Greece: voters shift left, but struggles need a new force

Submitted by Matthew on 22 February, 2012 - 12:02

Current opinion polls in Greece give parties to the left of Pasok (roughly equivalent to Labour) well over 40% of the vote in the new elections due there in April. They show strong feeling against the “memorandum” (the cuts), but dispersed and expressed in often confused and contradictory ways.

In the last parliamentary elections, in October 2009, before Greece’s economic crisis exploded, Pasok and New Democracy (roughly equivalent to the Tories) had 77% of the vote. That score has decreased to under 40%.

The elections planned for April, even though they come after all the memorandum policies and “private sector involvement” (PSI) agreements have been ratified in parliament, are causing headaches to politicians and capitalists. Lucas Papademos, Greece’s “technocrat” temporary prime minister; Evangelos Venizelos, the Pasok finance minister; Antonis Samaras, ND leader; Angela Merkel, German chancellor; Nicolas Sarkozy, French president; Wolfgang Schäuble, German finance minister; Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF — all would prefer to postpone the elections as long as they can, unless a militant workers’ movement and social unrest imposes them. They know that even ND and Pasok are fully signed up for the cuts, and fully committed to a coalition, they cannot guarantee a parliamentary majority.

In October 2009 Pasok took 44% of the votes, ND 33.5%. KKE, the diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party, had 8%; Laos (far-right populist) 5.7%; Syriza (a coalition round the former Eurocommunist wing of the Communist Party) 4.6%.

In polls published on 20 February, ND was down to 24%. Pasok was at 13.9%. In other polls it has been below 10%, paying the price of being at the steering wheel of the aggressive anti-working-class attacks during the last two years.

The biggest gainer in every poll is the Democratic Left (Dimar) of Photis Kouvelis, which originates as a right-wing split in 2010 from Synaspismos, the former Eurocommunists who are the core of the Syriza coalition. Dimar is being consistently recorded as the second biggest party, and polling 15% or more.

At the time of its formation in August 2010, and until recently, Dimar did not unequivocally opposed the memorandum and the austerity measures. When it split it accused Syriza of being influenced by ultra-left forces and putting too much political emphasis on the mass movement and not enough on parliament.

Dimar has selectively voted for certain memorandum policies (such as that for the dismantling of the pension funds). It did not participate in the student movement and the “indignant citizens’” movements, but opposed them.

It vehemently opposed Papandreou’s call for a referendum on the 26 October agreement, and gave left cover to the formation of the coalition government. The leader of Dimar stated: “It is essential the formation of a transitional government for a brief period of time that can lead us to elections. Any other alternative can complicate things even further”.

Recognising the anti-memorandum feelings of the majority of the Greek population, Dimar has shifted its policies to a clear anti-memorandum agenda, “realising” now that the politics of the first memorandum were not introducing positive reforms but were disastrous for the country.

But should we add the percentages of KKE, Syriza, and Dimar together in order to demonstrate the potential of all main left parties electoral alliance? Does it reflect the last two years’ working-class struggles and the struggles of the broader neighbouring community non-payment movement? Was Dimar part of these struggles? Does Dimar currently have links or would politically prioritize its work within the trade union movement?

Generally Dimar do not participate in any way to the struggles. They try to present themselves as the “old good Pasok”, even though they don’t say that openly.

The differences between the left and right-wing tendencies of Synaspismos and Syriza became apparent back in the 2006 during the militant student movements against the restructuring of the education by the then ND government and its attempts to violate article 16 of the constitution, which obliges the Greek state to offer all Greeks free education on all levels at State educational institutions. The main line of Syriza was to support and participate in the student movement.

However, academics and intellectuals of the right wing of Syriza condemned the student movements and occupations, as a parochial form of struggle and participated in an initiative of “1000” academies in favour of structural reforms in all educational establishments.

Differences re-emerged during the 2008 students’ and workers’ movement. Formally Syriza stated its support to the movement, but the central line of the Syriza right wing was to condemn every form of violence.

The emergence of working-class struggle exposed and increased the differences between Syriza and its right wing tendency, and the onset of the current economic crisis, the implementation of the memorandum policies, and the intervention of the Troika, made the differences irrevocable.

