Spartacist Canada No. 165
Workers Protests Rock Greece
Forge a Multiethnic Revolutionary Workers Party!
As part of an economic bailout package introduced by Greece’s European Union (EU) partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Greek prime minister George Papandreou has announced a new round of brutal attacks on the standard of living of that country’s working population. The austerity measures imposed by Papandreou’s Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government include slashing public sector wages by 14 percent, cutting average pension benefits by 11 percent, raising the average retirement age by four years and jacking up the sales tax to 23 percent. Despite its name, PASOK is a capitalist party whose policies differ little from those of the right-wing New Democracy, which has alternated with PASOK as the ruling party of Greece but was voted out in the elections of October 2009.
These all-sided capitalist attacks would be devastating to the living standards of the Greek masses, particularly the most vulnerable sectors, such as the poor, elderly and women. But thus far they have been met with stiff resistance by the country’s combative working class.
As their part of the bailout deal, the EU and IMF committed an unprecedented sum—almost $1 trillion—for loans to Greece, and potentially other heavily indebted EU countries like Portugal and Spain, to help them cover their budget deficits and refinance their debt. After months of blocking every proposal, the German government finally joined with other EU powers to seal the deal after growing fears of a possible default by Greece, Spain and Portugal raised the spectre of a renewed, full-blown financial crisis in Europe. Greece’s economic woes occur against the backdrop of the international economic crisis, which has also exposed the seething national antagonisms beneath the surface of European capitalist “unity” as embodied in the EU and the euro. In Europe, as elsewhere, each national ruling class is seeking to ratchet up the exploitation of its own working class, while simultaneously maneuvering to gain the advantage against its rivals.
The PASOK government’s string of anti-working-class attacks has provoked a wave of militant strikes, including five one-day general strikes so far this year. The protest demonstrations during the May 5 general strike were the largest since the fall of the Greek military junta in 1974. More than 150,000 marched in the streets of Athens, while large protests also occurred in other cities. As the government’s measures were being debated, some protesters attempted to storm the parliament building in Athens’ Syntagma Square but were beaten back by the hated riot police.
The death of three bank workers who suffocated in a fire caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown during the May 5 protest in Athens has been seized on by the government to unleash a wave of police repression directed in particular against anarchist and immigrant groups. Cops ransacked the offices of an immigrant support network and raided cafes and homes in the Exarchia neighbourhood, an anarchist stronghold, detaining dozens. While Papandreou denounced the “violence” of the demonstrators, a co-worker of those killed in the fire issued a widely disseminated statement revealing that the bank workers had been threatened with firing if they failed to show up for work and then were prevented from leaving when they attempted to do so. According to this worker, the building, which had no fire certificate, no sprinklers and no fire exits, was locked and even the Internet connection was cut. We demand that all charges be dropped against the anarchists and all other leftist protesters, including those arrested during the earlier general strikes!
While the PASOK government’s attacks on working people are in large part dictated by the IMF and the major European powers, with imperialist Germany in the lead, the Greek ruling class is not just a minion of the EU; it is using this as an opportunity to crack down on the workers. Meanwhile, the arrogant German bourgeoisie has unleashed a chauvinist campaign against the smaller and weaker European economies. German capitalists have been sneering that Greece has been living “beyond its means,” while a leading spokesman for German industrialists snidely suggested that Athens cut its deficit by selling off some “uninhabited islands.”
The government’s threats and the repression have failed to intimidate workers. But a major obstacle to a class-struggle fight against the capitalists and their government is the Greek chauvinism pushed by the official leaders of the workers movement, including those of the Communist Party (KKE), who oppose the IMF and EU imperialist bloodsuckers on the narrow nationalist basis that they threaten Greece’s national sovereignty. It is only on the basis of proletarian internationalism that the workers of Greece can be mobilized in revolutionary struggle in their own class interests at the head of all the oppressed. Today the bankruptcy of the whole capitalist-imperialist system is clear, but what is lacking is revolutionary leadership to finally end exploitation, poverty, racism and war. For a Socialist United States of Europe! For world socialist revolution to establish an international division of labour in a planned socialist economy!
We reprint below a 28 April leaflet published by our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece. It was distributed at two May Day demonstrations in Athens—one organized by the All Workers Militant Front (PAME), a trade-union federation associated with the KKE, and the other organized by the two largest trade-union federations, the private sector General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Confederation of Public Servants (ADEDY), both led by PASOK. The English translation of the leaflet first appeared in Workers Vanguard No. 959 (21 May).
