To Smash Capitalist Austerity,
Mobilize Workers’ Power to
Rip Up Eurobankers’ Diktat on Road to Socialist Revolution
Greece: The SYRIZA Illusion Exploded
Thousands turned out for February 27 demonstration called by Communist Party (KKE) in Syntagma (Constitution) Square outside the Greek parliament to protest agreement with European finance ministers that capitulated to the Eurobankers’ demands for more austerity and privatization.
The victory of SYRIZA, the “Coalition of the Radical Left,” in the Greek elections of January 25 was front-page news around the world. Frankfurt and London bankers warned of impending doom, leftists from Paris and Madrid to Latin America and the U.S. hailed the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, as the messiah of struggle against austerity. The hosannas over SYRIZA’s larger-than-expected vote lasted only a few hours, until the “radical leftist” Tsipras announced the formation of a governing coalition with the rightist pro-military, anti-immigrant ANEL (Greek Democrats). Nonetheless, it was clear that the stage was set for a showdown with far-reaching consequences for the European Union (EU).
In Greece there was an explosion of joy. Finally – finally! – people felt they had elected a government that would stand up to the hated Eurobankers who have put them through hell. Official unemployment up to 27 percent of the workforce, well over half of young people with no job. Over one third of the population living in or on the edge of poverty, food banks and soup kitchens serving old, young and middle-aged. Gross domestic product down by 22%, wages by 30%, household income by almost 40%, the minimum wage slashed to under 500 euros a month and basic pensions to €360 (US$400).1 The economic devastation is more severe than in the U.S. during the 1930s Great Depression, and in the sixth year of the crisis it’s still at rock bottom.
As Greeks celebrated the election results in the streets, the capitalist media worried. The London Telegraph (26 January) predicted, “Syriza triumph in Greece leaves markets set for turmoil.” The Guardian announced, “Syriza’s historic win puts Greece on collision course with Europe.” In Paris, Le Monde (27 January) headlined, “Syriza, the Greek warning to Europe.” The voice of the Swiss bankers, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, proclaimed the “Dawn of a New Age in Greece.” The Wall Street Journal editorialized about “The Greek Warning,” fretting that a Greek exit from the euro was “not likely, at least not immediately or intentionally,” but while the Eurozone would survive an “accidental exit,” even so “the result would be ugly.”
While the financial press wrung its hands, the Euroleft was euphoric. After three decades of Thatcherism and its “Labour” version, Blairism,2 the British Socialist Workers Party exulted, “As Greece rejects austerity, we can do it here” (Socialist Worker, 27 January). The Socialist Party of England and Wales followed suit, declaring “Syriza victory shows austerity elite can be beaten” (The Socialist, 29 January). In France, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) hailed “Syriza victory, a slap at the Troika” (l’Anticapitaliste, 29 January), namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission (EC), who with their “Memoranda” over the last five years have done their best to destroy the Greek economy.
In the United States, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) gushed about “A new day for Greece and Europe” (Socialist Worker, 26 January), saying the election represented “a long-awaited breakthrough against the ruling class agenda of austerity and repression.” But the agreement for a joint government with ANEL knocked these reformist leftists for a loop. Barely two days later the ISO was asking, “Which path for SYRIZA?” A statement by its Greek affiliate (which is part of SYRIZA) on “The tasks for the left after SYRIZA’s victory” criticized the alliance with the rightist party, saying it “jeopardizes the political project for a government of the left.” It was only the first blow for SYRIZA’s hapless leftists.
On all sides, SYRIZA’s election victory was declared “historic.” Not exactly ten days that shook the world, like the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, more like one day that shook the markets. But the New York Stock Exchange, Paris Bourse and City of London bankers quickly recovered from SYRIZA shock. Soon the IMF/ECB/EC Eurocrats were again blackmailing Greece into submission, as they did earlier with Ireland and Cyprus. The first step was a move by the ECB to ban Greek banks from using Greek government bonds as collateral. This set off a bank run in which depositors withdrew €20 billion, ensuring that if Greece didn’t bow to ECB demands its financial system would collapse when the existing “bailout” expired on February 28.
