The political earthquake in Greece


To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
January 29, 2015
RE: Solidarity with the anti-austerity movement in Greece!

The anti-austerity voters had their say in Greece on Sunday. Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) won a major victory on promises to end austerity, provide relief for the destitute masses, and end the dictatorship over Greek affairs of the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Prime Minister.

This is a victory for those without money, those Greeks whose water and electricity have been cut off, for those who have been thrown into hunger and desperation. It’s a victory for workers around the world who have seen their families and their neighbors face similar threats. It’s a slap at the heartless rule of the neo-liberal institutions.

A first step

The election is a first step, but it’s not the imminent end of austerity. If the new Greek government carries through on its promises, it will be a new stage in what is going to be a long struggle. But the political situation in Greece is by no means settled.

Sunday’s election was a great victory; Syriza will have 149 out of 300 seats, and it is the dominant force in the new government. But it achieved this with the votes of somewhat more than a third of the voters (36.34%). It will have almost half the seats in parliament only because it benefits from the extra 50 seats which, in the Greek system, are awarded to the party with the most votes. Meanwhile the conservative and pro-austerity New Democracy party, which lost the election, retained somewhat over one quarter of the votes cast (27.81%); they barely lost votes at all (Syriza’s gains came from the continuing collapse of the other bourgeois party, PASOK). And the bloodstained neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, despite many of its leaders being in jail, received over 6% of the votes, thus having the third largest vote tally of the seven parties that will have seats.

Moreover, in order to obtain a parliamentary majority, Syriza formed a coalition with the “Independent Greeks” party (ANEL), which received somewhat under 5% of the vote and will have 20 seats in the parliament. The Independents are a racist, ultra-nationalist party and stem from a split in New Democracy. They denounce austerity, but stand for reactionary social and political policies, such as imposing the Greek Orthodox religion, opposing immigrants, and fanning nationalist quarrels with neighboring Turkey, Macedonia, and Albania. Yet ANEL’s leader, Panos Kammenos, was appointed minister of defense. No doubt Syriza dwarfs ANEL in the coalition, whose character will be determined mainly by Syriza, but Tsipras is playing a dangerous game by including them. Indeed, Tsipras allied with them in the past in an earlier parliamentary fight in 2013. The calculation seems to be that the ultra-nationalists, out of hatred for  foreigners, will agree to more determined measures against the EU bankers than would be accepted by other political groupings.

So the Tsipras government will not only face opposition from the economic institutions of the European and Greek bourgeoisie, but will start with only limited popular support. If it succeeds in carrying out measures that relieve the suffering of many desperate and impoverished Greeks, it may gain enthusiastic majority support and transform Greek politics. But that will depend on what is accomplished in the coming period.

A class struggle

Austerity and market fundamentalism are backed by powerful forces who don’t give a damn about the welfare of the people. So ending austerity isn’t simply a matter of formulating some fancy economic plans and finding loopholes in the debt agreements binding Greece. It is instead a question of the relative strength of the bankers, capitalists, and the wealthy “1%” versus the strength of the workers, the unemployed, and all those on the bottom of the system. It is a question of whether the “1%” can continue to rally large numbers of the “99%” to support the conservative policies that support the ultra-rich, or of how many of the “99%” will instead recognize the source of their misery in the rule of the “1%”.

In saying this, I don’t mean that the Tsipras government is the representative of the working class struggle. The question instead is whether the working class can exert pressure, including on the Tsipras government. It is important that the Tsipras government carries out its promises to relieve what he justly calls a humanitarian crisis. But whether these measures can be maintained against the vicious opposition that will come from the Eurobourgeoisie and the Greek bourgeoisie will depend on what happens among the masses.

At this point, no one yet knows precisely what the Tsipras government will do, or how the European financiers will respond. But how the Greek masses react to the threats and pressures that will be placed on them will be central to the outcome.

Breaking with the establishment parties

One thing the Greek example already shows is that the fight against austerity involves building an alternative to the bourgeois parties. In Greece, the two big parties who dominated politics and formed governments were New Democracy and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), that is, the conservatives and the “socialists”. PASOK had brought some important reforms to Greece, but it’s an establishment party that, when economic times turned bad, snapped the austerity whip over the masses and took back what it had granted before. From the point of view of the policy declarations of politicians, this might seem incredibly contradictory and totally incomprehensible. But politics is ultimately based on class logic, on the stands of the contending classes, and not on verbal formulas or “heartfelt” political sloganeering. Despite the socialist label, PASOK was a bourgeois party, and when push came to shove, it reflected bourgeois ideas about the economic situation and carried out the economic offensive of the bourgeoisie. As a result of its turn to austerity PASOK, which had at one time regularly received 40-50% of the vote, is temporarily down to single-digits: 7.6% last Sunday.

