The Greek Road To Socialism?, Aneurin Delmas. Reproduced from Issue 1 of the journal.
Greece has undergone many developments since the financial crash of 2008 which are of immense importance to the serious revolutionary. Here in Europe, for the first time since the fall of Stalinism, a serious discussion about replacing capitalism has gained the attention of the masses. Athens is the birthplace of European democracy, and this ancient city may yet write a socialist page in history.
In ebbs and flows, the Greek working class has felt its way forward and ever onward, heroically fighting against the horror and indignity forced upon them by the ruling class since the crisis. However, this fight of the Greek workers looks, in the short term at least, to be a losing battle. Heroism alone is not enough. The working class must be organised and conscious of its task. Its leaders and members must be democratically accountable to each other and gripped by the ideas of Marx to win this fight. Unfortunately the leadership of the Greek masses has been sorely lacking in anything approaching a genuinely Marxist approach to the situation.
Greece is important not just for its own sake but for the lessons it has taught and re-taught the workers’ movement. Class conscious workers world-wide would do well to study these events, particularly in countries such as Spain, which has seen a Syriza sister-party take a large share of the vote. If we are to study these events effectively with an eye to consciously using the lessons in future battle, it’s vital to outline much of the historical political and economic context.
Since Greece emerged from the Military Junta in the late 1970s, its politics has been dominated by two major parties, the social democratic Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and its conservative rival the New Democracy party.
New Democracy was formed as a party of ‘Radical Liberalism’ wedded to the “prevalence of free market economy [and] intervention of the state in the favour of social justice.” It was conceived as a more moderate conservative party than the National Radical Union (ERE) which ruled Greece prior to the Junta.
PASOK was founded as a social democratic party on the basis of “National Independence, Popular Sovereignty, Social Emancipation, Democratic Process.” It was formed by some of the leading activists against the Junta in 1975. During the 1990s it went through a ‘modernization period’ (a shift to the right) under Costas Simitis in order to enter the European Union. This modernization period included the privatisation of a great many state owned banks and services in order to reduce state deficits and make Greek entry in to the Eurozone agreeable to the European Commission, European Central bank etc., a trend in Greek politics we will return to again and again.
In the wake of the crisis of international capitalism in 2008, New Democracy assumed power in Athens with a slim majority. Greece found itself in an untenable situation. Moves to slash pensions in particular led to widespread anger which erupted into national rage when public sector strikes against austerity and wider public demonstrations against the police killing of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos coincided during the weeks of December 2008. The scale of these demonstrations of the ‘€700’ generation (so called because this was the most Greek youth could expect)(Dunn K. 2010) can be seen in the statistics released by the police, who claim that during that week they fired over 4500 canisters of tear gas, almost exhausting their own supplies. (Margaronis M. 2008)
These protests and the subsequent social unrest during the first half of 2009 undoubtedly led the New Democracy leadership to call the election of October 4th, which was won by PASOK with a 10% lead. On the 8th of December, the debt rating agency Fitch downgraded Greek Debt to BBB+, a move further exacerbated when other debt agencies moved towards classifying Greek debt as junk soon afterwards. PASOK’s response was to declare a comprehensive restructuring package, including a tax on alcohol and cigarettes, a cap on public sector wages and a rise in VAT. However, even this was unable to attract investment into the Greek economy. Only the downgrading of the debts of Ireland and Portugal enabled Chancellor Merkel to agree to a bailout package. €92 billion was agreed in loans to Greece over a three year period.
Key requirements of the deal were the raising of the retirement age of women to 65, penalizing early retirement, ensuring state benefits did not exceed 65% of salary and basing pensions on average career earnings instead of the average final year’s service. Despite this, the Greek Government deficit was 14% of GDP, leading to the downgrading of its credit rating to the lowest possible, CCC (Keel J. 2010). The second reform package was then passed as a prerequisite for further deals. This reform package included both severe spending cuts on the public sector and tax rises.