The system was in need of a left that would provide the IMF and EU inspired anti-working class politics with a left-wing and sensitive face. Within the context of a European crisis of social democracy, the necessity of a nominally left-wing party that would defend “the law and the constitutions”, that would be in favour of “constructive contributions to the capitalist system and the political establishment” and would detach itself from the workers’ movement and trade-union struggles was posed by the shift of millions of workers away from Pasok social democracy.

At first Dimar said: “Even in the context of the memorandum policies and the Troika’s restrictions, there is still space to create a transparent and fair pension and social security system”.

Dimar leader Photis Kouvelis stated that he would not support the “existing corrupted pension and social security system”. “Left-wing perspectives on the crisis mean reductions of the deficits and control of the debt. The effects of the crisis should be equally distributed to all layers of society, and not solely on the working class. The solution lies to the implementation of big structural changes on the Greek state”. “Anti-capitalist and anti-systemic positions as an answer to the crisis expose the ultra-leftism of Syriza’s policies”.

During critical historical times, and when the class struggle poses questions of workers’ control and a workers’ government, the reformist and legalistic left that condemns any confrontation with the establishment will always seek to reinvent itself, advocating new “historical compromises”.

In 1964 that tendency supported George Papandreou and the centre-left so that the Tories (ERE, forerunners of ND) would lose the elections. In 1967-74 it responded positively to the calls of the Greek military junta for liberalisation. To the choice “Karamanlis [conservative leader] or Junta” it provided support to Karamanlis in 1974. More recently it seeks constructive amendments so that memorandum politics can be applied more effectively and open the road to an era of capitalist development and prosperity.

The “liberal left” is essentially the dogmatic left that has placed itself consistently within the political lines drawn by the capitalist class and the mainstream political establishment.

Dimar voted against the second memorandum package on 19 February, but still portrays the memorandum policies as necessary evils to secure Greece’s position in the euro and believes that memorandum policies can be reformed! Dimar supports refugees and gay marriage. It is in favour of nuclear disarmament and ecological policies. It supports drug legalisation.

But it is against the combat strength of the working-class movement and the militant strike of the Greek Steel workers.

Dimar views socialism as a moral theory of charitable feelings towards the economically weak and disadvantaged, and not as an ideology that arms the working class for struggle against the whole of the capitalist class.

The workers and the working-class movement do not need another political party to sympathise and moralise and talk about the unfairness of reducing the workers’ wages. Venizelos and the government are already doing that and express their deep and sincere regret for having to reduce the workers’ wages and pensions.

KKE’s score in the polls published on 20 February was 11.9%, a smaller increase than might be expected since KKE’s trade-union front, PAME, has led big demonstrations and strikes, and the Greek Steel workers, who are in the vanguard of the working class struggle, on strike since 31 October, are mainly led by KKE-PAME.

KKE is paying the price for its refusal to discuss left unity. It declares itself the only consistent “anti-monopoly” force. Whenever movements have emerged which they could not control, KKE has abstained or openly opposed them, as with the non-payment neighbourhood movements outside its control and the media workers’ disputes.

Repeatedly KKE does its best to demobilise the resistance by ensuring it is divided into separate demonstrations, in separate places, or at separate times on the same day. KKE ignores, or is openly hostile to, movements that are not under its control, such as the 2011 movement of “indignant citizens” in the city squares, accusing them of being petty-bourgeois, middle-class, or anarchist.

KKE may use vague revolutionary lingo and may say that “people’s power” and “people’s economy” are the only alternatives to capitalism’s economic crisis.

However, KKE totally detaches the socialist strategic aim from their current tactics. In every speech by its secretary Aleka Papariga, KKE says that the working-class movement is not politically mature, and its political consciousness is not advanced enough to accept the slogan of socialism. But if the strategic aim of a socialist society is not mature now that capitalism is destroying the lives of millions of people, then when it will be?

KKE’s conservatism and its Stalinist reflexes are exposed in its current struggle against “the legalisation of drugs”. KKE and its youth front KNE are campaigning against legislation to decriminalise drugs, based on statistics showing that 40% of those in jail for drug offences are individual users.