So it took a new political movement to fight austerity. In the US, that would correspond to abandoning hopes in the liberal Democrats and their honeyed words and instead building something separate from both Democrats and Republicans.

Syriza was built up on the basis of connection to the social movements, and its theorists boast of its nonsectarian character.  The Greek left is as divided ideologically and practically as the left anywhere else. But a large section of it united to build Syriza, which thus inherited a core of cadre from the radical tradition in Greek politics. Greece has many anti-capitalist parties and a strong communist tradition, albeit we will see in a moment that this tradition has two sides to it.

Thus Syriza doesn’t stem from a left faction of PASOK, but from a different tradition. PASOK has seen left factions splinter off it, but their stands haven’t been much better than PASOK’s.

Still, more is demanded of a would-be militant pro-working class party than being separate from PASOK.  Syriza hasn’t overcome the political and theoretical crisis of the Greek left, and it faces its own problems. For example, despite its pride in being a broad organization, there’s a limit to how far Syriza has brought the masses into its planning. It puts forward a program which deals with many important measures to mitigate the suffering of the masses, and with some technical economic plans for financing these crucial promises. But it didn’t discuss with the masses how it intended to implement these measures in the face of expected opposition. For example, what should be done if the European financial institutions won’t renegotiate the infamous “Memorandum of Understanding” of 2012 which binds Greece hand and foot to economic misery? And what should be done if Syriza didn’t obtain an outright parliamentary majority by itself? The coalition with the Independents was something that Tsipras and other had looked towards before the election. But it comes as a major shock to many Syriza supporters.

So Syriza is not the final word in what an organization should be like. There will be other critical questions that come to the fore, and Syriza has left its policy obscure on these too. There is the question of how the Greek unions will react to the struggle with the European bourgeoisie. There is the question of how can Syriza defend immigrants while in coalition with the anti-immigrant  Independents. And there will be more. Activists around the world will be watching to see what Syriza does right and what wrong, and considering how this bears on what they themselves should do.

The tragedy of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)

The radical tradition in Greece includes a long history of mass communist activity, and and this was crucial in the resistance to fascism in World War II and other struggles. Unfortunately, however, the Stalinist trend has dominated the communist movement numerically, and it is communist in name only. This is the trend that captured the original Communist Party of Greece, which still exists and has mass support. It received 5.5% of the vote in the recent elections and will have 15 seats in the new parliament. If there are questions concerning what Syriza will do, there are certainly questions regarding the KKE.

In the last few decades, the KKE has followed a policy that has veered back and forth between right and left. It offered to support the PASOK government in 1981, but — believe it or not! — was briefly part of a coalition government with New Democracy in 1989. At present it is probably best known for its sectarianism towards mass struggles that aren’t directly under its leadership.

The basis of its disruptive stands is that it still upholds the Stalinist parody of communism. It call for “people’s power”, but it conceives this as the oppressive state-capitalist system that used to exist in Eastern Europe and Russia. It has learned nothing from the past, neither about the difference between state-capitalism and socialism nor about how to side with the people, rather than oppressive bureaucrats. Its idea of militancy is to claim that every activity, except supporting the KKE, is capitulation to the EU and NATO. It ignores or opposes democratic struggles around the world, from Syria to Ukraine to Hong Kong, and it holds repeated international conferences with the discredited forces of state-capitalism that still hang on around the world.

In the just concluded election, the KKE’s activity was to declare that anything except voting for KKE was servility to the EU or NATO. All the KKE leadership saw in the mass agitation by Syriza against austerity was a supposed left-sounding cover for capitalism.

We in the Communist Voice Organization say that real communism means opposing the reactionary nonsense of the KKE and other Stalinist parties. No doubt most of KKE’s supporters really want liberation, and indeed there was once a time when the KKE fought valiantly against the fascists and reactionaries. But respect for the struggles of the past requires telling the truth about what the KKE has been for decades and is today, and denouncing its support of oppression around the world. It requires looking into the political basis for the reactionary stands of the KKE; the problem with the KKE isn’t simply that it is incredibly sectarian, but what it stands for and wants to achieve.

Solidarity with the Greek people

The election of the Tsipras government will open a period of struggle in Greece. The Greek masses deserve the support of workers and activists everywhere. If this struggle finds an echo in other countries around Europe, where the workers also suffer from austerity, it may usher in a period where the opposition in Europe to the pro-austerity parties grows from the left, instead of the right. If the Eurobourgeoisie is forced to back down from its economic strangulation of Greek workers, this will be a major crack in the neo-liberal policy of the world bourgeoisie.

The example of the Greek struggle will influence activists around the world. There needs to be both solidarity with the Greek anti-austerity movement and  critical  evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. <> 

-- Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice <>

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Posted on January 30, 2015.