SYRIZA’s election slogan was “Hope is on the way.” The resemblance to Barack Obama’s 2008 “Hope” election poster is hardly accidental. A “slick and very media-savvy” campaign, “with the US trained speech writers and reputedly a New York based PR firm” (Guardian [London], 26 January), sought to project the telegenic Tsipras as a symbol of Greek dignity and win votes with vague feel-good slogans. Even more quickly than with Obama, the “hope” has been dashed. After three weeks of barbs and clashes with the bankers’ cartel that cast Greece into misery, SYRIZA bowed to their extortion demands. Tsipras and finance minister Yanis Varoufakis capitulated on the debt, on austerity, on privatization, on everything.
Manolis Glezos, a SYRIZA member of the European Parliament and hero of the Resistance for having dared, as a young Communist, to tear down the Nazi flag on the Acropolis in 1941, at least had the courage to say, “I apologize to the Greek people for having assisted in this illusion.” Greeks voted for SYRIZA’s promise to abolish the regime of austerity imposed by the Troika and the “oligarchies,” he noted. But “the fact that the Troika has been renamed ‘the Institutions,’ the Memorandum has been renamed the ‘Agreement’ and the creditors have been renamed the ‘partners’” changes nothing. He and others cited a popular Greek phrase about how monks in the Middle Ages renamed meat as fish to get around fasting requirements.
In the January snap election, while SYRIZA ran on a program of ending austerity through negotiations within the European Union, the Communist Party (KKE) campaigned against this dangerous illusion, warning at a January 11 election rally in Piraeus that the new government “will implement the EU decisions” and “will defend the interests of the big business groups.” True enough. Yet the alternative offered by the Stalinist reformists was purely parliamentary: vote KKE. After SYRIZA’s capitulation, the KKE called a February 27 rally of some thousands in front of parliament to declare “no toleration of the new agreement” and call for a break with the EU and capital. How exactly? By supporting a KKE bill in parliament.
A day later, SYRIZA held a central committee meeting at which 41% voted for a an amendment by the dissident Left Platform expressing “disagreement with the agreement and the list of reforms agreed in the Eurogroup” of finance ministers as “an undesirable compromise for our country.” It was an embarrassment for Tsipras, but not more. Notably, the SYRIZA left wing did not call to overturn the capitalist “reforms” nor demand a vote in parliament, much less a popular referendum, nor demand an end to the coalition with ANEL. Leftists in SYRIZA and their international supporters have acted as enablers for the next round of wage cuts, privatizations and debt gouging – used to round up votes, and then discarded as squeezed lemons.
The duopoly of the rightist New Democracy (ND) and the “left”
bourgeois Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) that ruled
Greece for the last 40 years is finished, having delivered the
masses to the slaughter by the Eurobankers. Ominously, in the
absence of a revolutionary opposition, the Nazi fascists of
Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi, or XA) are lurking about, waiting to
pick up support from the ruined middle class and demoralized
workers. XA’s two-bit Führer Nikolaos Michaloliakos
and other Golden Dawn members were jailed after the stabbing
death of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013. But XA
still gets hundreds of thousands of votes, has ties to ND
leader Antonis Samaras, and may step up its murderous attacks
on immigrants and leftists as disillusionment with SYRIZA sets
Capitalist austerity breeds fascism: XA (Golden Dawn) Nazis stage anti-Turkish, Greek nationalist provocation, January 31. Organize workers militias to crush the fascist scum!
As defenders of revolutionary Marxism, of the Bolshevik politics of Lenin and Trotsky, we stand for intransigent political opposition to the bourgeois Greek government. We wrote at the time of the 2012 elections that a vote for SYRIZA would not represent opposition to capitalist rule and “should be rejected by class-conscious workers.”3 This is even more true today. In the recent (January 25) election, Trotskyists would have given critical support to the KKE, in order to draw a class line against the defenders of capital of SYRIZA and the other bourgeois parties.4 But passive “non-toleration” (KKE) and empty “disagreement” (Left Platform) will not defeat austerity. Nor will bureaucratic labor rallies: Greece has had more than 30 one-day or two-day “general strikes” since 2010, to no avail. The “movement of the squares” in 2011 fared no better, dying out after a few months, and anarchist clashes with the police amount to street theater, leading nowhere. The crisis of revolutionary leadership in Greece today is excruciating.
In the face of the unrelenting capitalist onslaught, the League for the Fourth International warns that there is no reformist or national solution to the immiseration of Greek working people, whether through illusory negotiations within the EU or by a Greek exit (“Grexit”) from the euro. What’s needed is to mobilize workers’ power: to build workers councils to challenge the bourgeois parliamentary regime; occupy enterprises slated for privatization or already privatized; spread workers control through industry, transport and commerce; for an all-out general strike posing the question of which class shall rule. Above all, build a genuinely communist workers party with a Trotskyist transitional program of sharp class struggle for a workers government that initiates Europe-wide socialist revolution.
