Greece: the "old ways" fail. What new ways?

Submitted by martin on 8 November, 2011 - 2:32

The Greek revolutionary socialist group Okde is calling for the creation of "structures and organs of workers' control" in districts and industries, and "popular assemblies in neighbourhoods", "with all bodies elected and recallable".

These would be something like the "neighbourhood commissions" which emerged in Portugal in 1974-5, after the fall of the military regime, or in Chile in 1972-3, in the ferment before the military coup.

Building on the strikes and demonstrations of recent weeks, such bodies could challenge all the factions of the Greek capitalist class, and the deal imposed on Greece by the "Troika", the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the IMF

In the first place, they could force concessions, and by doing so could encourage and boost working-class struggles in all the other countries of Europe hit by cuts.

Greece is in a pre-revolutionary situation, a situation where the first conditions for social revolution have developed. "The 'lower classes' do not want to live in the old way; and the 'upper classes' cannot carry on in the old way...", as Lenin defined those conditions, writing a few years after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Lenin added: "for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it..."

That doesn't happen unless an organised revolutionary party has won majority support among the working class, or at least among the politically-active workers. Greece is as yet far from that.

As Lenin also wrote in those years, "there is no such thing as a situation that offers no way out for the bourgeoisie". The Pasok government in office in Greece since October 2009 has now "opted out" by going for a coalition with New Democracy (Greece's Tory party). This coalition, or some new coalition, will find "ways out for the bourgeoisie" unless those rank-and-file working-class coordinations can be formed in Greece.

Pasok, the Greek equivalent of the Labour Party, is discredited and compromised by having accepted and pushed all the cuts plans. The main Greek union federations have called protest strikes, but are very bureaucratic, with leaderships politically aligned to Pasok. New organisation is needed at rank-and-file level.


Although the situation is pre-revolutionary, that does not mean that the Greek working class can win nothing short of revolution.

By fighting for a workers' government, and in the course of fighting for a workers' government, the Greek working class can win concessions.

The big powers of the eurozone have vast financial resources, quite sufficient to afford some concessions to Greece. However much Greece annoys them, they have a strong motive to make sure it remains able to pay its debts; and that motive gives Greek workers great leverage.

With the Italian government already having to pay unsustainable interest rates to get its IOUs (bonds) accepted by global financiers, a Greek default could collapse the euro. That would bring huge economic damage to German capital.

As Merryn Somerset Webb points out in the Financial Times (5 November): "The really big winner [from the euro] has been Germany... It gets to sell its goods outside the zone at a discount to the pre-euro price... [And] the introduction of the euro made borrowing very cheap".

Webb, writing from a pro-capitalist viewpoint, recommends that "the euro should survive intact a bit longer. European politicians might start being a little kinder to Greece - softening their deal bit by bit".

The deal decided by the Euro-summit on 27 October will need to be revised anyway. It has failed in its main aim, to save Italy from "contagion". Much in its terms has been left vague, and can be adjusted one way or another.

On 28 October, all over Greece, official parades on a usually-revered national anniversary were disrupted by vast protests against the plan. On 31 October Greek prime minister George Papandreou announced a referendum on the plan.

That infuriated the eurozone leaders and had financial markets plunging. For Papandreou, however, facing a situation where only 13% of the people of Greece said they would favour a vote of confidence for his Pasok government, it was a canny move. It put the opposition parties on the back foot.

On 2 November, Papandreou's defence minister replaced the leaders of the three armed forces. Greece spends more on its military, as a percentage of GDP, than any other country in Europe, and has much greater numbers in its armed forces, in proportion to population; and the military is set to suffer relatively little from the country's vast spending cuts. Greece was under military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974.

A week or so before, a writer in the Daily Telegraph had reported talk among financiers "only half in jest... that a better use for Germany's money than pouring it down the drain of further bail-outs would be to sponsor a Greek military coup". The coup would enable the European Union to evict Greece on purely political grounds, and tool up the Greek ruling class to make Greek workers pay for the ensuing chaos.

The Greek government, however, said that the replacement of the military chiefs was a routine matter of their terms of office being ended; and the left in Greece has raised no alarms about a possible coup.

On 3 November, Papandreou dropped his referendum plan. He had successfully bluffed the opposition New Democracy (equivalent of the Tory party) into backing the 27 October plan and agreeing to a coalition government. As of 7 November, Papandreou and ND leader Antonis Samaras were planning to form a coalition government, headed (they hoped) by a "technocrat", "within a week"; and call new elections on 19 February.

Opinion polls reflect the utter discredit of Greece's whole political establishment. New Democracy and Pasok got 78% of the vote between them in October 2009, but now New Democracy scores about 22%, Pasok about 15%. The biggest leftish opposition party, the diehard-Stalinist KKE, has improved on its 8% in the 2009 general election, but only to 14%. A very large number of voters are disgusted with the whole range of parties.

Papandreou hopes that the coalition with the Tory ND will shelter the Pasok leadership from pressure from Pasok's working-class base; both main parties hope that the short reprieve given to them by the formation of a new coalition will enable them to nail down the cuts flowing from the 27 October plan. In February, even if they lose much ground, Pasok and ND between them can still hope to have a parliamentary majority, and then to improvise.

The "upper classes" of Greece are fumbling and groping for new ways to carry on. And the "lower classes" are sick of it.

The KKE (the diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party) is calling for a "social popular front for the overthrow of the power of the monopolies and to free Greece from the EU and NATO". In practice its focus is on demanding quicker new elections, in which it plausibly hopes to do well.

Despite anti-capitalist bluster, the KKE's immediate policies are weak ("taxation of profits of big business at a rate of 45%", and so on), and are tainted by its nationalist emphasis on "freeing Greece from the EU".

Synaspismos, the former Eurocommunists and now the core of the Syriza coalition, the biggest leftish force after the KKE, also focuses on demanding quicker elections.


It calls for "nationalisation and socialisation of the banking sector for the benefit of society, and the immediate return to public ownership, with workers' and social control, of the public enterprises and organisations which have been or are being sold off".

It protests at the "suzerainty" demanded over Greece by Merkel and Sarkozy. It counterposes not Greek exit from the EU but "new ways for people across Europe" to fight "neo-liberal austerity".

Antarsya, a more radical left-wing electoral coalition, calls for "exit from the euro and the EU, the nationalisation of banks and large enterprises under workers' control and a radical redistribution of wealth in favour of workers".

The focus on exit from the euro is diversionary. Almost certainly a workers' government in Greece - which would refuse to pay the debts run up by Greek plutocrats who have salted away 600 billion euros in Swiss banks - would end up being evicted from the eurozone and the EU. That would be an episode in the fight by that government to inspire similar workers' mobilisations across Europe and recreate a united Europe on working-class and socialist lines.

The other way round doesn't work. Exit from the euro would not automatically, or even probably, push Greece to the left, or make it easier for Greek workers to win concessions. It would deepen Greece's economic crisis, and set the scene for the exiting government to use nationalist bluster to force workers to pay the cost of that crisis.

The cuts are Europe-wide, and should be fought on the basis of working-class unity across Europe, with a Europe-wide programme, without of course suggesting that the most mobilised working-class movements, as in Greece, should wait for the slower movements.

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