Greece: a workers' government?

Submitted by Matthew on 21 March, 2012 - 11:13

According to the latest opinion poll in Greece, on 15 March, the two main parties in Greece, the ones which European Union leaders hope will form a new coalition after the election due in late April or early May, stand at 23% (New Democracy) and 13.5% (Pasok).

In the last two years they have lost half the support they had in the last parliamentary elections, in October 2009.

In recent weeks people turning away from ND and Pasok have begun to cluster, not yet around the revolutionary left, but around the reformist left that has opposed the bailout “memorandum” cuts packages.

In the 15 March poll, the Greek Communist Party (KKE), Syriza, and Democratic Left (a splinter from Syriza), totalled 35.5%, about the same as ND and Pasok. Some other recent polls have given them even higher percentages.

To deal with the current crisis, the revolutionary left in Greece has to raise demands like nationalisation under workers’ control of the banks and big business, demands which can be implemented only by a government, and not by local struggles, however militant. If the revolutionaries demand the immediate overthrow of the current “technocratic” government, or of a future ND/ Pasok coalition, they need to offer some answers as to what sort of government they want instead.

We should always be cautious about offering tactical demands from a distance. But experience from history suggests three levels at which the questions about government could be given answers of a type that will help take the struggle forward and speed up the crystallisation of a real revolutionary socialist force in the Greek working class.

The first is general advocacy of the type of government which we want to replace the pro-cuts regimes: a workers’ government, a government as loyal and as accountable to the working class as the present Greek government is to the bondholders, the bankers, and the capitalists. “Of all parties and organisations which base themselves on the workers”, as Leon Trotsky put it, “we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for a workers’ government... At the same time we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the program of the ‘workers’ government’.”

The second is to look to the organisational recomposition of the Greek labour movement.

The big union federations, GSEE and ADEDY, have as far as I know been very bureaucratic. The union confederation leaderships, financed mainly by allocations from government welfare spending rather than by union dues (which are scarcely collected), stand above a very large number (about 4000) of individual unions, mostly quite small, often limited to single workplaces or cities.

But new connections have been made, notably in the neighbourhood struggles against the new property tax and the threat to cut off electricity to non-payers of that tax. Revolutionaries should argue for the consolidation of those connections into “neighbourhood commissions” like those in Portugal in 1974-5 or in Chile in 1972-3 and for the development of those “commissions” towards real workers’ councils. They should explain that those workers’ councils could begin to promote workers’ control locally and become the base for a workers’ government.

Thirdly, revolutionaries should put the reformist left to the test by demanding that they form a united front and agree to collaborate in the creation of an alternative government which would refuse to make the cuts demanded by EU and IMF; nationalise the big banks and businesses under workers’ control; and seek to impound the wealth of Greece’s ultra-rich.

The approach would be similar to the call which the Bolsheviks made in Russia in 1917 for the reformist left, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, to break with the “capitalist ministers” in the Provisional Government and form an administration which the Bolsheviks pledged to side with against reaction and to oppose only peacefully.

Paradoxically, the Bolsheviks won over workers and peasants from the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries as much by “supporting” them in that sense as by flatly opposing them, and they eventually overthrow the bourgeois Provisional Government on the back not of agitation to bring it down but of “defence” of it against the proto-fascist Kornilov revolt.

Greece is not Russia in 1917. It does not (yet) have workers’ councils or dual power. Yet the approach of putting the reformist left to the test could still be valid.

KKE strongly, and maybe unbreakably, opposes a united front. Agitation for a united front could still be a good way for revolutionaries to win over workers attracted to KKE by its pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric.

The Greek revolutionary socialist group Xekinima, linked to the Socialist Party in England, advocates something like this united front agitation, and as far as I can see is right to do so.

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