Antarsya and the united front

Submitted by Matthew on 12 June, 2013 - 12:07

The second Conference of Antarsya, the main far-left coalition in Greece outside of Syriza and the Stalinist KKE, took place on 1-2 June.

It was marked by increased participation, and involved over 1,000 elected representatives of local and sectoral committees across the country. More than 3,000 militants were involved during the preconference talks.

The conference opened with a motion of solidarity with the Turkish protesters. Greetings were received from a range of other far-left, trade-union, and working-class community organisations. Arif Raman, a Bangladeshi migrant workers’ rights activist, said: “We salute the conference of Antarsya on behalf of labourers in Manolada. We demand that the police stop terrorising workers who assert their rights … We want decent human life, hot water, nutrition … We ask the unions to open their doors and recruit immigrants. We say a loud no to racism, no to police raids and attacks, no to concentration camps, no to Golden Dawn attacks. We fight to end torture in police stations. We say a big yes to Greek citizenship for all immigrants’ children.” Fighting racist and fascist attacks was a key theme throughout the conference.

Metro workers’ leader Antonis Stamatopoulos said: “We have experienced everything: layoffs, wage cuts, and civil mobilisation orders. Other leftists did not defend us. For me, only Antarsya stood tall. We thank them and promise them that we will continue our struggle.”

Soula Balale, a worker from the Vougiouklakeio clinic, which is in the second week of a strike, stated: “We are on an ongoing two-week strike; because we are unpaid for nine months and have suffered 40% pay cuts. We want to thank Antarsya for their support throughout this period. We ask you continue to help us, in whatever way you can, with your resolutions and your practical solidarity and support. We want to continue, despite the terror exercised by the employers. We need Antarsya at our side.”

The emphasis of Antarsya’s conference was to reaffirm a political route for the revolutionary left distinct from the social-democratisation of Syriza and the isolationist-sectarianism of the KKE.

Antarsya’s perspective is that Greece, Europe, and the world are entering a time of great class conflicts, and the first issue that the left should answer is essentially “reform or revolution?” Antarsya sees the immediate task as not only enforcement of emergency measures of relief for the working class and other oppressed and exploited groups, but preparing the working class for the final battle and a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system.

Antarsya’s programme includes:
• The unilateral termination of the memoranda with the overthrow of the memorandum government and the troika.
• Debt cancellation with immediate stop of payments to the creditors.
• The nationalisation of banks and large enterprises, including those that are shutting down and are firing workers, without compensation and under workers’/social power and control.
• Exit from the euro and the EU (which Antarsya promotes as an anticapitalist demand)
• An end to state violence and repression.
• Struggle against the fascist threat and racism; legalise all immigrants and grant Greek citizenship to their children, and ensure migrants’ rights as an integral part of the working class.
• Quit NATO, shut down NATO bases, end Greek participation in imperialist campaigns
• Expropriate businesses and factories and run them under workers’ control.
Antarsya says that only independent working-class organisations, and not a “left government”, can be the agent of this programme.

Against the passive anticipation of elections, or of “people power”, Antarsya highlights the need for escalation of the strikes and struggles in the here and now, and the satisfaction of the workers’ immediate demands (an end to layoffs and closures, an end to wage cuts, full back pay for unpaid workers, etc.), as steps towards building working-class power.

The conference also called for a workers’ united front against fascism, and working-class anti-fascist and anti-racist committees in every neighbourhood.

During the pre-conference and conference discussions, the general consensus was that Antarsya’s perspective for an independent course for the anti-capitalist left has been vindicated by the rightwards lurch of Syriza and the continuing sectarianism of KKE. According to Antarsya, Syriza is a lost cause. It has abandoned its radical positions to cancel the memorandum and the debt and is shifting towards a social democratic way of managing the crisis.

