The Internationalist  
  June 2012  

Beyond the June 17 Elections

Battle Over Anti-Worker Austerity
Comes to a Head in Greece

Not Euro vs. Drachma, But a Struggle Leading to Workers Revolution

Build a Workers Party on the Program of Lenin and Trotsky

On the eve of the June 17 Greek elections, the most momentous in recent European history, imperialist bankers and political leaders are on pins and needles. The financial press is acting like Armageddon is near. Major investment houses in Wall Street and the City of London have crisis teams set to go Sunday in case the voting returns from Athens portend a collapse of the euro and a run on the banks when markets open. On Monday, the Group of 20 heads of state, including U.S. president Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel, will be meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico to gauge the fallout. They fear a worldwide “contagion” like that which set off the 2008 financial crisis following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment house. They’re worried about the trillions in the capitalists’ coffers. But Greek working people face a threat to their very existence, and it won’t be solved at the ballot box.

Over the past two and a half years, workers in Greece – who already worked far longer hours than in any other country of the European Union (EU) – have seen their livelihoods devastated. Public sector employees’ salaries have been slashed on average by over 30%, and in many cases much more. Teachers who earned €20,000 (US$25,000) a year have had their income fall to €12,000 ($15,000). Sales taxes have been raised to 23%. The economy has shrunk by more than a quarter since 2008, as much as in the depths of the U.S.’ Great Depression (1929-1933). Official unemployment is 22%, and 53% among the youth. An estimated 70% of recent college graduates are trying to emigrate. And the “troika” of international bankers (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission) are demanding huge ($14.5 billion) additional cuts that would mean a decade or more of deep economic depression.

Historically, such drastic attacks on workers’ living standards have required dictatorial regimes, and since last November the Greek government has been run by unelected leaders imposed by the troika. Greek workers haven’t taken this capitalist assault passively, but despite their efforts at resistance, they have been stymied at every turn. Repeated one-day “general strikes” (a dozen in 2010 alone) didn’t stop, or even slow, the international bankers and their flunkies in Athens. Neither did street battles between cops and anarchists. The middle-class “aganaktismeni” (outraged) who camped out in Syntagma (Constitution) Square fared no better. Counting on demoralization, the conservative New Democracy (ND) party forced an election, figuring it would pick up the votes of those angered by the austerity imposed by the previous government of the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) on behalf of the eurobankers.

The conservatives miscalculated, badly. To be sure, in the May 6 election, more than 2 million voters deserted the PASOK, which got barely 13% of the vote. Yet the ND also lost big, over 1 million votes, leaving it with 19%, and the far-right LAOS party didn’t make it past the 3% threshold for representation in parliament. Greek rulers and the international markets were stunned by the dramatic increase in the vote for SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, which won over a million votes (17% of the total). The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) picked up another half million (8.5%), as did several smaller left groups between them. But while leftists advanced, so did the outright Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi), which got 7% of the votes, encouraging them to step up their attacks on immigrants and the left.  In sum, the vote reflected a sharp political polarization as usually occurs in situations of social crisis, with a marked tilt to the left, for now.

Ever since the fall of the dictatorship of the “colonels’ regime” in 1974, Greece has been governed by a duopoly of New Democracy and the PASOK, which alternated in office and stocked the administration with patronage jobs. The collapse of the established parties sent shock waves through stock markets from Athens to New York. Politicians, bankers and media decried the “red menace” in Athens, portraying SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras as a telegenic latter-day Lenin. This bourgeois hysteria is utterly misplaced. PASOK was not a workers party at all but a bourgeois nationalist party run by the scions of the Papandreou dynasty which has governed the country off and on from 1944 to 2011. The “socialist” in its name reflected a preference for a strong state sector, typical of countries with a weak bourgeoisie. PASOK is now replaced by SYRIZA, which is a social-democratic party that is no threat to Greek or international capitalism.

Despite its name, the Coalition of the Radical Left is utterly reformist. With 13 members in the present parliament, in the last half year of bankers’ rule SYRIZA hasn’t waged a fight against the troika-imposed prime minister Papadimos or the package of vicious anti-working-class cutbacks ordered by the international bankers. It hasn’t mobilized in support of the workers of the Hellenic Steel Company, on strike for the last eight months over mass firings and wage cuts. SYRIZA leader Tsipras has vowed to rip up the so-called Memorandum of Understanding with the banks that has brought untold suffering to the Greek masses, saying it is unworkable, which many bourgeois economists agree with. But all he is saying is that he is a better bargainer who can renegotiate the terms of submission to the eurocrats and eurobankers and make them more palatable by allowing for a little economic growth instead of unrelieved cutbacks and decline.