In 2011, PASOK agreed another bailout package of €109 billion with Eurozone leaders after the previous one proved insufficient to keep it afloat. Further assaults on workers’ rights went ahead and unemployment hit 45% for those under 25 (Thompson D. 2012). In response there was further social unrest, including a general strike.
Eurozone leaders agreed to write off 50% of Greece’s debt with the promise of more austerity measures designed to make it amenable to private investment. However, this was endangered when PASOK’s leader Papandreou suggested a referendum on the bailout package, which was subsequently cancelled at the last minute. He withdrew his plan and resigned, making way for the PASOK administration of Papademos, a former Central banker. Even the notion of a referendum was feared by the ruling class and their representatives. A plebiscite upon the Eurozone bailout package was sure to return an “Oxi” (no) vote even at this point. In backing out and failing to follow through with a successful plan to take Greece in an independent direction, PASOK signed its own death warrant. To have expected a reformist social democratic party to do any different, however, would have been false optimism. The working class were unwilling to accept the logic of capitalism. Despite this, no party had yet captured their imagination to overcome the crisis.
The new PASOK leaders’ first act in January, amid violent protests on the streets of Athens, was to agree a further bailout deal with the Eurozone. Early Parliamentary elections called in 2012 saw a decline in the vote of both PASOK and New Democracy. Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, had its vote share increase noticeably, as did other fringe parties.
However, a further election had to be called again in June 2012 which led to the formation of a coalition (with PASOK pushed in to 3rd place) between New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left, a right-wing split from Syriza. Syriza correctly refused to join this national unity government and stood on an anti austerity platform while the new government began pursuing its agenda of making Greek capitalism profitable again.
By mid 2013 this had led to youth unemployment of 60% and unemployment in general at 26% of the country’s workforce. (Reuters 2013)
These trends continued until May 2014 when Syriza won the European election with 25% of the vote. Following this, the Greek Legislative Parliament’s failure to elect a new president sparked a new political crisis and early Greek elections, which were won by Syriza on more than 36% of the vote. New Democracy took 25% and PASOK failed to even reach third place.
In January 2015, the Syriza government began its term of office in coalition with a small right-wing “anti-memoranda” party, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), to whom it handed over certain ministerial posts. It agreed to abide by balancing budgets set by the European Union, but ruled out austerity as a tool to do so. Despite the show of putting up a fight, including a referendum in which over 60% of voters rejected further austerity measures and bailouts, Syriza’s leadership caved in to the demands of its creditors and agreed to implement more stringent cuts to public services and privatizations of state assets, including €50bn to be transferred to a company managed by the German Finance minister. (Press Project 2015). This led to further social unrest, including (and this is important to note for later) the reemergence on the streets of the tear-gas happy and hated riot police during the night of the vote, which Syriza hadn’t previously deployed against demonstrators.
The legislative elections of September saw Syriza win 35% of the popular vote. The New Democracy vote was relatively unchanged and Golden Dawn stayed in its position of third party, having increased its vote share by 1 % to 7%. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Voter turnout dropped by nearly 10% in the wake of Syriza’s capitulation.
This leaves us where we are today, with another social democratic party wielding the hatchet on behalf of capitalism against the working class of Greece; All that effort and struggle for a different manager?
Could Syriza have resisted and taken the struggle forward? This is a key question for the wider European Left, as Syriza carried the hopes of many of those brought in to the struggle since 2008. Similar policies from Corbyn’s Labour to Podemos are currently being hailed as the answer to the woes of working people. A Marxist analysis of the situation, however, explains that a repeat of these policies is a dead end.
Greece is suffering from a crisis of profitability with rates of return not nearly high enough for capitalists, causing a collapse in investment and a breakdown of the economy. This is demonstrated by the shipping industry. In 2013, two large shipping magnates told Town and Country magazine: “No one is making big investments in Greece, And that is mainly the fault of the politicians and the unions, because they have made Greece an extremely difficult place to do business… If you want to know why they don’t make major investments in Greece, look at the labor laws”. This is key here, so let’s quote another shipping magnate from the same article: “Our core activity [shipping] is a global and highly competitive business…”(Gage N. 2013).
