Workers Vanguard No. 1005
6 July 2012
Greek Elections: Workers Face More Austerity
Down With the EU! For a Workers Europe!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Hammer No. 219 (Summer 2012), newspaper of the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League.
When the conservative New Democracy emerged as the winning party in the 17 June election, its leader Antonis Samaras proclaimed: “The Greek people today voted for the European course and that we remain in the euro” (Guardian, 18 June). Having barely scraped a victory, New Democracy will head a coalition government with the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which got a mere twelve per cent of the vote, and the smaller Democratic Left (Dimar). The new government can hardly lay claim to having a popular mandate—the aggregate vote for all three parties is less than 50 per cent of the votes cast, on a very low turnout. New Democracy and PASOK, who have alternated in government ever since the fall of the military junta in 1974, now take the reins. With Samaras as prime minister, Greece will once again be ruled by the same corrupt and vicious gang that has brought ruin to the Greek working people, shredding wages, pensions and services at the behest of the European Union, European Central Bank and IMF imperialist troika.
New Democracy’s victory was greeted with relief by the imperialist rulers of Europe and the U.S., who feared a rejection of the austerity package and a meltdown of the single currency if Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, had won the election. Syriza’s unexpected electoral success, especially in the May election, was an index of the desperation of the masses of workers and petty bourgeoisie, who revile the onerous conditions of the bank bailout demanded by the troika. But Syriza’s programme accepts the capitalist order and the EU, which is dominated by the imperialist bankers, while seeking only to ameliorate the terms under which the extortion is carried out. Syriza, which includes ex-Eurocommunists, Maoists and a clutch of reformist fake-Trotskyist groups, finished a very close second in the June election, with almost 27 per cent of the vote. The Stalinist Communist Party (KKE) saw its vote drop to 4.5 per cent.
Everyone knows that the Greek election has not solved the crisis in the euro zone, but has merely postponed it. While stock markets surged the morning following the election, by mid-afternoon they were plunging again as the cost of Spain’s sovereign debt reached record levels and talk of a bailout for Spain was rife.
None of the fundamental problems confronting Greek society have been addressed and the country remains deeply polarised. On the back of a violent campaign of racist terror against immigrants and attacks on leftists, the fascists of Golden Dawn achieved an ominous seven per cent. For the past three years, Greece has witnessed massive social protest, drawing in broad layers of the society. There have been countless one- and two-day general strikes. In one important proletarian struggle, Greek steel workers at the Elliniki Halyvourgia plant outside Athens have been on strike for over 200 days (see article, page 9). Such protests are likely to intensify when the government implements further attacks on the working class.
While there is widespread opposition in Greece to the austerity, polls consistently show strong support, including among the working class, for remaining in the euro and the EU. Many workers, undoubtedly including supporters of the KKE, voted for Syriza, hoping for some respite from the relentless attacks on their living standards. The bourgeoisie waged a scare campaign over the supposedly dire consequences of a Greek exit from the euro zone. In a country where hunger and terrible poverty are a living memory for many people, fears that the conditions of life could become worse are very real.
As Marxists we oppose the EU on principle as the vehicle with which the European capitalists jointly exploit the European workers and the more powerful imperialist powers subordinate the weaker capitalist countries. Any struggle against austerity and against the bloodsucking Greek bourgeoisie must, of necessity, also be a struggle against their EU imperialist masters. Noting that Greece might be better off out of the euro zone, our German comrades wrote last year that there is “no way out for debtor countries like Greece under the set-up dictated by the German bourgeoisie.” But our comrades warned, “while this might provide relief from the downward spiral, leaving the euro zone will not insulate the Greek proletariat from the world economic downturn and capitalist devastation” [WV No. 992, 9 December 2011].
Greek Trotskyists Said: Vote KKE! No Vote to Syriza!
