Hammer, Sickle and Four logo
The Internationalist
  September 2015

Against the Eurobanker/SYRIZA Assault – Occupy the Banks and Ports For Workers Control of Production and Distribution, Form Workers Councils

Greek Elections: For a Europe-Wide
Workers Revolt Against Capitalist Austerity

Public sector workers strike in Athens as Parliament voted to adopt Eurobankers' Third Memorandum of brutal austerity, July 15. (Photo: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

SEPTEMBER 23 – Just weeks after Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras signed new, crippling austerity measures into law, Greek working people faced yet another election – the third vote this year. The outcome of the September 20 ballot was to return Tsipras’ SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) to office, with only slightly fewer seats in parliament than before. But after being voted into office in January on an anti-austerity platform, SYRIZA instead delivered the exact opposite. So this time it ran as enforcers of the devastating Memorandum dictated by the Eurobankers which promises even deeper impoverishment. As a result, rather than the euphoria of its earlier election victory, now there was only resignation.

After Tsipras performed his dramatic kolotoumba (somersault or U-turn) in July, abandoning all pretense of resisting the bankers’ demands, the former Left Platform of SYRIZA quit to form a new electoral coalition, Popular Unity (LEA, for Laiki Enótita). So immediately upon ramming approval of the third Memorandum through parliament in August, Tsipras called a snap election, hoping to undercut his leftist critics by forcing a vote before they had time to build up an electoral apparatus. His ploy worked, as LEA got only 2.86% of the vote, below the 3% cutoff for representation in parliament. This could be a devastating blow to Popular Unity which, like SYRIZA, is essentially an electoral front without an organized mass base.

The election was mainly between SYRIZA, which despite its name is a bourgeois populist party, and the rightist New Democracy (ND). There was little debate, as both are committed to carrying out the drastic attacks on Greek working people ordered by the European Central Bank (ECB). But many middle-class voters were fed up with ND for getting Greece into this mess with its corrupt, clientalist practices when it ran the country in a duopoly with PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party, another bourgeois populist outfit) for the last 40 years, so they voted for SYRIZA. Such capitalist parties masquerading as leftists (like Podemos in Spain) are vehicles to bind the exhausted and bled working people to the vultures and loan sharks of finance capital.

That can require some subterfuge. So the SYRIZA tops engaged in a lot of theatrics with the “Troika” of the ECB, the European Commission (EC) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Perhaps they started out believing their own election propaganda that they could end austerity within the European common currency, the euro, but that illusion soon went up in smoke. When Tsipras called the July 5 referendum on the ECB/EC/IMF “final offer,” it was a cynical gambit to hide the fact that he had already given in to the Troika’s demands, and to shift responsibility onto Greek workers. Even before 61% of voters backed his call to vote for “OXI” (Greek for “No”), he made clear that this was only an attempt to bargain for slightly better surrender terms.

While the mass of OXI voters surely thought they were voting against austerity, they were being used. Any would-be Marxist who didn’t see through the maneuver wasn’t paying attention. The League for the Fourth International warned that neither a “NAI” (Yes) nor an “OXI” vote would strike a blow against the European financiers. We stressed that the referendum was called to legitimize Tsipras’ next move on the Eurobankers’ chess board, and as a vote of confidence in the regime. What was necessary instead, we insisted, was hard class struggle against the Troika and the SYRIZA government that had become its instrument (see “Greek Workers: Defeat the Bankers’ Diktat, Occupy the Banks and Ports!”).

The Stalinist KKE (Communist Party of Greece) correctly characterized the referendum as a ploy, and on this issue it was to the left of every other ostensibly socialist organization in Greece, who all enthusiastically called for an “OXI” vote. However, the KKE’s answer is not to mobilize real, hard-hitting workers’ actions to thwart the capitalist assault, but speeches in parliament plus more ritual one-day strikes, which pose no real threat to the ruling class. While the Stalinists have become more cautious since 2012 about calling for a Greek exit from the Eurozone (“Grexit”), recognizing that under capitalism this would involve extreme pain for Greek workers, their call to “disengage with the EU” with “people’s power” is nationalist popular-frontism.

