to the Greek Calends*
* In the Roman calendar, the calends were the first day of every month, when the pontiffs, or priests, would announce the number of days until the end of the month when debtors had to pay off their debts. The Greek calendar, however, had no such concept, so consigning something “to the Greek calends” was to relegate it to a time that will never arrive.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras at July 3 rally in Athens calling for a “No” (“Oxi” in Greek) vote in referendum on Eurobankers’ “final offer.” We warned that the referendum was a scam, that Tsipras had already agreed to the surrender terms and even a “No” vote would bring more brutal austerity. As we foretold, immediately after the vote, Tsipras accepted the bankers’ ultimatum. ICL joined other opportunists in heeding Tsipras’ call, and thus shares in responsibility for the outcome.
The Greek working class has been battered by one political disaster after another this year. First, SYRIZA, the “Coalition of the Radical Left” which is actually a bourgeois populist party, formed a coalition government with the right-wing populist ANEL (Greek Democrats) the day after its January 25 election victory. After running on a platform promising to undo the brutal austerity imposed on Greece, only weeks after taking office, on February 20, the SYRIZA-ANEL government signed a joint statement with the Eurogroup of central bankers agreeing to more austerity measures. Then, following several months of Sturm und Drang (thunder and lightning) negotiations in Brussels, the bankers demanded a Greek capitulation. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, having already agreed to almost all their extortionate demands, tried to wash his hands of responsibility by calling a referendum on the terms of surrender, urging a “NO” vote (OXI in Greek). 62% voted “No,” whereupon Tsipras pulled a U-turn and agreed with the parties that voted “Yes” to an even worse program of devastating austerity.1
Those on the left who contributed to these betrayals by fostering the SYRIZA illusion were left dumbfounded and bitter. This included the various components of the Left Platform of SYRIZA and a second electoral coalition, ANTARSYA (Front of the Anti-Capitalist Left), which acted as a pressure group on SYRIZA. Also among those who got singed was the International Communist League (ICL – the Spartacist tendency), and its local outlet, the Trotskyist Group of Greece (TGG). After having called for no vote to SYRIZA in January, the ICL did its own flip-flop and heeded Tsipras’ call for a “No” vote in the July referendum. Coming off that debacle, the ICL/TGG issued a call for “workers committees of action” on an eight-point program that makes no mention of revolution, a revolutionary party or the overthrow of capitalism. It was a parody of Trotsky’s concept of transitional demands as a “bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution.”2
After three decades of upholding revolutionary Trotskyism, the ICL was unhinged by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and entered on a downward spiral of almost 20 years of centrist degeneration in which it has abandoned one key plank of the Trotskyist program after another. In opposition to the 1996 founding document of the Internationalist Group upholding the central thesis of the Transitional Program – “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.... the crisis of the proletarian leadership, having become the crisis in mankind’s culture, can be resolved only by the Fourth International” – the ICL declared this outdated in the post-Soviet world. Trotsky’s thesis, the very reason for being of the FI, “predates the present deep regression of proletarian consciousness,” declared the ICL, essentially pinning the blame on the workers rather than the misleaders. Now, faced with a potentially revolutionary crisis in Greece, these ex-Trotskyists have turned sharply to the right.
Stung by our description of the ICL/TGG’s perversion of Trotsky’s Transitional Program in omitting the socialist revolution as a “bridge to nowhere” and a “minimum program” like those of Stalinists and social democrats who limit struggle to the bounds of capitalism, the ICL responded with an article titled “IG on Greece: Bridge to the Fourth Reich” (Workers Vanguard, 2 October). The demagogic headline indicates that they have decided to play dirty. (An accompanying piece slanderously accuses us of “provocation” and “a set-up for violence” against the ICL.) The ostensible justification for the soft-core Nazi baiting is our warning that the July referendum was a fraud, that while a “Yes” vote would mean abject surrender to the Eurobankers, even a “No” vote would approve draconian austerity and be a vote of confidence in Tsipras. Our warning, according to the ICL, “was nothing less than a betrayal, a capitulation to the EU [European Union] imperialists, centrally the Fourth Reich of German imperialism.”