Eurobankers Continue Torturing Greece
There was drama aplenty on January 26 as the new Greek government quickly announced steps to implement its election platform. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the minister of reconstruction and energy and leader of the Left Platform of SYRIZA, declared that the planned privatization of the Public Power Corporation was frozen, and the auctioning off of the Port of Piraeus, the country’s largest, for which the Chinese consortium Cosco and Danish Maersk were vying, would be put on hold. The labor minister announced that the minimum wage would be restored to the (miserable) € 751 a month, collective bargaining rights would be reinstated, laid-off public sector workers rehired, and a stop put to drafting striking workers for military service.
The new Greek foreign minister objected to new sanctions against Russia by the European Union. Not a word against NATO, though, as SYRIZA (in deference to its ANEL allies) has dropped its paper opposition to the Western imperialist military alliance. Prime Minister Tsipras waxed poetic, declaring that Greece was “leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain,” and with “a clear, strong, indisputable mandate” from the people, “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism.” For good measure, his first act as prime minister was to lay roses at a memorial to 200 Greek Communists executed by the Nazis during the WWII German occupation. Who could miss the symbolism?
In the limelight was the “rock star Greek finance minister” (Le Monde, 29 January), Yanis Varoufakis. The tieless Mr. Cool grabbed media attention by showing up in untucked electric blue shirts and motorcycle boots, riding his Yamaha 1300 cc. muscle bike to meet dark-suited central bankers arriving in chauffeured BMW sedans. To a disdainful British top journalist, Varoufakis said Greece had been subjected to “a kind of fiscal waterboarding” that “turned this nation into a debt colony” (BBC Newsnight, 30 January). Speaking with the equally snotty Der Spiegel (14 February), he added, “Our country is literally being pushed under water. Just before we suffer an actual cardiac arrest, we are granted a momentary respite.… My aim is to end this permanent terror of asphyxiation.”
Cast opposite the bad boy minister from Athens in the looming showdown was his Berlin counterpart, Germany’s Dr. Strangelove, Wolfgang Schäuble, ever ready to go for the “nuclear option” of forcing Greece out of the Eurozone and the European Union. The hard-line German finance minister provoked the January elections by refusing to extend financial support and then insisting that “all previously agreed Greek debt must be paid in full regardless of the composition of the next Greek government” (WorldPost, 13 January). While stoking popular resentment against supposedly lazy, profligate Greeks (who work longer hours for less pay than the labor force of any other Eurozone country), Schäuble neglects to mention that 90% of the “bailout” money never went to Greece, but instead was paid out to European (including German) banks.
But the financial gunfight at the Eurozone OK Corral came to an abrupt and fateful end.
After all the defiant talk and tweaking the noses of Berlin politicians, Frankfurt bankers and stuffed-shirt Brussels bureaucrats, at 6 p.m. on February 20, six hours before an ultimatum from Schäuble expired, Finance Minister Varoufakis agreed to a humiliating Eurogroup statement that committed Greece to fulfill the “commitments” of the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFFA, i.e., the hated Memorandum), under minute supervision of the “institutions” (IMF/ECB/EC, i.e., the despised Troika), and to “refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”
That’s it for SYRIZA’s campaign promises. Driving in the knife, German finance minister Schäuble remarked, “The Greeks certainly will have a difficult time to explain the deal to their voters.” Trying to put a good face on it, Tsipras declared that “we have won the battle, but not the war.” But who could believe that fiction? The Eurogroup statement insisted on “the independence of the European Central Bank.” And the independence of Greece? Hardly of interest to the “Troika.” Already in the early stages of the euro crisis, current European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the German news magazine Focus (3 July 2011): “The sovereignty of the Greeks will be massively limited.” In fact, what has been starkly shown is the dictatorship of finance capital that underlies bourgeois “democracy.”
