The Greek working class- catalyst for the European Socialist revolution- drawing the lessons of the 20th Sept 2015 elections in Greece
The question is why have imperialism been so insistent on pushing ahead with its attacks on the Greek masses? They have turned acceptance of a harsh set of measures almost into a principle. After all, most of the ‘bailout’ funds are not even going into Greece, they are going into German banks and to a lesser extent, to French and US banks.
The answer lies in the fact that there are huge movements of the masses in Ireland, the UK, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and even rumblings in Germany. There are also rumblings among the masses in Eastern Europe. In short, if imperialism is forced to compromise or is partially defeated in Greece, the masses will be so emboldened in the rest of Europe that the capitalist EU stands to explode. The Greek working class is raising the spectre of Socialism over capitalist Europe. With increasing Europe-wide workers’ solidarity growing, the prospect of a Socialist revolution that extends to several countries in Europe, is a possibility. If we consider the parasitic relation of imperialist Europe to the neo-colonies around the world, then the prospect of a broader Socialist revolution, at last uniting workers in the imperialist centres and neo-colonies in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South and Central America, is on the cards. A Socialist revolution in Europe would give direct support to Palestinian liberation, the overthrow of fascist Israel; the defeat of the forces of reaction in Syria and the overthrow of the Assad regime and their replacement with workers’ states based on direct control by the working class and supported by the broader masses. This is against a backdrop of all capitalist regimes on the planet being under serious challenge from the masses. Imperialism understands this very well. Unfortunately this escapes the world’s left, who have a nationalist conception of the heroic struggles of the masses in Greece.
Imperialism miscalculated in the calling of the 5th July 2015 referendum; they expected the combined forces of their agents in Pasok and New Democracy, supported by their threats and blackmail and usual splitting tactics of the KKE and trade union leadership, to be enough to secure a YES vote, for austerity. Their new agency, the Syriza leadership around Tsipras, had hoped for its own defeat, which would have cleared the way for its total capitulation to imperialism. As it is, the masses withstood all the combined forces of world imperialism and their local agents and voted 61% NO. Within a week the Syriza leaders around Tsipras signed an agreement which launched an even bigger attack than was on the negotiating table- so confident had imperialism been that the masses in Greece would have bowed to their threats. This precipitated a crisis of regime as the ruling party split.
To close this split in the ruling bloc, imperialism decided to call a snap election on 20th Sept 2015, with the aim of getting rid of the left bloc from the ruling party and from parliament itself. With the traditional parties like Pasok and New Democracy being discredited, imperialism needed to consolidate the right wing forces within Syriza as its new agency of class control. Imperialism had made a mistake in the 5th July 2015 referendum, they learnt from it quickly. Something which the revolutionary left needed to note but failed to do so.
What were the factors that imperialism considered and how did they actually play out?
Firstly, what made imperialism so sure they would win this time around?
The centre of imperialism’s programme for the 20th Sept elections was to save Syriza. Thus imperialism gave as little time as possible for the left to organize. The left only had a month to prepare. This consideration was not going to be sufficient as the 5th July referendum had shown that the masses were capable of rapid shifts. In other words, as rapidly as the masses supported Syriza, when it posed as anti-imperialist, the masses would leave it when Syriza broke from its public position and started the path of collaboration with imperialism. Imperialism was faced with a situation where it could lose the only force that could, for the moment, control the masses. Thus Syriza embarked on a process of accommodating the programme of the right wing, the Pasok, New Democracy and Potami, but with a so-called human face.
The second consideration for imperialism was to gain control of the left opposition to Syriza. Imperialism saw the left that had broken with Syriza as their main threat and moved to neutralize and gain control over them. Thus it was that some of the right wing Syriza leaders, who had been part of the negotiations and wheeling and dealings with imperialism, like Lafazanis, was deployed to lead the new party, Popular Unity. This was to limit, in advance, the platform of the left as well as to deliberately divide it. Imperialism knew that it was quite possible that the Socialist revolutionary left could gather around them, the vast majority of the working class and the broader masses. Thus, while imperialism centred their campaign around propping up Syriza as its new agency of control, it had to gain control of and divide the revolutionary Socialist opposition.
