The Greek people has shaken the world
by Savas Michael-Matsas
The Greek election of January 2015 was not a “normal” parliamentary contest. It marks a major turning point in the post-2007 world capitalist crisis and the international class struggle. The European Union and the euro zone re-emerge as the epicenter of the crisis. The illusions regarding an apparent “stabilization” in the financial markets after Draghi’s famous statement in 2012 that the ECB will do “whatever it takes” to avoid the collapse of the euro zone are now dissipating. The euro zone economy, both in the periphery and now in its “hard core”, is entangled in a vicious circle of recession, deflation and over-indebtedness, while all measures and policies so far implemented, based on draconian measures of “austerity”, have totally failed.
The launching of a much delayed “Quantitative Easing” program by the ECB on January 22, on the eve of the Greek elections, is a manifestation of this failure. The political expression of that failure is the electoral victory of Syriza in Greece, a few days later, which, as Philip Stephens rightly says in the Financial Times (29/1/2015), “crystallizes the impasse that has crippled the eurozone”.
On the same day as the Greek elections, the World Economic Forum of the world’s capitalist elites in Davos concluded stressing that “ politics in Europe is the greatest risk for the world economy”, naming especially Greece and Ukraine. The massive repudiation of “austerity” by the Greek people has come as a big shock that confirms their fears.
After five consecutive years of social catastrophe that has reduced the Greek people into a nation of the destitute, millions of innocent victims, using their vote as the available weapon, rebelled against their executioners: the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF as well as their subservient bourgeois governments in Athens that imposed the measures of social cannibalism misnamed “austerity” and “ structural reforms”, and codified as “Memorandums” tied with the “bail-out packages” by the EU and the IMF to bankrupt Greece.”
All the parties that had governed under the orders of the Troika, above all the right-wing New Democracy and the neo-liberal “center left” PASOK, were defeated. Some of them were destroyed or annihilated: PASOK, the far right LAOS, the “Democratic Left”, or the “new” split from PASOK headed by former Prime Minister George Papandreou, the first to introduce the Memorandum in 2010.
For the first time in the history of modern Greece, a party of the Left obtained an electoral triumph: the anti-austerity reformist Syriza. Promising to put an end to misery, to the Memorandum and to the Troika’s tyranny, it was raised by a massive popular vote into the first position to form a government.
Less than three years ago, up to the elections of May and June 2012, Syriza was a small moderate left reformist party, coming out of splits in the Greek Communist Party in the 1960s and 1990s, joined later by small groups of the extra-parliamentary left, with a limited basis in the working class, the unions and the petty-bourgeoisie and a marginal role in the youth and student movements, getting around 4 per cent of the vote. But in the 2012 elections, it was catapulted into second position and hence became the official opposition with 27 per cent. Why?
The social devastation and upheavals of the period of 2010-12- the mass demonstrations, occupations of public buildings and squares, above all, the occupation of Syntagma Square in front of the discredited Parliament by the “Indignant” people, the General Strikes, the People’s Assemblies, but also the barbaric police brutality- led to the crisis of legitimacy and disintegration of the bourgeois parliamentary system, as it was established after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, with the New Democracy and PASOK alternating in government.
No party, including Syriza, played a leading role in the upheaval of 2010-12. One week before the May 6, 2012 elections, Syriza remained still around 8 -10 per cent, the main tendency being in favor of a dissemination of the protest vote to many “small” parties considered to be “non-systemic”. The decisive turn came when at the last stage of the campaign the Syriza leadership launched a call “For a Government of the Left to cancel the Memorandum!” Then, much of the popular anger and hopes turned en masse to the left as a credible alternative to the government in power and gave to Syriza this unexpected and astounding advance. Unexpected, although to a lesser scale, was, also, the threatening ascent of the Nazi “Golden Dawn”, from a marginal group into a force entering for the first time in parliament.
The call for “For a Government of the Left”, in the Greek historical context has a totally different impact in comparison with other European countries where often parliamentary “governments of the left” were formed by social democratic parties in coalition or not with CPs. Greece has never known a mass social democracy (PASOK was a national populist movement of bourgeois character, later degenerating into neoliberalism). The country is still profoundly marked by imperialist intervention and a bloody civil war in the 1940s to “smash the communist threat” coming out of the anti-Nazi Resistance. Decades of anti-communist hysteria followed by persecution, concentration camps, executions, witch-hunts of anything considered as “leftist”. The climax came with the dictatorship of the CIA colonels in 1967 that collapsed in 1974, after the youth rebellion of the Polytechnic in Athens brutally suppressed, and the coup by the Greek junta in Cyprus opening the door to the Turkish invasion and occupation of half of the island. In such a historic context, a “government of the Left” means, in the popular social consciousness, a government by the political representatives of the defeated revolutionary movement of the Partisans.
