To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
Date: July 7, 2015
RE: The Greek referendum of July 5

Greece says "no"! (part 1)

On Sunday July 5 the Greek people voted by 61% to 39% to reject the demand of the European big bourgeoisie and bankers for yet more austerity. For five years the Greek people have been tortured by austerity mandated by the "troika": the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the Eurogroup of EU financial ministers. It has been an economic disaster, resulting in a greater economic contraction equal to or worse than in the United States in the lowest depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. This has caused a humanitarian disaster in Greece, as more and more people are homeless or unemployed or without access to medical care. And still the troika demands more sacrifice from Greece!

The referendum question was whether to accept the troika proposal of June 25, which involved more wage and pension cuts and more policies that would contract the Greek economy. But it became a national consultation on whether to accept more austerity in general. Every single parliamentary constituency in Greece voted "OXI" (no), from the North to the South, the East to the West. The people voted against austerity despite every attempt to make them panic. The European Central Bank had been restricting funding of Greek banks since the election of the government of Alexis Tsipras in January; after the referendum was announced, the ECB cut support to the point that Greek banks had to restrict withdrawals ("capital controls"), causing hardship and panic. Major political leaders in the EU and the troika threatened that a "no" vote meant that Greece would have to leave the Eurozone or even the EU. The mass media in Greece, owned by a handful of rich people, thundered against a "no" vote. Yet the people not only voted "no", but they did so by a strong margin.

The present Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been elected in January 25, 2015. Syriza ("the Coalition of the Radical Left") won the elections with 36.3% of the vote, 8.5% more than the next largest party. This is only somewhat more than a third of the vote, but in Greece, the party which gets the most votes gets an extra 50 seats in parliament. So Syriza has 149 seats, just short of a majority, and was able to form a government by bringing in the conservative but anti-austerity party ANEL. But on July 5, the "no" vote won, not by 36%, but by 61%: a "landslide" some called it. This adds more moral authority to the resistance against the troika.

Indeed, the referendum took on a life of its own. The original intent of the Greek government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in calling the referendum was simply to reinforce the bargaining position of his government against the troika. Faced with diehard resistance from the troika, he had finally offered to accept a modified austerity if only Greece was granted debt relief and some other conditions. But the "no" voters may not necessarily accept an agreement with the troika, if they feel that the government conceded too much.

International impact

The referendum was being watched throughout Europe. While Greece has been hit hardest of all, workers all through Europe have faced cutbacks and insecurity. Catarina Principe, an activist in Portugal wrote, wrote that "OXI has become the synonym for resistance", and explained that

"Being southern European today is not an easy task. Not only have the central and northern European elites (with the complacency of our own right-wing governments!) changed the narrative of our people from being honest, hard-working, and warm-hearted to being corrupt, lazy, and unproductive; the European elites have also decided we are no longer worthy of living according to the so-called 'European standards'. We are no longer worthy of labor, worthy of education, worthy of health, worthy of culture, worthy of having a home, worthy of having food on the table. We are not even worthy of living in our own country anymore, among our families, friends, and the ones we cherish the most.

"On the contrary, the banks are worthy of all our money and sacrifice in order to be saved. The markets are treated as people (the markets are happy, sad, depressed, we need to please them), and we, the people, treated as numbers, statistics, reports. We are only worthy if we give our lives and postpone our futures in the name of a system that doesn't care about us, that has shown again and again that profit is its highest value, and our lives are just causalities in this war they are fighting against us in the name of capital." ( )

A class struggle

The referendum was a class struggle. While "no" won in all constituencies, if one examines the vote in various neighborhoods, one sees something else. The districts of common people voted heavily "OXI", while bourgeois areas voted heavily "NAI" (yes). The Greek bourgeoisie was fervently for "yes": a number of employers threatened to withhold pay or terminate workers who didn't go to "yes" rallies; and the rich oligarchs who control the mass media went all out for "yes". But workers and a good deal of the middle strata were for "no": people had lost too much in the last five years to be stampeded by the scare propaganda of the bourgeoisie.