Many reformist socialists in Europe and the United States have hailed SYRIZA’s electoral breakthrough and are calling for its victory in the June 17 vote. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S., whose Greek comrades of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) are part of SYRIZA, argues that “an election victory for SYRIZA” would give “firm political shape to workers’ demands that the cost of paying for the crisis be shifted from them to the capitalist class” (Socialist Worker website, 13 June). Socialist Alternative (SAlt) is part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), whose Greek supporters in Xekinima (Socialist Internationalist Organization) are calling to “Vote for SYRIZA” and for a “left government on a socialist program.” The ISO and SAlt/CWI admit that SYRIZA is not revolutionary, but these social democrats yearn for just such a reformist coalition.

The opportunist socialists make much of SYRIZA’s five-point platform to “cancel the bailout” of the banks, “tear up” the EU austerity agenda and “tax the rich.” Contrary to leftists’ fantasy that it would nationalize the banks, in fact the SYRIZA economic program calls for “bank recapitalization” by the government, and for “dialogue with stakeholders for the shaping of an effective system of public control” (Greek Left Review, 12 June). And contrary to the claims of the bourgeois press that SYRIZA is aiming for a Greek exit from the euro (dubbed “Grexit”), its leader Tsipras has assured capitalist moneymen that “Syriza is committed to keeping Greece in the eurozone” (Financial Times, 13 June). In the same article, Tsipras identified his program for economic growth and deficit reduction with that of U.S. president Obama, and says SYRIZA only intends to raise taxes to “average European levels.”

In recent days, the press has reported private opinion polls giving New Democracy a slight edge in the June 17 vote. Under Greece’s undemocratic election laws, the leading party gets an additional 50 seats in the interests of government “stability.” But even if SYRIZA comes out ahead, the “left government” it talks of would in fact be a coalition with a section of the Greek bourgeoisie, as it could not win a majority in parliament without the participation of, or support from, at least a big chunk of PASOK. A vote for SYRIZA would not draw a class line against the bourgeoisie, and should be rejected by class-conscious workers. Other Greek leftist organizations, including the OKDE-Spartakos, are part of a second coalition, ANTARSYA (Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow), which criticizes SYRIZA for not attacking capitalism. Yet in a response to its “comrades” of the misnamed United Secretariat of the Fourth Internation (USec), which favors SYRIZA, the OKDE-Spartakos says it would take “a critical stance, supporting progressive measures” of a class-collaborationist left government (International Viewpoint, May 2012).

While the reformist left is all flocking to support SYRIZA, either enthusiastically or “critically,” the International Communist League (ICL) led by the Spartacist League/U.S. has published a June 5 statement on the Internet by its supporters of the Trotskyist Group of Greece calling to “Vote KKE! No Vote to Syriza!” The ICL argues that “A massive vote to the KKE … would deliver a slap in the face to the imperialists and their Greek lackeys and could give a boost to the defensive battles of workers across Europe.” In these elections, the KKE has adopted a more leftist language than often in the past, and has rejected calls on it by SYRIZA to join a bourgeois “left” government, which has reportedly led to a sharp drop in its electoral support while some Communist youth say they will vote for SYRIZA. But would the KKE refuse to vote for such a government of the capitalist state if its votes were needed to keep it in office?

Since the KKE is running independently of and against the bourgeois parties, against the EU and NATO, critical support to its candidates is a conceivable tactic, but in the concrete, given the KKE’s ingrained passive parliamentarism it is hard to see how this could be a lever to move Greek workers toward the needed revolutionary class struggle posed by the desperate economic conditions they face today. A KKE statement, “Between two tough battles” (23 May), talks of “the overthrow of capitalism” and “the construction of the new socialist-communist society” in the sweet bye-and-bye, but all it calls to do today is to be a parliamentary opposition. An 8 May Central Committee statement says that in the next period “the difference between a government and real people’s power will become even clearer” and that the “political electoral activity of the KKE … constitutes an important legacy for the years to come. Or as a 10 May statement put it, “The KKE is ‘a thorn in the side’ of the bourgeoisie and opportunists.”