Greek and international capitalists are simply not finding sufficient return on their investments in Greece. Competing against technologically more advanced countries means the only option left for the ruling class is to push down Greek workers wages, as competitive currency devaluation is out of the question whilst remaining in the Euro monetary union. Therefore the austerity implemented against Greek workers is not ideologically driven as the conventional left account claims, but economically driven by the very necessity of restoring profitability through destroying productive forces and public services to open up new, cheaper markets to invest in.
On top of this, Greece’s creditors cannot afford to allow Greece to find a way out of its debt which does not involve paying most of it back unless there is room for them to recoup their losses via investment and ownership of Greek assets. The detrimental effect of a default, for example on German capitalism, would be massive given the level of investment within Greece’s debt. Since the bailout, large sectors of the Greek economy have been privatized and sold to foreign companies. These companies, and by extension the nation states they are based, cannot afford to write off Greek debt completely in the manner Syriza have suggested, i.e. without making Greece profitable for their investment so they can recoup this loss.
The origin of Syriza is interesting. It is not, as has been claimed, an organic expression of workers self-organisation with an undefined but essentially reformist programme. Instead it is a coalition of left-wing parties that had gradually drifted away from revolutionary politics and finally liquidated themselves into a wider movement on a social democratic platform in order to become amenable to the most right-wing elements of the alliance. This led to a tendency of the far-left parties to hide openly revolutionary politics within the alliance. The International Marxist Tendency’s Communist Platform comes to mind and a parallel can be drawn with their deep entryist tactics within Labour in Britain.
On top of this, the organisations which made up Syriza were fringe radical elements not embedded in the organisations of the working class. Instead they were made up of a combination of the former eurocommunist organisation of the KKE (Synaspismos), a collection of pro-ecology and anti-globalisation activists and the various disheartened ex-Trotskyist sects looking for opportunistic electoral gains and membership increases by banding together on a reformist election platform. Therefore, from the outset this political formation was not only in danger of accepting the programme of the most right-wing elements of the coalition, but was sure to be unstable.
In essence, Syriza underwent a much faster version of the same process of degeneration that every social democratic party in Europe suffered, and for entirely the same reasons. This process was exacerbated by the lack of links to the organised working class via trade union affiliation, unlike, for example, the British Labour Party, which may have helped slow this trajectory. However, it would not have successfully halted this process as it is a natural conclusion of social democratic politics at particular junctures of history. In fact, Syriza began moving rightward from the very moment of its election, accepting the need to pay back the debt and arguing only over the measures by which it would do so. Social democracy can only win concessions within capitalism when booming profits allows a few crumbs to fall from capital’s table. We are long past that era in Greece.
A more thorough examination of the exact policies of Syriza is beyond the scope of this article. However, in general terms Syriza’s aim of taxing the rich and holding a handful of industries in public hands to mitigate the worst effects of the crisis whilst maintaining the Euro and the capitalist market was and remains impossible. This is because, the austerity measures being enforced on Greece are not just ideological measures from ‘nasty neo-liberals’ who sit in meetings discussing how best to cause as much misery as possible to millions. In the long run, of course, austerity measures may succeed in making Greek capitalism profitable again, however it will be based on the devastation of the productive forces and untold misery for the Greek workers and poor- and it will only be a temporary reprieve because of the very cyclical nature of the system. From the capitalists’ point of view, neoliberalism and austerity are very sound and sensible policies to pursue at this juncture in history of a crisis of capitalism!
Other Formations in Greece
As in most countries there are a myriad of small communist, left-wing groups and fringe right-wing groups. There are however only three important groups with enough social force to consider. Namely the anarchists, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the far-right Golden Dawn.
