Greek elections: A rout for the parties of austerity; an opportunity for the Left

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The Greek elections have demonstrated a massive popular rejection of the governing parties who support the EU-IMF austerity memorandum that has caused so much suffering to ordinary Greek people over the last two years.

New Democracy, ND, which won 33.5 per cent in 2009, is in first place with 18.9 per cent, a loss of 14.6 per cent of the popular vote. Pasok, which won 43.9 per cent of the vote in 2009, slumped to third place with 13.2 per cent, down by a staggering 30.7 per cent.

By contrast, the left reformist coalition Syriza leapt into second place with 16.7 per cent (from 4.6 per cent in 2009). This increase of 12.2 per cent of the popular vote represents almost four times as many actual votes. Dimar, a split off to the right from Syriza, gained 6.07 per cent.

The Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras, says that he want to form a coalition of the left-wing parties that reject the terms of Greece’s bailouts. “The parties that signed the memorandum (with the EU and the IMF) are now a minority. The public verdict has de-legitimised them,” he said. “Our proposal is a left-wing government that, with the backing of the people, will negate the memorandum and put a stop to our nation’s predetermined course towards misery.”

The traditional party of the most militant, industrially-based, section of the Greek working class, the Greek Communist Party, KKE, gained relatively little in the overall polarisation of Greek politics between right and left. It gained 8.41 per cent, only 0.9 per cent more than in 2009.

Of course, as in all varieties of capitalist democracy, there are many distorting measures built into the Greek constitution aimed at frustrating the popular will and making sure that the outcome is not “the rule of the people”. New Democracy will get 50 bonus seats because it is the first party, around 110 out of the total of 300, with less than 20% of the votes! The second party, Syriza, will get 51 seats with 16.5% of the votes. So a 3.2% difference in votes is turned into a 59 seat, virtually 20%, advantage for ND.

Syriza has undoubtedly surged forward because it proposed – in however reformist a way – a governmental alternative to the “major parties”. It has called for a left coalition that “rejects austerity”. The KKE did relatively poorly because, for all its left talk and its associated union PAME’s militancy, it is obstructing the formation of such a “rejectionist” government.

Moreover, despite its old style, left Stalinist “revolutionary rhetoric”, it and PAME have for two years blocked calls for an all out general strike to bring down the austerity governments. Given the severity of the Greek crisis and the revolutionary situation testified by the string of one and two day general strikes, this alone shows that its intransigence is entirely bogus.

The swing to the left parties and the growth of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (6.92 per cent and 21 seats) are clear evidence that Greece is in a deep pre-revolutionary situation.

In such conditions, the KKE’s policy, refusing to form a coalition with the other left parties on the grounds that it would be a bourgeois government, is a massive obstacle to keeping out the pro-austerity right and centre right parties. This is like a crude copy of the German Communist Party’s “third period” policy in Germany in 1929-33, obstructing a united front against the Nazis with the reformist SPD and its huge trade unions because they were reformist and pro-capitalist.

It is encouraging that the small forces of the far left grouped in Antarsya also quadrupled their vote to 1.19 per cent from 0.36 per cent in 2009. Antarsya is a coalition of 10 far left organisations, including the sections of the Fourth International (OKDE-Spartakos) and the International Socialist Tendency (SEK). The name is an acronym for Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow but also sounds the same as the Greek word for mutiny.

Antarsya put forward a militant policy of rejection of the EU memoranda and key demands to protect and preserve the social gains, wages and jobs of the working and popular classes. Their key demands are

• Immediately terminate the loan agreement, any memoranda and all related measures.
• Do not recognise the debt, debt cancellation and suspension of payments.
• Break with the system and with the euro/EU.
• Nationalise the banks and corporations without compensation under workers’ control.
• Immediately increase wages and pensions! Cancel the poll tax and increase the taxation of capital.
• Prohibit layoffs and fully protect the unemployed. Shorten working hours and reduce the retirement age.
• Expropriate hundreds of closed factories and re-commission them controlled by the employees themselves.
• Provide cheap and good quality food through agricultural cooperatives, poor and middle farmers, without middlemen and large producers.

