The ICL on Greece: Goodbye
Hello Minimum Program
Over the last two decades, the Spartacist League/U.S. and its International Communist League have step-by-step abandoned key programmatic positions of revolutionary Trotskyism, capitulating to its Yankee imperialist rulers: refusing to call for independence for Puerto Rico (1998), dropping the call to defeat U.S. imperialism after the 9/11 attacks (2001), supporting the post-earthquake U.S. invasion of Haiti (2010). The latest installment in this downward spiral is dropping Lenin and Trotsky’s call for a revolutionary workers government precisely when and where it is most urgently posed today.
For some time now, the SL/ICL has rarely raised any transitional demands, while shrilly denouncing the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International for continuing to do so. But conditions in Greece have reached the point that the ICL finally felt obliged to raise some immediate demands. In the July 5 referendum, its Trotskyist Group of Greece (TGG) joined the bulk of the left in heeding SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ call for a “no” vote, knowing full well that he intended to use it as a bargaining ploy with the Troika, and had already accepted almost all of the Eurobankers’ demands for draconian cuts of Greek workers’ living standards.1 Following Tsipras’ surrender and the rubber stamping of the Troika’s extortionate demands by the Greek parliament, the TGG issued an agitational July 17 leaflet titled “Enough!”
Yet this statement, which the ICL says has been massively distributed, is a parody of Trotsky’s call for a “system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.” In fact, the leaflet makes no mention of revolution, the overthrow of capitalism, or the need for a revolutionary party. This is no accident, as according to the SL’s Workers Vanguard (7 August), the call to form “workers committees of action” is intended to “mobilize larger forces” in “defensive struggle.” Thus it is a classic “minimum program” like those raised by Stalinists and social democrats for struggle within the bounds of capitalism, aiming to attract reformists with demands they can all agree on.
While raising 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), the ICL/TGG call to expropriate the banks and cancel the debt omits the crucial condition that this be done by a revolutionary government. Nor does it advocate workers control of the banks. But a nationalized banking system (as the TGG called for last January) would, under a capitalist regime, still be an integral part of the capitalist system, as we explained.2
Most notable, however, is the ICL/TGG leaflet’s exceedingly vague slogan for “a government which will act in the interests of the working people and be subordinated to them.” What kind of beast is that? This could well be a government of the capitalist state backed by unions and supposedly pledged to carry out pro-worker reforms.
There is a long history to such mealy mouthed formulations. We recall Andreu Nin’s talk of a government based on the CNT unions in Spain in the 1930s, the call by Nahuel Moreno and his successors for “All power to the COB” labor federation in Bolivia, and calls in the early ’70s for an SP-CP government in Chile based on the CUT labor unions. By using the term workers government to describe governments based on the existing bureaucratized labor movement, they were counterposed to the Bolsheviks’ call in 1917 for a workers and peasants government based on the soviets. The workers and peasants councils born in the revolutionary upheaval 1917 in Russia were organs of dual power and a potential basis for a proletarian state, whereas the labor bureaucracies are beholden to capitalism. But the ICL’s program is an elastic call for what could amount to “left-wing” bourgeois governments.
Indeed, it is remarkably like appeals from several Greek pseudo-Trotskyist groups containing a laundry list of demands for all good thingswithin the capitalist framework. Compare the ICL/TGG’s call for “a government which will act in the interests of the working people and be subordinated to them” to the appeal by Antonis Davanellos, the main spokesman of the DEA (International Workers Left, allied with the social-democratic ISO in the U.S.) at a Left Platform rally to cancel the debt, nationalize the banks, tax the rich and raise “the slogan of achieving a government of the left – one that is accountable to the workers and that determines its policies based on the needs of the people” (Socialist Worker, 30 July). Sound familiar?
It’s notable that neither in the TGG leaflet nor in the latest WV front-page article is there a word of criticism of the numerous Greek “radical left” groups in the SYRIZA orbit, even though they have been Tsipras’ (and the Eurobankers’) accomplices in pushing through the vicious austerity that the right wing couldn’t enact. And no wonder, since the call by the TGG in Greece now sounds remarkably like the rest of the fake left. In reality, the ICL/TGG, recognizing that SYRIZA is about to split and a reorganization of the Greek left is in the offing, is trying to put a left veneer on the program of the Left Platform and the ANTARSYA coalition of “anti-capitalist” reformist leftists. And like these opportunists, it is demanding, “Greece should leave the EU and the euro” under capitalism.
We already exposed the ICL’s claim that Argentina is a positive model for Greece, pointing out that millions of Argentine workers were thrown out of work for years following its 2001 devaluation.3 Now WV comes back by again praising the Argentine experience, “while initially harsh.” It even admits that hard-line German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants to push Greece out “to maintain capitalist profit,” but claims the ICL’s call for Grexit is different, that “it would create more favorable conditions for the working class to struggle in its own interests.” How so? As wannabe advisors of a “pro-working people” bourgeois Greek government, the ICL argues that a “weakened currency makes exports more competitive.” Maybe, or maybe not, but it also makes imports more expensive, and in any case will further impoverish Greek workers.
As with its “no” vote in the phony referendum, here also, the TGG/ICL places itself to the right of the Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE), which at least recognizes that there is no “alternative for the people in a capitalist Greece of the drachma,” in which the only winners “would be some monopoly groups in shipping, pharmaceuticals, energy and the arms trade” while “the needs of people …will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of competitiveness of monopolies” (Rizopastis, 16 July). While the Stalinist reformists call for a “popular social alliance with other people’s movements with an anti-monopoly orientation,” genuine Trotskyists call for a struggle against capital for transitional demands in defense of the working people leading to workers revolution, whether Greece is under the euro or the drachma.
Trotsky called to raise transitional demands in order to “help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of the revolution.” Lacking any call for revolution, the TGG program is a bridge to nowhere. Even with the caveat that the “battle cannot be won within a parliamentary framework” (which just about every left group in and around SYRIZA says), the TGG/ICL leaflet does not call for a government to overthrow capitalist rule. Having paid the price of admission by calling for a “no” vote in the July 5 referendum, the erstwhile Trotskyist centrists of the SL/ICL have joined the other denizens of the opportunist swamp. As for providing revolutionary leadership to workers, in Greece and throughout Europe, for the ICL it’s goodbye Lenin, and Trotsky.■