Greece will have new parliamentary elections early, on 25 January. According to all recent opinion polls, the left party Syriza, which lost the June 2012 election narrowly to the conservative New Democracy (ND) party, is now well ahead of ND. On all the poll figures, Syriza and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) between them will win a parliamentary majority on 25 January.
The early elections followed the failure on 29 December of the ND-led government's third attempt to get Parliament to elect a new President.
A wave of celebration followed outside the parliament. The movements that have been in the frontline of the struggle against the cuts Memoranda imposed by the IMF-EU-European Central Bank “Troika” were once again in the vanguard.
The sacked media workers of ERT; the migrant workers of General Recycling, who earlier had gone to occupy their workplace; the cleaners at the ministry of economics and the school guards, who are both victims of “reserve employment” (partial lay-off), all made their way to Syntagma Square.
“The vote has just finished” said Tasos Anastasiadis, representative of the Coordination against Shut-Down and Reserve Employment. “The most hated government in recent years has been overthrown. Now begins the great struggle to ensure that the overthrow of the Samaras-Venizelos government will be translated into a victory of the working class people and popular strata who have been in the vanguard of struggles for so many years!”.
“The regime of Samaras-Venizelos has finally been toppled” said ERT worker Nikos Kletsas. “Today is a day that the working class have been awaiting for a long time. It is time for Samaras and Venizelos to decorate their helicopters and prepare to leave. Despite the wholescale attack and propaganda against us, ERT has been open for all these 19 months and we are confident that soon will be back in our physical space in Radiomegaro”.
Foteini Nikitara, a sacked cleaner from the ministry of economics, said: “Today is a day of happiness for all us struggling cleaners who have been protesting for the last 17 months. The overthrow of the government is a first victory, but we should not lose sight of the fact that our final victory will come when we are given back our jobs”.
School guard Babis Theodoropoulos added: “After one and a half year of struggle, the day has come. The school guards, the cleaners, the strikers of Coca Cola, the ERT workers, the cement workers from Halkida, the millions of unemployed and redundant workers, the immigrants, the Syrians and the Pakistanis, we are all happy and united for the government's overthrow. It's time to get our jobs back. The fight has just begun”.
The outgoing government and the ruling class have already begun a campaign to terrorise voters. They focusing on the “risk of leaving the euro” and Greece descending into chaos.
They try convince people that if a Syriza government is formed all their hard work will be lost. We will be outside the European ”family”. We will lose all the benefits of the euro. We will “burn together in hell.”
Let us not underestimate the fear that can be generated by this “campaign of terror”, orchestrated by the political establishment and its media acolytes, the financial oligarchy, the shipowners, the bankers, the industrialists, and all the international political and financial forces which have supported the government of Samaras and Venizelos.
ND representative Maria Spiraki asked Greek people to “imagine” what life will be like in Greece after bankruptcy and exit from the euro. But already since the onset of the crisis:
• One million people have been made redundant
• Unemployment has increased 190.5%
• 30% of small business have shut down
• GDP has shrunk 25%
• Wages have been cut 38%
• Pensions have been cut 45%
• The number of people living at or below the poverty level has rises 98%
• Depression has increased 273%
• Child deaths have increased 43%.
The left — mainly Syriza, KKE, and the far-left alliance Antarsya — should enter this battle together, despite the political and ideological differences. A united front and an electoral alliance aiming at the formation of the government of the Left with Syriza at its centre would not mean uncritical support for Syriza's leadership, or sidelining political-ideological differences and each party's organisational independence.
A common electoral front would means a joint battle against the coalition government, but each component of the Left contributing to the battle with its own positions and proposals and through its own campaign.
If a united electoral front of Syriza with the KKE and Antarsya were formed, it would be a tremendous boost of confidence for the rank and file members of all three parties, and for the working class and social movements. The dynamic and political reference of this united front would have been much broader than the additive political and social influence of the three parties separately.
However, given sectarianism and fragmentation on the Greek Left, there is only one choice: Critical support, from a working class perspective, for the formation of a Syriza government as a first step towards the formation of a government of the Left.