Our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece gave critical support to the Communist Party in this election. In contrast to Syriza, the KKE campaigned for exit from the EU and NATO. Moreover, the KKE firmly refused to enter any coalition with bourgeois parties, despite enormous pressure to join a “unity of the left” coalition with Syriza. The KKE correctly denounced Syriza’s support to the imperialist EU—a decisive question in the election. The KKE also correctly lambasted Syriza, along with the motley crowd of Greek fake-Trotskyist groups, for their support to capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
In giving critical support to the KKE we gained a wider hearing for our Trotskyist views. Our comrades in Greece mass distributed the leaflet headlined “Vote KKE! No Vote to Syriza!” (reprinted above)—to students, striking workers, members of the KKE and other left parties. The leaflet was accompanied by a Greek translation of the article: “Banks Starve Greek Working People” [WV No. 1002, 11 May] which counterposes the revolutionary Trotskyist programme of the ICL to the reformism of the Greek Stalinists. Their recent left rhetoric notwithstanding, the KKE remains a parliamentarist and reformist party. Their frequent evocation of “the people” is injurious to class consciousness and testifies to the KKE’s deeply nationalist and class-collaborationist programme.
The KKE’s reformism is clearly seen in its response to the growth of the fascists of Golden Dawn. The TGG leaflet denounced the Stalinists’ refusal to mobilise the working class to combat Golden Dawn. In cities across Greece, racist gangs assault immigrants and leftists with impunity, encouraged by the widespread support the fascists enjoy among the police and army officers. On 7 June, a Golden Dawn thug, Ilias Kasidiaris, assaulted female KKE deputy Liana Kanelli on live television, after throwing a glass of water over another woman—Syriza’s Rena Dourou. Other KKE members have been assaulted in the street by fascist thugs. Yet, in a press interview following the attack on Kanelli, KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga ruled out any mobilisations to stop Golden Dawn’s attacks. Rather she vied with them for votes from backward workers, saying:
“We make things very clear: the answer to ‘Golden Dawn’ cannot be either ‘an eye for an eye,’ or a policy of revenge. The response should be given above all, by the people in the elections. Of course we do not blame those who voted for the ‘Golden Dawn’ for the activities and the orientation of this party. Nevertheless they should realise that they have the weapon of the vote and should marginalise ‘Golden Dawn’ because that is what they deserve.”
—kke.gr, 7 June
The idea that voting is the solution to attacks by fascists is parliamentary cretinism. Fascists cannot be “defeated” at the ballot box. Golden Dawn are not primarily an electoral phenomenon, but racist terrorists. The Golden Dawn thugs are heirs of the fascistic gangs that carried out the white terror against KKE members in the 1940s—the Nazi-loving Security Battalions and the “X” group of General Grivas. Golden Dawn leader Michaloliakos is a protégé of George Papadopoulos, who headed the military junta that seized power in 1967.
To justify its criminal passivity in the face of Golden Dawn, the KKE misleads the working class, denying the need to crush the fascist bands in the egg. Golden Dawn poses a deadly threat to immigrants and ultimately to the whole of the workers movement. There is an urgent need to stop them by united-front mobilisations of the organised workers movement and immigrants. The fascists seek nothing less than the physical destruction of the unions and workers parties. These race terrorists must be crushed while they are weak. Otherwise they will grow bigger and bolder in this period of reaction. More broadly, fascism will ultimately be swept away with the overthrow of capitalism, the system that breeds the horrendous crises on which the fascists thrive.
The KKE’s nationalist populism is clear from its programme, which proclaims: “KKE, a profoundly patriotic party, is the genuine and worthy inheritor of the national, democratic and revolutionary traditions of the Greek people” and calls for a “national defence policy which safeguards Greece’s security” (kke.gr). Support for patriotism and national defence is incompatible with the claim that the KKE “fights against every manifestation of fascism, nationalism, chauvinism and racism” and is counterposed to the Marxist slogan “workers of the world unite” that is printed on the masthead of its newspaper. The KKE’s nationalism is also antithetical to the struggle for a Socialist United States of Europe—the only programme that expresses the interests of the working classes across Europe, both in the imperialist countries such as Germany, France and Britain and in dependent countries like Ireland and Greece.