The ICL claims that the referendum was just “‘for or against’ the Troika’s vicious austerity program,” as if this was some kind of simple opinion poll. It was not, it was a ploy by Tsipras to give the appearance of resisting the hated “Troika” of imperialist bankers (ECB, EC, IMF), while actually giving into their demands. It was a classic “bait-and-switch” scam which any street-smart New Yorker, and certainly any revolutionary Marxist, should instantly spot: promise them one thing, give them another. Ever hear of “αγοράζετε ένα γουρούνι στο σακί” (buying a pig in a poke)? The reformist KKE at least recognized this, but the ICL helped Tsipras’ rip-off. Instead of going along with the charade, the job of Trotskyists is to warn the targets of this cynical operation, that they are being used, that there is no escape from austerity under capitalism. As the Transitional Program says, “To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be… – these are the rules of the Fourth International.” Not so for the ICL, though.
Workers Vanguard also alleges that, “The resounding ‘no’ vote in the July 5 Greek referendum destabilized the parliamentary order in that country, providing an opening for the working class to come forward in struggle.” This is fantasy. The result of the “no” vote, which Tsipras then used to impose more austerity, was to demoralize Greek workers, leading to resignation rather than struggle. If it served to “expose” Tsipras & Co., how come SYRIZA got almost the same percentage of the vote in September elections as it did in January? The ICL joins the ANTARSYA and LEA (Popular Unity) opportunist leftists who pretend that the “no” vote in the referendum was somehow against the government. But large numbers of those who followed Tsipras’ appeal to vote “no” did so precisely in order to back him in his negotiations. Shocked that the outcome did not serve to rally the working masses, leftist backers of the “no” vote seek solace in conjuring up a “movement for No” that only existed in their imagination.
Actually, the ICL was well aware of what was going on in the referendum, which only underlines its cynicism. A subsequent article in Workers Vanguard(13 November) stated: “Syriza called for a ‘no’ vote, with the declared intent of utilizing the outcome to pressure the EU for more favorable conditions.” It goes on to report, as we did months ago, that SYRIZA insiders said Tsipras secretly expected and hoped for a “yes” vote, so he wouldn’t have to do the dirty work. But that didn’t negate the fact that Tsipras called for a “no” vote as a pressure tactic, and that once he got it, he went ahead and agreed to the sellout that he was preparing all along. We in the League for the Fourth International warned in advance that the vote was simply to hide the fact that the government had accepted the Troika’s terms, and that’s exactly what happened. Squirm as it might, the ICL can’t get around that basic fact, and that in its modest way, it helped stoke the illusions. Having done so, it shares responsibility for the result.
Next on the ICL’s list of grievance is the LFI position on Greek exit from the Eurozone, colloquially referred to as “Grexit”. According to the ICL, a Grexit “would help break Greek workers from nationalism,” and for us to say that calling for Grexit under capitalism is pandering to bourgeois nationalism is pro-imperialist. The mental gymnastics they perform to buttress this claim surpasses Nadia Comaneci’s perfect-10 performance in the 1976 Summer Olympics. In the first place, a capitalist Grexit is the program of Greek nationalists of every hue, from right to left. The ICL then claims that Greece “has even less national sovereignty today than neocolonial Mexico,” and argues for Grexit on the grounds that “control over its currency is an elementary prerequisite for national sovereignty.” So in the case of Greece, part of the imperialist European Union, the ICL calls to defend its “national sovereignty,” but in Puerto Rico, an actual colony of U.S. imperialism, it pointedly refuses to call for independence.3
To justify its call for Greece to leave the euro and the European Union under capitalism, Workers Vanguard repeats its claim that, unlike hard-line German imperialists who want to push Greece out to shore up profits, the ICL’s “Grexit” scenario “would create more favorable conditions for the working class to struggle in its own interests.” We have repeatedly said that Greece may be forced to leave the eurozone simply to stave off economic collapse, but to claim that this will create better conditions for Greek workers shows fatal illusions in the imperialists. The Eurobankers can simply refuse to accept a new drachma and continue to demand the euro debt be paid. It also ignores the extent that EU membership has destroyed large parts of the productive apparatus. Greece is heavily dependent on imports simply to feed itself: 63% of pork consumed (for example in souvlaki) is imported, as is much of the milk in “Greek” yogurt, two-thirds of flour used in baking bread, along with 80% of beef and almost all fuel, fertilizers, pesticides and agricultural machinery.
