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Workers Vanguard No. 894

8 June 2007

On Student Protests in Greece

Trotskyists Say: Down With Government Attacks on Higher Education!

(Young Spartacus pages)

We print below a translation of an April 23 leaflet issued by the Trotskyist Group of Greece, sympathizing section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).

Since May-June 2006 student protests have shaken Greek society. Big demonstrations have taken place all over Greece, and around 400 campuses were occupied by angry students. Thousands have marched in weekly demonstrations, and the university teachers union supported their students with strikes. After the Easter break, two more demonstrations took place in Athens and Thessaloniki. Students have been protesting a broad range of changes in higher education which would amount to the privatization of the universities and increased social discrimination. The aim of these changes is to deny working-class and plebeian youth the right to higher education. We, the Trotskyist Group of Greece, protest these attacks. For free, quality education with decent living stipends for all!

These “reforms” are a direct attack on the working class and poor who simply cannot afford to pay for their kids to get a proper education. According to the bourgeois newspaper Eleftherotypia (14 March), Greek households spent over 4.3 billion euros on education in 2006; this is equivalent to 2.2 percent of the gross national product. Almost every family pays for after-school lessons to help their children pass the university entrance exams. At the same time, the Greek state budget for education was just over 7 billion euros, equivalent to 3.5 percent of the GNP. “Free education” actually does not exist in Greek reality. With the decay of capitalism, there are increasingly fewer skilled jobs available, so the bourgeoisie sees less and less reason to spend money on higher education for working-class youth. Now the government obscenely plans to draft all youth into the army at age 18, keeping them out of the universities! We say: Down with conscription! Not a penny, not a man for the bourgeois army! However, so long as conscription exists, we also oppose any special privileges or exemptions, such as deferments, which are available mainly for petty-bourgeois students but not for working-class youth.

Attacks on Education and the Destruction of the “Welfare State”

The attacks on education in Greece are paralleled everywhere in Europe. They are accompanied by massive hikes in tuition, increased social discrimination and accelerated exclusion of working-class youth who have made it into the lower grades of university education, as well as the closure of departments teaching subjects which offer no increase in profits for the bourgeoisie. With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union 15 years ago, the bourgeoisies of Europe consider that the costly concessions previously granted to the working class and oppressed, including in education, are no longer necessary to placate the working class and dissuade it from fighting to overthrow capitalist rule. Everywhere, the capitalist rulers have been slashing pension rights, health care, unemployment benefits. The so-called “welfare state” was a response to the threat to the bourgeoisie posed by the existence of the Soviet Union, which inspired class-conscious workers who saw in it a viable alternative to capitalist exploitation and misery.

Just as we fought to defend the Soviet Union against capitalist counterrevolution, we fight tooth and nail to defend the gains of the working class that are on the chopping block today. But our program is not to return to the status quo ante of the “welfare state.” Our program is to fight for new October Revolutions! The capitalist system in its death agony is simply incapable of providing a decent education, a decent living and a decent future for mankind. It must be overthrown. Only the working class has the social power and historic interest to accomplish this because, through its labor, it creates the profits that are the motor force of the capitalist system. We fight to build the revolutionary, internationalist workers party, like Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, that the workers need to carry out a successful proletarian revolution. For a workers republic of Greece as part of a socialist federation of the Balkans! For the Socialist United States of Europe! Down with the capitalist European Union!

The government’s “reform” package includes a draft law and a proposed change to Article 16 of the Constitution, which stipulates the public character of higher education. The conservative New Democracy government, led by Kostas Karamanlis, aims to change this clause. It intends to turn universities into privately sponsored, competing institutions, limiting the number of study years [to complete a degree] and restricting government funding.

The Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a bourgeois party that from its birth in 1974 has been fully committed to defending the capitalist order in Greece, initially supported the change to the Constitution as well as the other attacks on higher education. As a result of the massive student and teacher mobilizations over the past year, PASOK has momentarily changed tack and abstained from the vote in parliament. However, PASOK is just as committed as New Democracy to streamlining public education to the detriment of the working class. The EU’s “Bologna process,” which coordinates attacks on higher education at the European level, was initiated at the end of the 1990s when all the major European countries were governed by social democrats—and the supposedly “left-wing” bourgeois PASOK governed in Greece.

