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Workers Vanguard No. 1078

13 November 2015

Greece: For Workers Struggle Against Austerity!

Part Two

We print below the second part of a presentation, edited for publication, given by Spartacist League spokesman Diana Coleman at an October 10 forum in Oakland, California. Part One appeared in WV No. 1077 (30 October).

Syriza, which came to power in Greece for the first time following elections this January, had been formed some years earlier as a coalition including bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political forces—from environmentalists and bourgeois populists to anti-Soviet splits from the Communist Party of Greece. Syriza’s name translates as “Coalition of the Radical Left,” but don’t be fooled. From the start, it was actually a petty-bourgeois populist party with a pro-capitalist program. In government, Syriza became an outright bourgeois party.

In the January elections, there were real illusions in Syriza among Greek workers and the oppressed. Many thought Syriza would stand up to the European Union (EU) imperialists who were treating the country as practically a German colony. The enthusiasm was huge, including on the left. Numerous pseudo-socialist groups joined Syriza’s big “national unity” rallies in Athens and hailed its coming to power.

Indeed, many of these groups were already inside Syriza, serving as foot soldiers for this capitalist party. Other leftists, including assorted Maoists and pseudo-Trotskyists, were in Antarsya, a coalition that ran its own candidates in the election but sought to be the pressure on the streets that would push Syriza a little to the left. Here are a couple of examples of the left internationally cheering on Syriza. The former United Secretariat, centered on the French New Anti-Capitalist Party, called to elect Syriza under the headline, “On 25 January, A Turning Point for Greece and Europe!” (, 12 January). The Committee for a Workers International, whose U.S. affiliate is Socialist Alternative, claimed that a Syriza victory “will have a liberating effect on the working class, the movements and society in general” (, 20 January).

In sharp contrast, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece denounced Syriza in a leaflet distributed to workers on May Day:

“Syriza has always been committed to preserving the capitalist system and for continuing Greece’s membership in the EU and euro zone. This means submitting to the purpose of the EU, which is to maximize capitalist profit by driving down the working and living conditions of workers and the oppressed throughout all of Europe, including in imperialist countries like Germany. It also means making working people pay for the debts racked up by the capitalists and their bloodsucking banks. It is not only the imperialists, but also the Greek capitalist class who have benefited from the EU’s destruction of labor rights and imposition of austerity.”

—reprinted as “Syriza Is Class Enemy of Workers!” WV No. 1068, 15 May

After the elections, Syriza formed a coalition with the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks (this coalition is gross, but not really surprising) and began imposing various austerity measures while trying to wheel and deal with the EU. But the European Union wasn’t into making deals. In late June, the “Troika”—the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—demanded even more brutal attacks. Under pressure from the imperialists and the Greek capitalists—who claimed that Greece faced total ruin if it did not get yet another “bailout”—Syriza organized a referendum on the latest austerity package. Syriza called for a “no” vote, with the declared intent of utilizing the outcome to pressure the EU for more favorable conditions. In fact, according to multiple reports from Syriza insiders, the party’s leadership secretly expected, and hoped, that the referendum result would be “yes,” giving them an excuse to implement the austerity while pretending to have a popular mandate. You know, along the lines of, “What can we do? We didn’t like the bailout terms, but the people have spoken.”

But it didn’t work that way. More than 60 percent of the voters, including millions of working people, responded with a decisive “NO!” Naturally, the TGG called for a “no” vote in the referendum, in which was posed a simple question: “yes” or “no” to the Troika’s austerity plan. Not complicated! To do otherwise than to vote “no” would have been a betrayal. The TGG statement on the referendum also called for opposition to the EU and no support to the Syriza government. It should be noted that many Greek people, although angered by the austerity, are reluctant or fearful of leaving the EU, in no small part due to the bourgeois propaganda offensive identifying such a step with even greater disaster.

What was in the austerity package (the Memorandum) that people voted down? Some details are necessary to get a proper picture. It hiked the regressive VAT (sales tax), further slashed pensions and ripped up union contracts. Many more will go hungry as a result of the 23 percent VAT. As for pensions, the bourgeois press is always talking about lavish retirement. What a lie! Pensions on average have already been cut by almost 45 percent since 2008, and now the rulers are going to cut them more! Today, about 45 percent of retirees receive pensions below what is considered the poverty line in a country in which 20 percent of the population is over 65, and by some estimates, half of the households rely on pensions to make ends meet. With youth unemployment so high, that’s not surprising.

