Spartacist Canada No. 184
Imperialists Squeeze Greece
Capitalist Syriza Government: No Friend of Workers
After four weeks of posturing by the bourgeois Syriza party, which had rejected demands by European Union (EU) officials that Greece hew to the austerity conditions of its 240 billion euro ($342 billion) bailout, a face-saving (for Syriza) “deal” was reached on February 20 which in reality made virtually no concessions to the Greek government. Wracked by a prolonged economic depression, masses of Greek workers and sections of the petty bourgeoisie have been thrown into destitution as the EU bankers make them pay for the massive national debt, now almost twice the country’s gross domestic product. As detailed below in a February 10 report by the Trotskyist Group of Greece, first published in Workers Vanguard (No. 1062, 20 February), Syriza, while offering anti-austerity rhetoric, has made clear its intention to maintain Greece’s use of the euro currency and membership in the EU, an imperialist trade bloc.
In a statement for the January 25 elections, our Greek comrades explained that “the EU’s purpose is to enable the imperialist powers of Europe, led by Germany, to subordinate weaker capitalist countries like Greece and impose savage austerity on working people throughout Europe, including in Germany” (see “Greece: European Union Austerity Elections,” WV No. 1060, 23 January). In contrast to the bulk of ostensible socialists, the TGG opposed voting for Syriza, “not only because it is committed to keeping Greece in the EU, which is a pledge for more hunger and joblessness, but also because it does not in any way represent the interests of the working class.” The TGG called for votes to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which stood in opposition both to the EU and to Syriza, while sharply criticizing the KKE’s nationalist populism, an obstacle to revolutionary working-class consciousness.
With the EU masters demanding blood, Syriza has been able to rally mass support on the basis of national unity, something that the two previous bourgeois governments could not do. Huge demonstrations have taken place in Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities in support of the government. The main call for a protest in Athens mid-February made clear that the purpose of the rallies was to provide Syriza with “the best bargaining chip” for the Brussels talks. As internationalist communists, the TGG comrades have uniquely put forward a revolutionary perspective for combating the attacks on workers and the oppressed, writing in a statement on the elections:
“A Greek exit from the EU as a result of militant workers struggle would be an important step forward, but not a solution in itself. The crisis in Greece is part of a world economic crisis of the imperialist system, which cannot be resolved within the borders of any single country, particularly within small, dependent Greece with its low level of industry and resources. The only way forward is a series of socialist revolutions that will expropriate the bourgeoisies, including in the imperialist centers, and establish an internationally collectivized, planned economy under workers rule. For a Socialist United States of Europe!”
Syriza achieved an overwhelming victory in the January 25 elections with 36 percent of the vote. Despite the fact that Syriza spent the last couple of years, and especially the weeks before the election, furiously backpedaling on just about every piece of leftist window-dressing in its program, there are real illusions in Syriza among layers of the workers and the oppressed. The fact that a party other than PASOK [bourgeois Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement] or [the right-wing] New Democracy won an election after 40 years is seen as a blow to the Greek “oligarchs” and their system of patronage and corruption. It is also seen as a source of national pride that Greece stood up to the imperialists, especially Germany, and voted in a party that the Troika (European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF) didn’t want in power.
At the same time that Greece supposedly shifted hard to the left, it is significant and very ominous that the fascist Golden Dawn took third place in the election despite the fact that its leadership is in prison and they couldn’t mount much of a campaign. It is also significant that the KKE slightly increased its percentage of the vote compared to the June 2012 national elections, indicating that it has a solid base of electoral support among those on the left who oppose the EU.
Since 2012, Syriza has gone from supposedly rejecting the Troika’s austerity memorandum to wanting to erase only a portion of Greece’s debt to now proposing a mere debt swap scheme. Thus, Syriza’s promises to bring an end to austerity and reassert Greece’s national sovereignty are in practice increasingly hollow.
However, Syriza’s continued anti-austerity rhetoric and the popular perception that it is standing up to those who have treated Greece like a colony of Germany has much more sway with the population right now than the imperialist propaganda trying to scare Greeks into submitting to continued austerity for fear of a “Grexit” [exit from the eurozone]. Approval ratings for the government were at over 70 percent earlier this week. And Syriza truly has become a bourgeois party in government, with a section of the bourgeoisie now voicing open support for it as reflected in the shift in editorial position of major bourgeois newspapers. In fact, it is hard to find any bourgeois press that is not pro-government right now, which makes it difficult for us to find out what is really going on behind all the propaganda. Whether such bourgeois support will survive what lies ahead in the negotiations with the imperialists over Greece’s debt remains to be seen.