The universities are capitalist institutions. As the Russian revolutionaries Bukharin and Preobrazhensky wrote in The ABC of Communism:

“In bourgeois society the school has three principal tasks to fulfill. First, it inspires the coming generation of workers with devotion and respect for the capitalist regime. Secondly, it creates from the young of the ruling classes ‘cultured’ controllers of the working population. Thirdly, it assists capitalist production in the application of sciences to technique, thus increasing capitalist profits.”

And also:

“Similarly, the capitalist State maintains specialists to stupefy and subdue the proletariat; it maintains bourgeois teachers and professors, the clergy, bourgeois authors and journalists. In the State schools these specialists teach children from their earliest years to obey capital and to despise and hate ‘rebels.’… In the churches, the priests, who are salaried by the State, preach that all authority comes from God.”

And the Greek priests do this in schools, as in tsarist Russia. The current Article 16 of the Greek Constitution further stipulates:

“Education constitutes a basic mission for the state and shall aim at the moral, intellectual, professional and physical training of Greeks, the development of national and religious consciousness, and at their formation as free and responsible citizens.” (emphasis added)

—Greek Constitution, point 2 of Article 16

For the separation of church and state! Priests out of the universities! Close the theology departments! For free, scientific and secular education!

Capitalist exploitation entails oppressing and dividing the working class along ethnic and religious lines. The same state oppresses women, youth, gays, national minorities, immigrants and others. The working class in Greece today is multiethnic. There are workers from many nationalities, including a strong component of Albanian workers particularly in the building trades. As elsewhere in the world, the bourgeoisie uses racism to divide the working class and weaken it in the face of capitalist attacks. We fight to organize the unorganized, including immigrant and minority workers, into the unions. We put forward a program for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and their children. This would include bilingual education as appropriate.

For the Class Independence of the Proletariat Against the Bourgeoisie!
Down With the “Popular Front”!

The struggles over education in Greece started a year ago, in part inspired by the victory of French students that forced the Chirac government to back down on its CPE (First Employment Contract) scheme to generalize job insecurity for all youth. The lessons of that struggle are particularly important to understand. Students can spark broader social struggles, but by themselves they don’t have much social power. The French students won because the working class—including rail workers, energy workers and even contingents from private industry—struck and took to the streets in increasing numbers and determination. The mobilizations vividly showed the social power of the proletariat. [See “France: Workers, Students Beat Back Government Attack,” WV No. 868, 14 April 2006.]

However, the victory in France was squandered by the union bureaucrats who, as soon as the CPE was dropped, immediately ordered the workers to abandon the protests and strikes. This was despite the fact that the other clauses of the same law that included the CPE—clauses that intensify the racist segregation of youth from the banlieues [suburban ghettos]—were maintained. The aim of the union bureaucrats and reformist parties was to channel the struggle against the CPE toward promoting a new popular front in the current French elections. A popular front is a capitalist alliance between capitalist parties and reformist parties of the working class—what we call bourgeois workers parties, such as the Greek Communist Party (KKE). We are for the independence of the working class from its class enemy, the bourgeoisie. We unconditionally oppose any support to any popular front. Now [the French Socialist Party’s] Ségolène Royal, the chief candidate of the popular front, is proposing, among other attacks, the “CPC,” which is a watered-down version of the CPE!

In Greece, too, the popular front has been the vehicle through which the KKE has tied the working class to its “own” bourgeoisie, whether with the Venizelists in the 1930s, when the popular front paved the way for the Metaxas coup; or in 1989-90 with the “great coalitions” between the KKE and the bourgeois parties, New Democracy and PASOK; or in recent years through the KKE alliance with the Democratic Social Movement (DIKKY), a nationalist split from PASOK. Leon Trotsky aptly described the popular-front policy of the treacherous workers parties as the biggest crime against the working class.

In Greece the little social-democratic tails of PASOK that have been active in the student movement (SEK—affiliates of the SWP [British Socialist Workers Party], Xekinima—affiliates of the CWI [Committee for a Workers’ International] and others) have been agitating for a general strike. They complain that unlike in France, the unions have barely lifted a finger to defend the students when the right of working-class youth to a decent education is at stake. The leadership of the trade unions is based on a relatively privileged layer of Greek workers. They get a few crumbs thrown to them by the bourgeoisie. Based on this, they spread the illusion that workers have common interests with their “own” capitalists and thus should join them in partnership against foreign competitors.