Popular Unity: SYRIZA 2

Leaders of Popular Unity (LEA, for Laïki Enótita) split from SYRIZA speaking at Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, September 8. In center: outgoing Greek parliament president Zoe Konstantopoulou and LEA leader Panagiotis Lafazanis. (Photo: Fani Tripsani/Motionteam)

Popular Unity, whose name is ostentatiously copied from the bourgeois popular-front Unidad Popular coalition government of Salvador Allende in Chile during 1970-73, is indeed a replay of the pre-referendum SYRIZA before it scrapped its formal anti-austerity program. Where the LEA raises a few planks not in the watered-down 2014 Thessaloniki Program, these are taken right out of the 2013 Political Resolution of the First Congress of SYRIZA. Thus LEA (2015) calls for “Nationalization of the banks and their operation under a regime of social control.” The “original SYRIZA” (2013) demand was: “Set the banking system under public ownership and control.” Both call for banks to service farmers and small and medium businesses.

Nor is there anything socialist about calling for nationalization of the banks when the whole system is already bankrupt. Much of the assets of Greek banks (aside from emergency loans from the ECB) consist of government paper of dubious value. And in fact, the leading banks are already effectively state-owned, since the government’s Hellenic Financial Stability Fund holds a majority of the shares of the National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank and Alpha Bank, and is the biggest shareholder of Eurobank Ergasias, while management is in the hands of the bankers.1In fact, “nationalization” of the banks would just amount to a transfer of management, and funneling billions more in tax funds to recapitalize them in order to protect depositors.

With its calls for “generous funding” of this and that, for a “socially just and redistributive taxation system,” etc., the LEA Program is a wish list of programs for a “government supported by the power of the organized people” based on the capitalist state. Certainly, Popular Unity talks of “democracy everywhere, people’s power,” of a “radical transformation of the state, the judiciary, and public administration,” of “a new, much more advanced democracy, conjoining representative with direct democracy,” and of course “a new constituent assembly.” Many pretty words tied up in a bow.But who holds the guns?For all the fantasizing about participatory democracy, actual state power – the “special bodies of armed men” of the police and army – is the instrument of capital until a socialist revolution overthrows its rule. About that, Popular Unity has nary a word to say.

LEA calls for “a great popular patriotic front” that would be the continuation of the OXI vote in the July 5 referendum. This standard-issue Stalinist call for a class-collaborationist coalition foresees a “social alliance of working people” with bourgeois sectors  such as “small and medium business strata.” And not just in the abstract. After Popular Unity split from SYRIZA, it briefly had the third-largest parliamentary fraction (now it has none). During the three days when it had a mandate to try to form a government, LEA leader Panagiotis Lafazanis appealed to employer groups, including the commerce confederation (ESSE) and the professionals’ and merchants’ association (GSVEE), to join LEA in fighting the Memorandum (Iskra, 25 August).

The one real difference between SYRIZA and LEA is the latter’s call to (prepare to) break from the euro, “if necessary.” The KKE accurately summed up the policy of  Popular Unity  as “a capitalist Greece with a national currency.” Dubbing the breakaway “SYRIZA Mark II,” it added ironically that “the sequel is usually worse than the original film.”

Trotskyists have always opposed the European Union and its economic “rules” embodied in the euro as a capitalist attack on the working class. We call for workers struggle to bring down this imperialist alliance from within and without. Greece may be forced to exit the euro and the EU to avoid economic collapse. But while the bourgeois economics professors of SYRIZA and LEA concoct economic policies for a “left” government of the capitalist state, we do not call for Grexit under capitalism. In fact, a greatly devalued drachma would drastically hit workers’ living standards (by making imports more expensive) long before it makes Greek exports more competitive. Moreover, creditors could refuse to renegotiate the debt, and bankers could simply refuse to accept a new Greek currency for international payments.

