I met Marius from EEK, an organisation in Greece which springs from the political tradition of Gerry Healy's Workers' Revolutionary Party in the UK (once a strong force on the far left; but it collapsed in 1985). EEK is now affiliated to an international network called the CRFI, in which the main force is Jorge Altamira's Partido Obrera in Argentina (which had some international links with Healy in the 1960s).
Marius told me that EEK has about 200 members and is mostly based in Athens, but has a small group in Thessaloniki. It publishes a fortnightly paper. It does not participate in Antarsya or Syriza, but stood its own candidates in the May elections, winning 6,098 votes, 0.1% across the country.
I asked Marius what the main activity of EEK was and he replied, "making propaganda to explain that a 'Left Government' [Syriza's slogan describing their project] would not be adequate and that what is needed is a revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat".
Aside from that, he said, EEK has initiated a project in the trade unions alongside some anarcho-syndicalists (in a group called Rossinande) and some comrades from a split from the New Left Current, called the "Initiative for an Independent Workers' Centre". Marius criticised the co-ordination of base-level unions, the informal network of left activists in base-level unions in which Syriza and Antarsya members and other leftwing activists are the driving force (see our interviews with the New Left Current and with OKDE): he described it as "another PAME" [the tightly controlled KKE front-organisation in the trade unions]; bureaucratic; and held back by the participation of reformists in Synaspismos. He said that the co-ordination of first-level unions had sabotaged attempts to hold an assembly after a demonstration on February 12 and had shown its conservatism by refusing to physically blockade a military parade during a counter-demonstration against it.
He described the main goal of the Initiative as "the organisation of a general strike", but also the creation of local initiatives: Marius says that such an initiative has been set up among operatives in the Athens State Telephone centre and also among drivers of tourist buses in Athens.
On popular assemblies, Marius takes a cautious view. He says that while some of them reflect real political life, others are gerrymandered by and controlled by particular political groups. So, he says that in September 2011 there was a move to co-ordinate popular committees nationally, and 'miraculously', ten new committees were set up overnight – mostly by the Maoist group KOE.
Marius said he participated in an assembly in the north of Thessaloniki against mobile phone masts, which regrouped 50-60 people but had a difficult existence and had to be re-launched 3 or 4 times.
Overall, Marius said that the currently-existing popular assemblies are less useful than workplace assemblies would be – that they regroup petit-bourgeois elements as well as proletarian elements and that at best they can be regarded as a "rehearsal" of self-organisation, useful from the point of view of the preparation of "more class-defined" workers' councils.
On Europe Marius says that EEK's view is that "in or out of Europe" is a false dilemma; leaving the Euro would be an economic disaster in the short term and not politically useful; but then Syriza's programme of "struggling to reform the EU" is hopeless. Perhaps in the course of the struggle Greece would leave the EU, but that's not the point, Marius said. "Our goal is to destroy the imperialist EU and create the Socialist United States of Europe". The idea that the question of membership of the Euro and the EU would be a key question for a long period of time is a canard – "the difference between us and most other left groups is that we think that a revolution is very imminent".
If this current government falls and Syriza gets in, I asked, what did Marius think would happen? He gave his personal point of view – "A Syriza government would probably not be much different to what we have now. Between the two elections, Syriza moved to the right. Before the May election they wanted to stop the memorandum. But now they are talking about 'exposing' or 'renegotiating' it. Because of pressure from the EU and other forces, Syriza will likely wind up implementing the memorandum, albeit differently to how ND and PASOK might do it".
Marius reasons that the outcome of such a betrayal would be the discrediting of the entire left in the eyes of the workers, and the rapid rise of the fascist far-right. He regards the two alternatives to this as a revolutionary overthrow before the next election – or failing that, another ND-led government as a preferable alternative to the debacle of a Syriza-led government.
In the EEK material we've read, we've also seen a more-or-less permanent advocacy of a continuing general strike as the major general slogan, in effect the general political slogan, and as the route to revolution.