SYRIZA came to power peddling the illusion that it would somehow be possible to put an end to, or at least substantially limit, the devastation wrought by policies imposed by the Troika of imperialist bankers that have slashed wages by 40%, produced 25% unemployment (over 50% among youth) and sent the Greek economy into a tailspin. We have explained elsewhere that the entire Eurozone structure was designed to enforce austerity on the working class, and that this is the result of the depression in the advanced capitalist countries since the 2007-08 market crash and financial crisis, and more generally of the falling rate of profit.4 That will not substantially change whether a capitalist Greece is in or out of the EU. To pretend that somehow Greek workers can escape the hammer blows of austerity without overthrowing capitalist rule, as virtually the entire Greek “far left” and the ICL do, is to propagate the same kinds of illusions that SYRIZA did, only this time with the drachma instead of the euro.
Workers Vanguard accuses us of “trying to make time with the Stalinists of the Greek Communist Party” because we noted that in calling for a “double OXI” (no to the austerity of the Troika and of SYRIZA) the KKE stated that there is no “alternative for the people in a capitalist Greece of the drachma.” WV pretends this means dropping opposition to the EU, even though it quotes our article saying that “Unlike Euroleftists like SYRIZA, authentic Trotskyists have opposed the imperialist European Union from the beginning.” But it has a little problem: while the LFI called for critical support to KKE candidates in the January election, so did the ICL’s Trotskyist Group of Greece. It now claims that this was “because it [the KKE] stood in opposition to the EU” in January but subsequently changed its policy. However, the KKE dropped its call for a Greek exit from the euro under capitalism well before January 2015. After rereading the documents, perhaps the ICL/TGG will renounce its earlier critical support.
The ICL takes us to task for “argu[ing] that there is no way out of debt peonage for the Greek working class and oppressed short of a Europe-wide workers revolution.”5 “Sounds really r..r..revolutionary, but it isn’t,” sneers Workers Vanguard. (Actually, what we called for was “a Europe-wide workers revolt that becomes a revolution.”) It derides our alleged “hot air urging the Greek workers to occupy the banks and the ports.”6 It scoffs at the “‘revolutionary offensive’ blowhards in the IG” for whom “the very notion of defensive struggle as outlined by Trotsky is anathema.” Instead the ICL proffers the program for “workers action committees” it put forward in its July 17 leaflet. We have noted that this leaflet raised “some correct calls, including for a number of demands we have put forward in recent articles (workers defense guards, shorter workweek with no loss in pay, workers control of food distribution),” but with a crucial difference: the ICL/TGG did not link these to a struggle for workers revolution.
Rather than calling for a workers government based on organs of workers power (the dictatorship of the proletariat), the ICL refers vaguely to “a government which will act in the interests of the working people and be subordinated to them.” This could be, we wrote, “a government of the capitalist state backed by unions and supposedly pledged to carry out pro-worker reforms.” The ICL formula is almost identical to calls by Greek pseudo-Trotskyists like the DEA who mean exactly that7 and whose pseudo-“transitional program” bears a striking resemblance to the ICL’s. Now, the 2 October Workers Vanguard explicitly confirms that its program is not calling for proletarian rule. As for Trotsky’s view of defensive struggles, he does not divorce them from revolutionary struggle as the ICL does, but links them. Thus he writes in 1932 about Germany that the situation “dictates a clear strategic plan, beginning on the defensive, then assuming the offensive” leading to “the conquest of power” (“What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat” [January 1932]).