More cuts mean more homelessness and starvation. A Guardian article (21 January) on Greece described: “Mamas and papas scavenging through the rubbish bins, the broken pavements and shuttered shops, the abandoned cars and derelict houses, the new poor who mutter to themselves on graffiti-stained streets.” Our comrades reported that in what used to be working-class areas of the port city of Piraeus they now see malnourished old people and a lot of fascist graffiti.

For Workers Action Committees!

Although German chancellor Angela Merkel rants about the Greek government’s supposed profligate spending, there is a whole other side to the matter: the money that German imperialism makes off exports, including arms sales, to Greece. The Guardian (19 April 2012) a couple years ago quoted Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza member of parliament: “If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defence it is Germany.” The Guardian went on, “No other area has contributed as heavily to the country’s debt mountain. If Athens had cut defence spending to levels similar to other EU states over the past decade, economists claim it would have saved around €150bn—more than its last bailout.”

Furthermore, a lot of the military hardware didn’t even work: “The former defence minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos was jailed pending trial on charges of accepting an €8m bribe from Ferrostaal, the German company that helped oversee the scandal-marred sale of four Class 214 submarines to the Greek navy 12 years ago. To date, Athens has taken delivery of only one of the subs after the vessels were found to have technical glitches.” And more: “Speculation is rife that international aid was dependent on Greece following through on agreements to buy military hardware from Germany and France.” In other words, the German and French imperialists make the big money while the Greek capitalists, in pursuit of their own interests, get bribes that they stash in Swiss bank accounts. And through it all, the masses starve.

As part of the punishing “bailout” of Greece, the EU has demanded reorganization of the judiciary and government administration, dictating every aspect of economic, social welfare and labor policy. Public assets are to be placed in a trust fund administered by Greece’s imperialist creditors, with the aim of selling them off mainly to pay debts and recapitalize the banks. Time magazine (16 July) listed some of what is expected to be sold:

“REAL ESTATE: Greece has already begun selling off landmark buildings, including neoclassical Culture Ministry offices in Athens, and has leased two of the capital’s ancient sites to private companies. According to the IMF, Greece has over 70,000 unused properties that could be sold, but Greek officials insist significant treasures like the Acropolis won’t be put on the market.”

We’ll see! Time continued:

“ISLANDS: Greece has anywhere from 1,200 to 6,000 islands, an estimated 227 of which are inhabited...; private islands are already selling for as little as $3 million.

“PORTS: Plans to sell off stakes in the Port of Piraeus, Greece’s largest harbor and its major shipping hub for over 2,500 years, are well under way.... The government is also likely to sell off stakes in 14 airports.”

The fact that German banks will determine what Greek assets will be sold off to repay the debt to German (and French) banks demonstrates that there is an element of national oppression at work here.

The Greek masses voted against such measures in the July 5 referendum, but just one week later, Syriza totally capitulated. Party leader Alexis Tsipras announced the acceptance of even more draconian austerity than was rejected in the referendum—which is fairly hard to imagine. Shock and anger rippled throughout Greek society. The task of the hour was to unite the working masses in struggle against the attacks of the imperialists, their Greek lackeys and the Syriza government.

Seeking to act as a struck flint to ignite proletarian struggle, the TGG issued a call for workers action committees “composed of workers from different tendencies and their allies—youth, unemployed, immigrants, pensioners” to fight to repudiate the EU and euro and to cancel the debt; for workers defense guards against the fascist threat; for workers control of food distribution and prices; to expropriate the banks, utilities, transportation, ports and shipping industry, among other demands (see “Enough!” WV No. 1072, 7 August). On the other side stand the Golden Dawn fascists who, especially in the absence of such struggle, seek to take advantage of Syriza’s sellout to its EU masters with appeals to the ruined petty bourgeoisie and masses of unemployed youth.

The TGG’s call for workers action committees was an application of the tactic of the united front. Appealing for workers from different tendencies to join such committees was an attempt to use our small forces as a lever for broader, defensive struggle by the proletariat and its allies. If formed, such committees would be arenas for vital debates on the way forward involving the different parties that claim to represent the workers’ interests. Such debates are key to forging a revolutionary workers party, the necessary instrument to lead the working class to power.

Our call provoked real debate and interest, even though it was somewhat slow going into August when many people left Athens and other cities to go on vacation in the countryside. Some Greek Communist Party (KKE) members argued that they were already handing out free food in poor areas, i.e., interpreting the TGG call as an appeal for social work. In fact, our call for workers control of food distribution and prices goes far beyond social work; it runs up against the limits of what is “legal” under capitalist rule. As my mother always told me, “The best things in life are illegal, immoral or fattening.” And when it comes to unions and class struggle, everything effective is usually illegal. Many of the demands we put forward cannot be met under capitalism—we want workers to learn in struggle that capitalism must go.