Greece is one of the places in Europe where organised anarchist politics has some strength. It has the capacity to bring out a few thousand people on to the streets in protest (and let’s not scoff about this when we remember that a large demo of exclusively the far-left in Britain consists of a few hundred).It has also set up semi-autonomous districts, such as Exarcheia in Athens, which, while not entirely no-go areas for the police, are certainly capable of organised community self defense during protests. However, despite the level of militancy expressed by them (as showed by their willingness to combat aggressive riot police effectively during the protests in Syntagma square after the Syriza capitulation, for example) the anarchists are disorganised. To be fair, this is in part their point. A more in-depth study of the various anarchic tendencies would take us a whole article. However, here we must briefly state that, whilst within their ranks are some of the most advanced and combative youth of Greece, their organisations lack the understanding of the necessity of linking them to the workers’ movement. We must not dismiss their potential. The revolutionary movement must aim to bring these elements within it. Unfortunately, the anarchists are currently engaged in largely substitutionist methods of individual terror. They also often lack the understanding of the necessity of establishing a workers’ state after the revolution in order to safeguard it. This is a fundamental flaw in anarchist philosophy itself. As such, the current anarchist movement (except perhaps the syndicalists) is currently unable to broaden its support as it lacks a coherent programme around the issue of the state. Yet again, however, one must refrain from sectarian dismissal of those layers fighting the system. Many of the youth are involved in anarchism because of the lack of a healthy democratic revolutionary organisation and the sectarian role of the Greek Communist Party (KKE). A healthy democratic revolutionary organisation with space for disagreements and debate would quickly pique many of this layer’s interest, allowing a Marxist current to bring in the best elements of the anarchist activists.
The KKE are one of the forces which will likely pick up some of the support that will drift away in the wake of Syriza’s failure. This is because their solution is more practical than others. Unlike Syriza, they at least understand that the only permanent way out of Greeces’ troubles is the unilateral cancellation of the debt. The KKE is ostensibly committed to the radical transformation of society through its policy of ‘Peoples Power’, although this is never exactly defined. The KKE is also mired, however, in Stalinist sectarianism. Its outright refusal at times to work with other organizations is shocking. It has also failed to take true advantage of the situation. For example, with regards to the austerity referendum, the majority of the rank and file defied the KKE leadership to vote Oxi when the official line was to abstain. It is this sectarian attitude which has alienated it from the masses of social democratic workers and has made the KKE unable to capitalise fully on the situation.
There is also an inability, like so much of the left, to understand the United Front as a tactic. Here, for example, it would have served the KKE well to have called for an Oxi vote whilst also warning the masses to organise for the inevitable betrayal by the Syriza leadership which they, along with Marxist World (Marxist World 2015), predicted. The KKE’s job here would have been to campaign alongside those workers with illusions in Syriza in calling for an Oxi vote, but whilst doing so raise the truth that Syriza had no intention of using the referendum to mobilize a movement to fight austerity, but only to sure up their position when arguing for greater concessions from international capital. This approach would also be done on a tactical basis, in order to ensure that the Oxi vote was as high as possible to expose the bankruptcy of Syriza and the reformists as completely as possible when they then capitulated. Had the Oxi vote only gained a slim majority, Syriza would have been able to attempt to justify its capitulation on the basis of lack of mandate.
Much like the strongest force of the communist left, the neo-nazi Golden Dawn understand the only route forward for Greece that does not involve becoming a colony of various international finance institutions is the unilateral cancellation of the debt. It is another force most likely to pick up support from the disillusionment in Syriza. It is strong in particular amongst the police force, of whom between 30- 50% have previously voted for the party. The advantage that this brings to Golden Dawn is immense, not to mention that Syriza’s failure will be regarded as a failure of the left in general in the absence of a genuine revolutionary alternative. Golden Dawn will of course ultimately be unable to overcome the contradictions of capitalism. Fascism does not abolish capitalism, it merely turns civil society into an horrific parody. However, we should not overstate the importance of Golden Dawn. Despite polling around 7-8% of the national vote, the Greek ruling class currently view them with mistrust, as evidenced by the crackdown which saw several of the party’s MPs, including its leader, arrested a few years ago. In reality, without the support of big business it seems unlikely that Golden Dawn will form the back bone of reaction. This will come from the state itself should the situation demand it. However, the left must do well not to underestimate their threat either, which they have already demonstrated through numerous attacks on demonstrations and activists (RT 2012). Hence the fascists can prove a useful auxiliary to the forces of reaction. Whilst Golden Dawn’s activities may have been temporarily curbed by the crackdown, we must not fool ourselves; Greek capitalism and its representatives will give them a free hand, as it did before, for Golden Dawn to attack the left if they deem it helpful to their cause.