The attempts by the PASOK government to shift the bourgeoisie’s massive debt burden onto the backs of the working people have led to furious resistance by tens of thousands of workers and pensioners. General strikes throughout Greece in February and March, as well as two days of strikes in April, repeatedly brought the country to a halt, closing down transportation, schools, banks and government offices. The workers’ response to PASOK’s savage “stability program”—imposed as a precondition for any bailout from the EU and the IMF—has been: “We won’t pay!” In March, angry workers occupied government buildings, including the National Printing Office, where they sought to prevent the printing of the legislation bringing the austerity plan into effect. Olympic Airways workers closed down the central Athens artery of Panepistimiou for several days in protest against layoffs.
PASOK’s “stability program” involves thousands of job losses, raising the retirement age and a massive increase in the cost of living resulting from wage cuts, tax increases and price hikes for gasoline and other necessities. The strikes and protests have clearly demonstrated the enormous potential social power of the working class. That power can and must be mobilized in the workers’ own interests, to beat back the government’s attacks but also to open up the possibility of a counteroffensive against the entire capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. A major obstacle to such a fightback, however, is the official leadership of the trade unions—both the pro-PASOK leadership of GSEE and ADEDY and the Stalinist-controlled PAME—which promotes class collaboration and Greek nationalism, thus tying the working class to their exploiters.
While seething anger at the base has forced the PASOK union bureaucrats to call strikes, they have repeatedly expressed their support for the government and its calls for sacrifices. ADEDY leader Papaspyros said: “The situation is hard for all of us, for the economy, for the government, for the working people, for the trade unions. Continuous analysis and evaluation is needed from all of us” (quoted in [Athens daily] To Vima, 14 February), while GSEE refused to take part in the strikes on April 21 and 22. The trade-union bureaucracy seeks to rally working-class support for the government by trading on the lie that PASOK is some kind of “socialist” party. In this they are aided by reformists like the Socialist Workers Party (SEK), who claim PASOK is a reformist workers party. It is no such thing. Since its inception, PASOK has been a bourgeois-populist party—an instrument of the class enemy no less than New Democracy.
It is necessary to forge a new, revolutionary leadership of the unions based on the understanding that there are no common interests between the proletariat and the capitalist bloodsuckers. Workers must fight for what we need, not for what the bosses say they can afford. The Greek capitalist class has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and is now determined to make the working class pay for the economic crisis. We say no! To hell with the government’s “stability program”!
The kind of class-struggle leadership that we seek to build would fight for a series of transitional demands which, as Trotsky explained in the Transitional Program written in 1938, start from the current consciousness of the working class and its daily struggles against the bosses and the government and lead to the goal of proletarian revolution. According to a 21 March article in [national newspaper] Eleutherotypia: “The increase in unemployment exceeded 150,000 people at the end of 2009. In fact, it is much higher if you count those that work only a few hours per week.” In the same article, Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos estimated that unemployment will shoot up to 12 percent in March. In reality, unemployment is higher still. “GSEE asserts that the [government] statistic of 11.3 percent is in real terms approaching 17.5 percent and the number of unemployed is 800,000 people” ([Athens daily] Kathimerini, 21 April). Unemployment has hit women and youth hardest. According to the National Statistics Service, unemployment is four times higher for women and around 25.8 percent among youth.
To combat mass unemployment, it is necessary to demand the sharing of available work, with no loss of pay, and a massive program of public works. To protect even their current living standards—already among the lowest in Europe—workers must demand that wages be indexed to inflation. To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the capitalist owners and the swindles of the banks, Trotsky argued that workers should demand that the capitalists open their books “to reveal to all members of society that unconscionable squandering of human labor which is the result of capitalist anarchy and the naked pursuit of profits.” Raising the call for the expropriation of branches of industry vital for national existence, or the most parasitic of the capitalist rulers, Trotsky underlined that such a demand must necessarily be linked to the fight for the seizure of power by the working class, as against the reformist misleaders for whom the call for nationalization was merely a prescription for bailing out capitalist enterprises.
In opposition to the capitalists and their reformist agents, Trotsky argued:
“If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”
Down With National Chauvinism! For Workers’ Unity Against the Bosses!
