Greek workers demand: tax the rich!

Submitted by Matthew on 22 June, 2011 - 1:27

Rich Greeks have 600 billion euros in Swiss bank accounts (Der Spiegel, 7 February 2011) — a stash more than enough to solve the debt crisis, and untouched by the government cuts. Yet now Greece has a new cuts plan — and a new movement against the cuts.

Since 25 May, people have demonstrated almost continuously in Syntagma Square, in Athens, in front of the Greek parliament building, sometimes hundreds of thousands strong.

A continuous “people's assembly” of “indignant citizens” is also running in front of the White Tower in Thessaloniki, Greece's second city.

Nik, an activist in the Greek revolutionary socialist organisation OKDE, told Solidarity:

”The assemblies are a mixture of working-class people, a lot of unemployed people, a lot of youth, and also some middle-class people harshly hit by the crisis.

The big majority of the workers there are precarious workers [casualised, insecure workers], not people from the traditional bastions of the working class.

The Greek Communist Party [uniquely in Europe, an old-style Stalinist party which nevertheless remains strong, with about 10% of the vote] has said that the assemblies are hostile to left-wing political parties. In my opinion that is a pretext by the CP.

There is a certain tendency among the people in these assemblies that they do not want to hear about any political parties, right or left. That tendency exists — but not to the extent that the CP claims.

Mostly the rejection of 'all political parties' reflects a rejection of the whole institutional and political system established in Greece since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1973. People think that the whole system is responsible for Greece's crisis and bankruptcy.

We have found that if left groups intervene in a way that shows some respect for the way of thinking of the people in the assemblies, there is no problem about getting a hearing.

Will this movement develop into a wave of strikes? For many years now the epicentre of the working class in Greece has not been in factories. The economy has been deindustrialised.

Nevertheless, the Syntagma Square movement has given an impetus to strikes. For example, the public-sector electricity workers have called a series of two-day strikes, against privatisation of their industry but also in general protest.

For the first time in twenty years, the trade union confederations have called for a 40-hour general strike [not just 24 hours, like the fifteen others since the crisis broke] when the new economic measures are voted on in parliament [probably about 28 June].

The general climate of opinion in the assemblies is quite left wing. Many people say very clearly that we should not pay the debt. A lot of people are very open to ideas like nationalising the banks.

Some demands of that kind have been adopted by the people's assembly of Syntagma Square.

On the other hand, the ideas current in the assemblies are not very clearly anti-capitalist. They do not amount to a systematic left-wing approach, or a real programme.

Though you hear a lot of criticism of capitalists and their greed, it would be wrong to claim that the capitalist system itself is being seen as the centre of the problem.

If new elections were held soon, New Democracy would win [that is, the Greek equivalent of the Tories; Pasok, the governing party, is roughly equivalent to the Labour Party]. But it looks almost impossible for any party to get a majority to form a government.

The solution that the ruling class, and the international banks, would want is a coalition government of Pasok and New Democracy and maybe other parties. But it is very difficult to see how any such government could win any popular legitimacy.

At the same time, there is no big political force clearly representing the opposition. There is no significant left movement against Papandreou [the prime minister] in Pasok. Some Pasok MPs have been breaking off, out of an instinct for political survival, but there is no big shift. Pasok is very deeply degenerated.

The big game being played here is this: how soon can revolutionary forces recruit and assert themselves? There are some good possibilities opening up, though at the same time we must remain within the movement”.

Slogans in the popular assemblies have included: “Error 404, Democracy Not Found”, “Refuse to pay the debt”, “A new constitution”, “Harsher taxation of the rich”, “We do not owe, we will not sell off, we will not pay”.

This is different from the first wave of revolt in Greece, in 2010, which took place mainly through a series of general strikes called by the trade-union federations Gsee and Adedy (both linked to the governing party, Pasok), and demonstrations called by the union federations and by the Greek Communist Party.

The great advance is that this new movement involves continuous discussion and debate on tactics and aims, whereas the previous wave was dominated by one-off actions called from above, with no lively rank-and-file organisation in between.

But to go forward the new movement has a steep hill to climb. To go forward, it has to replace not just one governing party by another, but the whole system of government and economic administration by an alternative.

The only alternative shown by history and logic is socialism and workers’ democracy. That requires a strong organisation of the working class to take control in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, and to bring delegates from workers’ councils across the country together into a new central authority, breaking up and pushing aside the established armed forces and corps of top state officials.

All the big organisations of the working class in Greece are controlled by bureaucrats semi-supporting the cuts, or offering only demagogic opposition (the CP), and with as yet little decisive challenge to them. Fresh organisations can grow fast, but as yet are limited, and will have to find ways to intervene in the existing structures too.

Tahrir Square in Egypt could have an “easier” but more limited victory by pushing the army and the top state officials to discard Mubarak and agree (with equivocations) to introduce freedoms and electoral democracy. But that sort of limited democracy exists already in Greece, and a move by the army to sweep it aside would be a step back, not forwards.

Bourgeois democracy, the sort of wealth-dominated semi-democracy that exists in Greece and Britain, both offers openings for working-class organisation and development which make it worth fighting for against Mubarak-style dictatorship, and simultaneously is, as Lenin put it, “the best possible political shell for capitalism”, resilient even in face of mass disaffection.

The popular-assembly movement could crash out, defeated by the steepness of the political hill it must climb.

Theoretically also, left-wing though it is now, the movement could fall prey to anti-parliamentary demagogues who can decorate their right-wing core aims with left-wing phrases, like Boulanger in France in 1889 or Pilsudski in Poland in 1926.

As the OKDE comrades say, everything depends on the ability of revolutionary socialists to help the movement develop clearer political aims and extend itself into ongoing, structured working-class organisation.

The crisis was sparked by the failure of the first EU/ IMF “bail-out” of Greece, formulated in May 2010. A new round of “bail-out” was agreed in outline on 16 June.

Under its terms, the Greek government is required to bring in harsher cuts and sweeping privatisations. Pasok prime minister George Papandreou tried unsuccessfully to draw the opposition New Democracy [Tories] into a coalition government, and then formed a new Pasok-based cabinet, with a tough new finance minister.

Greek working people know that:

• the “bail-outs” are bail-outs not of Greece but of the German and French banks who lent the Greek government money. The bail-out money goes to the banks in repayment of past debts.

• all the economic agony, supposedly to avoid Greece defaulting on its debts, is likely to end in... Greece defaulting on its debts (but with most banks having extricated themselves), and new economic pain after default.

We owe solidarity to the people of Greece, and especially to the revolutionary socialists there. A European week of solidarity has been called from 21 to 26 June, with a particular call for demonstrations on 23 June, the day the European Council meets to discuss the Greek crisis.


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