The hard reality is, inside the EU or outside, with the euro or a new drachma, only socialist revolution will end capitalist austerity. Any leftist tendency that doesn’t understand and forthrightly say that isn’t telling the truth to the working people of Greece, and all of Europe.

Opportunist Leftists in the Shadow of SYRIZA, and Now LEA

Of the groups standing to the left of SYRIZA and Popular Unity, the largest is ANTARSYA (Front of the Anti-Capitalist Left), which ran in an electoral coalition with the smaller EEK (Revolutionary Workers Party) in the recent election. But far from offering a class alternative to SYRIZA I and II, ANTARSYA sought to form an electoral bloc with LEA, and only launched its own slate when it was rebuffed by Lafazanis & Co., who insisted that it had to join Popular Unity or no deal. (Several groups associated with ANTARSYA did go over to LEA.) After the fact, ANTARSYA “discovered” that Popular Unity’s call for a “democratic, patriotic, progressive” front didn’t have anything anti-capitalist about it.

A number of the groups in ANTARSYA claim to be Trotskyist. A “Statement on the Upcoming Elections” by the OKDE-Spartakos (International Communist Organization of Greece, part of the tendency of the heirs of Ernest Mandel) noted correctly that Popular Unity’s program was “the strategy of the Popular Front,” that it just wanted “a return to the original SYRIZA and their electoral governmental tactic, plus the demand for national currency,” and thus “political and electoral collaboration with LEA is not possible.” Yet ANTARSYA, to which the OKDE-Spartakos belongs, has long sought political collaboration with SYRIZA, and now LEA, only to be constantly disappointed.

Another component of ANTARSYA, the SEK (Socialist Workers Party, part of the tendency of the heirs of Tony Cliff) said it was “hopeful that after the election we can unite [with Popular Unity] in fighting back” against austerity. But the SEK limited itself to supporting strikes by railway workers and others, plus an “anti-capitalist transitional programme put forward by Antarsya” of “cancelling the entire debt, nationalising the banks and big companies under workers’ control, banning lay-offs and breaking with and exiting from the euro and the EU.” The EEK similarly justifies its electoral participation under the ANTARSYA banner.

While the assorted Mandelite, Cliffite and other pseudo- and anti-Trotskyist currents talk of transitional programs and opposition to popular frontism, their rhetoric is devoid of revolutionary content. The laundry list of demands consists of calls on the present bourgeois rulers or some kind of “left government” to carry various measures while the Trotskyist 1938 Transitional Program was a call for action by the workers movement against the capitalist state and leading to its overthrow.2 Even when they add references to “workers control,” this is just an adornment on the demand for nationalization. Real workers control is a form of dual power. Tacked on to calls for nationalization by an entrenched bourgeois government, rather than as part of a program to bring down capitalism, talk of “workers control” will amount to some kind of class collaboration.

Their “transition” is divorced from struggle for socialist revolution. Moreover, the various “transitional programs” of the fake Trotskyists are put forward as the programs of one or another front. The DEA (International Workers Left, a dissident Cliffite group linked to the International Socialist Organization in the U.S.) is part of the Red Network, which was part of the Left Platform, which was part of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). Trotsky’s program, in contrast, was the founding document of the Fourth International and had as its central focus the need to build a revolutionary, Bolshevik-Leninist party. The Greek left suffers from an acute case of “frontitis,” and much of its activity is bound up in squabbling between the various pseudos.

Kolotoumba of the ICL

Another tendency which has recently put forward its own call for “committees composed of workers from different tendencies” with a similar program to those of the ANTARSYA conglomerate is the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TGG), part of the International Communist League (ICL) led by the Spartacist League in the U.S. (see “The ICL on Greece: Goodbye Trotsky, Hello Minimum Program”). Its cut-rate, minimum program has no mention of a workers government, revolutionary party or socialist revolution, or even a call for bringing down the SYRIZA government (thereby tailoring its program to discontented SYRIZA supporters).

