Greece: a pre-revolutionary situation

Following fairly extensive discussion with socialists in Greece and other countries, we have written the following resolution as basis for more formal international discussion of the issues. It is being translated into a number of languages including Greek. If you would like to write comments or a response, send them to us at - or post them below.

7 January 2013

1. Greece remains in a pre-revolutionary situation. “The ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way.” – Lenin. In other words the Greek ruling class is split, confused and unsure of itself, while the mass of the Greek working class and other lower classes find the situation intolerable and are looking for a way out. This is a situation characterised by extreme poverty, suffering and social break down. In a nation of eleven million, Unicef figures say that 500,000 children are going hungry. 68 percent, and rising, live below the poverty line. Unemployment is 25 percent, youth unemployment 50 percent, and 2,800 people are losing their jobs every day. There is also massive and increasing state repression, stepped up at the start of 2013. But the Greek working class are not passive victims: we are seeing stormy workers’ struggles in resistance to attacks by the Greek and European ruling classes, and a break down of the old political alignments. The situation could move in either a revolutionary or a counter-revolutionary direction. What is certain is that for the great mass of the Greek people, the only way out lies in overthrowing capitalism.

2. Since 2009, in response to economic crisis, a dramatic assault on working-class living standards and the role of the European Commission-European Central Bank-IMF “Troika”, Greece has undergone a political polarisation – to the radical reformist left and to the far right. Pasok, the old social democratic party, which got 44 percent of the vote in 2009, collapsed to 13 percent in June and is now well under 10 percent in most polls. The basic trend has been to the left, with 50 percent now self-defining as “on the left” against 35 percent “on the right”. At the heart of this radicalisation is the left-wing party Syriza, which grew from 4.6 percent in 2009 to 16.9 percent in May and 26.9 percent in June. At the same time, however, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn grew from 0.3 to 6.9 percent, and according to most polls is now well over 10 percent. As well as being a serious threat on the streets, it has major support in the police.

3. Syriza, now transforming itself into a single party, was a coalition created by Synaspismos, which emerged from the Eurocommunist wing of the Stalinist party KKE. In broad terms it is left social democratic, but its political character is fresher and more radical than comparable developments elsewhere (Die Linke in Germany, Front de Gauche in France). Syriza has numerous tendencies. There are three main wings: the current leadership, which represents the mainstream of Synaspismos; a right wing which includes ex-Pasok MPs; and a left wing composed of the “Left Stream” of Synaspismos and many of the coalition’s 12 other components, including the Trotskyist groups Kokkino and DEA. At the recent conference, a resolution from this left received 25 percent of the vote. The leadership has zig zagged left and right.

4. Distance creates difficulties in judging tactical issues, but we believe it is right for revolutionaries in Greece to work in Syriza. For all its limitations, Syriza has become the political focus of working-class resistance in this crisis for three reasons: because it poses the question of governmental power; because it advocates left unity; and because it takes a non-nationalist position on Europe. It is now at the centre of political debates which, in Greece, are no longer confined to small circles of revolutionaries but are gripping a wide working-class audience. Despite their small size, both Kokkino and DEA seem to have been able to have a significant impact. It was Kokkino which initiated the campaign to relaunch Syriza in 2009-10, when the coalition’s old right wing – now part of the bourgeois coalition government under the name “Democratic Left” – attempted to shut it down. The small vote won by the revolutionary left alliance Antarsya, and the fact that it has fallen sharply at a time of radicalisation, also seem to confirm this judgement.

5. Should the purpose of working in Syriza be to expose its limitations to the working class; to shift the whole party to the left; to win the leadership; to push out the right wing of the coalition; to win a majority for revolutionary ideas; or simply to recruit new forces? The answer is all of the above. Given the situation in Greece, and the extremely provisional and fluid nature of Syriza's organisation, it is not inconceivable that revolutionaries could win a majority in the party. But in any case, all this cannot be decided in advance, but only decided in struggle.

5. The KKE, despite its shrinking vote, is the oldest party of the Greek left and remains the strongest in terms of committed working-class membership – this according to many left-wing activists hostile to it. It is die-hard Stalinist and utterly sectarian, for the most part refusing a united front with others left-wingers even at the level of street actions. Nonetheless, given its organizational strength, it remains vital for the revolutionary left and for Syriza to propose to KKE activists a working-class united front in the struggle. Naturally the idea of a workers' united front should also extend to workers involved in revolutionary socialist groups outside Syriza and to class-struggle anarchists - but united action between the two organisations with a significant mass base in the Greek working class is central.