On February 24, Varoufakis handed in a “submission,” which after talk of fighting corruption, “promoting tax justice” and cracking down on tax evasion, mentioned raising the minimum wage “over time,” in a way that “safeguards competitiveness,” and committed “not to roll back privatizations that have been completed, and to respect tender processes that have already been launched.” Earlier, in his interview with Der Spiegel, he was even more explicit, saying, “We are not stopping the privatization of our ports. We just want to make sure that our country's national assets are not sold off for peanuts.” The Greek finance minister later bragged of the “creative ambiguity” in the documents, but these commitments are unambiguous, and quite devastating.
In a widely circulated interview, Giorgios Gogos, a SYRIZA dock worker, said that the January election sent “an important message, that we’re not going to privatize.” The Port of Piraeus, he pointed out, is vital to ensure communication with Greece’s many islands, whereas “private investors care only for their profits and nothing else.” Gogos vowed, “I have trust in my comrades in SYRIZA,” that “they will follow what they have been saying,” and if they have to reverse their plans, “they will have to ask for the opinion of the people and the society first” (Viewpoint Magazine, 16 February). Yet now the SYRIZA tops have agreed not to stop privatization in general, and of the port in particular, without consulting the workers.
Varoufakis pointed to a phrase in the February 20 document referring to “flexibility” on maintaining “appropriate primary fiscal surpluses.” But that only applies to the current year, and by agreeing to any kind of “primary surplus” (before debt service) in the state budget, by definition SYRIZA is committing to continue the austerity regime. Greek leaders cite the democratic mandate of the January elections when the population voted overwhelmingly against austerity. But in a vivid expression of the hauteur of the Brussels bureaucracy, European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen declared, “We don’t change our policy according to elections.” For these guardians of capital, any pretense of democracy is giving in to “mob rule.”
As for the Greek foreign minister’s challenge to EU sanctions against Russia, that lasted barely 24 hours. SYRIZA is well aware that Greece’s presence in the Eurozone is in good part due to its strategic position on NATO’s southern flank. Greece has a huge military (130,000 soldiers in a country of 11 million people), much of it equipped by German arms manufacturers. While Greek workers’ wages are slashed on orders of the Troika, the same creditors insist it spend billions on weapons purchases. Despite the economic crisis, Greece currently has 170 F-16 fighter jets on order from the U.S. It also has an important NATO air base at Souda Bay, Crete, which was a launching point for bombing Libya (and would be for an attack on Syria).
SYRIZA’s 2013 program calls for Greece to leave NATO and close all foreign military bases, as Greek leftists have long demanded, given NATO’s backing of the colonels’ dictatorship from 1967 to 1974 and the U.S./UK role in instigating the post-WWII Greek civil war in which tens of thousands of leftists were killed. The fact that Greece didn’t leave NATO the day SYRIZA took office is another proof that it is a defender of imperialist capitalism. And the naming of ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, who is tight with the officer corps and opposes civilian control of the military, as minister of defense is a commitment that the new government will not touch the military, which together with the police is the backbone of the capitalist state.
Kammenos’ nomination recalls the Statute of Constitutional Guarantees that the Unidad Popular regime of Salvador Allende signed on taking office in 1970 – guaranteeing that at any time a coup could be mounted to topple the elected government. And the Greek police are shot through with high-level fascist supporters. Moreover, on February 18, on SYRIZA’s proposal, parliament elected ND right-winger Prokopis Pavlopoulos president of Greece. Pavlopoulos was minister of interior during the brutally suppressed protests over the 2008 police murder of the high school student Alexandros Grigoropoulos. Now, thanks to SYRIZA, he will be commander in chief of the army, with the power to name prime ministers, dismiss parliament, issue decrees … and declare a state of siege.
Opportunists Push “Left” Populism
By now, bank lending in Greece has virtually stopped, depositors continue to withdraw funds but the European central bankers have cut off all but emergency funding, and allowing precious little of that. Greece’s economy is “running on empty” and is “close to bankruptcy,” as The Economist (7 March) put it. Now “the institutions” (i.e., the IMF/ECB/EC Troika) are dismissing Greece’s proposed list of “reforms” as inadequate, provoking the next crisis. As a leading financier said of the Eurobankers in the run-up to the last confrontation in Brussels, “They are squeezing them [SYRIZA] on everything, it’s part of a system to suffocate them, to make them realise the end is coming, to realise it is time to get on their knees” (Financial Times, 18 February).