The highlight of the speech by Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to Syriza's congress at the the start of January came when he saluted the cleaners from the ministry of economics, praising their 18 months of uncompromised class struggle and promising to reinstate their jobs and vindicate their struggle.
Another highlight of his speech was a commitment to adhere to the “Thessaloniki programme” announced by Tsipras back in September 2014 as a first step to offer relief to the widespread poverty and destitution in Greek society.
Syriza is also committed to “suspend auctions of primary residences”, that is, seizures by the banks of homes of people unable to keep up payments.
Yet Syriza has seriously watered down its earlier commitments to nationalise the banks under workers' and democratic control and to refuse to comply with the Memoranda.
Syriza's central slogan is vague: “The future has started: A Greece of Decency, Justice, and Democracy”.
When activists at the Syriza congress interrupted Tsipras's speech to chant “The time has come for the Left to govern”, Tsipras responded very cautiously, saying that this is the time for the whole of Greece to celebrate, independent of their historical and political affiliations.
Syriza's programme includes the following four major axes:
• Address the humanitarian crisis
• Immediate steps to restart the economy
• A national plan for recovery and workers' rights, with emphasis on the re-instatement of collective bargaining agreements (removed under the Memoranda) and the re-instatement of the minimum wage at the pre-Memorandum level of 750 euros
• Institutional and democratic transformation of public administration.
But the united front of the ruling class and national and international Greek bond holders needs a robust generalised response. And that can be no different from the Syriza conference decision for the renationalisation of all large public enterprises and organisations that have been privatised, and with “public, democratic, workers' control”.
The founding conference of Syriza also called for the nationalisation of all banks under social and workers' control is included, putting the issue of ownership and not merely, a “public control” of the banks.
But now Syriza's leaders are trying sidestep the “issue of issues” by giving the impression that a simple “tidying up” of the Greek economy, a fight against corruption, and smooth renegotiation of terms on the debt by Syriza's panel of experts, will give time and resources to finance the program.
The current agreement with the Troika requires the Greek government to pay for the next several years the colossal amount of 10 billion euros per year in interest payments. Compliance with this condition will lead to successive annual austerity programs and is not compatible with the government of the Left prioritising the needs of the working class and popular strata.
Defiance of the national and international Greek bond holders, along with the nationalisation of the banks under workers' control, should be the “hub” for the program of the Left. Those measures, along with reduction of military expenditure and taxation of church property, would yield the initial resources to support Syriza's social program.
A big issue in the Greek economy is the (non) taxation of business profits. Theoretically today profits are taxed at 26%, with Samaras promising a gradual reduction to 15%. Practically everyone knows that the actual tax paid ends up more like 5%.
However according to Syriza's leaders, there is no intention to increase (or decrease) the taxation of capital. That is outside Syriza's conference commitments. Syriza's leaders also promise to achieve “balanced budgets”.
In his speech Tsipras stated: “We reject the logic of unrealistic primary surpluses, which is the other name of austerity. And we remain firm in pursuing primarily balanced budgets and the need to exclude from the calculation of the deficit the public investment budget”.
A government of the left will need to mobilise and revitalise or recreate forms of working class and popular power in order to enforce its program of socio-economic changes at the expense of the capitalist class.
It is an illusion to think that it is possible to avoid these critical choices and confrontations and instead rely on vaguely-sketched “wider” alliances, without ruptures and overthrows. The only real allies of the Greek left are the Left and of the resistance movements in other countries.
Within Greece, the capitalists, bankers, ship owners and other financial oligarchs and members of the political establishment recognise that a government of the Left is objectively antagonistic to their needs and interests. They will battle for the victory of Samaras. If defeated, they will work to strangle a government of the Left and overthrow it.
The aim of Syriza should not be centred on the utopian search for a compromise with the national and international ruling class but on ruptures and overthrows.
Yet, in a negative development, on 3 January the central committee of Syriza voted to construct Syriza's ballot lists on the following principles and alliances. (The Left Platform withdrew its proposal and abstained in the final vote, and one representative of the Communist Tendency voted against).
