large part of the population rapidly to social insecurity and poverty.
What could be achieved?
Obviously, some will say to save the European ideal. I. I would say that we have to remember what just a few days ago, Euclid’s friend, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of Eurogroup, said publicly, “Let’s not hide, all this was done with the main goal of saving the European banks,”
But it is not just Greece.
Social inequalities have increased in all European countries hit by the crisis.
One in four Europeans today is confronted with poverty or is directly threatened by poverty.
And of course, this situation is obvious, it is much more burdensome for the countries of the South.
Actually, new phenomena – that’s why Euclid is right, saying that we are in an abnormal situation – have now come to light.
Traditional political parties are hurting. Larger shocks are experienced by the parties of the traditional social democracy, but all traditional parties are stumbling.
Their resonance is extinguished, but unfortunately those whose resonance seems to be rising is those of the far-right.
Euroscepticism prevailed politically in Britain but extended to other European countries. But it is a barren and right-wing Euroscepticism.
Briefly, one would say that if you exclude Greece, Portugal and the extremely successful, great electoral success of the workers in Britain, the rest of the picture is painted gray.
Greece now has a left-wing government.
This government, in extremely difficult circumstances, is struggling to take the country out of this special status in which it entered in 2010, that of guardianship.
But at the same time it gives the fight with every means possible, in these circumstances, after exhausting every possibility to claim a different course in the first half, without destroying the social categories it supports. The main purpose of the left-wing government is to exit the country from the guardianship, but at the same time in every way to support the weak, to modernize state structures, to eliminate clientelism and corruption.
Most importantly, however, for us today, now that economy is exiting the crisis and is back with positive growth rates – we have very optimistic economic indicators – is to implement these positive indicators as quickly as possible, these positive results development, in society, transformed into jobs of decent and stable work and with social protection.
However, as I previously referred to the general, but slightly pessimistic framework, which concerns Europe, now I would say it concerns the whole world.
And the question that we have to focus on is what to do so that things could change.
I would say that the first thing we have to do, inspired by a phrase that Euclid once said, that it would be better to be a psychologist than an economist to deal with the situation ahead. But I believe that our psychology is a key element both in tackling the economic crisis and achieving the recovery of economy. So I would say that the first thing we have to do if we want to change things is to believe that things can change.
Every sovereign state derives its legitimacy from the feeling that it creates that it always existed.
That its rights are inviolable.
And that is a natural law and the only realistic solution to the problems.
But if that were the case, history would never have gone forward.
We would have stayed in the 18th century with slavery and colonies.
Or in the nineteenth century with the impoverished working class and child labour.
Then when words such as, union, social security, were totally unknown.
Lenin, speaking to new socialists in exile, said the revolution would happen, but his own generation would not have the chance to live to see it.
Allow me to remind you, because I see many young people in the audience – I imagine they would have better things to do on Saturday night and the fact that they are here are worthy of congratulations. Allow me to remind you that Lenin, in January 1917, nine months before the October Revolution, speaking to new socialists in exile, had expressed the certainty that the revolution is something that will certainly happen, but unfortunately his own generation will not see it. And nine months later, he found himself in Petersburg having succeeded with his comrades and having taken power.
I say this to prove that the dynamic evolution of things in life and history has been proven is not always linear.
Today, world-wide power relations are negative, but they will always be negative.
After all, the banks, and the financial system and tax havens, are human inventions.
We were not given tablets of stone by God.
People made them, people can define their operating frames.
The crucial issue is who has the upper hand.
And, of course, the crucial thing for you to get the upper hand is to have a plan. Be able to form an alternative political plan.
Because the easiest thing is to shout inequality.
It is not enough to shout “stop inequalities “. I think that we could all be shouting this today.
From the President of the European Central Bank to top executives of multinationals.
Generally, in my opinion, the more certain you are that things are not changing, the more comfortable you are to speak publicly about reducing social inequalities.
The essence of the discussion, however, is not just what needs to be changed, but how it should and how it can be done.
People’s will for social justice, for improving their lives, so the will of societies for change exists. It is innate and it is given. The thing that is absent, in my view, is the confidence in an alternative political plan and the belief that this may be feasible. It may be realistic.
A plan that must be radical but also be inspired by the confidence for its sustainability.
So let’s open a path to fighting inequalities, but through simple, understandable and mature objectives.
For example, the fair taxation of wealth and profit to secure resources for public investment and the welfare state.
Limits to financial speculation.
Abolition of tax havens.