The fight to mobilize the working class in struggle for its class interests must include a struggle against all forms of discrimination. Key to forging the unity of the working class is the struggle against the racist oppression of immigrants. Immigrant workers, from Albania, South Asia, Africa and elsewhere, are a key component of the working class in Greece who must be drawn into common struggle alongside their Greek class brothers and sisters. To prevent the capitalists’ scapegoating of foreign workers for the economic crisis, the workers movement must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!
The virulent racism of the Greek capitalist state was recently demonstrated at the Independence Day parade in Athens on March 25, when a Greek special forces unit was filmed chanting racist slogans against Albanians, Macedonians and Turks. The video was later posted on YouTube and led to protests by Albanians in Athens. Chauvinism toward its Balkan neighbours and toward national minorities within its own borders is used by the Greek bourgeoisie, as it is by all the bourgeoisies in the region, to keep the working classes at each others’ throats and to preserve the rule of capital. In our founding declaration the Trotskyist Group of Greece noted: “The defense of the rights of oppressed nationalities and immigrants is the only means by which the proletariat, consisting of workers of different ethnicities, can be united in the struggle for socialist revolution.” Recognizing that the Macedonian question is a test of the authenticity of any group claiming to be internationalist in Greece, we wrote: “The TGG defends the national rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece, including their right to set up their own state or unite with the existing state of Macedonia. For full democratic rights for national minorities in Greece! For a Balkan socialist federation!”
Down With the Bosses’ EU! For a Socialist United States of Europe!
The PASOK government’s austerity program is a taste of what the bosses across Europe have in store for the working class as they seek to drive up the rate of profit. The condition for an EU/IMF “rescue package” for the Greek capitalists is a massive attack on the Greek workers.
As Marxists we stand in implacable opposition to the EU, an imperialist trade bloc within which the conflicting interests of the major European bourgeois states are expressed. The EU is also a vehicle for the European capitalists to cooperate with each other against the working class and against immigrants. Our opposition to the EU, based on proletarian internationalism, is counterposed to the attacks by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) on the EU, which are based on gross capitulation to Greek nationalism. In a 17 April article in Rizospastis, the KKE blatantly expresses concern that the PASOK government might be undermining Greece’s defense and worries about its borders with Turkey in the Aegean Sea, saying that KKE leader Aleka Papariga “repeated the worries of her party that the country’s deeper incorporation into the imperialist organizations and their plans has prepared the ground for compromises at the expense of the sovereign rights of the country and its defense capability.” She added that “now we worry additionally for the Aegean Sea.” And while the KKE-dominated PAME trade-union federation raises class-against-class slogans such as “Either with capital or with the workers,” it simultaneously appeals for patriotism in banners proclaiming, “Rising Up Against Impoverishment of the People Is Patriotism.” Such nationalism is poisonous to class consciousness and is counterposed to proletarian internationalism. It serves to pit workers in Greece against workers in other countries and reinforces anti-immigrant racism. Any effective struggle against the bosses’ attacks must begin with the understanding that the workers have no country. What is needed is international workers solidarity across the EU against capital.
The EU was originally established as an adjunct of NATO as the U.S. sought to strengthen West Europe against the Soviet Union. Today it is an unstable adjunct to the economic, military and political priorities of the European capitalists. The International Communist League uniquely fought to the last for military defense of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. We fought for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies whose appeasement of imperialism undermined the defense of the workers states. That is today our program for the remaining deformed workers states—China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea.
The current world economic crisis is further powerful confirmation of the Marxist analysis of capitalist society and the need for socialist revolution to do away with the boom-bust cycle of capitalism and establish a rational, planned economy where production is for human need, not for profits for a handful of super-rich exploiters. No amount of tinkering with the existing system can wrench it into serving the needs of the proletariat and the oppressed.
As working people face ruin, the most that reformist groups like the SEK can put forward are pathetic appeals to the PASOK government to “tax the rich.” Such schemes, advanced by reformists like the SEK, posit the possibility of radically redistributing wealth without getting rid of the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie has at its disposal cops, courts and troops—the armed bodies of men that constitute the core of the capitalist state—to wage war upon the working class in order to drive up profits. What’s needed is a socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist state and replace it with a workers state that will lay the basis for building a socialist society. For that you need to build a revolutionary workers party—a party like Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks—which will fight for a workers government. The TGG, Greek sympathizing section of the ICL, seeks to build such a party.