Greek left divisions

Those who have seen Alex Callinicos speak in public would not describe his style as exactly passionate. So when, back in May, we witnessed him arguing excitedly against holding this preparatory meeting in Greece, we were more than a little surprised, says Tina Becker

I had to come all the way to Thessaloniki to understand what the comrade dislikes so much about the place. It is not the "high travel costs"� that the comrade cited at the time, but the serious divisions within the Greek left, which have seen the SWP's sister organisation, the SEK, left almost completely isolated. Although in Vienna nobody would explain why some Greek comrades clearly did not want to have the next organising meeting in their own country, it all become a little clearer last weekend. We spent most of the first session on the Saturday morning listening to some very angry exchanges in Greek. Most international comrades were puzzled, to put it mildly, by the furious charges that were made. But in true sectarian fashion, the real reasons for the unfortunate split were kept hidden behind blustering anti-cap talk on all sides, which left most of the non-Greek comrades in the dark. There are three rival 'committees' who each claim that they should be in charge of organising the Greek intervention in Florence. As far as I know, Greece is the only country where the left has not been able to unite in order to set up a national ESF structure. There is the 'official' committee (Initiative for the Creation of the Greek Social Forum), which is dominated by the main Greek trade union body, the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE). A number of smaller reformist organisations and most Greek Trotskyists are part of this first bloc, which is by far the biggest - and the most conservative - of the three. The second group 'Action - Thessaloniki 2003' consists almost entirely of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which has so far refused to join the first committee. The third group, 'Initiative for the European Social Forum', is run by 'Genoa 2001', the couple-of-hundred-strong front organisation for the SEK. Last year, it was called 'Seattle 2000' and without a doubt will soon adopt another suitable name ... maybe 'Florence 2002' ... Both the smaller groups have refused to cooperate with the main committee because of the participation of the GSEE. This union body, which represents most Greek workers, has very strong links with the governing social democratic Pasok (Panhellenic Socialist Movement). Although Pasok is not a direct participant, the two smaller groups complain that it is using the Greek left for its own purposes. "We cannot allow the participation of this rightwing trade union, because it opens the door for the neoliberal government to take over our movement,"� a comrade from the KKE told me breathlessly. A strange tactical decision, one would think. The main trade union body of the country decides to join an international anti-capitalist movement, which is dominated by some of the biggest revolutionary organisations in Europe. A move which will in all likelihood lead to the opening up of union members to the politics of KKE, SEK, etc. But rather than criticising and challenging the trade union bureaucracy politically inside the ESF committee, the comrades choose to stand on the outside and denounce it. However, this is strange only if you believe this 'official' explanation, which is hotly disputed by some of the smaller Greek organisations present in Thessaloniki. George, a member of the Internationalist Workers Left, told me that both the KKE and SEK had tried to dominate the main committee, but they failed because of the combined strength of the other organisations: "So they formed their own and denounced our committee ever since."� An opinion which I heard repeated many times over the weekend. The KKE controls a number of trade unions, but has almost no influence over the GSEE as a whole. As for the SEK, it has a similar reputation to its sister organisation in Britain. Like the SWP, it is known for setting up front organisations, carving up the key seats on their executives, and only then inviting other groups to join the ready-made structure. However, due to the relative strength of the KKE and other left organisations, they are less successful in dominating the left in Greece. The SWP had hoped that with the Greek presidency of the EU in 2003, their sister organisation could be in the forefront of the anti-capitalist protests which will without a doubt take place. They cannot accept they will be unable to shape the anti-globalisation movement in Greece in their own image, says George. He also points out the SEK's somewhat ambivalent relationship with Pasok: "If the SEK is so strongly against them, why has it called on its members to vote for them at almost every single election?"� he asks rhetorically. Like the SWP in Britain, the comrades were awaiting a "crisis of expectations"� which would automatically bring anti-capitalist protesters in their thousands to join the SEK - so far rather unsuccessfully. The KKE, SEK and Alex Callinicos argued so passionately against having the meeting in Thessaloniki, because they feared - correctly - that it would strengthen the official committee, which organised and dominated this latest gathering. In Vienna, however, comrades from Rifondazione Comunista put their foot down and argued for meeting in Greece - presumably because they wanted those tensions resolved before the EU protests take place there next year. So far they have not succeeded. The KKE is still very publicly hostile to the umbrella organisation. The SEK is only marginally less sectarian: although the comrades have finally taken up seats on the executive committee, they have clearly done so rather reluctantly. In Thessaloniki they set up their stalls not under the banner of the Initiative for the Creation of the Greek Social Forum (as all the other groups did), but stood under the banner of their own 'Genoa 2001'- all by themselves. Tina Becker * Rifondazione takes the reins * November 6-10 2002, Florence * Party ban compromise