We cannot predict how long Syriza will manage to walk the tightrope between promising relief to the devastated masses and doing what the imperialists demand in order to stay in the EU. Nor can we predict whether the imperialists will actually allow Syriza some slack in order to ease up a bit on austerity or continue to hardline it—both voices are being heard from different quarters internationally. Some predict that D-Day will be sometime this week, and the British government is one among several governments and banks whose contingency planning for a Greek exit from the eurozone has been publicized. But it is hard to tell how much this is a propaganda exercise to scare the Greek government into submission, and how much the European imperialists actually might believe that the time has come for Greece to be kicked out of the EU and that the ensuing “contagion” will be minimal. The European Central Bank certainly yanked on the leash attached to the choke collar last week with its refusal to keep accepting Greek bonds as collateral, thereby forcing the insolvent Greek banks to borrow emergency funds at a much higher interest rate.
Imperialists United for Austerity
All the imperialists are united in demanding Greece continue its “structural reforms,” which mean decimating the wages and conditions of the working class in order to increase capitalist profitability. Without some crumbs to throw at the workers and poor, Syriza will have a hard time doing its job of keeping Greek capitalism safe by containing class and social struggle. That’s really what all their pleas to the imperialists for some “humanitarianism” amount to.
With no such crumbs in hand, Syriza has played up its nationalist populism domestically as an ideological prop for its capitalist government of “social salvation.” Having fallen two seats short of a parliamentary majority, Syriza predictably proceeded to form a government coalition with the virulently anti-immigrant and nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL), who are only a step removed from Golden Dawn on the Greek political spectrum.
This was the culmination of more than a year of repeated collaboration in parliament between Syriza and ANEL. Their collaboration began with a joint front over the 2013 economic crisis in Cyprus and included populist campaigns, for example in opposition to the proposed privatization of the public power company DEI. Among the concessions Syriza made to the bourgeoisie and the likes of ANEL before the election was to renounce its opposition to NATO, make overtures to the reactionary Orthodox church, come out against adoption by gay parents and assure the fascist-infested police that they would get more resources if Syriza were elected. Even a notorious pro-Golden Dawn Orthodox archbishop has now come out in support of Syriza.
The government coalition between the bourgeois populists of the left and right is thus united not only in its “anti-austerity” rhetoric but in its upholding of reactionary bourgeois nationalism. Indeed, Syriza handed ANEL leader Panos Kammenos the post of defense minister. He then promptly proceeded to fly to the disputed islets of Imia, off the coast of Turkey, on the anniversary of the fatal crash of a Greek Navy helicopter there in 1996. This is an anniversary regularly celebrated by the fascists. More importantly, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’ first foreign trip as prime minister was not to a West European capital to deal with Greece’s economic crisis but to Cyprus, where he complained about Turkish “provocations” off the southern coast of the island. While there, he would not give a straight answer to a question about whether minorities in Thrace should be given more rights.
Syriza is so far from being any kind of “radical” left party that prior to the election, Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front said she would welcome a Syriza victory as strengthening “eurosceptic” forces. And after the election, Golden Dawn announced that it will support measures by Syriza against privatizations as well as anything Syriza does to oppose sanctions against Russia. In their own way, such expressions of support by fascists to Syriza confirm how correct we were to characterize its class character as bourgeois.
Subordination to Imperialism
While Syriza’s posturing over ending austerity and verbal challenges to the Troika may have caused tremors in the markets and grabbed headlines, it is clear that at bottom Syriza seeks to collaborate with the imperialists to keep Greece in the EU. Syriza’s modus operandi so far seems to be to trumpet some tough-sounding position and then water it down in practice over the following days. For example, its promise to overturn privatizations actually boils down to reviewing the plans for new privatizations while quietly pledging not to touch [Chinese shipping company] Cosco’s privatized part of the port in Piraeus. Syriza gave “Left Platform” leader Panagiotis Lafazanis the ministry in charge of privatizations, and he has gone from calling the proposed privatization of the Greek natural gas company a “national crime” to admitting that its partial privatization is proceeding.
