Masses refuse to be ruled in old way
As support for left anti-austerity parties grows in Greece, writes Eddie Ford, the temptation of office must be avoided
Before our very eyes, we are seeing the collapse of the institutionally corrupt Tweedledum-Tweedledee two-party system that has operated in Greece since the fall of the military junta in 1974. This ‘post-fascist’ regime was perfectly symbolised by the 50-seat ‘bonus’ awarded to the winning party in the parliamentary elections - designed, of course, to keep the revolving door of New Democracy and Pasok spinning round forever.
But no more. The May election delivered a profound shock to the moribund system, with two-thirds of the electorate rejecting the mainstream parties in favour of those - whether on the left or right - that have come out in open opposition to the vicious programme of cuts and austerity demanded by the EU Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund troika as part of the bailout deal.
Blinking before the oncoming headlights, on May 15 Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos - one of the key collaborators with the hated troika - finally admitted defeat in his attempts to cobble together a government of ‘national salvation’, following the failure of both ND and Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, before him. Venizelos hypocritically attributed the breakdown in negotiations to “petty party interests” - not something Pasok has ever been guilty of itself, naturally. To achieve a majority of MPs ND and Pasok needed the support of one of the smaller parties, but both the Democratic Left and the stridently rightwing Independent Greeks refused to play ball. Doubtlessly, their calculation was extremely simple - why risk committing electoral and political suicide by becoming associated in any way whatsoever with such detested figures?
The next day it was declared that the new elections would be held on June 17 and that the supreme court judge, Panagiotis Pikramenos, would be in charge of the caretaker administration. A disastrous outcome for the Greek establishment and its supporters abroad in the Euro-establishment and elsewhere, given the near certain fact that the June election will produce even worse results - much worse in all likelihood. ND and Pasok can expect to see their combined vote reduced even further and in turn the anti-austerity parties will come out stronger. Having said that, this ‘bloc’ of votes will be highly fragmentary - going to all manner of organisations, including some that previously failed to reach the 3% threshold necessary to enter parliament but this time round might be more lucky. It is very hard to see a stable coalition government emerging. Then what? History repeats itself and there is another military coup?
In this way, the crisis in Greece is beginning to resemble Lenin’s famous dictum about a revolutionary situation - whereby the masses refuse to be ruled in the old way and the ruling class is unable to rule in the old way.
Admittedly, the establishment certainly did try to stitch things up at the 11th hour. Hence the supposedly ‘non-political’ president, Karolos Papoulias - who just so happens to be a Pasok founder member - bust a gut trying to form a “government of personalities”. This “non-political” government - please do not laugh too loudly - would be composed of “distinguished” and “respectable” figures that could embody the best qualities of the motherland. A technocratic government writ large, in other words.
In reality, obviously, Papoulias, Venizelos and Antonis Samaras (who will probably not be ND leader for much longer) were engaged in an almost comic effort to tempt Syriza into government - and by extension all those who voted for it and other anti-austerity/bailout parties of the left. Obviously a doomed venture.
Sounding like the patriarch he is, Venizelos rebuked the majority of Greeks who had ‘incorrectly’ voted for anti-austerity parties on May 6 by imploring them to make a “mature decision” next time round and “go towards the better” and “not go to the worse” - ie, return to the centre/mainstream on June 17. Some chance. More luridly, Michael Chrysohoidis, the rather ironically named (outgoing) minister for citizen protection, prophesied that unless the Greek voters relegitimise Pasok/ND the country will “end up in civil war” - plagued by “armed gangs with Kalashnikovs”.
However, their hopes look set to be cruelly dashed. Civil war or not, the latest opinion polls show that Syriza will significantly increase its percentage of the vote. For example, an extensive poll conducted by Marc/Alpha has Syriza on 27.7%. It also seems unlikely that the vote for the far-right Golden Dawn will go down in the next election, however.
When you then factor in the large number of uncast votes in the last election - 34.8% of the registered electorate - and also the 19.03% who voted for parties that did not make the 3% threshold, such as the Ecologist Greens (2.9%) or the Anti-capitalist Left (1.2%), then the prospects look bleak indeed for the establishment politicians, as communists are delighted to report. Indeed, it is far from psephological science fiction to envisage the left parties gaining a majority in parliament if Syriza were indeed to come first in the next election, as widely predicted, and thus - by a wonderful historical and constitutional irony - qualify for the 50-seat ‘top-up’ originally reserved purely for ND or Pasok. Seeing that Syriza, DL and the KKE got enough votes between them to gain 97 seats in the last election, an increased share of the vote come June plus the 50-seat bonus would see them securing parliamentary predominance.
