Four points on the Greek situation

by · June 13, 2012

Anti-fascist protest in Thessaloniki last Friday

Here we present a short document by THANASIS KAMPAGIANNIS, a Greek socialist active in the anti-capitalist Antarsya electoral coalition, addressing some of the claims that have been made by supporters of the SYRIZA coalition outside of Greece, and which Left Flank has taken up in the last few posts (here, here and here). We’ve added some Wikipedia links in case people aren’t familiar with the political parties that are the subject of debates. Thanks to Thanasis for giving us permission to repost it. There are some other links of interest at the bottom of the post.

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1. Where are the elections heading?

The polls till now seem to indicate a lead for SYRIZA, despite the vicious propaganda offensive by the Right. There is a huge push on SYRIZA to be “responsible” and denounce the most radical edges of its programme, most crucially the denunciation of the Memoranda. SYRIZA is talking in an ambiguous way. So, in the presentation of its programme, Tsipras announced that the first measure that a SYRIZA Government would vote on would be the annulment of the Memoranda and of the laws implementing them. The programme itself is full of contradictions: it presents the EU funds as the main financial resource for the Greek economy under SYRIZA, assuming that the funding will not stop even if the Greek state breaks the deal with its lenders. When the senior economists of SYRIZA speak in the media, they are much more honest: they say that the denunciation of the Memoranda will not mean the denunciation of the Loan Treaty, that the Greek state and the Greek banks will keep getting money from the EU and the ECB, that the Greek budget is now on the verge of having surpluses, which means that even if the lenders only give money for the expiring bonds the state will be able to function (with a different taxation system, etc.).

But the fact that the main message given by the media is that SYRIZA represents a break with the previous policies (less and more timidly by SYRIZA, massively by the Right and the Memorandum parties) means that there is an electoral tide favouring it, probably meaning that SYRIZA will finish first on the night of 17 June. Fearing anything that can stop this tide, SYRIZA is doing two extra things: it is trying to add as much as it can to its “governability” (meeting the Police, the Heads of the Army, talking about the new government’s structure, etc.) and it is abstaining from any mass mobilization. This was the case in the big anti-fascist demonstrations of 8 June, where SYRIZA did not participate with banners, flags, or speakers, fearing a “provocation” (ANTARSYA played a leading role in organizing the demos and lots of SYRIZA members and voters participated in them, with no provocation occurring).

2. But what is SYRIZA?

The fact that SYRIZA is a party breaking with the austerity consensus makes many in the international Left puzzled about its character. So SYRIZA has been branded with the phrase “atypical reformism”, crucially because of its difference with the labourist/social democratic reformist paradigms and its connection with the social movements. However, this characterization is far too determined by people active in national political landscapes where almost nothing exists to the Left of social democracy. In Greece, we never ceased to have a type of reformist Left to the Left of social democracy, since the communist tradition (in all its forms) was never smashed. From 1996 onwards, there have been parties to the Left of PASOK (i.e. the orthodox Communist Party – KKE, the Eurocommunist Synaspismos and the now dismantled Left split from PASOK called DIKKI) which always got a combined vote of over 10 percent. These parties were Left reformist formations (with all the huge differences between them) that the revolutionary Left had to deal with and relate in its day-to-day activity. And because they were not parties of government, they had relations with the social movements and they were against the austerity consensus (again, one needs to stress the big differences between them, the communists from the much more moderate Synaspismos people or, of course, the people breaking to the Left of PASOK, etc).

So, the Greek revolutionary Left has lots of experience and political capital dealing with Left reformist formations that cannot be erased or labelled “sectarian” just because of the current — extremely crucial — situation. We actually think that we can learn a lot from other national experiences, but that we can also provide useful political capital to comrades who have never had to deal practically with Left reformism in their countries for decades.

3. Is SYRIZA’s line on the Euro and the EU a ‘tactic’?

The line of SYRIZA on the Euro is mistakenly portrayed by many as a line imposed by the “level of consciousness” of the Greek people, a way of throwing the burden of the “Grexit” on the EU side. But this is totally wrong. “Europeanism” is a strategic choice for the leadership of SYRIZA and the political current of Eurocommunism. And this is the axis that it chooses to build its alliances with all the ex-PASOK notables, like the ex-Finance Minister of PASOK Louka Katseli. This strategic choice will present SYRIZA with huge dilemmas if it is to come to government and it will be definitely used by the establishment against any government with the participation of the Left.

The line vis-à-vis the Euro has less to do with the problems of renegotiation with the EU or the necessary building of the “bloc of political and social forces” that will take power, and more with the typical reformist arguments against the “revolutionary event”, the consequences of any violent break with the established order and the probable misery and disaster that comes with it, as opposed to the gradual imposition of progressive reforms. Debates like this are not new to the socialist movement: the question of the end of the First World War posed to the international Left the dilemma whether the war will stop unilaterally — by a radical workers movement imposing its will in one country — or whether this will happen through negotiations. One needs to remember that the line of the parties of the reformist Left back then was not just one of class treachery, but that it pointed to the misery and the disaster that would be the case if a country was to be defeated and lose the war. The international negotiating table that would stop the war was presented then as being the most secure way out of it, the same way that SYRIZA today presents the renegotiation of the Memorandum, excluding “unilateral” moves.