Limiting wage inequalities.
Requests clear, concrete, and feasible, I believe I can think of a strong social majority to support them.
And which, along the way, can be expanding.
And at this point we have to note how crucial it is to fight to give a new meaning to the term democracy.
So that instead of an institution that balances interests and often lowers consciences, it becomes a tool for enforcing the will of the many. That is why I am accustomed to saying that one of the main problems today in Europe, in its institutional framework, as it is structured, is the lack of democracy. Controlling citizens from decision-making centers.
So the ideal of more democracy can be a lever for changing the power correlation.
Because I believe that to give meaning and content to democracy is not a just an academic idea.
It is a matter of a lasting struggle, gaining consciousness, and involving the masses into the field of political struggle.
Finally, what we have to do is not to believe that we are the only having the absolute truth but to build primarily strong social and political alliances.
Alliance among all those who are genuinely committed to promoting a radical reform plan to tackle inequality, regardless of whether we agree with them in the final goal. How we want society to be structured.
The Left, therefore, is certainly one of the forces of such a broad alliance, however, it must also address the subjective weaknesses. To be more open to society. Process in a more mature way the objectives and policy of its alliances.
I think that a part of social democracy in Europe is moving in this direction, and this is something positive.
The prolonged crisis and the rearrangements that it caused on the political scene have liberated important progressive forces, increasingly seeking class and social reorientation. And of course this is positive.
So I think that setting a few common political goals with these forces is more than mature now.
But the most important, I would say, is not the political alliance but the social alliance. The alliance with social forces.
With the mass movements that insist on being present, and of course we should keep in mind that we are also in a period of devaluation of the institutional framework of social subjects. So what is present today and goes beyond the existing structures is valuable. Whether these movements are about defending human dignity, defending social justice, or protecting the environment, free public education. And of course not forget the movements that defend solidarity towards the weak, the refugees, those who fight racism, nationalism.
Friends, because I promised a little while ago, because we had a meeting before we came here, to the comrades who I was discussing and especially to Neoclis that I will not talk much – a promise I do not often keep – I want to close with the following statement.
Many ask me both in Europe and in Greece, seeing me representing a radical left wing, but at the same time talking with Social Democrats in Europe, and with the green party, they ask me “what are you exactly?”
So I want to talk about what I think exists today in the European and global framework. What is the field of ideas that exists today?
Today, there are three main movements. The first still believes that the future of this world is in the even greater liberalization of the markets.
In converting every social right into a commodity.
In the privatization of the most basic social goods.
Reduce social costs.
In work flexibility.
And of course the sacred right of capital to remain untaxed and move to tax havens.
It will not take much thought to imagine which party and what forces in Greece are representing this trend.
This is the trend of neoliberalism.
Either the Right, mostly Right, or sometimes Center-Left.
These are perceptions that are constantly being created as fresh and innovative, and are in fact older than the 18th century slavery.
And of course they are expanding instead of coping with the huge inequalities and enormous problems of social cohesion that have intensified especially since the 2008 crisis.
The second trend – which has been widened lately – is the tendency of populist extreme right and nationalism – chauvinism, and sometimes this chauvinism and nationalism rest on the left.
The populist extreme-right perception, for the lack of social justice and prosperity, believes that the weakest are responsible.
Whether they are refugees and migrants, or various kinds of minorities, or the lazy people of the South who are blamed for living above their capabilities.
And what do they promise? They promise prosperity and security, through returning to national confinement, intolerance and authoritarianism.
And these perceptions are old.
And they have been convicted historically more than once, and they have committed the greatest historical crimes in humanity.
Against these two trends, our own system of perceptions exists.
There is the left and progressive ideology.
Stressing the need to make our world more humane.
Supporting the weak.
Ensuring everyone’s right to justice, solidarity and dignity.
Not with the competition of the peoples but with the cooperation and solidarity.
I deeply believe that, although many say that this trend, this ideology, is old, it is the newest and the freshest of all.
And the main thing is that it is the only viable alternative perspective, against the profound social crisis that reproduces and continuously enlarges the gap and inequalities between the poor and the rich.
This alternative perspective, we must fight to make the main concern of the whole of society, we must fight to make it realistic, and we must believe that it is feasible that we can offer a realistic prospect.
A world of inequalities cannot be the world of the future. The mitigation of inequalities, the overcoming of modern capitalism that reproduces and generates these inequalities and leads the planet into an existential crisis, is the only determinism which we deserve to defend.