1. Syriza will approach KKE and Antarsya. Tsipras asked both parties to “realise that the battle that we have to give exceeds the existing political differences within the Left”.
2. Syriza will aproach the Democratic Left (Dimar), which was previously in Samaras's coalition. Tsipras said: “even if we do not manage to form an agreement before the elections, the need for a broader coalition for social salvation and recovery of the country will remain after the election”.
3. The Greens, and broadly any “social and political forces that agree with the principles of the Syriza's agenda and complement it with their own individual priorities”.
4. “Forces and individuals from the broader social and political space of the Left and Ecology but also from movements developed in the period of the memorandum” and from all political forces and individuals that supported Tsipras's candidacy for the presidency of the European Commission.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the KKE (Communist Party) refuse to cooperate with anyone, because in their view those who do not agree with them are “traitors”. In that sense they have already predetermined the failure of the attempt to build a government of the Left. When the Syriza leaders constantly water down their policies, that in turn provides an excuse for the KKE leaders.
The Greek left must:
• Fight for a government of the Left — and not of “national salvation”
• Work to unite activists of different groups for the formation of a government of the Left, as a starting point of a pro-working-class narrative and journey
• Say no to the Syriza leaders' illusions of a way out through deft negotiations with the Troika
• Oppose calls for a National Responsibility Government or for “a government of all Greeks”.
• Revitalise Syriza's rank and file in every neighbourhood and fight the battle of the candidate lists in line with Syriza's conference programmatic agreements. No collaboration with the nationalists of Anel, no cooperation with the opportunist pro-Memorandum politicians of Dimar.
The collapse of the coalition ND-PASOK government under the pressures of the struggles of the working class and youth and the lengthy capitalist crisis justifies the persistence of the revolutionary left on an anti-capitalist road. The revolutionary left, inside and outside Syriza, played a big role in shifting the mass movement to the Left, and now must act as a force giving hope for thousands of activists that this momentum will not be halted by the compromises of the leadership of Syriza.
The need for a revolutionary left pole, politically autonomous, is confirmed every day. The revolutionary left must confront the attacks and extortion of the capitalists, the EU and IMF, which will intensify if Syriza wins the election and aim for towards the complete subjugation of a government centred on Syriza.
It must continue as the left and working-class opposition under a government of the Left, supporting the vanguard and the most class-conscious sections of the working class, demanding the escalation of struggles and leading every economic and political battle.
The revolutionary left must lead a fight to smash the fascist gangs, to legalise all immigrants and grant citizenship to their children.
As the slogan of the government of the Left comes close to being materialised, the return to softer reformism, or the search for a more “realistic solution”, is not the solution. It is an illusion that if the revolutionary left prunes down its anti-capitalism then it will gain massive influence. All it will achieve is to let down the most advanced sections of the working class and youth.
The government and the ruling class did not want these early elections, which threaten to destabilise the fragile situation of Greek capitalism. However, the government, pressed by the funding gap and the need to immediately close a new agreement with the Troika, took the risk of speeding up the elections for a new President.
Samaras hoped that a third Memorandum, with new harsh anti-working class measures, could be brought for ratification to Parliament after a triumph for the government over the Presidency.
The second Memorandum was due to expire on 31 December. The Samaras government made an agreement with the Troika for a two month extension period while the “fine details” of the next Memorandum — which certainly will not be called “Memorandum” — are agreed. Samaras had hoped to announce that Greece would leave the “bail-out”, but the extension was the best he could do, since the Troika was not prepared to accept the stories about “return to growth” and “return to the markets” with which the government had saturated the Greek public for many months.
The duo of Samaras-Venizelos government has passed through parliament a hard and unpopular budget for 2015 (so much for overcoming the crisis, returning to growth, and being ready for the markets...). This budget includes new tax increases to the amount of 1.5 billion euros, disproportionately hitting disproportionally working-class people; a further reduction in social spending by 1 billion euros; reducing public investment program by 400 million euros, etc. Just one tax was to be reduced — the tax on the profits of business!