6. The most urgent task demanding a workers’ united front is the threat posed by Golden Dawn. The fascists are not simply an electoral force. They organise on the streets and have become increasingly bold and violent, specialising in attacks on migrants. In some inner city areas Golden Dawn militias are a major force. In addition, the police – among whom Golden Dawn support is strong – work closely with the fascists. Meanwhile Golden Dawn, while voting in parliament for all attacks on the working class and denouncing and supporting repression against real anti-capitalist resistance (strikes, student occupations, etc), presents itself as an “anti-systemic” party. It has set up social projects such as food distribution – “for Greeks only”. In addition to its ongoing terror against migrants and ethnic minorities, Golden Dawn has started to attack LGBT people, progressive cultural projects and the left, including prominent working-class leaders. Despite the danger, there are indications that in a parody of early 1930s Germany neither the KKE nor Syriza is taking the threat seriously. There is an urgent need for anti-fascist united front which can not only fill streets across Greece with demonstrators, generalising recent successful mobilisations against Golden Dawn (mass counter-demonstrations, street patrols), but create workers’ defence squads capable of taking on and beating the fascists' squads.

7. The fight against the fascists is not something separable from the general working-class struggle to defend its living standards and rights. During the period of the two elections, there was a slowing of the tempo of struggle in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, as people understandably looked to “politics” to solve a crisis which cannot be overcome by isolated economic struggles. Nonetheless, without a heightening of such struggles no viable working-class politics is possible. The ruling class cannot be taken on without effective resistance to its attacks in the workplaces and neighbourhoods (strikes, workplace occupations, occupations of buildings) – and neither can the fascists. This is particularly true when in many cases the fascists and state forces are cooperating closely.

8. The revolutionary left in Greece should seek to pressure and test the broader radical (reformist) left by supporting Syriza's call for a “united left government” and agitating for a workers' government – a government based on and serving the interests of the working class and the majority of the Greek people in the same way the current government serves the ruling class. Trotsky described this in the Transitional Program as “the demand, systematically addressed to the old leadership: ‘Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power’… Of all the parties which base themselves on the workers… and speak in their name we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ government… At the same time we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands should in our opinion form the program of the ‘workers’ government’.” In other words the Greek revolutionaries should pose the question – if the left wins the next election and forms a government, what kind of government will it be? – and seek to link the question of government to the challenges facing workers (defending themselves at work and in the community, taking over workplaces, defeating Golden Dawn, cancelling the Troika “Memorandum”, nationalising the banks, etc, etc).

9. For a “workers’ government” to be anything other than a passing “left” episode which collapses in the face of capitalist reaction, peaceful or violent, it is necessary for the working class to create self-organised bodies comparable to workers’ councils or at least the “neighbourhoods commissions” which existed in the Portuguese revolution of 1974-5 or the “cordones” in Chile in 1972-3. The neighbourhood assemblies generated in many areas of Greece in recent years must be revived, linked up, and developed towards a system of self-managed working-class democracy – to promote workers’ control locally and to become the base of a workers’ government. The process of transforming the trade unions, removing the old Pasok-linked bureaucracy, must be completed. And again, it is necessary to create workers’ defence squads and a workers’ militia, in the first instance against Golden Dawn. There is no peaceful road to socialism in Greece. Even a mild reformist left government would face activity by the army and the police aiming to destabilise it.

10. A “workers’ government” is not an end in itself, nor is it necessary, inevitable stage in the development of a revolution in Greece. If it comes about in some form, it should be seen as a step forward – only a step forward – in the fight for working-class power and socialism. The point is not to speculate about scenarios, but to work out how revolutionaries can best put the reformist left to the test and gain a bigger hearing for revolutionary ideas.

11. The KKE and most of the revolutionary left outside Syriza attack Syriza’s refusal to call for Greece to leave the euro or the EU. This is wrong. There is nothing anti-capitalist about positively advocating a Greek “exit”. In fact, whatever its advocates’ intentions, this position is nationalist. Workers in Greece should not wait for movements elsewhere in Europe, or agree to sacrifices to save Greek membership of the euro, or hesitate because of the threat of Greece being expelled. But they would not benefit from Greece being outside the EU or euro. Under a bourgeois government, it is no more in workers’ interests to leave the EU or euro than to remain inside. The revolutionary left in Syriza is right to say “No sacrifice for the euro” and “Not euro vs drachma, but class vs class”. On the other hand, if Greece under a left or workers’ government is threatened with being expelled from the Eurozone or the EU, workers across Europe should mobilize to oppose this. For the Greek labour movement to advocate exit would mean letting the EU leaders off the hook and missing the opportunity to build cross-European solidarity.

12. Syriza’s leaders are failing to prepare workers seriously for the inevitable attempts by the Greek ruling class and sections of the state machine to destabilise a left government, or for the possibility of Greece being forced out of the euro. If a workers’ government is forced out of the euro/EU, socialists should fight for strong measures of workers’ control to deal with the inevitable economic consequences, including taking over shut-down workplaces and workers’ control of food distribution. Even in a small country like Greece, “revolutionary-democratic” rather than “reactionary-bureaucratic” (Lenin) control by the working class could greatly lessen the impact of enforced economic isolation, buying more time to build a cross-European movement to rescue Greece and eventually remake the whole of Europe on a socialist basis.

13. Working-class advances in Greece will encourage class struggle across Europe, particular in southern Europe, and, to be sustained, will depend on working-class advances elsewhere We need to make solidarity with Greece a central question for the labour movement of every European country, seeking to link workers' struggles across national borders and advocating the goal of a Socialist United State of Europe.