[Marxism] The political earthquake in Greece

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Thu Jan 29 15:06:31 MST 2015

Solidarity with the anti-austerity movement in Greece!
The political earthquake in Greece
(from "Detroit Workers´ Voice" emailing list, Jan. 29, 2015)

The anti-austerity voters had their say in Greece on Sunday. Syriza (the 
Coalition of the Radical Left) won a major victory on promises to end 
austerity, provide relief for the destitute masses, and end the dictatorship 
over Greek affairs of the "troika" of the European Commission, the European 
Central Bank and the IMF. Syriza´s Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Prime 

This is a victory for those without money, those Greeks whose water and 
electricity have been cut off, for those who have been thrown into hunger and 
desperation. It´s a victory for workers around the world who have seen their 
families and their neighbors face similar threats. It´s a slap at the 
heartless rule of the neo-liberal institutions.

A first step

The election is a first step, but it´s not the imminent end of austerity. If 
the new Greek government carries through on its promises, it will be a new 
stage in what is going to be a long struggle. But the political situation in 
Greece is by no means settled.

Sunday´s election was a great victory; Syriza will have 149 out of 300 seats, 
and it is the dominant force in the new government. But it achieved this with 
the votes of somewhat more than a third of the voters (36.34%). It will have 
almost half the seats in parliament only because it benefits from the extra 
50 seats which, in the Greek system, are awarded to the party with the most 
votes. Meanwhile the conservative and pro-austerity New Democracy party, 
which lost the election, retained somewhat over one quarter of the votes cast 
(27.81%); they barely lost votes at all (Syriza´s gains came from the 
continuing collapse of the other bourgeois party, PASOK). And the 
bloodstained neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, despite many of its leaders being in jail, 
received over 6% of the votes, thus having the third largest vote tally of 
the seven parties that will have seats.

Moreover, in order to obtain a parliamentary majority, Syriza formed a 
coalition with the "Independent Greeks" party (ANEL), which received somewhat 
under 5% of the vote and will have 20 seats in the parliament. The 
Independents are a racist, ultra-nationalist party and stem from a split in 
New Democracy. They denounce austerity, but stand for reactionary social and 
political policies, such as imposing the Greek Orthodox religion, opposing 
immigrants, and fanning nationalist quarrels with neighboring Turkey, 
Macedonia, and Albania. Yet ANEL´s leader, Panos Kammenos, was appointed 
minister of defense. No doubt Syriza dwarfs ANEL in the coalition, whose 
character will be determined mainly by Syriza, but Tsipras is playing a 
dangerous game by including them. Indeed, Tsipras allied with them in the 
past in an earlier parliamentary fight in 2013. The calculation seems to be 
that the ultra-nationalists, out of hatred for  foreigners, will agree to 
more determined measures against the EU bankers than would be accepted by 
other political groupings.

So the Tsipras government will not only face opposition from the economic 
institutions of the European and Greek bourgeoisie, but will start with only 
limited popular support. If it succeeds in carrying out measures that relieve 
the suffering of many desperate and impoverished Greeks, it may gain  
enthusiastic majority support and transform Greek politics. But that will 
depend on what is accomplished in the coming period. 

A class struggle

Austerity and market fundamentalism are backed by powerful forces who don´t 
give a damn about the welfare of the people. So ending austerity isn´t simply 
a matter of formulating some fancy economic plans and finding loopholes in 
the debt agreements binding Greece. It is instead a question of the relative 
strength of the bankers, capitalists, and the wealthy "1%" versus the 
strength of the workers, the unemployed, and all those on the bottom of the 
system. It is a question of whether the "1%" can continue to rally large 
numbers of the "99%" to support the conservative policies that support the 
ultra-rich, or of how many of the "99%" will instead recognize the source of 
their misery in the rule of the "1%".

In saying this, I don´t mean that the Tsipras government is the 
representative of the working class struggle. The question instead is whether 
the working class can exert pressure, including on the Tsipras government. It 
is important that the Tsipras government carries out its promises to relieve 
what he justly calls a humanitarian crisis. But whether these measures can be 
maintained against the vicious opposition that will come from the 
Eurobourgeoisie and the Greek bourgeoisie will depend on what happens among 
the masses.

At this point, no one yet knows precisely what the Tsipras government will 
do, or how the European financiers will respond. But how the Greek masses 
react to the threats and pressures that will be placed on them will be 
central to the outcome.  

Breaking with the establishment parties

One thing the Greek example already shows is that the fight against austerity 
involves building an alternative to the bourgeois parties. In Greece, the two 
big parties who dominated politics and formed governments were New Democracy 
and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), that is, the conservatives 
and the "socialists". PASOK had brought some important reforms to Greece, but 
it´s an establishment party that, when economic times turned bad, snapped the 
austerity whip over the masses and took back what it had granted before. From 
the point of view of the policy declarations of politicians, this might seem 
incredibly contradictory and totally incomprehensible. But politics is 
ultimately based on class logic, on the stands of the contending classes, and 
not on verbal formulas or "heartfelt" political sloganeering. Despite the 
socialist label, PASOK was a bourgeois party, and when push came to shove, it 
reflected bourgeois ideas about the economic situation and carried out the 
economic offensive of the bourgeoisie. As a result of its turn to austerity 
PASOK, which had at one time regularly received 40-50% of the vote, is 
temporarily down to single-digits: 7.6% last Sunday.

