Workers Vanguard No. 1077
30 October 2015
Greece: For Workers Struggle Against Austerity!
We print below a presentation, edited for publication, given by Spartacist League spokesman Diana Coleman at an October 10 forum in Oakland, California.
Greece is in an economic and political crisis triggered by the global financial meltdown of 2007-08. Hunger and poverty stalk the streets, from Athens to the rural villages. The working people are being bled white to pay for the crimes of the capitalist class. That’s true everywhere, but in weak, dependent Greece, this crisis has hit with a ferocity that is breathtaking.
Since 2010, the European Union (EU) and the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund have imposed draconian austerity measures on Greece in exchange for a series of so-called “rescue packages.” But those “rescued” have not been the Greek people, but Greek and especially international banks! The imperialist-dominated EU is an unstable consortium of capitalist countries that works to increase profits by squeezing the workers throughout Europe. It also enables the imperialist powers of Europe, led by Germany, to further subordinate poorer states like Greece, not least through the instrument of the common euro currency. We say: Down with the EU and the euro!
The capitalist parties, including Syriza and the new, left split from it known as Popular Unity, have nothing to offer except more austerity. We have opposed voting for any of them! The only way forward is for the proletariat to struggle in its own interests and those of all of the oppressed, independently of and in opposition to the capitalist rulers and all their agents.
In July, the Syriza-led capitalist government trampled on the results of a referendum that rejected the latest EU demands for austerity and agreed to even harsher terms with the imperialists. The ever-worsening economic crisis and the growing menace of fascism pose the vital need to unite the toiling masses against the attacks of the imperialists, the Greek bourgeoisie and the Syriza government. To this end, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece issued a call to the broadest layers of the workers movement to form workers action committees.
Such struggle must go beyond the bourgeois electoral circus and point toward the need for a revolutionary proletarian solution to the crisis. We say that the only way out of the nightmare of recurrent capitalist crisis is to unite the workers throughout Europe in struggle to sweep away the capitalist rulers through socialist revolutions that expropriate the exploiters. For a Socialist United States of Europe! For international proletarian revolution! That’s the summary of my talk, but I’m going to explain some of the concepts behind these points, so don’t leave just yet.
Here in the U.S., we are once again in presidential election season. Fake-socialist organizations continue to flit around the capitalist Democratic Party like moths around a flame. The reformists are debating whether it is best to pressure the Democrats from the outside or to support them explicitly, via the candidacy of purported “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who is running in the Democratic primary (and who has supported nearly every war waged by U.S. imperialism in recent memory). Socialist Alternative is working in his primary campaign, while the International Socialist Organization is trying to pressure him from the outside to become “a genuine independent alternative,” that is, to act as a Democrat without the formal affiliation, as he has done for nearly 25 years in Congress.
It’s an old story: In the shell game of American politics, the Democratic Party is portrayed as the “friend” of black people and labor. In reality, such illusions in this “lesser evil” bourgeois party have been essential to preserving the rule of racist American capitalism. The building of a revolutionary workers party in the U.S. will only proceed in sharp opposition to the Democrats, the trade-union misleaders who preach reliance on these representatives of the class enemy and their left hangers-on.
Looking to putatively progressive parties that are in fact committed to the capitalist system is a disastrous road for working people everywhere. In Greece, much of the reformist left has spent the past few years hailing or tailing Syriza, the supposedly anti-austerity party that was elected in January to run the government. Today, Syriza is enforcing the vicious austerity attacks ordered by the EU rulers.
Before I get into the current political situation in Greece, I want to talk about the country itself. In 2005, the first time I visited, I was quite surprised by Greece. I had expected it would look like the advanced industrialized countries of West Europe. It did not. Although Athens had a nice subway system that someone from Los Angeles, like me, could certainly admire, the rest of the country was rural and underdeveloped. And it has a small population. During a chat with a Greek comrade, she asked me how many people lived in the greater L.A. area. When I replied, “Oh, about ten or eleven million,” she laughed and told me that was the population of Greece. Both of us were kind of startled by this fact. And almost half of that eleven million lives in Athens, with the remainder spread out over the rest of the country.