Clearly, the European bourgeoisies have closed ranks to humiliate the new “radical left” Greek government, which is perceived as a threat to conservative and social-democratic parties throughout the continent that are wedded to austerity and “free market” capitalism. Greek public debt of €317 billion is relatively small, and unlike in 2010-12 a default would not threaten the world financial system, since most of it is owed to various central banks and almost none to the international banks, which were already bailed out. But ceding to SYRIZA could reverberate in Spain, where the populist Podemos (“We Can Do It”) party is now leading in opinion polls due to its call to slash the €1 trillion government debt, much of it held by commercial banks.
The intransigence of the international bankers was not only predictable, it was widely predicted. At the time of the 2012 elections we wrote that “SYRIZA awakens illusions that it can do away with harsh austerity by negotiations, which the Eurobankers will not agree to” (“Battle Over Anti-Worker Austerity Comes to a Head in Greece”). The reason goes beyond electoral calculations and obdurate “neoliberal” ideology, as many bourgeois liberals and pseudo-socialist reformists claim. Schäuble & Co. are not mainly concerned to reinvigorate the economy, they are out to raise the rate of exploitation in order to boost profits and bolster the banks, which even in Germany are extremely shaky.
The entire Eurozone structure is designed to enforce austerity on the working class (budget deficits of over 3% of gross domestic product are prohibited by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, although the bigger powers violate this all the time). Moreover, even if the Greek government could miraculously convince European capitalist governments and bankers to undertake significant Keynesian deficit financing of infrastructure and productive investment (as opposed to marginal “quantitative easing” to shore up banks), it would not pull the continent out of the economic doldrums. As we wrote in 2011:
“The reality is that the advanced capitalist industrial countries are stuck in a full-scale depression that will take years to overcome, through massive destruction of capital (shutting down factories, escalating mass unemployment), imperialist trade war or actual shooting war….
“The pseudo-socialists ignore the fact that the current war on workers is not a policy (‘neo-liberalism’) which could be changed, but a necessity for a decaying capitalist system. Keynesian policies were abandoned in the late 1970s because of a severe crisis caused by a falling rate of profit. While the current profit rates are obscene, schemes like ‘tax the rich’ or taxes on stock market transactions (the Tobin tax) will not make it profitable for capital to invest in productive capacity, as it has failed to do on a substantial scale in the advanced capitalist countries since the early 1980s.
“Instead, bankers furiously refuse to take a ‘haircut’ (loss) on Greek loans, however packaged. Their response is not irrational: they know, if the reformist left does not, that the entire international capitalist financial system is technically (and actually) bankrupt and could come crashing down on the least hiccup. Companies refuse to invest, refuse to hire and instead sit on vast piles of cash, while executives cash out by paying themselves fabulous sums for accomplishing nothing. Their attitude, like that of Louis XV and the Old Regime prior to the French Revolution, is après moi le déluge (after me comes the flood) – and they act accordingly.”
–“Upheaval in Europe Over Capitalist Austerity, The Internationalist No.33, Summer 2011
In short, the ongoing Greek financial crisis is not about mythical overpaid Greek workers, nor just about tax-evading oligarchs (although there are plenty of those) and sadistic rulers of the Fourth Reich of German imperialism torturing small European countries, it’s an outgrowth of the world capitalist economic crisis reverberating from Wall Street, whose consequences are still with us. And it won’t be ended by negotiations, amicable or not, with the imperialist money men.
So now that the SYRIZA illusion has been exploded, what is the response of the Greek left? At the latest central committee meeting, the Left Platform of the Coalition called for a “return to the election commitments,” i.e., the platform announced at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair last September. Platform spokesman and energy minister Lapavitsas added that Greece must “bring a full array of options to the table” and “be prepared for extraordinary liquidity measures” in bargaining with the Eurozone finance ministers in June (Guardian, 2 March). In other words, it should threaten to introduce capital controls, as Cyprus did when the ECB forced it into bankruptcy in 2013. Some threat, which would almost exclusively affect Greek depositors!
In a similar vein, the Red Network (part of the Left Platform, including the DEA5) declared that “the left, the labor movement and the social movements must find the strength to answer: NO!” As if that would impress the Frankfurt bankers! It threw in a clause about the need for “a working class and popular struggle that seeks to overthrow this policy that binds the government to austerity.” But Greek workers staged endless protests, one-day strikes and other forms of “popular struggle” against austerity in 2010-11, with zero effect on policy. Moreover, a DEA spokesman admitted that “there are still no planned protests by the unions or the social movements” (Socialist Worker [U.S.], 2 March). What the declaration underlines yet again is their loyalty to this bourgeois government, which they aspire to pressure and advise.