In defending this left social-democratic program at a September 2 forum on Greece held by the Grupo Internacionalista in Mexico, an ICL spokesman argued that, in contrast to the League for the Fourth International’s calls for international socialist revolution, the key is to demand Grexit as a fight for “national sovereignty.” “Greece today has less sovereignty than a semi-colonial country like Mexico,” he argued. But Trotskyists fight against national oppression, and for liberation from the yoke of imperialism, while the bourgeois nationalist demand for “national sovereignty” is a call for the capitalist government to hold sway over its territory (and thus is the battle cry of reactionary Ukrainian nationalists against the revolt in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine today). Moreover, the cry of “national sovereignty” has been a hallmark of Greek nationalists, notably in insisting that Macedonia be called FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

A second argument was put forward by ICL supporters at their own forum on Greece in Mexico a week later, namely that their program is really for a united front, and that’s why it has no mention of a revolutionary party. But a united front is essentially a call to action, which is hardly the case with a detailed nine-point program. And what “united front” is going to “expropriate the banks” and “industrialize Greece”? That can only be done by a government, and since they don’t call for a workers government, this amounts to a call on the current bourgeois government. Moreover, in citing Argentina’s 2001 break with the dollar as an example, the ICL is advising the capitalist government on how to administer its crisis. By calling for a “Grexit” under capitalism, this reformist minimum program would further impoverish Greek workers in the name of “national sovereignty.”

Athens, July 3. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras camaigning for an “OXI” (No) vote in referendum he called as ploy in bargaining with Eurobankers over surrender terms for anti-worker austerity. Most of the Greek left, as well as the ICL, aided Tsipras in hoodwinking Greek voters. 
(Photo:  Petros Giannakouris)

The TGG/ICL have since followed up with a statement calling for “No Vote to Syriza! No Vote to Popular Unity!” in the September 20 election, along with an “Open Letter to the Greek Communist Party” (Workers Vanguard, 18 September). They “call on the KKE to repudiate its position on the July 5 referendum” as a precondition for giving it critical support. This is fairly comical (a flea making demands on an elephant), but more importantly attacks the Communist party from the right. While the TGG joined the bulk of the opportunist Greek left in calling for a “NO” vote in Tsipras’ referendum, the KKE called for a “double OXI,” with posters saying “NO” to the Troika’s austerity plan and “NO” to SYRIZA’s austerity plan.

So while the reformist Stalinists for their own reasons exposed the fraud of the July 5 referendum, saying that even a “NO” vote would lead to more brutal austerity – which it did – the TGG/ICL argues that refusing to join the opportunists in following Tsipras’ call was “not just an error but a betrayal.” In fact, the position of these pseudo-Trotskyists is a betrayal of the Greek workers in the name of “national sovereignty,” and of the history of the Spartacist tendency that for several decades knew how to “swim against the stream.” The reason that today the TGG/ICL’s action program for Greece reads like it could have been written by various groups in ANTARSYA, is that it has adapted to and increasingly adopted the outlook of the these opportunists.

In the September 20 vote, the correct policy for class-conscious workers was not only to oppose the parties of Eurobanker austerity (ND, PASOK, To Potami, ANEL, SYRIZA, etc.), but also to refuse to support Popular Unity (LEA) as one more bourgeois populist formation that only offered a repeat of the SYRIZA debacle. Authentic Marxists insist that the bottom line for any form of political support is the fight for theindependence of the working class from all capitalist politicians, parties and alliances. Thus, in the September vote, as in the January 25 election, the League for the Fourth International was for critical support to candidates of the KKE, on the grounds of its opposition to SYRIZA, LEA and the other bourgeois parties, while calling for internationalist workers action rather than the Stalinists’ nationalist and parliamentarist passivity.