The fact that SYRIZA is a coalition of different forces (including groups of the Maoist and the Trotskyist Left) doesn’t change a bit its central argument. Despite what these groups may claim, this new revival of SYRIZA is happening after its leadership has clearly defeated its Left wing, a fact that is proved by the practical dissolution of the front organization of the Left inside SYRIZA, led by the ex-leader of Synaspismos, Alavanos. This is why SYRIZA is now running on a pro-Euro ticket, without any public disagreements from its Left, something that would have been impossible three years ago.

4. Can the Government of the Left be a moment of the revolutionary process?

There has been an interesting debate using Gramsci’s thought about whether a “historical bloc of political and social forces” fighting for socialist transformation can take governmental power as an intermediate step of the revolutionary process. There are people in the Left who think that this is exactly what we are witnessing (thus the pressure to be an integral part of the process from inside SYRIZA). There are also people who think that this is not the case, that SYRIZA does not fulfil the preconditions for such a transitional project, even if they believe in the possibility of such a “government of the Left”.

To the former, the answer should start from the actual facts: SYRIZA is in no way part of any “workers government” project or anything of the kind. It does not have the roots inside the workers movement, the politics or the strategy for anything of the kind. With the latter, the debate should be on whether one believes that the revolutionary Left should be in or outside this “Government of the Left”. My strong belief is that revolutionaries should be outside, not because of the inadequate programme of the reformists, but because any Government of the Left under the rule of capitalists will internalize the pressure of bourgeois legality inside the workers movement that brought it into power, thus disarming it of its strongest weapons. The independence of the political expression of the vanguard of the workers movement is indispensable, whatever the political twists and turns of its struggle to fight capitalist rule and gain power.

That does not mean that the answer to the question “Can the Government of the Left be a moment of the revolutionary process?” is negative. On the contrary:  the government of the Left, and concretely a SYRIZA government with all the programmatic limitations described above, can be a moment of the revolutionary process, in the same way as a failed military coup can be a moment of the revolutionary process. The crucial factor in both cases remains the subjective one, an organized network of revolutionary Marxists, rooted in the working class, and capable to deal with all the tactical and strategic needs that the situation will pose. This is what revolutionaries need to prepare, not after the defeat of the hopes and aspirations of working class people in reformist solutions, but in the struggles and the politics of here and now. This is the role played by ANTARSYA and SEK in today’s situation.

Further reading

  • For an introduction to 1920s and modern debates about “workers’ governments”, Comintern historian John Riddell ran a series of posts on his blog earlier this year, starting here
  • For a detailed exposition of SYRIZA’s economic program by one of its senior members, see here
  • From Alexis Tsipras, an op-ed in the Financial Times entitled “I will keep Greece in the Eurozone and restore growth”
  • For a discussion of Gramsci’s notion of the historical bloc by an Antarsya member, Panagiotis Sotiris, see here
  • For a sense of the horror of austerity, this report from the Guardian gives you some idea

Filed under: Featured, Greece

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Tony Horne says:

    Thanks for that.
    A few questions – it sounds as though Antarsya is far more cohesive as an activist front than is Syriza. Is it likely to hold together if Syriza forms a government of some sort?
    Apart from SEK the other partner/s is/are “Maoists”. What does Maoism mean in this context?
    To what extent does SEK now operate as itself? Or is it actually working only as Antarsya?

  2. Aaron Aarons says:

    Thanks for a very interesting and even perhaps convincing article. I just want to point out a couple of problems with this English text — is it by the author or a translator? — the correction of which would increase its value:

    1) “In Greece, we never seized to have a type of reformist Left to the Left of social democracy,[...]” That should be ‘ceased’, not ‘seized’. (Since this is obvious to most English speakers, it’s not a major problem.)

    2) “[...] the line of the parties of the reformist Left back then was not diminished in just a line of class treachery [...]” It is not at all clear, unfortunately, what was meant here.

    3) The phrase, “political capital” is used here with a very different meaning than it usually has in English. I think that what is meant is more like “(political) insight” or “(political) understanding”, but perhaps a better term than either of those can be found.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Hi Aaron, thanks for spotting those, which I missed when posting. The original piece was something Thanasis quickly wrote up for Facebook in English despite it not being his first language. I’ve made a couple of small changes. I think “political capital” actually captures what Thanasis wants to say, however. Tad

  3. anticapitalista says:

    # Tony Horne

    1. ANTARSYA is very likely to hold together, despite all the pressure that will entail with a SYRIZA victory (if it happens, and note we in ANTARSYA want to see SYRIZA win the elections outright).

    2. The largest group in ANTARSYA (called NAR = New Left Current) is not Maoist, but came out from a split in the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and particularly its youth wing (KNE) in 1989 over its coalition government with the Greek conservatives of New Democracy.
    The ‘Maoists’ are revolutionaries, just like NAR, even though their starting point may well be ‘weird’ to many European and North American revolutionaries.

    3. SEK is an independent revolutionary party that takes ANTARSYA very seriously, but has its own existence outside ANTARSYA. One good example is SEK’s insistence that ANTARSYA take the anti-fascist struggle seriously (Most groups did not do so until very recently. The photo from Thessaloniki where I live, was the first mass ANTARSYA intervention in the anti-fascist srtuggle. The block in front of the photo that is not shown is of SEK comrades and the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat – KEERFA with the Union of Immigrant Workers, set up by SEK members with no support, unfortunately, from the rest of ANTARSYA).