KKE refuses to campaign against homophobia or in favour of women’s rights. Its recent letter of condolence to the state of North Korea and its nostalgia for the former Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe both limit its electoral support and, more importantly, indicate its unsuitability to lead the struggles to come.

Syriza has seen its percentage increase to 10.7%, far less than the hopes of the 13 far-left groupings, ranging from Maoists to Trotskyists, who have aligned themselves with Synaspismos in the Syriza coalition.

In 2008, Syriza became synonymous with the youth protests, but since then it has oscillated between a militant youth section and a more “respectable” political leadership coming from Synaspismos and aiming essentially for a human-centred capitalism.

In 2010, a right-wing split away from Synaspismos to form Dimar. The far-left groupings in Syriza hoped for a change of direction towards clearer anti-capitalist revolutionary politics; but the central leaders of Syriza firmly believe that a more social-democratic Keynesian type of capitalism can get Greece out of the crisis.

They talk about the necessity of investment and stimulating the economy, and the urgency of development, “ignoring” the fact that capitalist development always takes place at the expense of and through the sacrifices of the working class.

Instead of calling for nationalisation of the banks under workers’ control, Syriza calls for “monitoring and controlling the banking system”. Instead of raising the slogan of defaulting and refusing to pay the Greek debt, Syriza asks for the renegotiation of the Greek debt, the creation of eurobonds, the printing of money by the European Central Bank, etc.

Syriza always asks for elections to pacify and bring back stability to Greek society. They are seeking an electoral front or alliance with the soft-left anti-memorandum MPs that have been expelled from Pasok. They are also approaching the Greens, whose politics are very similar to German Greens and on a lot of issues are to the right of the traditional labour parties.

Syriza is also approaching its own right-wing split, the Democratic Left, to discuss future political and electoral alliances.

The major aim of Syriza is an electoral alliance, as broad as possible, which will record the anti-memorandum sentiments of the population in a very loose way. But such a coalition can reach no positive left-wing programmatic agreement. A coalition whose only ambition would be to reflect the disenfranchisement of Pasok members and a general vague resentment of the Greek population towards the two major political parties cannot offer hope, inspiration and a strategic aim to the working class.

The cooperation of the left in the trade union rank and file movement and in the political arena is imperative. As long as the left remains fragmented, the EU/ ECB/ IMF Troika and the coalition government can carry on undeterred, implementing further anti-working-class politics.

However, an effective and lasting left coalition can only be formed with a coherent agreed left wing political manifesto aiming at the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. Even small reforms and gains for the working-class movement will be achieved only as by-products of clear anti-capitalist struggle, and not within the agenda of “realistic” reformism.

The far-right populist party Laos has seen its percentage stagnate at around 6.9%. It has paid the price for establishing itself as the most consistent pro-memorandum party until the very last minute, and participating in Papademos’s coalition government alongside Pasok and ND.

The recent U-turn of Laos, voting against the second memorandum package, reflects the political pressure on Laos and its fear of inroads into its base by the openly fascist and racist party Xrisi Aygi, which is currently polling around 3%.

Both KKE and Syriza have gained electoral support because they have been, with their political weaknesses and limitations, part of the anti-memorandum, anti-austerity movement. Their electoral gains are not a reflection of them developing correct analyses and theses. They are the results of the massive exodus of working class people from Pasok, and a desire for a protest vote against the mainstream political establishment.

The Greek Steel workers, the media workers, and the other workers on strike show the whole working class the only realistic and effective route to resist the attacks are orchestrated in unity by the government, the bankers, the industrial leaders, and the productive and unproductive capitalists, under the supervision of the Troika. The only realistic road is the road of uncompromised class struggle.

We need a united workers’ front in both the private and public sector alongside the unemployed, the refugees, and the civil disobedience neighbourhood movements.

The working class is in need of a revolutionary left party to speed up the above process by not only participating and observing the struggles but organizing and being the vanguard of those struggles.

Against the continuous crisis and destruction of our lives brought by the decaying Greek capitalist system, we should aggressively state our anti-capitalist manifesto and our program of transitional demands, which should be linked to our strategic struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.