Not by accident , during the December 2008 revolt, on the walls of Athens was written the slogan “ Varkiza is finished”. [In Varkiza, near Athens, the partisans of ELAS, after the Stalinist betrayal, surrendered their arms to the British military and to the shadow of Greek bourgeois government.] Nor by accident during the recent electoral period, despite Syriza’s moderation, the right-wing Samaras government waged a vicious anti-communist campaign using the same slogans as during the civil war, against the “Sovietization of Greece”, “for the salvation of fatherland, religion and family”, even “for the defense of our victory in 1949 against the communist bandits”, while the Nazis of the “Golden Dawn” presented themselves as “the only force able to defeat Syriza’s the communists and Marxist anti-nationalism”. The virulence of the slogans reflects the sharp polarization, which is going on in Greece
Nobody should forget or forgive the fact that that the Golden Dawn, with its leaders in prison, emerged as the third force in Parliament with a civil war fascist agenda. The January 2015 elections were not the end of the crisis of state power but the opening of a new, sharper period escalating inexorably, driven by the capitalist crisis, towards a historic confrontation of the workers and poor with the Greek and international ruling classes and their repression forces.
Despite the tremendous victory given to Syriza by the people moving to the left, the Syriza leadership itself has moved to the right: it formed a coalition of the “Popular Front” type government of class collaboration with the “Independent Greeks”-ANEL, a far right bourgeois nationalist party, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, Turcophobic, homophobic, religiously obscurantist. Furthermore, together with other ministries, Syriza offered the Ministry of the Armed Forces to the leader of ANEL Panos Kammenos, a notorious chauvinist, anti-Semite, a close friend of the Greek shipowners and of his co-thinker Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigrant far right UKIP. Memories of Chile in 1973 and the appointment of Pinochet in a similar position by Allende are inevitably raised.
Phony arguments were presented: because of the lack of two seats to have a Syriza majority in parliament, this alliance was supposedly necessary to form a government given the stubborn rejection of any support by the Stalinist KKE; or, that it was a “lesser evil” to have as ally ANEL than the bogus Potami (“River”: a “party” artificially constructed by bourgeois mass media magnates, uniting remnants of the center left with the most right wing neo-liberals).
Syriza could have applied pressure again on the KKE for a coalition, much more relevant now than in 2012, and in any case it could have put the Stalinist leaders in a very difficult position in front of their supporters. To choose between ANEL and Potami is to choose between the cholera and the plague. But even without the KKE, formally, Syriza could have formed a minority government based on 149 seats, which could have passed the bar if other parties abstained or were absent, giving objectively a “vote of tolerance”. Otherwise, by voting against, these parties could have been shown to be responsible for new elections, which nobody wanted.
It is obvious that the Syriza-ANEL coalition was a decision already taken before the elections (Kammenos did not make any effort to hide it), and it was announced, in a hurry, during the same night of the elections, without formally trying to search for other options and behind the back of the Party itself and its supporters.
The main argument to excuse this haste is that “Syriza had to form immediately a coalition with [bourgeois] patriotic anti-austerity forces to have a solid basis in its extremely difficult negotiations with the EU as the bailout program expires on February 28.” The strategy of “a national anti-austerity unity” above classes is counter-posed to a strategy of internationalist class struggle towards workers’ power and a socialist way out of the crisis of bankrupt capitalism in Greece and Europe.
The line of justification of Syriza’s class collaboration with reactionary nationalists not only is unsustainable but also self-defeating. In the inescapable confrontation with the imperialists of the EU and the international usurers, any basis for a real defense of the workers’ and popular interests is undermined by the refusal of a break from the imperialist EU and by allying with bourgeois forces looking for an impossible “national capitalist solution” within an unprecedented world capitalist depression. This is a strategy not to defeat the stranglehold of the imperialist predators but to defeat the emerging forces of socialist revolution in Greece and in Europe. Brussels, Berlin, and Washington know it very well.
Syriza demands a compromise that is rather impossible. To survive as a government it has to respond to popular expectations by fighting austerity; but that means to clash with the austerity imposed by the EU and Germany. To fight austerity means to find relief from the burden of an unsustainable Greek debt, and at the same time, to avoid the consequences of a Grexit. Syriza is looking for a bargain with a hostile but frightened EU, hoping to find a space in the starting international re-negotiation imposed by the failure to confront the crisis so far by means of austerity.