So it’s a small country with a small, but combative, working class. And with the current deindustrialization of the country, the working class is getting smaller. There is some shipbuilding, shipping and longshore work as well as mass transit (the Athens subways), but most of the industry that once existed in Greece has been decimated by the German-dominated EU “single market.” Factories across the country stand empty. If you want to get a sense, you can go to an online Guardian photo collection titled “Modern Ruins: The Ghost Factories of Greece” (15 May). The introduction comments that the pictures “show the remnants of the country’s industrial past.” Those remnants look like Detroit, except that it’s the whole country.
Being from the U.S., where everything is sold by giant capitalist enterprises like Target, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Starbucks, etc., I was struck by the fact that retail shops, coffee houses and food markets all seemed to be run by individual families, part of the country’s large petty bourgeoisie. It is now a large, ruined petty bourgeoisie, as many of these small businesses have gone belly-up. This sort of thing is what fascists feed off. Today, over half of Greek youth are unemployed, some 300,000 people have no access to electricity and 3.1 million (that is, about one-third of the population) lack health insurance. Nearly 50 percent of children live in poverty.
I have family connections with people who come from Greece and often visit the country. Upon returning from Patras, Greece’s third-largest city, earlier this year, they commented that thousands of the under-25 crowd roam the streets with no jobs, nothing to do and nowhere to go. Whole blocks of stores and cafes are shuttered in what was once a booming tourist town.
the Fascist Threat
The crisis in Greece intersects a surge of racist hysteria over immigrants and refugees. Every week, thousands of desperate migrants are arriving in Greece after fleeing military conflicts that have destroyed their countries, particularly Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are the direct product of interventions by the U.S. imperialists. In the process, Washington and its allies have fostered and deepened religious and ethnic antagonisms among the populations of these countries. The resulting tide of human misery is a real indictment of the imperialist system, under which the rulers of a handful of rich countries lord it over oppressed peoples across the globe.
So far this year, some 390,000 migrants have made the crossing by boat to Greece—more than 153,000 of them in September alone—compared to 43,500 such arrivals in Greece in all of 2014. The working class, as an elementary act of self-defense and solidarity with the oppressed, must defend immigrants against the racist frenzy and demand full citizenship rights for everyone who has made it into the country. In the U.S., as in Europe, we in the International Communist League demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants as well as an end to the detention, deportation and persecution of Muslims and other immigrants.
In Greece, the fascists of Golden Dawn are seeking to exploit the crisis. Portraying themselves as saviors of the nation, they are whipping up hatred against immigrants, who have been subjected to violent attacks. Two years ago, a fascist thug murdered an anti-fascist activist in a suburb of Piraeus, near Athens.
Golden Dawn is far from a fringe phenomenon. As an illustration, these fascists finished third in the September elections, with nearly 7 percent of the vote; six years ago they got only 0.3 percent. Notably, Golden Dawn has a lot of support in the ranks of the police and the upper echelons of the army. This is pretty ominous in a country where the 1967-74 military dictatorship known as the Regime of the Colonels was not all that long ago.
Greece is a country where the question, “How can we fight and defeat the attacks of the ruling class?” is urgently posed. The lessons of events there have direct application for those who seek to struggle against the capitalist rulers’ offensive here in the U.S.
Under capitalism, a tiny layer of exploiters owns the factories, transportation systems, mines and, of course, the banks. That ruling class also controls the government, the police, the mass media and the education system. To acquire an understanding of the class nature of the state, one should read V.I. Lenin’s classic work The State and Revolution (1917). The interests of the capitalist class are counterposed to those of the working class, whose labor is exploited by the capitalists for profit. The so-called “middle class” or petty bourgeoisie—professionals, small shopkeepers, farmers and the like—is a heterogeneous and highly stratified social layer that follows one or the other of the main classes.
To shore up profits, the capitalists cut wages, impose speedup and lay off workers. They produce misery without end. But there is a way out. Thanks to its central role in production, the proletariat has enormous potential social power. If the workers organize collectively, they can stop production, including through strike action and plant occupations, cutting off the flow of profits. By waging class struggle, the working class can throw back at least some of the capitalists’ attacks. But since exploitation is endemic to capitalist production, struggles against the ravages of capitalism must be linked to a broader political perspective: sweeping away the profit system through workers socialist revolution and reorganizing society in the interests of the vast majority. The task of our organization is to forge Leninist vanguard parties—here and internationally—that can make the workers conscious of the need for the revolutionary overturn of capitalism.