While SYRIZA won the election, the struggle in Greece is far from over. The Eurobankers’ program of extreme austerity will inevitably fail once again: the returns from privatizations will fall far short of their goals, and the mountain of debt will keep on growing. Meanwhile, the draconian cuts threaten to provoke an explosion of opposition, whether from workers facing mass layoffs or petty-bourgeois sectors such as farmers or pharmacists facing bankruptcy. What’s needed is a class-struggle program for workers action. In particular it is necessary to defend the right to asylum for all refugees and of full citizenship for all immigrants, while mobilizing workers defense against the fascist Gold Dawn as it seeks to whip up racist hysteria.

As we wrote on the eve of the July referendum:

“The first duty of revolutionary Marxists is to tell the truth to the masses. The League for the Fourth International says that the only way to defeat the bankers’ diktat and put an end to the devastating austerity program of the Eurobosses is by mobilizing the workers’ power on the road to a socialist revolution in Greece and throughout Europe. To stop the financial extortion, workers should occupy the banksand place them under control of elected workers commissions against the Eurobankers and the Greek capitalist government. Against the threat of privatization, workers in the ports of Piraeus, Thessaloniki and the Greek islands should occupy the ports (and airports) and place them under workers control. Make public health and public transportation permanently free, under workers control. As for the unpayable foreign debt, the workers should repudiate (cancel) it entirely, as the Russian workers did in October 1917. But that will take a revolution.”

In the face of the impending catastrophe, it is necessary to fight for workers committees to control distribution of vital goods, and for the formation of workers councils to challenge and bring down the rule of the bourgeoisie.

The key is revolutionary leadership, and the task of the hour is to cohere the nucleus of an authentic Trotskyist party in Greece. In the late 1930s, Trotsky insisted on the vital necessity of exposing the popular front which served as a bulwark for the bourgeoisie against the struggle for workers revolution. He wrote trenchantly about “the left centrists [who] seek to present this question as a tactical or even as a technical maneuver, so as to be able to peddle their wares in the shadow of the People’s Front.”3 Today, as at the time of the Spanish Civil War, or of the Chilean popular front in the early 1970s, the struggle in Greece has thrown into sharp relief the counterposed strategies of bourgeois reform and proletarian revolution.

The SYRIZA debacle has exposed the bankruptcy of all programs calling for a “democratic” struggle against austerity.4 A genuine Trotskyist organization in Greece must be built in struggle not only against the bourgeois populists of SYRIZA and the LEA but also by winning revolutionary-minded militants and class-conscious workers from the Communist Party and the various reformist and centrist groups that are currently reeling under the impact of Tsipras’ July-August capitulation and now the victory of the pro-austerity parties in the September elections. At this time when their past policies have led to disaster, a serious reexamination going back to Marxist basics is required.

Only by confronting the capitalists with workers power can the Greek working class gain relief. That fight goes far beyond a small eastern Mediterranean nation of 11 million, especially as waves of refugees fleeing imperialist war and communalist slaughter sweep through Greece and up through the Balkans. Far from appeals to Greek nationalism, revolutionaries raise the counterposed banner of uniting the workers of Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and the entire region, together with the workers, oppressed – and desperate refugees – from the crisis-gripped Near East and throughout the world. Genuine communists fight for militant workers action from the Balkans to Spain, Italy, France and Germany, where strike struggles have been mounting under the Social Democratic/Christian Democratic Grand Coalition. Only Europe-wide socialist revolution and the formation of a Socialist Federation of the Balkans and a United Socialist States of Europe can end the brutal capitalist war on the workers. ■

  1. 1. Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, Annual Report 2014 (April 2015).
  2. 2. See the “Exchange on Transitional Demands” and “Not a ‘New New Deal,’ But a Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution,” The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009 for further discussion of this.
  3. 3. See the quotations from Trotsky in the Internationalist Group Readings pamphlet on The Popular Front: Roadblock to Revolution (May 2007).
  4. 4. See “Greece: The Naked Rule of Finance Capital.”