Thus it was that imperialism played a decisive role in the programme and name of the party that split from Syriza, which came to be known as Popular Unity. This is why this split from Syriza, actually changed its platform on 3 important areas:
a. The platform was to be a multi-class front, a Popular Front, in which the voice of capital would dominate while the voice of the workers would be drowned out (hence even the name, ‘Popular Unity’); this is why the Popular Unity compared itself to Syriza of Jan 2015, instead of catching up with the anti-imperialist sentiment of 5th July 2015 referendum, and posing a more anti-capitalist programme, which was the only way that its anti-imperialist sentiment could be realized;
b. the platform was for an exit from Europe;
c. not allowing open factions, ie Popular Unity wanted the parties supporting it to dissolve themselves into it whereas the Syriza of January 2015 had not yet fully achieved the suppression of the left voice in their ranks at that stage;
Imperialism realized that the next step from the 5th July referendum results was that the masses would seek ways to enforce their anti-imperialist sentiment. A rejection of the debt was the first step to the imperialist debt being cancelled; imperialism would then have attempted to use the banks to strangle and blackmail the masses. This would have led to a direct takeover of the banks by the masses and then of all foreign trade, followed by a takeover of all large industry (which are all inter-connected with the banks). In other words, the only way the masses’ anti-imperialist sentiment could be realized was through an anti-capitalist path. This is why imperialism had to move quickly to neuter the breakaway from Syriza and to divide the revolutionary Socialist left. Thus imperialism determined the platform of Popular Unity before the Socialist left had the opportunity to do so. This was behind the haste of pro-imperialist Lafazanis to set up ‘Popular Unity’ before the Socialist left had a chance to determine its programme and class character. Thus imperialism moved to prop up Syriza and at the same time to gain control over the political representative of its breakaway group. Imperialism always strives to gain control over all political organs of the masses in order to maintain the capitalist system. If one agency is discredited, they have already prepared their reserve forces in other entities, just in case they are needed. Imperialism rescued Syriza and at the same time gained control over Popular Unity, from its inception.
The masses did not want to exit Europe. This is why a substantial part of Syriza’s base, despite the betrayal by the leadership, preferred to vote for Syriza rather than the old discredited Pasok or New Democracy. [This is shown by the 1,9 million people, who despite the betrayal by the Syriza leaders, still voted for them] What the left should have done is campaign for staying in Europe but for the entire platform of expropriating the banks and cancelling the debt, as the special parliamentary committee on debt had argued. This would have won over huge sections of the masses and may even have led to an electoral defeat of Syriza. [They would thus have been able to appeal to a broader base within the rank and file of Syriza and other parties and of the over 4 million who had stayed away from the polls]. That way, building on the huge disatisfaction of the masses in Europe for their own regimes, if the EU tried to strangle the masses in Greece, the left could have called for solidarity from the masses in the rest of Europe. The scene would have been set to implode capitalist Europe from within, placing Socialist revolution on the agenda. Popular Unity was correctly labelled as the ‘drachma left’. [if Greece had left without a fundamental challenge to capitalist relations, imperialism would have reduced Greece to another Zimbabwe with million percent inflation rate.]
Imperialism and the leadership of Popular Unity learnt from the structure of Syriza. They deliberately banned factions so that the political line of the right wing in Popular Unity would be more easily enforced, pre-empting a future revolt, when the leadership of Popular Unity start to betray their original mandate. The banning of factions deliberately split the left as was evidenced in the split in Antarsya, whose majority broke from Popular Unity and stood in alliance with the EEK.
The left wing of Antarsya and the EEK played into the hands of imperialism by standing on their own, despite having a similar platform to Popular Unity. Nothing prevented them from, with all their positions intact, from the outside, to have called for a critical support for Popular Unity. This would have presented to the masses a unified front and could have opened up their politics to them, presenting at the same time a face that could be seen to stand up to imperialism and against the betrayal by the Syriza leaders. The crisis of regime would have intensified. As it is, the bourgeois are standing on the rooftops proclaiming they have a ‘mandate’ to carry out austerity. Yes, the Antarsya-EEK gained 46 000 votes but it was at the expense of splitting the opposition to the plans of imperialism.