The nightmare scenario looms for the establishment. However, we are now hearing noises that Syriza might not be eligible for the 50-seat reward on the grounds that it is a coalition as opposed to a single party. What a surprise! Such legalistic manoeuvres just show how desperate the ruling class are, their political legitimacy draining away with almost each day that passes. But if even if they did manage to deny Syriza its ‘rightful’ parliamentary bonus, assuming that the worst - or best - happens on June 17, that would only act to further discredit them in the eyes of the masses.
The escalating turmoil in Greece sharpened fears in the financial markets over May 15-16, especially after the comments by Christine Lagarde - the IMF’s director general - that the ‘international community’ had to be “technically prepared” for everything, including a “messy” Greek exit from the euro. On the stock markets, the Eurostoxx 600 fell 0.7% to a one-year low, Germany’s Dax dropped to 1.4% and the French CAC went down 1.1%, Meanwhile, Spain’s Ibex was down 1.6% and shares in Athens tumbled by 5.2% - 10% in the case of banks.
As for the FTSE 100, it was down to its lowest level since December 20, having lost 10% of its value in the last two months alone. Most critically of all, the interest rates paid by the Italian and Spanish governments for their 10-year borrowing were both above the key 6% level. Spanish bond yields climbed to 6.52%, very close to the 7% ‘danger zone’ at which a country’s debts start to become unsustainable. Significantly, the ‘spread’ between French and German bond yields hit its widest level since early January. a sign that traders are treating France’s debt as increasingly risky compared to Germany’s (the benchmark). A fear of contagion. The yield on government bonds issued by Greece, needless to say, was above 30% at one point - suggesting, to put it mildly, a high risk of default. Whatever the exact political composition of any future government, Greece seems to be heading for the euro exit door.
Alex Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, stated that during coalition negotiations his presence was sought by the establishment, pro-bailout parties so as to make him into a “leftwing accomplice” to austerity and “barbaric” measures that nearly 70% of Greeks had quite explicitly voted against. Tsipras, though, would not countenance being part of any such anti-working class government and to use earthy Anglo-Saxon language, told them to fuck off. A stance to be applauded. Syriza wants to withdraw from Nato and close its bases, “halt” debt repayment, “reverse” privatisations, “seize” banks, impose a 75% top rate of tax on the rich, etc. All well and good, but to get an idea of what sort of political formation we are dealing with it is worth noting Tsipras’s professed admiration for “heroes” like Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, the respective presidents of capitalist Venezuela and capitalist Bolivia.
We in the CPGB counsel in the strongest possible terms that Syriza - and the Greek left as a whole - should stay clear of all coalition governments with bourgeois parties, whatever the result of the elections in June. Eg, to enter into a coalition with Pasok would represent a disastrous setback for the movement. Under no circumstances should left parties take any responsibility for capitalism or austerity, whether in Greece or anywhere else. No “renegotiation” or “rewriting” of the memorandum (the austerity bill passed by the Greek parliament) or, for that matter, the European Union fiscal pact that seeks to institutionalise the “barbaric” austerity economics. Nor should the left fall for the temptation of forming a workers’ government which sets its sights on managing capitalism. The only government we should counternance is one that represented the coming to power of the working class under circumstances where there is a realistic prospect of carrying out the full minimum programme of Marxism. In other words the smashing of the old bureaucratic bourgeois state and replacing it with a semi-state, and the beginning of the transition to genuine human freedom. By definition, that means transcending wage-slavery, commodity production and all rest of the old exploitative crap.
It would be impossible to carry out such a programme in Greece alone. Capitalism cannot be overcome in one country acting on its own: the doctrine of socialism is one country, and all its variants, was always a monstrous Stalinist negation of the Marxist programme. A workers’ government in Greece would mean some form of coalition government between Syriza, DL and possibly the KKE - and/or other much smaller parties that might emerge from future elections. None of these parties are unambiguously committed to the rule of the working class and the destruction of the old bureaucratic state apparatus. The KKE envisages a Greek Stalinism, while Syriza dreams of a left nationalism and the DL would settle for a reformed capitalism.
Yet the problem does not end there. Let us not mince our words. Were such a workers’ government ever formed, then Greece would be immediately kicked out of euro/EU - assuming it had not been already. Without a shadow of doubt, the ‘new’ drachma would be massively devalued, there would a catastrophic economic slump and more likely than not hyperinflation - and that is before things got really bad.
What then? Such a government would have absolutely no choice but to preside over its own austerity regime. To keep itself in power and the workers in line, our ‘workers’ government’ would have to resort to authoritarian rule or a military socialism if it wanted to stave off counterrevolution and external intervention/invasion. And in this way they would turn into their opposite. Marxist revolutionaries in Greece must build up the organisational and political strength of the working class, fight to massively extend democracy, including into the army, and take the lead in constructing an all-European working class movement.