The desire to say "no" to the troika was so strong that, on July 5, it overcame many divisions among the workers and activists. Even some anarchist organizations that usually boycott elections instead campaigned for "no".And some people who voted for the establishment pro-austerity parties in January voted "no" in the referendum.

But the referendum victory doesn't mean that the divisions among the working people have been permanently healed. For one thing, the unions divided on the referendum. For example, the GSEE federation of private sector unions called for a "yes" vote, although some of its constituent unions stood for a "no" vote. With regard to political organizations, the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE), while still holds the allegiance of a substantial number of workers, denounced the referendum and called for casting a special ballot designed by the KKE, one that wouldn't be counted. And while all factions of Syriza voted "no", they differ on their attitude to whether Greece can survive without agreement from the troika. These divisions are important because the issue of austerity isn't going to be decided simply by a vote. It's going to require that the working class resist the bourgeoisie in an organized fashion in a struggle that is going to face blackmail and hardships worse than that experienced during the referendum. For example, if the troika forces Greece out of the Eurozone, Greek workers will face months of hardship while the country develops an alternative currency without having had time to prepare. This will have to be done while under constant fire from the Eurogroup and bourgeois forces in Greece, and in a situation where the Tsipras government, intent on getting agreement with the troika, didn't make the necessary technical preparations for a possible "Grexit" (Greek exit from the Eurozone).

The European left and Greece

What happens in Greece is also affected by whether there is international solidarity with Greek workers, especially from European workers. Large-scale protest from other workers would affect what the troika could do. And one reason why many Greeks want to stay within the EU and the Eurozone is because they believe that a common struggle of European workers is needed to fight the market offensive of the bourgeoisie.

But as far as the reports that I have seen, the support for Greece isn't yet very strong. Some activists have been inspired by what's going on in Greece, as seen in the words of Catarina Principe cited above. The European left has issued many declarations in support of the anti-austerity struggle in Greece, and June 21-26 was supposed to be a period in which it would demonstrate solidarity with the Greek working people. But what was the result?

The Australian journal The Green Left reported enthusiastically on solidarity actions in an article "Europeans take to the streets to back Greece" (Liam Flenady, June 26, 2015). It mentions briefly the modest size of the actions, but prefers not to look into why this is. It says only "Although still relatively small, the demonstrations show a growing awareness that the Greek struggle is the same struggle as in the whole of Europe." Since then there have also been some demonstrations in the subsequent period of the referendum campaign, but they don't seem to be much different in size or character.

The demonstrations that occurred seem to have been fairly small, with only several thousand people at the larger ones, maybe 10,000. This partially reflects that the masses haven't yet seen the relation of what happens in Greece to their own struggles. But it also reflects a half-heartedness on the part of the European left itself. For example, Die Linke ("The Left") in Germany counts the votes it gets in elections in the millions, but can only turn out several thousand people in solidarity with Greece. This is because Die Linke is itself divided on its attitude to the anti-austerity struggle in Greece. Another example is Podemos ("We can"), which is the third largest political force in Spain and opposes the establishment pro-austerity parties, including the "socialists". But while it will issue statements on Greece, it seems to keep a certain distance.

The rise of Syriza, Podemos, and Die Linke was supposed to show a new path for left-wing parties, one that would overcome the notorious sectarian divisions among the radical left. These are parties that are to the left of the establishment "socialist" parties. Yet political and theoretical crisis continues among them, and Podemos and Die Linke have trouble supporting the Greek anti-austerity struggle. Just ignoring this serious situation in the left won't make it go away. We need solidarity with mass struggles, not sectarian standoffishness; we need to pay attention to the mass struggles that are going on and not just the political squabbles. But we see that large, apparently successful parties like Podemos and Die Linke are themselves manifesting standoffishiness, and we need to consider why this is so. If the revolutionary working-class left is ever to overcome its divisions, and if parties that truly represent the class struggle are to be built, there has to be realistic assessment of the present parties and trends. We need to learn from what's going on among the left; we need to consider the problems as well as the accomplishments; and we need to ask, what kind of left party is afraid to support the Greek people? Those journals which simply give Bowdlerized accounts of how wonderful the situation is within the present left are not doing the workers and activists any favors.

-- Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice

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Posted on August 15, 2015