Likewise many of Syriza’s promises have melted away, such as immediately restoring the minimum wage level. However, its promises to provide free health care for the poorest and other measures of social welfare, along with the pledge to increase the minimum wage and pensions by 2016, were enthusiastically received here and are undoubtedly a big source of illusions in the government.
More than 20 billion euros have poured out of Greek banks since November, leaving them insolvent without the European Central Bank’s promise to continue to “infuse liquidity.” More money flowed out of Greek banks in the week before this year’s election than in May 2012, when the imperialists worried about a Greek banking collapse. That no capital controls have been implemented in the face of a veritable bank run is an expression of the Greek government’s expectation of continued financial support from the imperialists.
Apparently, the possible dissolution of the Troika has been discussed for some months now as a measure that would give more “democratic legitimacy” to European institutions. It would certainly be a way to throw Syriza a symbolic bone while making not one bit of difference in Greece’s subordination to the imperialists in practice. The likes of U.S. president Barack Obama, French president François Hollande and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi have made comments about how austerity alone isn’t going to get Europe out of its crisis and about the need to negotiate a new deal with Greece, comments that have been played up here as expressions of support for Syriza. Of course, the U.S. “growth strategy” was to bail out the banks—which then threw hundreds of thousands out of their homes—as well as bailing out the auto bosses who slashed wages and conditions with the collusion of the union bureaucracy. But such attacks on the workers and poor go unmentioned in the bourgeois press here while Syriza whips up hopes that Obama and others will pressure Germany to give the Greeks a break.
Measures like hiring back sacked Finance Ministry cleaning ladies and removing busloads of riot cops from downtown Athens have cost the Syriza government almost nothing while doing a lot to bolster its image as friends of the downtrodden. At the same time, the Syriza government continues to send out its cops against immigrants, as described in the New York Times (7 February) article, “Greek Austerity Spawns Fakery: Playing Nurse,” which also gives a sense of the grim state of Greek public health care. These mostly immigrant “illegal” nurses are being targeted both by the fascists and the state. The alliance with ANEL will certainly help Syriza in that it can claim its hands are tied over passing socially progressive legislation on questions such as immigration or gay rights. Already, ANEL has announced that it will vote against pending legislation to give Greek citizenship to the children of immigrants who are born and raised here.
Our political opposition to this capitalist government is not dependent on whether its policies are more or less progressive. That is the criteria of much of the reformist left, who hope that with enough pressure from below Syriza might become a “workers government” somewhere between capitalism and socialism, which would supposedly pave the way to full-blown socialism. Even if Greece were to end up outside the EU in the near future against Syriza’s wishes, the only way back to “growth” under capitalism is the continued exploitation and oppression of the working people of Greece. This is what the reformists inside Syriza conceal. But so does the ostensibly oppositional Antarsya coalition, which is continuing its alliance with ex-Syriza leader Alekos Alavanos and his nationalist Plan B group, who are explicitly for a capitalist Greece outside the EU. The KKE excepted, most of the left has celebrated Syriza’s victory to one degree or another.
The Antarsya coalition announced that with the Syriza victory Greece has turned a page and promises much struggle to “fight so that measures in the interests of the people are imposed, so that the memoranda [austerity terms] are negated, so that the struggles are linked with the program of the anti-capitalist overthrow in the context of a left, labor and popular opposition.” In other words, they will struggle to push Syriza to the left. And as true believers in the possibility of genuine democracy under capitalism, they also pledge to fight in a front to root out Golden Dawn support in the police and the state.
What such a front means was on display at the first demonstration under the Syriza government. The fascists held their yearly anti-Turkey rally on January 31 to honor the three Greeks killed in the helicopter crash on the Imia islets—a rally attended by fascists from Germany, Spain and Italy as well. The left typically holds a counter-rally. This year the left rallied two hours before the fascists, in a different location and with no intention of stopping the Golden Dawn rally. Everyone from the Syriza youth to Antarsya and anarchists were represented. Much was made of the fact that there was a minimal police presence and the cops stood by as protesters sprayed graffiti on police buses. Had this demonstration been intended as a mobilization to stop the fascists, you can be sure that hundreds of armed riot cops would have been dispatched to protect the Golden Dawn rally.