It may well often in Greece's crisis when the slogan of an all-out general strike, for defined aims but with an explanation of the open-ended nature of such a mobilisation, is timely. On the elevation of the general strike slogan to a general political answer, some comments from Trotsky may be relevant.
From The Third Period of the Comintern's Errors
To put forward today the slogan of a general political strike on the basis of a future crisis that will push the masses onto the road of revolutionary struggle is to try to appease the hunger of today with the dinner of tomorrow. When Molotov stated at the Tenth Plenum that the general strike has in effect been put on the order of the day in France, he only showed once too often that he does not know France, nor the order, nor the day. The anarchists and syndicalists compromise the very idea of a general strike in France. Official Communism goes along with them, attempting to substitute adventurist goat-leaps for systematic revolutionary work.
The political activity of the masses, before it assumes a more decisive form, for a shorter or longer period may express itself in more frequent attendance at meetings, in broader distribution of Communist literature, in additional electoral votes, in increased membership in the party. Can the leadership adopt in advance a worked-out orientation based on a stormy tempo of development, come what may? No. It must be prepared for one or another tempo. Only in this way can the party, not altering its revolutionary direction, march in step with the class.
In reply to these considerations, I can already hear a tender voice, like grating tin, accusing me of "economism" on the one hand and capitalist optimism on the other, and of course Social-Democratic deviations as well. For the Molotovs, everything they cannot grasp - that is, a great deal - falls under the heading of Social-Democratic deviations, just as for primitives 99 percent of the universe is explained by the activity of evil spirits. Following Molotov, Semard and Monmousseau Will teach us that the question is not exhausted by conjunctural shifts, that there are many other factors, for example, rationalisation of industry and approaching war. These people talk about "many" factors all the more that they are incapable of explaining a single one of them. Yes, we will reply to them, war would overthrow the whole perspective and would open up, so to speak, a new chronology. But first, we do not know today when war will come, nor what gates it will come through...
The art of revolutionary leadership is primarily the art of correct political orientation. Under all conditions, Communism prepares the political vanguard and through it the working class as a whole for the revolutionary seizure of power. But it does it differently in different fields of the labour movement and in different periods.
One of the most important elements in orientation is the determination of the temper of the masses, their activity and readiness for struggle. The mood of the masses, however, is not predetermined. It changes under the influence of certain laws of mass psychology that are set into motion by objective social conditions. The political state of the class is subject, within certain limits, to a quantitative determination - press circulation, attendance at meetings, elections, demonstrations, strikes, etc., etc.
In order to understand the dynamics of the process it is necessary to determine in what direction and why the mood of the working class is changing. Combining subjective and objective data, it is possible to establish a tentative perspective of the movement, that is, a scientifically based prediction, with out which a serious revolutionary struggle is in general in conceivable. But a prediction in politics does not have the character of a perfect blueprint; it is a working hypothesis.
While leading the struggle in one direction or another, it is necessary to attentively follow the changes in the objective and subjective elements of the movement, in order to opportunely introduce corresponding corrections in tactics. Even though the actual development of the struggle never fully corresponds to the prognosis, that does not absolve us from making political predictions. One must not, however, get intoxicated with finished schemata, but continually refer to the course of the historic process and adjust to its indications.
From The Belgian Dispute and the De Man Plan
The gravest mistake for which La Voix can be reproached – here I am in complete accord with Comrade Martin – is that our Belgian friends identify the revolutionary struggle too much with the general strike. Just as a simple strike has need, above all in this epoch, of a picket line, so a general strike needs a workers' militia, which in the last analysis is nothing else but a generalized picket line. The general strike poses the problem of power, but does not resolve it. What is always involved at bottom is the question of armed force. The fascists penetrate everywhere, in the barracks, through the officers on active duty as well as those in the reserves. The proletarian vanguard should step up their efforts to strengthen their moral ties with their brothers in the barracks. Thus the struggle for power requires not only preparation of the general strike but also education of the will of the vanguard to pass from the defensive to the offensive, to set about creating a workers' militia and to win over the workers in the army. But it is very significant that Vereecken doesn't breathe a word about this. He condemns La Voix only when it is perfectly correct.