All that austerity was to allow the government to make the debt payments. Just for 2015 the interest the government is due to pay reaches 5.7 billion euros. In 2015, overall, Greece is due to pay 22.5 billion euros.
The government hoped for support in electing a new president from the now numerous “independent” careerist MPs, mostly people who have seceded from ND, Pasok, Anel, Dimar (and two from the fascist party Golden Dawn).
Before the final vote on 29 December final voting, scenarios were being unleashed where the 180 would be achieved via the help of the Golden Dawn MPs, who are mostly in jail. The government vehemently denied these rumours, stating that if the Golden Dawn MPs voted in favour of Stavros Dimas, who was nominated by the government for president of the republic, then the government would vote against in order to invalidate the process.
However, the government was happy to accept the two votes of the independent former Golden Dawn MPs (one of whom faces a pending court case).
The government managed to “persuade” some others by various above and below the table methods, but failed to collect the necessary number of 180.
An open political agreement with the prisoners of Golden Dawn leaders would have had a very big political cost, one the government did not dare take on. Scenarios for the formation of a “special purpose” government, which could bring in more votes from the parliamentary groups of Anel and Dimar did not go far, due to the lack of willing bourgeois politicians to head such a government. The idea of nominating a more neutral political personality for President, such as Dimar leader Fotis Kouvelis, fell because of internal political conflicts inside Dimar and objections from ultra-right ex-fascist MPs now in ND (Voridis, Plevris, Georgiadis etc).
Five years on from when the crisis broke shortly after the October 2009 elections, four governments have fallen. The first was the Pasok government of George Papandreou, which lasted two years from its emphatic electoral victory and only one year from when it started seeking an IMF and EU debt “bail-out” in May 2010.
The second was the coalition government led by the banker Lucas Papademos, which lasted for seven months, November 2011 to May 2012. The third was the caretaker government of Panagiotis Pikrammenos between the two parliamentary elections of May and of June 2012. The fourth is the outgoing Samaras-Venizelos coalition.
Now anxiety for the future of Greek capitalism is evident in the national and international ruling class, and reflected in the dramatic drop in the stock market, the new rise of the “spread” in interest rate on Greek debt, and the escalation of hysterical statements against Syriza.
The traditional two party system, under which Pasok and ND got 85% of the vote, has collapsed. Pasok, and other political parties such as Dimar and Laos, have fragmented and lost their links with society with unprecedented speed.
A model for an approach to Syriza by the revolutionary left now is suggested by Trotsky's proposal for the tasks of Belgian Marxists in relation to the reformist programme of Belgian social-democracy in the mid-30s.
“First, to explain to the advanced workers the political meaning of the 'plan', that is, decipher the manoeuvres of the social-democracy at all stages; secondly, to show in practice to possibly wider circles of workers that insofar as the bourgeoisie tries to put obstacles to the realisation of the plan we fight hand in hand with the workers to help them make this experiment.
“We share the difficulties of the struggle but not the illusions. Our criticism of the illusions must, however, not increase the passivity of the workers and give it a pseudo-theoretic justification but on the contrary push the workers forward. Under these conditions, the inevitable disappointment with the 'Labor Plan' will not spell the deepening of passivity but, on the contrary, the going over of the workers to the revolutionary road...
“If we had to present a plan to the Belgian proletariat, this plan would have had an altogether different aspect. Unfortunately, the Belgian proletariat gave this mandate not to us but to the Belgian Labor Party [POB], and the plan reflects two facts: the pressure of the proletariat on the POB and the conservative character of this party...
“When we say to the masses that to realise this imperfect plan it is necessary to struggle to the end, we are far from covering up the deception; on the contrary, we are helping the masses to expose it by their own experience...
“The leaders of the POB do not want a struggle. But they are caught in the wheels of the crisis of capitalism and of reformism. They were forced to proclaim the plan and even to make of it the platform of the Belgian proletariat. It is a fact. What is our task? To help the workers to turn the wheels into which the opportunist leaders have been forced to thrust their hands.”