Imperialism knew that the KKE would do their usual bit by splitting the masses, standing on their own and almost exclusively targeting Popular Unity.
These were the factors that imperialism considered and how they succeeded, at least temporarily, to not only shut out Popular Unity, but to neuter it while excluding the left voice from parliament.
The decline of the right wing
The right wing parties lost a total of 570 000 votes from Jan to Sept 2015. These came from New Democracy (-200 000); Movement of Democratic Socialists- Kidiso, a splinter from Pasok (-130 000 votes); Potami (-150 000); Anel-Independent Greeks (-90 000).
Pasok did not really grow [its votes increased by 20 000 but in Sept it stood in alliance with Dimar (the Green party)]. Kidiso, which had split from Pasok before the Jan 2015 election, did not stand in Sept. Thus it is quite possible that 20 000 of the 150 000 votes that Kidiso had received in Jan 2015, went to Pasok in Sept. Kidiso which was headed by the discredited Papandreu, did not stand in Sept but had been in talks with Pasok about re-uniting before the elections. The talks broke down as Kidiso put a pre-condition that Papendreu, the first Greek Prime Minister to implement austerity, should be a candidate. Pasok rejected this in order to save their own parliamentary skins. Thus overall, Pasok-Dimar-Kidiso bloc lost 130 000 votes.
Thus the election shows that the right wing forces are in rapid decline. A correct tactic was needed to further accelerate their decline.
That the total number of abstentions increased by more than 650 000 from Jan to Sept and the ultra-right wing party lost 8000 votes shows that the shift in the masses was not from the right to the ultra right, but leftwards from the base of the right wing parties. This was only a partial leftward shift as most of the 570 000 votes that were lost by the right wing parties did not go to the left wing parties. Seeing that Syriza had adopted the policies of the right wing parties it is likely that most of these 570 000 votes lost by the right wing went to Syriza.
The Union of Centrists increased its vote by 70 000. This could be seen as a protest vote as this party is a party of comedians who criticise all parliamentarians. Once the masses see just how right wing this party is, it is bound to lose support.
The divided left
In January 2015, Syriza received about 22% of the support of the total number of registered voters (this was 36% of those who voted); in Sept 2015 Syriza received 19% of the support of the total number of voters (this was 35% of those who voted). In absolute terms Syriza lost 320 000 votes to 1,9 million, down from 2,2 million in Jan.
Thus only 19% of the total number of adults in Greece support Syriza, hardly an overwhelming mandate to carry out the austerity programme of imperialism.
The United Popular Front (41 000); Antarsya-EEK (46 000) and Popular Unity (155 000) received a combined total of 242 000.
However, If the lost votes of the right wing parties went to Syriza, then the real loss from Syriza was in the order of 800 000 votes. (300 000 in lower actual vote count and the other 500 000 replaced by votes from the right wing). Thus most of the increase in abstentions came from the ranks of Syriza, some 600 000, while only about 200 000 from the ranks of Syriza followed the left. This was a missed opportunity for the revolutionary Socialist left.
In the 5th July referendum more than 60% of the support base of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) turned their backs on their own party directive and supported a NO vote (the KKE called for a spoilt vote). This amounted to about 200 000 supporters that had turned their backs on the KKE. However by the time of the Sept elections the KKE (Communist party) had lost only 40 000 votes which shows that many of those who had begun to break from it, had returned to support it.
This was another indicator of an absence of a coherent party that could be seen to be able to challenge the plans of imperialism. Another opportunity missed by the revolutionary left.
That 1,9 million still supported Syriza showed that the left had failed to convince them that they had a viable, united bloc that could stand up to imperialism. The failure of the left to unite behind critical support for Popular Unity meant that most of the masses preferred to stay away or to a lesser extent vote for Syriza rather than the old discredited parties of Pasok and New Democracy.
Syriza is sure to lose even more support once they start accelerating their implementation of the plans of imperialism . This reality is sure to cause more splits in Syriza.