To impose these measures Antarsya calls for “an uprising of the entire working population, an anti-capitalist revolution”. It states: “Our way leads to a break with capitalism, by the overthrow of the current authoritarian political system and its replacement with a democracy and the power of the workers, with the widest control to be exercised by the workers and by the people. If the united front of workers, intellectuals and creative people take over leadership, we can live in dignity, use the social productive forces collectively and break with the logic of profit, the market, “competitiveness” and environmental degradation.”

On the question of the outcome of the election, however, Antarsya’s programme was a terrible muddle. It did not even address the fact that the reformist parties; SYRIZA, KKE, and DIMA, plus the trade unions, represent the overwhelming mass of the working class and that the working class rejects austerity and is seeking a way out of it via these parties. Although it is certainly true, and has to be said clearly, that the workers are mistaken and “their” parties will betray them, it is not enough to leave it at that.

The burning question is how the workers can break from their leaders before they are betrayed and defeated. Only to denounce the leaders will never be enough to break workers’ illusions in them and to form a new leadership. Even though they denounce the Troika regime, the reformist parties and unions, under their present policies and leaderships, represent a formidable obstacle to “a working people’s uprising” and “an anticapitalist revolution.” The question is how to break up this obstacle?

Revolutionary strategy must be based on doing more than exposure plus carrying on, however bravely and energetically, at a local and national level with protests, direct action, demonstrations, occupations and with the 24 or 48 hour protest general strikes.

Antarsya calls for a united front but “a united front of all those who want a break with the system and revolution.” But this means a united front with those who already agree with Antarsya’s objectives. That is not the united front that the Greek working class needs, and needs urgently. What it needs is a united front of all the forces that want to reject austerity, reformist and revolutionary.

That should not be confused with the unity that Antarsya itself needs. That needs the unification of the 10 organisations within Antarsya into a single, democratic, disciplined and centralised party around an action programme for working class power.

At the same time, that party should call on the reformist parties and unions to form a mass united front and it should direct that call both to their mass membership and to their leaders.

At city, town and even village level, the rejectionist united front should be based on resisting the cuts and closures, mobilising the unemployed, pupils and students, and pensioners alongside public and private sector workers. Mass meetings in the workplaces and the localities should elect councils of recallable delegates. In these bodies, the revolutionaries, rejecting sectarianism, must seek to draw in those from all the workers’ parties and those outside the parties. The growth of the neo-Nazi New Dawn, as well as police repression, makes the formation of workers’ and youth defence guards a vital necessity at local level.

But such a united front will be ineffective in breaking the hold of the reformist leaders over their mass following unless it includes agitating for these leaders to unite against the crisis at all levels. This includes a call on these leaders to break with the capitalist parties, with the EU memoranda and the agencies of the Troika, and to form a workers’ government to reject the austerity and make the rich, including the billionaire bondholders of Europe, pay. They should depend not on the forces and bureaucratic apparatus of the capitalist state but upon councils of action formed by the unions, the popular assemblies, the youth and the unemployed. They should create a mass popular militia to enforce its decrees.

A large majority of Greeks (65 per cent) voted to reject austerity. There is, thus, a popular mandate against a ND-Pasok continuation of the destruction of the lives of the people. Even a parliamentary minority government would have the sympathy of the popular majority if it acted to cancel the debts and break with the Troika. It could rely on the mass mobilisation of the unions, the assemblies of the youth and the unemployed, the small farmers and ruined small business people even to defend it against the sabotage of the bourgeois parties and the state machine.

Of course, the reformist leaders would waver and seek to betray but, if their supporters were mobilised alongside revolutionary forces, this could be checked and the road opened to a real anticapitalist revolution that would put power into the hands of the workers, youth and small farmers.

Such an active revolutionary strategy, aimed at winning the reformist workers away from their opportunist (Syriza) and sectarian (KKE) leaders is truly vital. If the Greek working class remains paralysed from struggling for power by its leaders, then the forces of the fascist right will continue to grow, a situation ripe for revolution will go rotten. As Trotsky said; the wine will turn to vinegar.

Time is not limitless, a re-evaluation of revolutionary policy is urgent and then action on this basis even more so.

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7 Comments

  1. billj
    May 11, 2012 at 7:53 am · Reply

    This articles obsession with Antarsya is very odd, given their electoral – and according to the author at least – programmatic irrelevance and confusion. What’s more for all its haughty tone and general bossiness it has very little to say about the social forces at play, the perspectives for the struggle, or what’s about to happen next. And its way too long. Let’s hope this website isn’t chocked with too many more of these analyses.