From In The Middle Of The Road
The question of the general strike has a long and rich history, in theory as well as practice. Yet the leaders of the ILP behave as if they were the first to run across the idea of general strike, as a method to stop war. In this is their greatest error. Improvisation is impermissible precisely on the question of the general strike. The world experience of the struggle during the last forty years has been fundamentally a confirmation of what Engels had to say about the general strike toward the close of the last century, primarily on the basis of the experience of the Chartists, and in part of the Belgians. Cautioning the Austrian Social Democrats against much too flighty an attitude toward the general strike, Engels wrote to Kautsky, on November 3, 1893, as follows:
"You yourself remark that the barricades have been antiquated (they may, however, prove useful again should the army turn one-third or two-fifths socialist and the question arises of providing it with the opportunity to turn its bayonets), but the political strike must either prove victorious immediately by the threat alone (as in Belgium, where the army was very shaky), or it must end in a colossal fiasco, or, finally lead directly to the barricades."
These terse lines provide, incidentally, a remarkable exposition of Engels' views on a number of questions... Engels... differentiates, as we have seen, between three cases in relation to the political strike:
1. The government takes fright at the general strike, and at the very outset, without carrying matters to an open clash, takes to concessions. Engels points to the "shaky" condition of the army in Belgium as the basic condition for the success of the Belgian general strike (1893). A somewhat similar situation, but on a much more colossal scale, occurred in Russia, October, 1905. After the miserable outcome of the Russo-Japanese War, the Czarist army was, or, at any rate, seemed extremely unreliable. The Petersburg government, thrown into a mortal panic by the strike, made the first constitutional concessions (Manifesto, October 17, 1905).
It is all too evident, however, that without resorting to decisive battles, the ruling class will make only such concessions as will not touch the basis of its rule. That is precisely how matters stood in Belgium and Russia. Are such cases possible in the future? They are inevitable in the countries of the Orient. They are, generally speaking, less probable in the countries of the West, although, here too, they are quite possible as partial episodes of the unfolding revolution.
2. If the army is sufficiently reliable, and the government feels sure of itself; if a political strike is promulgated from above, and if, at the same time, it is calculated not for decisive battles, but to "frighten" the enemy, then it can easily turn out a mere adventure, and reveal its utter impotence. To this we ought to add that after the initial experiences of the general strike, the novelty of which reacted upon the imagination of the popular masses as well as governments, several decades have elapsed – discounting the half-forgotten Chartists – in the course of which the strategists of capital have accumulated an enormous experience. That is why a general strike, particularly in the old capitalist countries, requires a painstaking Marxist account of all the concrete circumstances.
3. Finally, there remains a general strike which, as Engels put it, "leads directly to the barricades." A strike of this sort can result either in complete victory or defeat. But to shy away from battle, when the battle is forced by the objective situation, is to lead inevitably to the most fatal and demoralizing of all possible defeats. The outcome of a revolutionary, insurrectionary general strike depends, of course, upon the relationship of forces, covering a great number of factors; the class differentiation of society, the specific weight of the proletariat, the mood of the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie, the social composition and the political mood of the army, etc. However, among the conditions for victory, far from the last place is occupied by the correct revolutionary leadership, a clear understanding of conditions and methods of the general strike and its transition to open revolutionary struggle.