Thus the union bureaucrats in Greece mostly support PASOK or the KKE, both of which initially opposed the students’ mobilizations. While the General Federation of Greek Workers (GSEE), the All-Workers Fighting Front (PAME [affiliated with the KKE]) and the Highest Administration of Unions of Public Servants (ADEDY) did participate in some mobilizations, they didn’t mobilize the organized working class in defense of the students’ struggle. At bottom, the union leadership shares the view of the bourgeoisie that Greek universities must be “modernized.” GSEE even applied to open its own private university as soon as privatization goes into effect!

Down With Police Repression Against Student Demonstrators!

The most recent wave of student demonstrations has faced the most vicious cop attacks. On March 8, one of the largest demonstrations in the last decade drew around 35,000 students and teachers from all over Greece. The protest was brutally attacked by the police, who filled the center of Athens with tear gas for hours and the hospitals with the injured. The police arrested 61 people. Eight of them face misdemeanor charges and are out of jail on bail. Of those remaining, 49 appeared in court on April 16 where the charges were dropped. One of the protesters arrested, Vassily Stergiou, a 37-year-old construction worker, has been imprisoned since March 13. He is threatened with felony charges, including possession and fabrication of explosives, attempted homicide, forming a mob and resistance to authorities. We say: Free Vassily Stergiou! Release all leftist prisoners now! Drop the charges against all those arrested at the March 8 demonstration and at the other protests in defense of education!

What sparked the outcry from the government, the media and the left after the March 8 demonstration? A sentry box at the memorial for the Unknown Soldier—a national monument in front of the parliament—was burnt down by a group of anarchists during the demonstration. The same night, a Greek flag was burnt at a spontaneous protest in Thessaloniki in defense of those arrested. The TGG defends the anarchists against the witchhunt by the Greek capitalist state and its police forces. An injury to one is an injury to all! Free Yotopoulos and the other detainees allegedly in “17 November”! [“17 November” is a group that grew out of opposition to the rule of the military junta in Greece from 1967-74, was formed after the junta’s fall and has generally targeted representatives of the bourgeois state and imperialism.]

For all their spectacular actions against symbols of the Greek capitalist state, the anarchists are not at all radical enemies of the bourgeois state. Their petty-bourgeois outlook is alien to the perspective of international proletarian revolution:

“Class collaboration, indeed, lies concealed in the heart of anarchist philosophy. It is hidden, during periods of reaction, by anarchist hatred of capitalist oppression. But, in a revolutionary period of dual power, it must come to the surface. For then the capitalist smilingly offers to share in building the new world. And the anarchist, being opposed to ‘all dictatorships,’ including dictatorship of the proletariat, will require of the capitalist merely that he throw off the capitalist outlook, to which he agrees, naturally, the better to prepare the crushing of the workers.”

—Felix Morrow, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain (1938)

In the Spanish Civil War, the political outlook of the anarchists led them to enter the bourgeois popular-front government, along with the Stalinists, strangling the proletarian revolution and saving the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. What anarchists really hate is the dictatorship of the proletariat—past, present and future. Thus they hailed the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, which brought misery to the toiling masses in the former USSR and East Europe and emboldened the bourgeoisies of the world to increase their attacks on the working class, launch new wars and intensify their drive against the remaining deformed workers states. We unconditionally defend the deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba against imperialist attack and counterrevolution from within. We fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies and replace them with regimes based on proletarian democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

The resurgence of anarchism in recent years is the product of the retrogression of working-class consciousness as a result of the catastrophic defeat in the Soviet Union and the relentless “death of communism” campaign by the bourgeoisie. Many workers and youth today don’t identify their struggles with the emancipatory ideals of communism.

However anti-communist they are, the anarchists may appear radical to some youth, given the wretched prostration of the rest of the Greek left before the bourgeois state. Most of the so-called left, starting with the KKE, takes a side with the Greek capitalist state by not defending the anarchists, calling them “hooded” and “bachala” (chaotic), and accusing them of provoking violent cop attacks by throwing Molotov cocktails and stones. As if without the stones, the cops would put away their clubs and cease being the armed fist to defend the private property of the bourgeoisie.

For example, Xekinima, sister organization of the CWI in Greece, wrote in its March newspaper:

“What the student movement should deal with is how much is being damaged by these methods [of the anarchists].… We also have to prove that we are in the position of defending [academic] asylum as much against the forces of repression as against those who offer the best argument to the government for demolishing it. The slogan ‘[Academic] asylum belongs to all the people’ cannot mean tolerance toward every bunch of anarchists that hides behind it.”