The new Greek government started by declarations that the fired public sector workers will be rehired, that privatizations of harbors and electricity will be canceled, while the flamboyant Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis defied openly the leader of the Eurogoup, rejecting both the extension of the Memorandum and any coming back of the hated troika. The Greek people were delighted but neither Brussels nor Berlin. From the other side of the ocean, significantly, Obama phoned to the new Prime Minister Tsipras to congratulate him and to express his opposition to…austerity!
While Varoufakis is making his tour around the European capitals insisting that he seeks no confrontation but “deliberation”, the confrontation has already begun. Berlin expressed openly its hostility to any change. The ECB has the means by stopping the financing of the Greek banks to provoke their collapse, after March. George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, after his discussion with Varoufakis, emphasized: “the stand-off between Greece and the eurozone is the greatest risk to the global economy ” (Financial Times, 2/2/2015). Wall Street Journal has echoed the same concern.
The fears of the ruling classes in the imperialist West were compounded by the initial questioning by the new Greek government of the announcement by the EU that “unanimously “ it has agreed for new sanctions against Russia, blaming it for the new escalation of the civil war in South-Eastern Ukraine. But afterwards, the Tsipras government made clear that it had questioned the procedure, the fact that it was not consulted, and not the substance of the matter. Then, the new Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (an opportunist who started as a high priest of Stalinism in the KKE to jump later to PASOK becoming close adviser to George Papandreou before taking over now the ministry of foreign affairs in the current government) signed the document of the EU extending the sanctions against Russia until September 2015. While signing, he made the following servile comment: “I am not a Russian puppet[…]We are not against every sanction. We are in the mainstream, we are not the bad boys.” ( Mail On Line, 31/1/2015)
From a certain vantage point, the new government Syriza-ANEL could be seen as a transitional formation combining all the contradictions of Greek society in the current phase of the world crisis. Rather sooner than later, these contradictions will explode. It has some features of a Kerensky type of government in a transitional period towards the decisive class confrontation in the struggle for power.
The EEK is fighting among the masses on all fronts to prepare, organize, educate the proletarian vanguard for this confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution. This is the reason behind our independent intervention in the elections with our own lists and program: to build a revolutionary alternative in the working class without tail-ending Syriza and without turning our back to the masses following it.
As a small revolutionary party with the vast majority of members unemployed and the rest with wages or pensions drastically cut during the recent years, we could not afford the enormous financial cost, a few months from our latest national participation in the May 2014 European elections to present independent candidates all over Greece. So we were limited to participating only in 25 among the 56 regions of the country. We got only 2,441 votes votes, 0,04 per cent. The dominant tendency was to vote Syriza to get rid of the Right, the Memorandum of austerity, and the rule of the Troika.
In a very polarized situation and with only 2-3 weeks for campaigning, all our comrades made a heroic effort, which everybody in Greece respected. We found a warm response among new layers of the oppressed. Our appearances in the TV and radio on a national and local level produced deep impression and hot debates. Our intervention was discussed also internationally. Not only did we get the support of our comrades of the CRFI in Argentina, Italy, and Turkey (the comrades of the Turkish DIP actively helped our campaign and we are grateful to this demonstration of internationalism in practice) but also beyond: from Russia and Ukraine to Portugal, and from the US to Scotland, England, Austria, South Africa and Australia. The international importance of this battle attracted the attention of fighters everywhere.
Internationalism was one of the main demarcation lines of the EEK from reformism and centrism, in a situation where all forms of virulent nationalisms are clashing all over Europe again as in the 1930s.
Two battles on that front were particularly important: the clash before the elections with the centrist ANTARSYA when its majority made an alliance with “left” nationalists advocating the return to the drachma and opposing the socialist unification of Europe; secondly, after the elections, immediately after the formation of the coalition government Syriza-ANEL when we raised the transitional demand: “Out with the far right nationalist bourgeois ministers- for a Syriza/KKE government of the Left, based on the organizations of the working class, and with a socialist program to exit from the crisis”. Our call found a great response among the members and supporters of Syriza, even in the ranks of the KKE which remains dominated by bureaucratic sectarianism and blindness to the change in the situation. The main pro-Syriza evening daily Efimerida twn Syntaktwn published(28/1/15) in a prominent place in its center pages our Call against the class collaboration of Syriza with the far right nationalist party ANEL.
Fighting both sectarian blindness and opportunist adaptation to the new government, we intervene in the class struggle actualizing our program with transitional demands to cancel the debt, to end austerity and unemployment, to brake from the imperialists of the EU, the US and NATO, for bread, jobs, freedom, health, education, to take back the life that they have stolen from us, the people. Thus, we develop our ties with the broad masses entering now with renewed hopes and courage, in the arena of struggle where their fate will be decided.
February 3, 2015