    • Pham Binh
      May 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm · Reply

      Stockton is focused on ANTARSYA because he views them as the potential “revolutionary party” that could present an alternative to the “reformist” SYRIZA, hence why he says ANTARSYA “needs the unification of the 10 organisations within Antarsya into a single, democratic, disciplined and centralised party around an action programme for working class power” to constitute his (idealist) view of what a revolutionary in the context of Greece 2012 would look like.

      This article is a very good demonstration of how reading every event through the lens of Russia 1917 leads to nothing but absurdities, like lumping KKE, DIMA, and SYRIZA together as “the reformist parties,” you know, Greece’s Mensheviks; if only Greece’s Bolsheviks (ANTARSYA) would unite into a “Leninist” party and adopt a “clear program” a la the Bolsheviks after Lenin returned in spring of 1917, they’d be able to smash the reformist parties’ influence over the masses and soviets would be formed on the morrow!

      Such an “analysis” totally misses the fact that ANTARSYA refusal to present a united electoral front with SYRIZA in the May and in the coming June elections splits the anti-austerity vote and with it the fight against austerity. Furthermore, ANTARSYA’s call for an uprising, general strikes, and so on has zero resonance beyond their thin base of support. Why? Because there have been something like a dozen such general strikes since 2010.

      Calling for the 12th or 30th general strike is going to get no one in Greece anywhere. Snatching control of parliament from the hands of PASOK and New Democracy and stopping the payments to German and French bankers is the way to go.

      This much should be obvious.

      • Luke Cooper
        May 17, 2012 at 9:52 am · Reply

        There might be more common ground than you think. Not sure if Dave is actually arguing for Antarsya to stay out of Syriza. I agree with the other point you make re the latent notion of “Leninism” at work here.

        I for one definitely reckon we should be saying “Syriza to power”, back their electoral campaign vigorously, etc, and I also agree Antarsya probably should have had the foresight to join the coalition sometime ago (but we should keep in mind that it has only recently really burst forward). But Antarsya is also an example of a positive unity initiative on the left that has tried to bring together previously fragmented forces, even though at the moment it does appear to be taking a sectarian, abstentionist stance.

        It’s also important to recognise that upon taking power big contradictions will emerge straining the core-eurocommunist leadership of Syriza. The debate on John Riddle’s blog about the workers’ government is actually very pertinent to this situation; we need to be for a workers’ government in the Marxist sense and not a rerun of Chavismo in Europe (a utopian thing anyway given Greece’s dire economic straits).

  2. May 13, 2012 at 8:35 am · Reply

    Bill, I think the article’s discussion of Antarsya is useful because they are a unification initiative of the most radical part of the Greek left, and this site is part of the Anticapitalist Initiative in the UK which is a similar project, in some ways at least? And it says, rightly in my view, that Antarsya will need to orient to the forces in Syriza if it going to promote effective anticapitalist struggle, especially in the context of the question of who forms the next government, and on what basis.

    I don’t see what’s haughty or bossy about the piece either – nor why you think it is too long when it is far shorter than Luke Cooper’s also interesting piece on the subject!

  3. May 13, 2012 at 9:27 am · Reply

    What are you talking about Bill.

    Antarsya came 2nd in the election and its a definate possibility that they may win the rerun – giving them the 50 seat bonus under Greece’s bizarre electoral system. As such they are hardly irrelevant.

    I’m just back from Athens and I dont think there is any question that it is fracturing to the left and the right, the question is whether the left forces can resist the street fascism that is starting to be being displayed when there is a parliamentary presence to give it legitimacy.

    • May 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm · Reply

      “Antarsya came 2nd in the election and its a definate possibility that they may win the rerun – giving them the 50 seat bonus under Greece’s bizarre electoral system.”

      You’re confusing Antarsya with Syriza. Please try and pay attention.

  4. billj
    May 13, 2012 at 11:03 am · Reply

    The basic problem with the article is that it tells us more about the authors obessions than the nominal title of the piece.
    Paul Mason does a better job explaining Syriza here;

    http://paulmasonnews.tumblr.com/post/22914870033/greece-trying-to-understand-syriza

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