A program for defensive struggle that does not lead to struggle for revolution is precisely a reformist “minimum program.” Actually, the social democrats and Stalinists would often tack on a few phrases about socialism and even revolution in the sweet bye-and-bye – their “maximum program” for Sunday speechifying. This mini-max program is the very antithesis of Trotsky’s Transitional Program, but the ICL dispenses with any reference whatsoever to a final goal. To try to give its Greek minimum program a Trotskyist pedigree, the Workers Vanguard article cites Trotsky’s November 1935 article “For Committees of Action – Not the People’s Front” (part of his pamphlet Whither France?). Well and good. Trotsky’s call for Committees of Action is explicitly directed against the popular front tying the workers organization to sections of the bourgeoisie – just look at the title. But the ICL’s eight-point program includes no plank against the populist SYRIZA government, and is clearly intended to include critical SYRIZA supporters.
Okay, so there’s no call for a revolutionary workers party, workers government, workers revolution, struggle against SYRIZA – or occupying the ports and banks, heaven forbid – that’s because it’s “an application of the tactic of the united front,” says the ICL. But the united front is a temporary agreement for united action. The program for the ICL/TGG’s “workers action committees” calls to cancel the debt, abolish regressive taxes, expropriate the banks, decent pensions, etc. That is no united front, it’s a propaganda bloc – which Trotsky always warned against. It’s a political coalition of the sort that’s been plaguing the Greek left for decades, where coalitions exist within coalitions. The WV article makes this explicit, saying “such committees would be arenas for vital debates on the way forward involving the different parties that claim to represent the workers’ interests.” So they’re to be social-democratic debating clubs for sundry fake-left groups, all of whom call for a capitalist Grexit, have very similar minimum programs, and all (ICL included) attack the reformist Stalinist KKE from the right.
If such committees ever come to exist at all, that is. The ICL is a latecomer to this milieu and may not find many takers. But what they’re not is what’s needed most: a step toward galvanizing Greek workers to take class-struggle action against the Eurobanker loan sharks and their local collection agency, the SYRIZA government; to fight for asylum for all refugees and full citizenship for all immigrants; and above all, to forge a revolutionary workers party to lead a workers revolt, from defense against austerity attacks to offense against the capitalist system. To fight for a socialist federation of the Balkans and a socialist united states of Europe requires building an authentic Trotskyist vanguard on a transitional program for socialist revolution, which the ICL’s “bridge to nowhere” platform most decidedly is not. Having relegated workers revolution to the Greek calends, after so many other revisions of the Trotskyist program, these centrists are tacking to and fro in the Aegean, adrift without a compass headed … where?■
- 1. See “Greece: The Naked Rule of Finance Capital,” The Internationalist No. 41, September-October 2015.
- 2. See “The ICL on Greece: Goodbye Trotsky, Hello Minimum Program,” also in The Internationalist No. 41.
- 3. The ICL, which used to call for Puerto Rican independence, abandoned this fundamental demand in 1998 and has since then called only for its “right to self-determnation” (or “right of independence,” which is the same thing), something every U.S. president in at least the last four decades has claimed to support (see “ICL Renounces Fight for Puerto Rican Independence,” The Internationalist No. 6, November-December 1998). It was logical then, in a perverted way, when these social-colonialists defended the U.S. imperialist invasion of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, supposedly to supply humanitarian aid but actually to prevent the outbreak of protests, a position that we denounced and the ICL later renounced as “social-imperialist” (“Spartacist League Backs U.S. Imperialist Invasion of Haiti” and “Repentant Social Imperialists: Open Letter from the Internationalist Group to the Spartacist League,” in The Internationalist No. 31, Summer 2010.
- 4. For example, in “Greece: The SYRIZA Illusion Exploded,” The Internationalist No. 39, April-May 2015.
- 5.“What Road for Greece: Perpetual Debt Peonage or Workers Revolution?” The Internationalist No. 41, September-October 2015.
- 6. See “Greek Workers: Defeat the Bankers’ Diktat, Occupy the Banks and Ports!” The Internationalist No. 41.
- 7. See “Capitalist “Left Government” vs. Revolutionary Workers Government,” The Internationalist No. 41.