KKE’s Record of Betrayal
Despite the KKE’s current refusal to join a coalition government, it remains wedded to the programme of class collaboration—which has led in the past to alliances with and participation in governments of the bourgeoisie. The KKE’s history is littered with betrayals of the interests of the working class. In 1936, as the Greek proletariat was in deep revolutionary ferment, the KKE sought to induce the supposedly “progressive” wing of the Greek bourgeoisie—the Venizelist Liberals—to join it in a popular-front coalition against the right. Predictably, the anti-Communist Liberals made a bloc with the right against the KKE. The failure of the KKE to fight for workers power, instead pursuing an alliance with the Liberals, paved the way for the brutal dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas.
Towards the end of World War II, the Communist-led partisans of ELAS, who had fought heroically against the Nazi occupiers and their Greek quislings, had liberated the country and had power in their grasp. But the opportunity for the workers to seize power and settle accounts with the collaborationist Greek bourgeoisie was surrendered by the KKE leadership. In 1944, the KKE joined the “national unity” government of George Papandreou (senior). It then ordered ELAS fighters to surrender their weapons, thus allowing the bourgeoisie, supported by the British, to re-establish its rule in Greece. In this betrayal, the KKE leadership acted in accordance with Stalin, who had agreed with Churchill that Greece would be part of Britain’s sphere of influence in the post-war settlement. Salvaging capitalist rule in Greece is the bitter fruit of the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country,” which means renouncing world revolution.
The KKE’s “reward” for its help in rescuing bourgeois rule in Greece was to be ruthlessly persecuted in a campaign of white terror. When civil war ensued, the workers and peasants led by the KKE were defeated by the combined forces of Greek reaction in league with British and later U.S. imperialism. In the aftermath of the 1946-49 civil war the KKE was prohibited, but in the 1950s its cadres were active in the United Democratic Left (EDA), participating in elections as part of the popular-frontist Liberal Democratic Union with the Liberals and with Papandreou. In 1989 the KKE, then part of the Synaspismos coalition together with the old “Eurocommunist” wing of the party, formed a government with New Democracy, a betrayal that led to a split by a large section of its youth.
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Party in Greece!
In the weeks before the 17 June election, many people in Greece expressed astonishment that Trotskyists were giving critical electoral support to a Stalinist party. That this should be such a surprise is an indictment of the anti-Communist, social-democratic “family” of fake Trotskyists in Greece who besmirched the name of Trotskyism and hailed counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. We in the ICL, in contrast, fought to the end—in East Germany and later in the Soviet Union itself—for the programme of authentic Trotskyism. A central component of that programme is military defence of the degenerated and deformed workers states against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, and the struggle for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracies, whose conciliation of imperialism undermined the defence of the workers states and ultimately led to counterrevolution.
The panoply of fake-Trotskyist and other reformist organisations in Greece salivated over the prospect of a victory for Syriza and the formation of a capitalist government “of the left.” Nestled inside the pro-EU Syriza coalition are groups such as Marxistiki Foni (Marxist Voice), associated with the International Marxist Tendency, and the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), Greek cothinkers of the U.S. International Socialist Organization. The latter’s Antonis Davanellos gushed in an interview with [American] Socialist Worker (“A New Stage of the Resistance in Greece,” 23 May):
“We have an incredible situation. This is not revolutionary, not pre-revolutionary, but we are confronting the fact that in a month’s time, SYRIZA will be the leading party in the country. So we will be called on at that point to form a government that can transform things for the people of Greece.”
The Committee for a Workers’ International’s Xekinima organisation campaigned for “a government of the left” and sent its Irish member of the European Parliament, Paul Murphy, to Athens to campaign for votes to Syriza.
Meanwhile the Antarsya coalition, which includes the Greek Socialist Workers Party (SEK—affiliated with the British SWP) and the OKDE-Spartakos group, affiliated with the self-styled Fourth International, ran candidates in the election in its own name. That Antarsya’s purpose was simply to pressure Syriza to the left from the outside was made clear in numerous declarations, including the following from Alex Callinicos in the 2 June [British] Socialist Worker:
“Antarsya has made it clear that it sees itself working alongside and in dialogue with those who support Syriza. The stronger its voice is, the greater the pressure will be on Syriza to stand firm in the face of the forces trying to impose austerity as Greece’s permanent condition.”