The KKE’s Class Collaboration

I want to spend some time on the KKE, which supported the Stalinist bureaucracy who ran the Soviet workers state after usurping political power from the proletariat beginning in 1923-24. The bureaucratic misrulers betrayed the liberating and internationalist goals that animated the October 1917 Russian Revolution, which was led by the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. Instead, they pushed the bankrupt idea that there could be socialism in a single, relatively backward country, combined with “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist-imperialist world.

These class-collaborationist politics led to defeat of the Communist-led workers and peasants in the Greek Civil War of the 1940s. The KKE had established itself at the head of Greece’s anti-Nazi resistance, which had the run of the country when the German forces withdrew. But like Stalinists elsewhere, the KKE leadership sought to subordinate workers’ struggles to the “progressive” bourgeoisie, joining the capitalist government and, in February 1945, signing the Treaty of Varkiza that disarmed the resistance fighters and handed power back to the miserable Greek bourgeoisie.

Believe me, the Civil War still looms large in Greece today. If you go to a bar and begin talking about the war, people will start to lecture you about what happened to their grandmother, etc., etc. And heaven help you if you bring the subject up at a family dinner—the war divided families and is an issue that arouses screaming and stomping out of rooms. Besides our article “Greece 1940s: A Revolution Betrayed” (Spartacist No. 64, Summer 2014), which provides a revolutionary Trotskyist analysis of the Greek Civil War, there is a worthwhile documentary available on YouTube titled Greece: The Hidden War. The video includes interviews of Greek KKEers, some of whom are critical of their leadership.

To this day, the KKE is a mass party that has the allegiance of a crucial core of the Greek working class. When I saw the KKE marching through Athens with the unions that they lead, tens of thousands of workers were in the streets, and they had marshals around the perimeter of the march. Impressive looking, but they don’t use the evident power of these workers, refusing, for example, to mobilize the workers to stop the fascists.

As the TGG wrote in a leaflet explaining our critical support to the KKE in the 2012 elections, “Vote KKE! No Vote to Syriza!” (printed in WV No. 1005, 6 July 2012), “Rather than mobilizing workers and immigrants against Golden Dawn, which represents a threat to the whole of the organized working class, the KKE appeals for votes from among the same backward layers of the population who voted for the fascist scum, demanding: ‘The working people who voted for Golden Dawn must correct their vote’.” Such statements are revolting, especially coming from a group that has the social weight to spearhead struggles to stop Golden Dawn. Sometimes, the KKE argues that fascism will only finally be gotten rid of after the revolution. Well, true enough, but that does not mean that you shouldn’t mobilize against the fascists now. History has shown that you better stop the fascists when you can.

Today, the KKE fights not for socialist revolution but for “people’s power,” which disappears the centrality of the proletariat, which uniquely has the social power to wage the necessary fight against capitalism. It obscures the fact that the central class division in capitalist society is between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and not between the “people” and the “monopolies.” The American variant is the “anti-monopoly coalition” pushed by the Communist Party USA and endorsed by most reformists. It’s simply a disguised way of saying that you should unite with everyone who is to the left of Donald Trump and the piggish owners of Wal-Mart. Once leftists start talking about “the people,” watch out—it’s the open door to opportunism.

Macedonia: Litmus Test for Greek Left

The KKE is also profoundly nationalist, viewing as sacred the Greek borders, which were extended a hundred years ago through a series of wars. Echoing the Greek bourgeoisie, the KKE last year railed against “a conscious effort to promote Turkish national consciousness in the Muslim minority and a so-called ‘Macedonian’ national consciousness among a section of the Slavic-speakers.” In 2013, the KKE newspaper ran an article calling to strengthen the war industries in the name of national defense.

I want to tell a story from my second trip to Greece, in 2010. There had been something like eight general strikes that year—two happened while I was there. Since general strikes in the U.S. are very rare (to put it mildly), I was eager to attend one of the strike marches and went to observe it at Syntagma Square, the plaza in front of the Greek parliament. At first, the demo proceeded as I expected. Mostly male, middle-aged trade unionists filed in to the square with banners showing they were electrical workers, postal workers and so on. Suddenly, a man was chasing another man, knocking him roughly to the ground and kicking him. Then, an older woman came running by with blood streaming down her head. There was a lot of running hither and thither. Cops on motorcycles and in riot gear with clubs out began to arrive en masse. The petty-bourgeois people who had been sitting in the nearby cafes began to throw money down on the tables and quickly leave the area.

