Alan Woods interviewed by SYRIZA journal: The party needs to carry out a radical programme

"Avgi" (The Dawn) is the official daily paper of the party of the Greek Left, SYRIZA. Its Sunday edition has a very wide circulation (the fifth largest in Greece). Yesterday, April 28, 2013, it published a full page interview with the editor of, Alan Woods. We provide here a full translation of the interview.

If a SYRIZA government carries out a radical programme it will have an impact on all Europe

One of the most consistent British Marxists, who is also influential outside Britain, editor of and author of important works, such as Reason in Revolt, Alan Woods is in Greece on the occasion of the founding Conference of the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA. Alan Woods, who recently returned from Venezuela, where he has closely observed and supported the socialist experiment of Hugo Chavez, spoke to Avgi’s Sunday edition on Britain, Venezuela, and Greece and the current capitalist crisis.

You are well known as a defender of Chavez in Venezuela. What was your relation with Chavez and how would you rate the success of Chavez in improving the lives of the lower classes?

alanwoods-greece-april-2013Alan Woods - Photo: AvgiWe were good friends. The emergence of Chavez was an important development, not only because of the major reforms that that he carried out, but because he managed to launch a revolution. What happened in Venezuela was and is a revolution insofar as Chavez gave a voice to those who had no voice. It is this which explains the tremendous support he had. I was in Caracas two weeks ago, although I did not get to go to the funeral. But even the fact that two weeks ago three million people were on the streets says something. And it certainly proves that he was not a dictator.

Where did Chavez succeed and where did he fail?

That is a tough question. First, he managed to create a mass movement of millions of people, who were not organized. This had never been done before. He described the Venezuelan revolution, not just as anti-imperialist and democratic, but as a socialist revolution. He succeeded in raising the class consciousness of the masses. As a Marxist I might add that, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a major political figure had the courage not only to stand up to the oligarchs, but also to talk about Marxism, to speak of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg.

He also carried out some made significant reforms. For the first time some years ago, the United Nations declared Venezuela to be illiteracy-free because many people had access to education. What has failed? I raised this question many times, and Chavez was well aware of my views, and I think towards the end of his life more and more the thought worried him that he had only carried out "half a revolution", and you cannot make half a revolution. I understand what a capitalist market economy is; and I understand what a socialist planned economy based on nationalization is. And, as I recently pointed out in an interview in Venezuela, you can have one or the other, but you cannot have both.

If you try to leave some private sectors, such as banking and land, in private hands, for example, then the revolution cannot be completed, because the economic power of the oligarchs still remains. And as long as this is the case, the revolution is in danger. Problems arise, such as inflation, and to a great extent this explains the election result, which was won by a very small margin. In short, I'd say that Chavez started a revolution, but it is not finished.

The UK operates under an economic model, based on trade, finance and services. In any case, it is no longer the country of the traditional industrial proletariat. Does a class-conscious proletariat still exist in Britain?

The British are extremely class conscious and always have been. You can see that in the celebrations of the death of Margaret Thatcher. The Conservatives thought that would be one great ceremony, which would unite people behind the government. But it turned out differently. In the end what it showed was that there is a deep divide in British society. To some extent it is geographical, the northerners rallied against Thatcher, as did Wales and Scotland, but even in the South and in London there were protests because people were angry that they were spending millions of pounds for the funeral when they are cutting wages, pensions and so on. In Yorkshire they even burned an effigy of Thatcher. The class divisions are clearer now than they were 16 years ago.

Do you think that the Labour Party could be a left alternative?

Firstly, the fact is that Labour is currently the only real electoral alternative to the Conservative government. So I am sure that in the next election many people will vote Labour, not because they are excited about their programme or the leadership, which is unfortunately very right-wing, but because of elementary class instincts. As you know, the unions in Britain are closely related to Labour and many people still see Labour as the party that is against the rich. The problem is what Labour will do when they come to power, which is another matter.

At European level, we see how people perceive the crisis in terms of a conflict between countries and not in terms of class. So we have in several countries even an "anti-German Right." How do you think things will develop?

It is very unfortunate if this battle is being fought in national terms, because there are poor and rich in all countries, even in Germany. I think there is a strong sense of indignation at the lack of social justice and the existence of economic inequality especially in the European South. All eyes are on Greece, and many people are pinning their hopes on SYRIZA. If it wins in the electoral battle, which I believe will happen, I hope it will implement a socialist programme. If it does so, that will exercise a powerful influence throughout Europe.

Believe me; if SYRIZA in government carries out a radical programme, it will have a big impact not only on the countries of the South, but also throughout Europe, in France, Britain and even Germany.

Ordinary people have had enough of cuts and austerity. It is also clear that there is a general rejection of the old parties. The world needs something decisive. As Largo Caballero once said, "You cannot cure cancer with an aspirin." Drastic problems require drastic solutions. I think there is solidarity between workers, so any attempt to break this feeling along national lines would be a big mistake.

In an imaginary dialogue between Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher, where do you think they would disagree and where would they agree?

It is a little bit too late for that now! But anyway, I think they would agree on most things. They represent the same class and also the same right-wing policies. They come from the same school and therefore would not have a problem. Despite the fact that their countries were old enemies in the past, they would agree on the crucial question that all the ruling classes are agreed upon, whatever their origin: namely, that the poor must pay for the crisis.

Is Marxism still relevant?

Twenty years ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the ruling classes heaved a sigh of relief. Then they were talking about the end of Marxism, socialism, communism. One of them, Francis Fukuyama, even wrote about the "end of history". Twenty years later, capitalism is in crisis worldwide. It turns out that the analysis of Karl Marx proved 100% correct, and the most up-to-date document you can read is the Communist Manifesto.

In 2009, a conference organized by The Economist gathered together the most renowned bourgeois analysts to answer one question: "what the hell is going on? How can we explain this crisis, which our models said could never happen?" One of them, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner, said: "For the last three decades, macroeconomic theory has been at best spectacularly useless and at worst positively harmful." These are not my words, but Krugman’s. Now many economists, such as Nouriel Roubini, are saying: Marx was right!

(April 28, 2013, The Sunday "Avgi", Interview by Anastasia Yamal)