An article on a June 5 press conference of KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga headlined, “The strengthening of the KKE will determine the people’s position the day after the elections.” Papariga argues that Greek working people will face either renegotiation of the loan agreements with a new harsh “memorandum,” or a push for “departure from the Eurozone with the possibility of an uncontrolled state bankruptcy.” So what then? Her answer: organize in the workplace and promote a popular alliance with other hard-hit sectors. To do what? She rightly criticizes SYRIZA for ducking the issue of NATO and the potential use of Greek military bases for an imperialist attack on Syria or Iran. But what would the KKE do, would it mobilize the workers to march on the bases to prevent this? The general secretary denounces the fascist Golden Dawn, one of whose candidates assaulted KKE and SYRIZA women candidates on national TV, but the KKE has opposed mobilizations against the Nazi thugs.

In its election propaganda, the KKE is largely silent about immigrants who are being physically attacked by fascist lynchers, although given its leadership of the PAME union federation it could bring out powerful worker-immigrant defense mobilizations. While Trotskyists oppose the capitalist-imperialist European Union on a proletarian internationalist program, fighting for Europe-wide workers revolution, the KKE rejects the EU in the name of defending Greek sovereignty. While SYRIZA calls for a bourgeois “left” government within the EU, the KKE in calling for Greek “disengagement from the EU with people’s power” at most is talking of bourgeois popular-front government such as Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular in Chile. And while SYRIZA awakens illusions that it can do away with harsh austerity by negotiations, which the eurobankers will not agree to, the KKE doesn’t warn about the imperialist onslaught that an Allende-style “people’s government” would face.

Greece today is seething with discontent on the cusp of a pre-revolutionary situation. June 17 is not one more parliamentary election, and defensive struggles by the workers are wholly inadequate to counter the capitalist assault. Imperialist spokesmen talk of “Fears of Social and Political Unrest if Greece Leaves Euro” (New York Times, 16 June). Neither SYRIZA, nor the KKE or ANTARSYA present a program for revolutionary class struggle. The ISO writes that “SYRIZA’s program recalls what the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky described as ‘transitional politics’ – when, in a period of prolonged economic crisis, serious demands of the working class can lead to a major confrontation with the capitalist class.” Please! What Trotsky called for was not some nebulous “transitional politics,” but a series of a series of transitional demands which challenge the rule of capital, “unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat” (as he put it in the 1938 Transitional Program).

Facing mass layoffs and drastic wage cuts, Greek workers should be waging industrial struggle leading to a real general strike (not the endless one-day or 48-hour work stoppages) and workers control of production. A starting point could be the eight-month-old strike at Hellenic Steel in Halyvourgia against firings under labor laws imposed by the troika.  PAME, which has a notable presence in the strike, has basically limited the strike, calling only for token regional solidarity strikes for a few hours. Since an Athens court recently ruled the strike illegal, an appropriate response by the workers would be a strike/occupation extending to the company’s plants in Volos and surrounding installations. Likewise, at the state-owned Larco ferronickel mine threatened with privatization, an occupation imposing workers control would be appropriate. But SYRIZA didn’t even denounce the court ruling against the Hellenic Steel strike, and in meeting with Larco unionists, the KKE’s Papariga only said she would take the matter up with the Treasury secretary in charge of privatization.

Criticizing SYRIZA’s talk of “public control” of the banks subsidized by the government, ANTARSYA speaks of nationalization of the banks and big companies under workers control. In reality, that amounts to a program for a slightly more left “left government” of the capitalist state, whereas what is needed is for workers to seize the banks, impose workers control and open the books to reveal the actual figures and dirty dealings of financial vultures while fighting for the expropriation of the capitalists by a workers government. As in previous articles where we in the League for the Fourth International have put forward this perspective,[1] we have emphasized that the key is building the nucleus of a Leninist-Trotskyist party that fights for Europe-wide socialist revolution. The present crisis in Greece underscores the urgency of this task. ■

[1] See “Greece on the Razor’s Edge” and “Focal Point Europe: Capitalism in Crisis, Class Struggle Erupts,” in The Internationalist No. 32, January-February 2011; and “Greek Revolt Against Bankers’ Diktat: Upheaval in Europe Over Capitalist Austerity” in The Internationalist No. 33, Summer 2011.

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