I felt like I had been transported into that classic Costa-Gavras movie Z. Not able to get to the Metro station because there were so many cops blocking it, I just began to walk away from the demo. Parenthetically, according to later news reports, this incident apparently involved an attack on Pakistani immigrants, which some trade unionists stepped in to stop.

In any case, I found myself walking next to a guy in his late 20s or early 30s. He spoke English and told me that he was from Skopje, which is how Greeks refer to the existing country of Macedonia. Knowing that, I said, “Oh, Macedonia.” He was greatly impressed and began telling me about the oppression of the Macedonian minority within the borders of Greece today. He spoke about how it was once illegal for Macedonians in Greece to speak their language and how his family had been forced from its home and lost its land. He also spoke about how the Greek government had moved Greeks into certain areas of Macedonia (that were incorporated into Greece a century ago) because they would be more loyal to the government. He told me that Macedonians were Slavs and that he could always tell the difference on sight between Greeks and Slavs (which I certainly couldn’t).

Finally, he gave me a capsule summary of the Greek Civil War from the Macedonian point of view. He said that the Macedonians supported the KKE in the Civil War and that the Greek ruling class has never forgiven them and never will. I found the conversation interesting and, in a small way, a vindication of our position in defense of the national rights of Macedonians in Greece. At the end, he escorted me to the Metro station and we shook hands.

For the ICL, the fight against national chauvinism has always been key. As noted in the 2004 “Agreement for Common Work Between Greek Comrades and the ICL (FI)”: “A Trotskyist group in Greece must fight against Greek chauvinism and defend the rights of national minorities.” This understanding is central to our fight for a socialist federation of the Balkans as the only way to resolve the many national questions in the region.

The KKE’s Referendum Betrayal

Despite its name and some of its rhetoric, the KKE manifestly does not have the program and perspective needed to lead the workers to sweep away capitalism. There is a profound contradiction between its nationalist, reformist politics and its working-class base. Authentic Marxists seek to reach out to these workers with the objective of forging a revolutionary party through a process of common struggle, political debate, splits, fusions and regroupments.

During the 2012 elections and again in January this year, the TGG gave critical support to the KKE. Why? Because the Communist Party opposed forming a coalition with Syriza or any bourgeois party, while also opposing the EU. Our critical support allowed us to underline the need for class independence from all capitalist forces. And it also allowed us to gain a hearing for our views among the ranks of the KKE.

But in the referendum this July, the KKE committed an outrageous betrayal, calling on working people to throw away their votes by casting invalid ballots. The party leaders claimed a “no” vote would be an indirect vote for Syriza’s alternate austerity plan, but that was completely false. The ballot simply said “yes” or “no” to the EU Memorandum. The “no” vote was nothing other than a slap in the face to the EU and IMF imperialists. The KKE leaders’ refusal to champion a “no” vote stood in total contradiction to the KKE’s declared opposition to the EU. In fact, many KKE militants didn’t listen to their leaders and voted “no” anyway, which is a good thing.

The overwhelming “no” vote on the referendum and the Syriza leadership’s subsequent sellout served to destabilize the Greek government. Tsipras resigned as Prime Minister and called new elections for September 20. Syriza was re-elected, but with the lowest ever voter turnout.

The TGG wrote an Open Letter to the KKE explaining that we weren’t going to give them critical support in the September election unless they repudiated their wretched position on the referendum. The letter stated: “We wonder comrades, have you considered that the victory of the ‘no’ vote weakened and irreparably exposed Syriza in the eyes of the masses who had in fact been deceived before the election? Is this fact not in the interests of the working class? Have you considered comrades that had the ‘yes’ camp won, Syriza and the EU would have had a mandate to devastate the working class not only in Greece but throughout Europe?” (, 13 September). I consider this letter a very effective piece of propaganda.

While the KKE’s percentage of the vote did not change much, the high level of abstention meant it lost considerable electoral support—more than 35,000 votes—compared to January. As the only mass working-class alternative to Syriza, the KKE could have capitalized on the widespread disillusionment with the government. Instead, it reaped what it sowed with its referendum betrayal.

The September elections also saw the emergence of a split from Syriza called Popular Unity. This latest bourgeois-populist front is trying to salvage the anti-austerity banner that Syriza so quickly trampled on. The future leaders of Popular Unity stayed inside the Syriza government until Tsipras stepped down, showing that they are devoted to maintaining capitalist stability and that their vote in parliament against the latest “bailout” terms was just for show. We, of course, opposed on principle any vote to Popular Unity, which did very poorly in the election, falling below the 3 percent threshold necessary for parliamentary deputies.

