Discussions with the Greek left

Submitted by Matthew on 20 June, 2012 - 8:36

The decision of Antarsya — a block of ten Trotskyist, Maoist and dissident Stalinist organisations — to run a slate in last weekend’s Greek election split opinion on the British far left.

In the event, it secured just 0.33% of the poll, leaving the purpose of the exercise, even on its own terms, open to obvious question.

A majority of activists favoured critical support for Syriza. Socialist Resistance, the British group linked to the Fourth International, took that stance even though their Greek comrades participated in Antarsya.

By contrast, the Socialist Workers’ Party swung fully behind its Greek sister party SEK, Antarsya’s largest component. But unusually, some of its members came perilously close to public support for Syriza.

I spoke to leading SEK cadre Panos Constantinou on a recent visit to Athens, after meeting him at a small open-air meeting ten days before the poll.

The discussion had limitations. My Greek is non-existent, his English is strong but not perfect. To make things worse, the background noises from a public square rendered part of the recording inaudible. So what follows should not be held up as a definitive statement of SEK’s positions.

I started by asking him whether Antarsya were standing on an explicitly revolutionary programme.

“No, it is an anti-capitalist programme, based on the workers’ movement and how we can respond to the capitalist attacks on the lives of millions of workers in this country,” he replied. “We say that the way forward is to say to the Troika, we don’t accept your blackmail.”

Antarsya argues for the nationalisation of the banks under workers’ control, without compensation for the bankers. It also demands a halt to mass sackings, cancellation of the debt, and the restoration of previous income and social security levels.

At one stage in the conversation, he even accepted my description of Antarsya’s platform as a transitional programme, although he did not seem to theorise that in the way orthodox Trotskyists would understand the term, for instance not counterposing it to an overtly revolutionary platform.

I asked if he was aware of the Socialist Alliance in Britain in the early 2000s, and whether Antarsya could fairly be compared to that formation. Constantinou believes the answer is no, if only because Antarsya has rather more social weight.

That may or may not be a sober assessment; I don’t know enough about the Greek situation to judge. But it is worth pointing out that in electoral terms, Antarsya has had no more backing at the ballot box than various British Trot electoral fronts in recent years. Then again, electoral support is hardly the decisive yardstick.

“Our organisation has organic links with the workers’ movement and influence in some of the unions, in hospitals, in education,” he insisted.

“We played a central role in the organisation of mass workers’ demonstrations during the fight against the memorandum. We were the organisers of the big demonstrations.

“The bureaucracy was forced to call a general strike, hundreds of thousands of people joined the demonstrations and Antarsya was organising these demonstrations.”

Pressing the point, I asked if the disparate nature of Antarsya led to any internal tension.

“‘The left is much weaker in the UK, we have a stronger left, reformist and revolutionary,” he replied. At its peak in 2010, Antarsya secured almost 100,000 votes in regional elections, securing some elected representatives at local level. His key point was that rising self-confidence in the Greek working class is being reflected on the revolutionary left.

“The SWP in Greece has changed and we know that. We changed because we decided to be part of this workers’ movement.”

So who did he consider to be Antarsya’s principal audience? “Our main audience is a working class, a young audience. Militants. There are thousands in this country,” he said. In particular, Antarsya looks to the hundreds of thousands of workers that took part in the recent spate of largely 24-hour general strikes. As a result, it does not target propaganda to the base of either the Communist Party, known locally as KKE, or Syriza.

Interestingly, Constantinou does not assess the current picture as a pre-revolutionary situation in the classic Leninist sense. The bourgeoisie is still able to impose its preferred form of government, although it is having trouble implementing its economic programme, on account of working-class resistance.

“On the other hand, to think about a revolutionary situation, we have to think about our relation as Antarsya to the workers’ movement, defined not just in factories, but neighbourhoods, other workplaces, everywhere.

“The prospect is that we can very quickly move into a revolutionary situation, but this means we have to build a political movement. The difference in Greece is that the reformists are strong and we have the renewal of reformism, and hopes of the movement for a left alternative, a left government.

“We have to relate to people and explain that this is illusion. This will be take some time. You have to be patient with these people, they are not enemies. They are comrades in struggle. But we have to win them.”

Constantinou sees the main danger right now as emanating from fascism, and not the prospect of a military coup. This perspective will hold good for as long as the ruling class is still able to push for a bourgeois solution from above and can reasonably hope to win Syriza and KKE over to their side if either were to participate in government.

Finally, I ask why Antarsya did not decide to back Syriza on June 17. Constantinou says that SEK has in the past not had any problem with critical support for reformism. In the 1990s, it supported Synaspismos — which now makes up the bulk of the forces inside Syriza — without illusions.

“Now we are not in the 1990s. We are in the next phase of the movement. We have the ability to appeal to the masses of the working class.”

Moreover, the KKE still has a larger and more radical membership than Syriza. So coming out for the latter would isolate Antarsya from the KKE rank and file.

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