Engels' classification must not, of course, be taken dogmatically. In present-day France not partial concessions but power is indubitably in question: the revolutionary proletariat or fascism – which? The working class masses want to struggle. But the leadership applies the brakes, hoodwinks and demoralizes the workers. A general strike can flare up just as the movements flared in Toulon and Brest. Under these conditions, independently of its immediate results, a general strike will not of course be a "putsch" but a necessary stage in the mass struggle, the necessary means for casting off the treachery of the leadership and for creating within the working class itself the preliminary conditions for a victorious uprising. In this sense the policy of the French Bolshevik-Leninists is entirely correct, who have advanced the slogan of a general strike, and who explain the conditions for its victory. The French cousins of the SAP (Socialist Workers Party of Germany, a Brandlerite split-off from the CP) come out against this slogan; the Spartacists who are at the beginning of the struggle are already assuming the role of strikebreakers.
We should also add that Engels did not point out another "category" of general strike, exemplars of which have been provided in England, Belgium, France and some other countries: we refer here to cases in which the leadership of the strike previously, i.e., without a struggle, arrives at an agreement with the class enemy as to the course and outcome of the strike. The parliamentarians and the trade unionists perceive at a given moment the need to provide an outlet for the accumulated ire of the masses, or they are simply compelled to jump in step with a movement that has flared over their heads. In such cases they come scurrying through the back stairs to the government and obtain the permission to head the general strike, this with the obligation to conclude it as soon as possible without any damage being done to the state crockery. Sometimes, far from always, they manage to haggle beforehand some petty concessions, to serve them as figleaves. Thus did the General Council of British Trade Unions (TUC) in 1926. Thus did Jouhaux in 1934. Thus will they act in the future also. The exposure of these contemptible machinations behind the backs of the struggling proletariat enters as a necessary part into the preparation of a general strike.
... A general strike can be put on the order of the day as a method of struggle against mobilization and war only in the event that the entire preceding developments in the country have placed revolution and armed insurrection on the order of the day. Taken, however, as a "special" method of struggle against mobilization, a general strike would be a sheer adventure. Excluding a possible but nevertheless an exceptional case of a government plunging into war in order to escape from a revolution that directly threatens it, it must remain, as a genera! rule, that precisely prior to, during and after mobilization the government feels itself strongest, and consequently, least inclined to allow itself to be scared by a general strike. The patriotic moods that accompany mobilization, together with the war terror, make hopeless the very execution of a general strike, as a rule. The most intrepid elements which, without taking the circumstances into account, plunge into the struggle, would be crushed. The defeat, and the partial annihilation of the vanguard, would make difficult for a long time revolutionary work in the atmosphere of dissatisfaction that war breeds. A strike called artificially must turn inevitably into a putsch, and into an obstacle in the path of the revolution.
In its theses accepted in April, 1935, the ILP writes as follows:
"The policy of the party aims at the use of a general strike to stop war and at social revolution should war occur."
An astonishingly precise, but – sad to say – absolutely fictitious obligation! The general strike is not only separated here from the social revolution but also counterposed to it as a specific method to "stop war." This is an ancient conception of the anarchists which life itself smashed long ago. A general strike without a victorious insurrection cannot "stop war." If, under the conditions of mobilization, the insurrection is impossible, then so is a general strike impossible.
In an ensuing paragraph we read:
"The ILP will urge a general strike against the British government, if this country is in any way involved in an attack on the Soviet Union ..."
If it is possible to forestall any war by a general strike, then of course it is all the more necessary to stop war against the USSR. But here we enter into the realm of illusion: to inscribe in the theses a general strike as punishment for a given capital crime of the government is to commit the sin of revolutionary phrasemongering.
If it were possible to call a general strike at will, then it would be best called today to prevent the British government from strangling India and from collaborating with Japan to strangle China. The leaders of the ILP will of course tell us that they have not the power to do so. But nothing gives them the right to promise that they will apparently have the power to call a general strike on the day of mobilization. And if they be able, why confine it to a strike?... the aim of revolutionary policy should not be an isolated general strike, as a special means to "stop war," but the proletarian revolution into which a general strike will enter as an inevitable or a very probable integral part.