Having learned nothing at all, the reformist left groups that so recently hailed Syriza quickly turned to hailing Popular Unity. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) ran an interview with one of its Greek co-thinkers under the headline “The Struggle for Syriza’s Soul.” Typical! The Greek supporters of the ISO (the DEA) and other pseudo-socialist groups simply decamped from Syriza to join Popular Unity. To paraphrase a comment made by Trotsky in a different context, this isn’t just a betrayal; it’s a farce.

The EU is happy with the September election results. The Guardian (21 September) commented:

“EU officials reacted to the news with thinly disguised comfort. Tsipras, for so long the bad boy of European politics, had only reluctantly accepted the excoriating conditions attached to the financial assistance programme. Before what is expected to be an explosive winter, EU sources said it was better the leftist was in government, applying policies, than potentially rabble rousing on the streets. ‘There is a certain amount of relief in that,’ said one EU insider.”

This appraisal reminds me of the famous statement by New York City’s first black mayor, David Dinkins, who said of the workers and black people facing massive cuts to social programs, “They’ll take it from me.” The EU hopes the Greek workers and oppressed will take it from Tsipras.

But as the Guardian (20 September) also noted: “The turnout was low and the mood sullen.” Our comrades reported considerable frustration and disillusionment with all the existing parties, frustration that could be channeled in any number of directions. A common refrain was, “Why bother voting when all the decisions are being made in Germany and Brussels [where the EU has its headquarters]?” There is, for now, an ebb in struggle, but new rounds of popular resistance will erupt once the latest EU-imposed starvation diktats begin to take hold.

For a Socialist United States of Europe!

Recent events have made completely clear that it is impossible for Greece to break the spiral of debt and imperialist pillage so long as it remains within the EU and its eurozone. Twice in the past century, in the interimperialist World Wars I and II, Germany’s capitalist rulers sought to “unite” Europe under their dominance through force of arms. They failed. Today the goal hasn’t changed, only the means: they seek dominance through economic levers, including by controlling the common European currency.

A debtor country can sometimes gain some breathing room and establish a modicum of economic competitiveness by repudiating its debt and devaluing its currency. But there is no such option under the euro. The European imperialists, echoed by the Greek capitalists, say: if you try to leave the eurozone, then Armageddon awaits. In fact, there are examples of debt default and currency devaluation that have not been disasters (Argentina and Iceland come to mind). Going this route did not free those countries from the ravages of the imperialist global order—which cannot happen within the framework of capitalism—but it did eventually allow for something of an economic recovery.

More importantly, Greece leaving the EU and the eurozone would create better conditions for the working class to struggle. Our opposition to these institutions is based on the interests of the international working class. If Greece left the EU, it would be a blow to the very existence of this reactionary bloc. It also could make it clearer to the Greek workers that their most immediate enemies are their own capitalist rulers, not Brussels or the German bankers.

As I said earlier, our perspective is that of the class struggle, including common class struggle of Greek, German and other European workers against their respective capitalist rulers and the EU. Since the destruction of the Soviet Union, the consciousness and level of struggle of the working class internationally has taken a big step backward. But this situation will not last forever. The workings of capitalism don’t just produce daily misery; they will spur further working-class combativity. Greece today is a weak point in the global capitalist order. The stakes there are high: the next round of grinding austerity could well push the fascists to the fore, as happened in Germany in the early 1930s. But if the working class takes the lead, breaking with all the parties of the capitalist class, its struggles could serve as a beacon for the proletariat worldwide. Socialism or barbarism are the choices, as Rosa Luxemburg so famously commented.

Sixty years ago, American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon noted that we are living in “a transition period of the history of humanity.” Cannon observed:

“It is a mere interlude in the long evolution of the human race, but it has encompassed all our lives, and the lives of many generations. In this historical interlude, mankind, losing even the memory of its communal solidarity of earlier millenniums, has descended into the underworld of competitive class society in order to forge there the weapons for its liberation from helpless dependence on nature, and to create the material conditions for its re-emergence in the communal solidarity of classless society in the future.”

—“Joseph Vanzler,” speech delivered in Los Angeles, 25 June 1956, printed in Speeches for Socialism (1971)

Only the struggles of a working class conscious of and confident in its historic tasks can give humanity such a future. From Greece to the U.S. and around the world, the goal of our organization is to re-implant the liberating ideals and the scientific program of communism among working people and the oppressed. We urge you to join us in this fight.


Workers Vanguard No. 1078

WV 1078

13 November 2015


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Greece: For Workers Struggle Against Austerity!

Part Two