In turn, the (reformist) Communist Tendency of SYRIZA6 called on the government to “immediately cancel the Memorandum agreement” and carry out the Thessaloniki Program, while “advising” the government to “complement” this with “radical and socialist measures, such as the repudiation of the debt, the nationalisation of church property, and the nationalisation of the largest companies, initially the most profitable ones.” Such helpful advice to a bourgeois parliamentary government is empty posturing, which Tsipras will ignore. In any case, this program is no more socialist than the nationalizations by the post-World War II Labour government in Britain which this Labour-loyal current views as the model.
If the response of the reformist SYRIZA left has been one of verbal opposition while doing nothing to inconvenience the government, the no-less-reformist groups in ANTARSYA (Front of the Anti-Capitalist Left) have called for mass protest. Their demonstration in Syntagma Square on February 26 reportedly drew hundreds of people. But while saying “NO!” in the streets rather than in the confines of the government party, ANTARSYA only calls for repudiating the Memoranda, cancelling the debt, rehiring laid-off workers and “breaking with the euro.” This amounts to extra-parliamentary lobbying to pressure the bourgeois SYRIZA government to implement a supposedly “anti-capitalist,” but in reality reformist, program. That is very different from a call for revolutionary class struggle aimed at bringing down the capitalist regime and replacing it with a workers government.
Protest against Greek government agreement with Eurogroup called by ANTARSYA, February 26. The Anti-Capitalist Left Front acts as a pressure group on SYRIZA, trying to push it to the left, rather than revolutionary opposition to the new capitalist regime.
For all its vague talk of “overthrow” and “rupture,” ANTARSYA acts as a transmission belt to and from SYRIZA. Various of its components praised SYRIZA’s campaign, “saluted” its big vote and said its victory filled them with “immense joy at achieving victory for a left ‘No’ to austerity, and many worries over what happens next” (Andreas Sartzekis of the OKDE-Spartakos,7 International Viewpoint, January 2015). Another group in ANTARSYA, the SEK,8 in response to the EU/ECB/EC agreement, called to revive strikes, rallies and occupations. But what it means by its call for a “transitional anti-capitalist program” (“NO to the Agreement, This Shall Not Pass!” 25 February) is a series of demands on the government: canceling the debt, breaking with the euro and the EU, and “nationalization of the banks under workers control.”
For its part, on February 27, the Communist Party brought out a crowd of thousands to protest the agreement and demand a “break with the European Union, capital and their power.” Unlike the SYRIZA Left and ANTARSYA, who view Tispras’ cabinet as in some way “their” government, the KKE in a February 24 statement declared “no support or toleration for the government that continues on the same path of commitments to the EU and the profitability of the monopolies.” But what is its alternative? At the rally General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas cited a draft law introduced to parliament by the Communist Party to repeal the Memorandum, reinstate the minimum wage, etc. And he ended with a call for “popular sovereignty,” or “people’s power” as it used to be called.
When the rest of the Greek left denounces the “sectarianism” of the Stalinist KKE, they mean above all its refusal to join with SYRIZA. To deny political support to a bourgeois party is in fact imperative. But when the KKE poses the alternative as “people’s power,” it is denying the need for workers power. In the past, the arch-nationalist Communist Party called simply for Greece to leave the European Union. Today it says that without “socialization of the means of production, the different organization of the economy and society, the return to the national currency on its own could actually lead to worse developments for the popular strata” (“Syriza, the new pole of social democracy in Greece,” KKE web site, 10 February). Indeed. Yet vague talk of “socialization” and a “different organization of society” won’t defeat the Eurobankers.
It all recalls the “anti-globalization” movement’s slogan of “another world is possible” and chants of “this is what democracy looks like.” But in these times of worldwide capitalist crisis and depression, the massive impoverishment of working people cannot be overcome under imperialist “democracy.” With different formulas, the Greek reformist left, inside SYRIZA and without, is putting forward a program for a more “left” version of bourgeois populism, when the urgent need – and only way defeat capitalist austerity – is to fight for socialist revolution.
Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Workers Party in Greece
The government of the “leftist” SYRIZA and the rightist ANEL, champion of the Greek Orthodox Church and the military, is no ally of the working class but the “executive committee of the [Greek] bourgeoisie” – as Lenin in State and Revolution (1917) described all capitalist governments. Today SYRIZA is the enforcer of austerity on behalf of the Eurobankers. Tsipras will inevitably crack down on militant workers, as Allende did against the miners and cordones industriales in Chile in 1973 and Kerensky did in Russia in July 1917. The task of Bolshevik-Leninists in Greece today is to build a revolutionary Trotskyist workers party in opposition to the phony “friends of the people” of SYRIZA, in order to defeat the Greek Pinochets and Kornilovs and open the road to workers rule throughout Europe.
That means telling the truth to the masses, beginning with the battle over the debt. While reformists in SYRIZA and ANTARSYA call blithely to repudiate Greece’s unpayable burden of debt to the imperialist bankers, who hold it as a sword of Damocles over the heads of the workers, the Trotskyists of the League for the Fourth International warn that “the dominant imperialist powers would oust any government and subject to a devastating embargo any country that dared to cancel their debt. Abolition of the imperialist debt requires workers revolution, as the Bolsheviks did in 1917, and international extension of the revolution” (see “Greece on the Razor’s Edge,” No. 32, January-February 2011). Calls to cancel the debt must be part of a program for a proletarian revolutionary counteroffensive.
Likewise on the question of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, the LFI underscores that “our opposition to the imperialist European Union is not nationalist but internationalist, opposing the Europe of the capitalists by fighting for workers rule – a socialist united states of Europe.” Should Greece be forced out of the EU by the diktat of the Eurobosses enforcing capitalist austerity, class-conscious workers throughout Europe should defend Greece against the economic assault of the imperialist overlords. But under capitalism, “Grexit” will mean a drastic devaluation and slashing of wages, with little likelihood that this will lead to economic recovery anytime soon.9 Thus in the face of the bankers’ assault, Trotskyists stand for Europe-wide revolutionary workers mobilization while simultaneously calling for a socialist federation of the Balkans (including the right to self-determination of Macedonia).
A major threat facing the workers movement in Greece today is that of murderous fascism, particularly directed against immigrants and the left. The Golden Dawn Nazis of XA have strong connections within New Democracy, which is usually (and falsely) described as a “center-right” party, and among the police. Even if it tried to, SYRIZA would never be able to purge the state apparatus of repression, which ever since the 1940s Greek Civil War and the 1967-74 colonels’ dictatorship has been a hard core of anti-communism. Thus in contrast to the criminal passivity of the KKE, it is vital that revolutionary Marxists struggle to form armed workers defense groups to smash the fascist thugs and defend immigrants. We call as well to shut down the concentration camps for immigrants, and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Revolutionary Marxists fight police-state repression, demanding freedom for all class-war prisoners, including the jailed anarchists and urban guerrillas transferred to recently opened “Type C” maximum security prisons. We also call for abolition of the “anti-terrorist” laws under which several were convicted. On March 2, anarchists occupied SYRIZA’s headquarters, rightly holding the “leftist” ruling party responsible for the continued imprisonment of their comrades (now on hunger strike). We neither call on the capitalist state to ban or “jail Golden Dawn,” measures which will be used against the left, nor to free all “political prisoners,” as a number of XA Nazis have been jailed on charges of assault and the 2013 murder of leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas. Instead, Trotskyists call on the workers movement to smash the fascist threat.
Faced with ongoing mass unemployment on a scale unseen since the 1930s Depression, the call for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay (a sliding scale of hours), to divide up the available work among all takers (a centerpiece of Trotsky’s Transitional Program), assumes vital importance, as does the call for indexing pay to inflation (a sliding scale of wages), which would be a crucial defense against massive wage-cutting in the wake of a Greek exit from the euro. But these demands, which as Trotsky pointed out prefigure a socialist planned economy, will not be implemented by SYRIZA or indeed any “left” or even “socialist” government of the capitalist state. They must be won by mobilizing workers power against the bosses and against leftists now administering the capitalist state.
Dock workers march into Syntagma Square in Athens to protest plans to privatize port of Piraeus, 19 December 2014. Workers should occupy the port, including the container terminals already handed over to Cosco where non-union workers struck last June over dangerous working conditions.
