As Greece's rich flee, will the workers rush in?

Submitted by Matthew on 26 October, 2011 - 12:03

It’s not often that data from upmarket estate agents features prominently in Trotskyist newspapers. But comrades will thank luxury residential property specialist Knight Frank for the news that wealthy Greeks have spent £250 million on homes in London over the last year.

That’s just for houses and flats worth £2 million and above, mind you. No doubt others will be slumming it in the kind of hovels that a measly £1 million buys you in the capital these days, but you get the general picture.

It’s a safe bet that the story is the same in Paris and New York and other cities favoured by the world’s super-rich, too. Anyone would think these guys are running away from something.

So why is a substantial proportion of the Greek bourgeoisie so obviously preparing to decamp? My guess would be that they have looked at the range of possibilities for their home country over the coming period, and decided that from their point of view, none of them are good.

Like many socialists, I have been transfixed by the media reports coming out of Athens in recent weeks. For the first time since Portugal in 1974, an advanced European capitalist country is gripped by a textbook prerevolutionary situation, of the kind debated at length in Comintern documents in 1920s. This sort of stuff isn’t supposed to happen nowadays.

It would be wrong to read too much into footage of a few hundred youth in black balaclavas lobbing firebombs at Greek riot cops. And as we know from this country, even mass demonstrations and one-day stoppages organised through official trade union channels often function as safety valves as much as protests.

It is also a necessary corrective to point out that opinion polls demonstrate majority support for the pro-austerity parties. No doubt many of those directly suffering from mass job losses in the public sector, 42% youth unemployment, pension cuts and tax rises and three successive annual declines in GDP still buy into the line that this kind of economic medicine is unavoidable.

By contrast, the scores for the communist KKE and the more radical Syriza/Synaspismos coalition add up to around 20%. Seen from Britain, that might look substantial, but in the context, it is still limited.

So attempts to paint Greek society as one seething mass of unfocused discontent, just awaiting the intervention of a Trot sect lucking out by tabling the right transitional demand at the right time, are probably wide of the mark.

Nor will the policies advanced by the traditional left bring revolution any closer. The Stalinists endlessly reiterate the slogan of “popular power and a popular economy”, whatever that means. An amendment urging everybody to be nice to their mum didn’t make it into the final draft, apparently.

The Synaspismos leadership is heavy on rhetorical attacks on neoliberalism, but in practical terms, seems to see the issue of eurobonds as a workable solution. Even the internal opposition tendency around Panagiotis Lafazanis restricts itself to demanding an exit from the euro. Given the profundity of the debt crisis, that seems astoundingly moderate.

Beyond Synaspismos? From what I can make out, the far left is a splintered as it is throughout the rest of the continent. There is a section of the Fourth International, groups aligned with the SWP and SP in Britain, some sort of Healyite outfit, and no doubt other Trot organisations.

There are also some Maoist currents; apparently it is an unforgiveable faux pas to confuse the Communist Party of Greece (Marxist-Leninist) with the entirely distinct Marxist-Leninist Party of Greece.

Are any of them serious political projects, or at least capable of becoming serious political projects? Are they simply “talk a good game” sectarians, or can they articulate socialist politics in even an approximately adequate fashion? Few of us in this country will have even the foggiest idea. But in the struggles ahead, we will no doubt find out.

While a re-run of 1917 is not inevitable, a number of mainstream Greek politicians privately view revolution as a distinct possibility, and some figures in both governing centre-left Pasok and centre-right opposition New Democracy have even said so in public. Even if things don’t go the whole nine yards, revolutionaries could hardly ask for circumstances more conducive to growth.

Meanwhile, the very rich are voting with their feet and setting up bolt holes should their worst fears be confirmed by events. If you have ever considered opening a Greek delicatessen in Mayfair, Knightsbridge or St John’s Wood, now could be the time to act.

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