Equally, Antarsya distanced itself from KKE’s sectarian refusal to adopt a program of transitional demands in order to link today’s struggles with its strategic vision, as well as from KKE’s Stalinist background. In his intervention, Giorgos Roussis (a Marxist academic and the lead candidate of Antarsya in the 2012 elections) emphasised the necessity of forming a social and political front with anti-capitalist, anti-EU forces around Antarsya’s programme. He called on forces that “prioritise decisively the struggle against the EU and the euro”, such as Plan B and forces of the revolutionary left such as OKDE, EEK, and KOA, as well as revolutionary elements in or around KKE and Syriza, to respond to Antarsya’s proposal of a united front to fight for the transitional anti-capitalist programme.

Antarsya’s theses passed at pre-conference meetings either unanimously or at percentages of around 95%.
Antarsya is a coalition of organisations and individuals of the anti-capitalist left. The first conference of Antarsya shifted it from an electoral front of a dozen left wing organisations to an independent entity with its own democratic structures. The principle of “one member one vote” was agreed upon at this first conference and reaffirmed at this year’s.

SEK (the Greek sister organisation of the British SWP) supported the adoption of proportional representation as opposed to quotas per geographical regions. The proposal for the adoption of proportional representation fell, with around 40% support.

If I personally were to draw up a revolutionary manifesto, it would be much closer to Antarsya’s political platform than Syriza’s. However, to paraphrase Trotsky, the Greek working class has given its mandate to Syriza, and not to Antarsya.

Syriza is an alliance dominated by left-reformists. Syriza’s leader do not share our understanding of the transitional program. The leadership of Syriza shifts to the left or to right depending on its audience and the political landscape. It is essential for the revolutionary left to work within Syriza, which has so far opposed austerity policies.

By definition, a transitional demand is often not explicitly (or even generally) anti-capitalist, and starts from the real level of consciousness of the working class. It has to be considered feasible by a broad segment of the population. It is the struggle for its implementation, in a state of capitalism in open crisis, which creates anti-capitalist potential, and makes it possible to raise the level of consciousness and militancy.

The revolutionary left should support a united front policy — the unity of far-left, unity amongst the trade union rank and file, and unity between neighbourhood committees — particularly by encouraging and supporting all experiences of self-organisation. We should also support a convergence of Syriza, Antarsya, and the KKE to form a left government against austerity.

Syriza’s programme is not socialist. People voting for Syriza do not do so because they think that it is a socialist party (even if the majority of them see themselves as left-wing, broadly speaking) but because it can provide solutions in the here-and-now to the problems they face.

The rallying of a significant section of the Greek working class to a coalition which has the programme of a left unity government (a muffled version of the Communist International and Trotskyist idea of a workers’ government) is an important opportunity for the Greek revolutionary left.

Syriza is what it is. It has a serious reformist programme which, if implemented, would constitute serious gains for the Greek and European working class. The “Euro-Keynesian” programme for Greece is limited, and naive about the realities of class struggle, but it is not utopian in the sense of being unworkable even in principle. The resources of the eurozone are large enough that the eurozone governments could concede important relief to Greece if pushed to by strong enough mobilisations. The cost to the eurozone governments of a Greek exit, let alone of a eurozone break-up, would be much greater than the costs of a real “bail-out” for Greece.

A better model than Antarsya’s for the approach to Syriza would be Trotsky’s proposal for the tasks of Belgian Marxists in relation to the reformist “Labour Plan” of Belgian Labour Party (Parti Ouvrier Belge/Belgische Werkliedenpartij) in the mid-1930s.

“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 ‘Labour 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 Labour Party, and the plan reflects two facts: the pressure of the proletariat on the POB and the conservative character of this party...

“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”.

Trotsky explained for Belgium why it would be idle fantasy to demand instead that the POB have a socialist programme.

“The revolutionary task consists in demanding that the POB take power in order to put its own plan into effect. Vereecken [a sectarian critic of Trotsky] replies to this: ‘No, the plan is no good! I, Vereecken, I will propose a better plan.’

“Is this serious? No, it is ridiculous. Vereecken sets himself outside of reality. He constructs in his imagination a united front that does not exist in Belgium.”

A similar approach in Greece would be to demand of Syriza that it carry through its programme, and at the same time explain to workers that the programme is insufficient and workers need to take up other struggles too.

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