This is no surprise from the likes of Xekinima, whose official line on cops is that they are “workers in uniform” (see the Spartacist pamphlet Militant Labour’s Touching Faith in the Capitalist State, 1994). But the recent repression has once again shown that the cops, as well as the army and prison guards, are an apparatus of violence designed to protect capitalist profits and rule against the exploited and oppressed. This apparatus of violence will be destroyed in a workers revolution and replaced by proletarian organs of power.

“Academic Asylum” and the Bourgeois State

Among other changes proposed by the bourgeois parliament is limiting “academic asylum.” Academic asylum means that the armed forces (e.g., the army and police) can supposedly enter the campus only if duly authorized by the administrative council. Academic asylum originates from 1973, when a student uprising took place at Polytechnic School during the dictatorship of the colonels. The students were smashed when the army drove their tanks into the university. More than 34 students were killed. This event played an important role in the fall of the junta in 1974. Academic asylum was a concession granted by the Greek bourgeoisie at a time when they were thoroughly discredited by their support to the bloody colonels’ regime. They sought to give a “democratic” mask to their murderous rule and to ensure a peaceful transition to the first Karamanlis government. Rolling back this asylum inevitably reminds people of the dark days of the colonels’ police dictatorship.

We oppose the scrapping of academic asylum because we oppose any measure that reinforces the repressive powers of the bourgeois state. But the bourgeoisie, which preaches that its laws are sacrosanct as a way of keeping the workers and oppressed in line, will have no scruples about violating such laws if it sees the need. No scrap of paper will make it hesitate for a split second to defend its fundamental class interests by whatever means it finds necessary. The drive to scrap academic asylum is directed against radical students, particularly those from the anarchist milieu who have taken to fleeing into the Polytechnic in Athens when pursued by the police. It is in fact the capitulation by the left to the anti-anarchist witchhunt that has paved the way for the conservative government to limit academic asylum under the pretext of cleaning out anarchist “hoodlums” from Greek campuses. It is a measure of the underlying reformism of fake-socialist groups like SEK and Xekinima that they do not challenge the students’ widespread illusions that the academic asylum law will really protect them from the organized violence of the bourgeois state.

The little social democrats à la SEK and Xekinima as well as the KKE are now busy trying to channel the movement into…student elections! Subsequently, after the Easter break, the turnout at protests and the number of occupied universities decreased. To carry out student elections you need to…stop occupying the campuses! One Nectarios Dargakis from the SEK-controlled “Genoa initiative” said bluntly in Ergatiki Allilenghii [Workers Solidarity] (28 March):

“The basic objective is to isolate the DAP [New Democracy’s student wing]. As we have done this through the movement let us do the same in the elections, which is much more difficult.… We are making this proposal to the whole occupation bloc [those who were in favor of occupying the campuses], and this means from the left PASP [PASOK’s student wing] to the autonomes and the independent groups.”

Whatever their meek criticisms of PASOK, at bottom the Cliffites of the SEK are working to restore its credibility in the name of “fighting the right.”

We warn against illusions that the university was ever a safe haven free from encroachments by the bourgeois state. The administrative council, which is elected by the students and teachers, is a body dedicated to administering the university on behalf of the bourgeoisie. It follows a budget granted and controlled by the government, and its majority is firmly in the hands of senior professors. We are for worker, student, teacher control of the universities, not for the unions and students doing the dirty work of the capitalists. To fight to wrest the universities from the capitalists means a struggle to overthrow the whole system through a workers revolution.

The Trotskyist Group of Greece, sympathizing section of the ICL, stands on the side of the students in their fight against the attacks by the Greek bourgeoisie. We fight to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party that will fight for the interests of all the oppressed and exploited. Such a party would mobilize the power of labor to defend students, teachers and education for working-class, immigrant and minority youth. Defend the students’ fight! Mobilize the social power of the multiethnic working class!

To come to the understanding of the need for socialist revolution—smashing the capitalist system and replacing the repressive machinery of the capitalist state with a workers state—the working class needs a revolutionary vanguard party. Such a party would consistently fight against the venom of bourgeois ideology and lead the proletariat to political power. For new October Revolutions worldwide! For a revolutionary workers party, section of a reforged Fourth International!

Workers Vanguard No. 894

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8 June 2007


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