As Tsipras & Co. carry out the austerity policies of the Eurobosses, a revolutionary transitional program would mobilize the working class on the path from protest to a struggle for power. Faced with demands for privatization, authentic Trotskyists would call on Piraeus dock workers to not only oppose this but to prevent it by occupying the port, including the docks already turned over to the Chinese company Cosco, and impose workers control. The action of fired workers of the shuttered ERT state radio and TV company in taking over the closed facilities and resuming broadcasting should be emulated. Faced with the crisis in health care, workers should impose workers control of the hospitals, including private hospitals, seize needed drugs and medicines from the pharmaceutical monopolies, and provide free health care to all who need it.
The level of class mobilization today is far lower than it was in 2010-11, and many workers have illusions in SYRIZA. That is why it falls to authentic communists, the Trotskyists, to take the lead now in putting forward a transitional program of sharp class struggle. To call on the capitalist government to implement the planks of SYRIZA’s now-abandoned bourgeois election platform, as much of the Greek left does, is to sow illusions just as dangerous as the idea that the imperialist financiers could be induced to write off Greece’s debt and to abandon austerity. By seeing the populists in power as allies rather than representatives of the class enemy, the opportunists are preparing the way for another bloody Metaxas dictatorship10 to seize power once the populist “radical leftists” have managed to demoralize the mass of the workers and poor.
The stance taken by would-be socialist and communist groups on the election of the SYRIZA government in Greece today will be a litmus test of revolutionary Marxism, as was the 1970 election of Allende’s Unidad Popular (UP) in Chile. At that time, opportunists of all stripes, including social democrats, Stalinists and supporters of Ernest Mandel, Nahuel Moreno and other pseudo-Trotskyists, helped fuel the deadly illusions of the hope-filled masses in hailing the popular-front UP government. In contrast, authentic Trotskyists warned that this “left” capitalist government would lead to a bloodbath once its support had been ground down under relentless imperialist pressure, unless class-conscious workers mobilized under a revolutionary leadership to bring down capitalism before it crushed the working class.
Building such a genuinely communist leadership is the
challenge that the League for the Fourth International poses
for those who seek a revolutionary way forward in Greece
- 1. The European common currency, the euro (€), currently trades at an exchange rate of about US$1.15.
- 2. Conservative Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Britain in 1979 and unleashed a war on trade unions, culminating in the defeat of the 1984-85 miners strike, much as Ronald Reagan went after labor in the U.S. with a sledgehammer. During her 12 years in office, the Tory “Iron Lady” massively privatized nationalized industries and shredded much of the social-democratic “welfare state.” Labour Party prime minister Tony Blair, who held office from 1997 to 2007, largely continued Thatcher’s economic policies, under the watchword that “there is no alternative” (TINA) to “free-market” capitalist policies generally referred to as neoliberalism.
- 3. See “Battle Over Anti-Worker Austerity Comes to a Head in Greece,” The Internationalist special issue, Summer 2012.
- 4. See box, “What Is SYRIZA?”
- 5. International Workers Left, associated with the International Socialist Organization in the U.S.
- 6. Part of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) led by Alan Woods, heirs of the Militant Tendency led by the late Ted Grant, which for decades was buried inside the British Labour Party. The fact that this “Communist Tendency” is part of a bourgeois party, SYRIZA, hardly bothers the IMT, as it has for many years posed as the “Marxist wing” of populist capitalist parties, from Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party to the Party of the Democratic Revolution in Mexico. The concept of a class line between bourgeois and proletarian is alien to these opportunists, who consider the police – the armed fist of capitalism –to be part of the working class.
- 7. Organization of Communist Internationalists of Greece-Spartacus, the Greek section of the pseudo-Trotskyist International Committee (formerly United Secretariat) of the Fourth International, which, however, prefers SYRIZA over ANTARSYA, since the former’s far higher electoral score shows that they are the more successful opportunist maneuverers.
- 8. Socialist Workers Party, Greek affiliate of the British SWP, heirs of Tony Cliff who broke with Trotskyism denouncing the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state as “state capitalism.”
- 9. Argentina’s uncoupling from the dollar in 2001 is often cited as a positive example, but that led to years of mass unemployment, and Greece does not have the export capacity that enabled the South American country to bounce back. Greek light industry (such as textiles) has been largely destroyed and cannot compete against lower-wage Asian producers, while agricultural production has been so hard hit that today Greece imports 40 percent of its food. Moreover, its fruit exports to Russia have now been slashed by Moscow’s retaliation against EU trade sanctions.
- 10. In August 1936, General Ioannis Metaxas seized power, with the support of the Greek king, and imposed a fascistic, bonapartist (police-military) dictatorship aimed centrally at smashing the left.