Notwithstanding Antarsya’s nominal opposition to the EU, in the wake of the elections these reformist leftists see the narrow defeat of Syriza as a call to redouble their efforts in building a resistance movement against the new government centred on the Syriza opposition in parliament. Indeed, Syriza is being touted as a model for workers and the oppressed across Europe in their struggles against capitalist austerity.
Whether they seek to pressure Syriza from the inside or outside, these reformists stand exposed for their support to a formation that is for maintaining the capitalist EU—or in other words, for the continued subordination of dependent countries like Greece to the imperialists. The historic dependency of backward Greek capitalism on the imperialists and the savage attacks the Greek capitalists will continue to carry out against the working class and oppressed cannot be ended through the reformist pressure politics espoused by the SEK, DEA, Xekinima, OKDE-Spartakos and Marxistiki Foni. The only way forward is the struggle for power by the working class in its own name. This requires a Leninist-Trotskyist party based on a programme for socialist revolution that expropriates the capitalist class and sweeps away the capitalist state, replacing it with a workers government. The international nature of the capitalist crisis drives home that such working-class struggle must extend internationally, including to the imperialist centres.
Flowing from their open or backhanded support to Syriza, the reformist left has also been united in condemning the KKE for refusing to join Syriza in forming a capitalist government of the left following the May elections. There is more than a hint of anti-Communism in their shrill denunciations of the Stalinist KKE for sectarianism, which is hardly surprising given that these are the same organisations that cheered the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92. We might point out that at least the KKE hates capitalism: the SWP [British Socialist Workers Party] and its Egyptian cothinkers gave critical support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which loves capitalism!
These so-called Trotskyists swim with petty-bourgeois political currents, sowing illusions in the possibility of a more humane and democratic capitalism. Both DEA and Xekinima present their support to the pro-EU Syriza as some kind of working-class internationalism, while denouncing the KKE for nationalism because it correctly opposes Syriza’s support to the capitalist EU. Thus the CWI [Committee for a Workers’ International] writes in “Euro Crisis Deepens” (socialistworld.net, 21 May):
“The KKE, on the other hand, opposes the euro and the EU and attacks Syriza for its attitude toward the EU and the euro. Politically, this is one of the justifications they use for not joining a left front with Syriza.... Opposition to the EU and the euro on a nationalist basis means they are trapped in a capitalist framework. What is necessary is an internationalist socialist approach that links together the struggle of the Greek workers with the working class in other EU countries.”
It is simply ludicrous for Xekinima and DEA to argue that they are for linking the struggles of the Greek workers with those of workers of other EU countries when they support a coalition that is, at most, for renegotiating the terms of subordination of countries like Greece to the dictates of the imperialists. Pro-EU groups such as the CWI must accept their share of responsibility for the grotesque nationalism that is inflamed by the EU itself. The relationship of dependence within the EU has heightened great power chauvinism in the dominant powers, such as Germany, and led to a corresponding rise of nationalism in indebted countries such as Greece. The result is a dramatic growth of fascist and xenophobic forces throughout Europe.
In contrast to these organisations with their anti-Communist hostility to the KKE and the workers it leads, our comrades of the TGG sought to gain a hearing for our programme among a key section of the working class through the tactic of critical support for the KKE. As we explained in “Banks Starve Greek Working People”:
“The KKE has the allegiance of the most militant sections of the Greek working class. Its trade union organisation, PAME, purports to offer a ‘class-oriented’ opposition to the sell-out bureaucrats in GSEE and ADEDY, whom it correctly denounces for class collaboration with the bosses and their government. However the KKE cannot offer a way forward for the working class beyond the cycle of one-day general strikes, which amount to a militant form of lobbying parliament. The KKE does not have a programme for the working-class seizure of power. It is wedded to nationalism which is the main obstacle to building a revolutionary workers party in Greece. A strategic task in building a revolutionary party is to win the working-class base of the KKE to the internationalist programme of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.”
Through the TGG’s campaign for critical support to the KKE, more than a few workers and youth took note of the fact that the TGG does not share the petty-bourgeois, anti-Communist prejudices of other organisations claiming to be Trotskyist in Greece. This is a small but important first step in the struggle to bring the programme of authentic Bolshevism to the most politically advanced layers of the working class.