So it took a new political movement to fight austerity. In the US, that would 
correspond to abandoning hopes in the liberal Democrats and their honeyed 
words and instead building something separate from both Democrats and 

Syriza was built up on the basis of connection to the social movements, and 
its theorists boast of its nonsectarian character.  The Greek left is as 
divided ideologically and practically as the left anywhere else. But a large 
section of it united to build Syriza, which thus inherited a core of cadre 
from the radical tradition in Greek politics. Greece has many anti-capitalist 
parties and a strong communist tradition, albeit we will see in a moment that 
this tradition has two sides to it.

Thus Syriza doesn´t stem from a left faction of PASOK, but from a different 
tradition. PASOK has seen left factions splinter off it, but their stands 
haven´t been much better than PASOK´s.

Still, more is demanded of a would-be militant pro-working class party than 
being separate from PASOK.  Syriza hasn´t overcome the political and 
theoretical crisis of the Greek left, and it faces its own problems. For 
example, despite its pride in being a broad organization, there´s a limit to 
how far Syriza has brought the masses into its planning. It puts forward a 
program which deals with many important measures to mitigate the suffering of 
the masses, and with some technical economic plans for financing these 
crucial promises. But it didn´t discuss with the masses how it intended to 
implement these measures in the face of expected opposition. For example, 
what should be done if the European financial institutions won´t renegotiate 
the infamous "Memorandum of Understanding" of 2012 which binds Greece hand 
and foot to economic misery? And what should be done if Syriza didn´t obtain 
an outright parliamentary majority by itself? The coalition with the 
Independents was something that Tsipras and other had looked towards before 
the election. But it comes as a major shock to many Syriza supporters.

So Syriza is not the final word in what an organization should be like. There 
will be other critical questions that come to the fore, and Syriza has left 
its policy obscure on these too. There is the question of how the Greek 
unions will react to the struggle with the European bourgeoisie. There is the 
question of how can Syriza defend immigrants while in coalition with the 
anti-immigrant  Independents. And there will be more. Activists around the 
world will be watching to see what Syriza does right and what wrong, and 
considering how this bears on what they themselves should do.

The tragedy of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)

The radical tradition in Greece includes a long history of mass communist 
activity, and and this was crucial in the resistance to fascism in World War 
II and other struggles. Unfortunately, however, the Stalinist trend has 
dominated the communist movement numerically, and it is communist in name 
only. This is the trend that captured the original Communist Party of Greece, 
which still exists and has mass support. It received 5.5% of the vote in the 
recent elections and will have 15 seats in the new parliament. If there are 
questions concerning what Syriza will do, there are certainly questions 
regarding the KKE. 

In the last few decades, the KKE has followed a policy that has veered back 
and forth between right and left. It offered to support the PASOK government 
in 1981, but - believe it or not! - was briefly part of a coalition 
government with New Democracy in 1989. At present it is probably best known 
for its sectarianism towards mass struggles that aren´t directly under its 

The basis of its disruptive stands is that it still upholds the Stalinist 
parody of communism. It call for "people´s power", but it conceives this as 
the oppressive state-capitalist system that used to exist in Eastern Europe 
and Russia. It has learned nothing from the past, neither about the 
difference between state-capitalism and socialism nor about how to side with 
the people, rather than oppressive bureaucrats. Its idea of militancy is to 
claim that every activity, except supporting the KKE, is capitulation to the 
EU and NATO. It ignores or opposes democratic struggles around the world, 
from Syria to Ukraine to Hong Kong, and it holds repeated international 
conferences with the discredited forces of state-capitalism that still hang 
on around the world.

In the just concluded election, the KKE´s activity was to declare that 
anything except voting for KKE was servility to the EU or NATO. All the KKE 
leadership saw in the mass agitation by Syriza against austerity was a 
supposed left-sounding cover for capitalism.

We in the Communist Voice Organization say that real communism means opposing 
the reactionary nonsense of the KKE and other Stalinist parties. No doubt 
most of KKE´s supporters really want liberation, and indeed there was once a 
time when the KKE fought valiantly against the fascists and reactionaries. 
But respect for the struggles of the past requires telling the truth about 
what the KKE has been for decades and is today, and denouncing its support of 
oppression around the world. It requires looking into the political basis for 
the reactionary stands of the KKE; the problem with the KKE isn´t simply that 
it is incredibly sectarian, but what it stands for and wants to achieve. 

Solidarity with the Greek people

The election of the Tsipras government will open a period of struggle in 
Greece. The Greek masses deserve the support of workers and activists 
everywhere. If this struggle finds an echo in other countries around Europe, 
where the workers also suffer from austerity, it may usher in a period where 
the opposition in Europe to the pro-austerity parties grows from the left, 
instead of the right. If the Eurobourgeoisie is forced to back down from its 
economic strangulation of Greek workers, this will be a major crack in the 
neo-liberal policy of the world bourgeoisie. 

The example of the Greek struggle will influence activists around the world. 
There needs to be both solidarity with the Greek anti-austerity movement and  
critical  evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses. <>  

-- Joseph Green, editor, "Communist Voice"

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