All capitalist countries are not “created equal.” On a global scale, the imperialist powers of North America, Europe and Japan retard economic and social development in the poorer countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa. Within Europe, the advanced industrial nations—chiefly Germany—dominate the weaker countries in the east and south, including Greece. There is manifestly an element of national oppression in what the EU imperialists are doing to Greece, which has basically been placed in receivership, with all decisions made by the EU masters.
The dependent character of the modern Greek state did not begin with its joining the EU, but was stamped on it from birth. At the signing of the 1832 treaty that carved an independent Greece out of the decaying Ottoman Empire, no Greeks were present—only representatives of the “protecting” powers of Britain, France and Russia. An absolutist monarch, Otto of Bavaria, was imposed on the new country. I found that amazing; the British just said, “All right, Greeks—here’s this dude from Bavaria, we decided that he’s going to be your king.”
Throughout the 19th century, Greece was a pawn of British diplomacy, particularly vis-à-vis tsarist Russia. In the early 1830s, to pay for the war against the Ottoman Turks, the Greek government contracted loans in the City of London on ruinous terms. British imperialist policy toward Greece was geared to using loans in order to subjugate the country and to bring about its complete financial and diplomatic dependency. Greece remained overwhelmingly agrarian, with its main export being Zante currants—you know, raisins. Still, there developed a wealthy commercial bourgeoisie based on merchant shipping and, later, banking.
Greece has a long history of sharp class struggle. During the Second World War the Greek workers and peasants, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), rose up in revolutionary upheaval against the Italian and German occupation forces as well as Greek bourgeois forces. The Civil War continued after the German withdrawal as the local capitalists—supported by Britain and the U.S.—sought to crush the revolt of the workers and poor peasants. For more on this upsurge and its betrayal by the KKE, I recommend our article “Greece 1940s: A Revolution Betrayed” (Spartacist No. 64, Summer 2014). During the latter phase of the Greek Civil War, the U.S. supplanted decaying British imperialism in Greece, using that country as a testing ground for tactics to crush social revolutions. I thought the U.S. first dropped napalm bombs in Vietnam—no! In 1949, the last year of the Civil War, U.S. planes rained down napalm on Greek guerrilla fighters. The American imperialists went on to use napalm in Korea and Vietnam, which facilitated the killing and maiming of millions of people.
Let me return to the European Union. We used to meet people who would naively ask: “Why are you against the EU; isn’t it good that people can more easily travel around Europe?” The rape of Greece has made the EU’s purpose a lot clearer, illustrating the correctness of our principled opposition to that imperialist bloc and the euro.
The EU is an alliance of capitalist countries seeking to augment their profits and spheres of influence by more efficiently exploiting workers throughout Europe. Its predecessor, the European Economic Community, was an economic adjunct to NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance directed against the Soviet Union. The USSR was a workers state, issuing out of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia that overthrew capitalist class rule. We Trotskyists always upheld the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism, despite its degeneration under a nationalist bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin. That’s because the Soviet workers state embodied enormous gains for the workers of the world.
Contrary to capitalist propaganda, the imperialists’ anti-Soviet crusade had nothing whatsoever to do with “democracy” versus “totalitarianism.” The U.S. has long propped up brutal military dictatorships the world over. Greece, a front-line NATO state, under the Colonels is a perfect example. In truth, the imperialists were determined to destroy the Soviet Union because it was living proof that the working people of the world were not forever condemned to be exploited by the capitalists. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was a terrible defeat for workers everywhere, for which the Stalinists’ betrayals bear a huge measure of responsibility.
Having established a unified Fourth Reich through capitalist counterrevolution in East Germany, the German bourgeois rulers used the EU as a vehicle to further their domination of the continent, while advancing the ability of the European powers to compete economically with U.S. imperialism. The various decrees and regulations imposed by the bankers in Frankfurt and the bureaucrats in Brussels have ruined the lives of millions in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and other poorer countries, while also reducing the living standards of workers in the imperialist centers. Can the EU be reformed or made to be a “social Europe” as the European reformists say? Dream on! No more than U.S. imperialism is going to start spreading freedom and democracy around the world.
[TO BE CONTINUED]