If the Popular Unity, KKE, Antarsya-EEK and United Popular Front had united their votes would have been at least 540 000. If they had a coherent, internationalist programme uniting workers in Greece with those in struggle around Europe, they could have had significantly more support. If they had shown a path to the masses to the actual realization of their anti-imperialist sentiment, they could have gained at least a further 600 000 support (from those additional voters who had abstained). Either way, their presence as a pole of extreme opposition could have helped to speed up the discrediting of parliament and building of organs of direct democracy outside of it.
The more politically conscious worker and masses did not take part in the elections. This points to a huge advance in the shattering of constitutional illusions among the masses. Surely the revolutionary left must have detected this sentiment when campaigning. Why did they not call for a total boycott of the elections? This would have provided a pole of extreme opposition and would have exposed the charade of the bourgeois elections. The Greek masses were far in advance of the revolutionary left, who clung to bourgeois parliamentarism. In 1946 the left called for a boycott of the elections in Greece. The masses, spontaneously, in Sept 2015 stayed away, against all the left and bourgeois parties. These were both cases of the biggest stayaway from elections in the recent history of Greece, since the second imperialist world war.
Around the world, the masses are taking more interest in politics. This is also reflected in the Podemos movement in Spain, the election of Labour leader, Corbyn. In Greece, the masses are not joining the fascists; the masses are deserting the right wing parties. All these factors show that the heroic Greek masses are ahead in consciousness of the rest of the masses in Europe. They are ripe for advancing on the revolutionary road to Socialism.
The consolidation of the fascist forces
2 days before the elections the Golden Dawn accepted political responsibility for the death of activist Pavlos Fyssas, who was killed by fascists 2 years ago. Imperialism was testing to see how many of the Greek unemployed and declassed middle class would be drawn to a programme of smashing workers protest and workers organization.
Despite this revelation, Golden Dawn still received 380 000 votes. Events in Syria and Egypt shows that imperialism is openly testing how far they can go with fascist methods. No doubt big capital is behind them.
This shows that whatever united structures of the masses are being built, that it is necessary to build self-defence committees, to prepare to ward off the fascist threat. No revolutionary movement lasts forever. The heroic resistance of the Greek masses so far, despite all odds, could turn into an ebb. To counter this possibility needs a bold, well considered programme and flexible tactics.
There were about 100 000 fewer registered voters in Sept than in Jan this year. Part of this is undoubtedly people who have died through starvation or diseases of poverty or who had committed suicide.
The bulk of the rest must have emigrated to escape the accelerated attacks of imperialism. [it is compulsory in Greece to register for and vote in elections].
It is ironic that at the very time that imperialism is using some of the Greek islands for temporarily housing refugees from Africa and the Middle East, there are a number of Greek refugees as well. No place for them on the islands as these are being auctioned off, for rock bottom prices, for the benefit of international capital.
A proposed way forward
The left had under-estimated the power of imperialism to manipulate the elections. It is not for nothing that Merkel openly said that these elections were part of the solution (for imperialism) and not part of the problem.
The revolutionary Socialist left has also under-estimated the preparedness of the masses to combat imperialism and the level of their break from bourgeois parliamentarism.
We call for a United Front against imperialism. This means preparing the way with joint committees in every workplace, port, factory, street, irrespective of party or union affiliation, irrespective if the worker is permanent or contract, local or immigrant. Thus we call for a united front from below. This does not mean that we should not call on the leadership of the KKE and Syriza to join in this campaign. We should call on them and every such call will help to expose the leadership. This action front should begin to oppose all the austerity measures in practical terms. A workers united front approach will help to weaken the right wing parties further; it will loosen the grip of reformist leaders on the masses. Self defence committees should be set up as part of the united front. At the same time, mobilisation should be made across Europe for solidarity actions.
For a workers government of Syriza-KKE-Popular Unity-Antarsya-EEK-United Popular Front-OKDE and other workers’ organizations, based on grassroots committees, subject to instant recall;
nationalise the banks under workers control without compensation to the capitalists; immediate state control of all foreign trade; scrap the debt; scrap the 3rd and other memoranda; share the work among all who can work, without loss of pay. For a united Socialist workers Europe.
For the setting up of a new revolutionary international based on the above programme.
WIVP 4.10.2015 email firstname.lastname@example.org