Where To From Here?
I have tried to show there is currently no existing force in Greek politics capable of solving the crisis of capitalism. A new organisation must be built. How, and on what basis? As we have seen, traditional social democracy and modern “radical” reformism is not enough. There are two roads open now to Greece, either victory for capitalism or victory for socialism. No middle ground is available. How can socialists go about building an organisation to help in these circumstances?
The first demand of any serious revolutionary organisation must be to unilaterally cancel the debt currently sitting at around €364,000,000,000. An agreement to pay back the debt incurred by the capitalists of Greece is not the responsibility of the working class. Without this, the “sovereignty” of any state in this situation is worthless, tied as it would be to the whims of its creditors. Linked to this demand must also be a call to leave behind both the Eurozone, and the European Union.
Fundamental to both of these things must be the removal of Greek industry, banking and agriculture from private control and its transference to ownership by the new workers state, under democratic control and management of the organised proletarian masses. Prior to the crisis of 2008, nearly 17% of world shipping was owned by Greek capitalism, and 19% of the European Union’s fishing haul was done by Greek vessels. It was the single biggest producer of cotton in the EU and the second for rice amongst other products.
In terms of industry, Greece employed 14,000 workers in the mining industry and a great many
workers in construction. It also had a pharmaceutical industry worth €621,788,000. This shows that Greece has the skills, resources and materials for a functioning planned economy. Seizing the large industries would be vital in order to provide the supply of basic necessities to Greek people in a capitalist world, which would undoubtedly be hostile. Linked to developing these industries, a state monopoly of imports and exports would also have to be enforced.
However, Greece could not build socialism alone. For a new socialist Greece to be built, the flame of revolution would have to spread across Europe, particularly to Greece’s primary creditor Germany. An appeal for solidarity from workers across Europe to emulate and expand the revolution would be vital. In order to safeguard workers’ state power from reaction, the police and armed services would have to be disbanded, disarmed and replaced with armed organisations of the working class. All talk of democratising or reforming these services must cease. The bourgeois state is an instrument of the bosses. It is foolish to think that a parliamentary government with a left-wing programme capable of moving Greece forward would, for example, have the loyalty of the generals or the top layer of civil servants. These elements have previously shown how willing they are to intervene in Greek politics. The ruling class has always been willing to cast aside democracy when its rule is threatened. The police force, with its huge Golden Dawn following, has also shown how large a section of its members already side with right-wing reaction. An appeal would have to be made to the rank and file of the army on behalf of the workers’ movement and those elements of the police not under the sway of Golden Dawn. Such an appeal would not be going cap in hand to the rank and file of the army and police, begging them not to intervene against the movement, but instead would confront them at full strength, through organized workers militias in defence of the revolution, with demands to disobey their officers and defect to the side of the workers’ revolution. This appeal would also be based on the simple fact that the vast majority of the army’s lower ranks are young working class men who have been conscripted, both directly through national service and indirectly through economic conscription. The rank and file have already shown their willingness to disobey orders, for example during the migrant crisis (Lib.com 2015). Such an appeal and agitation amongst the rank and file would prove decisive in paralyzing reaction.
Of course, the breaking of capitalist state power cannot take place without the formation of another organ of power. The development of councils of workers over the course of the struggle which can be used as an organ of authority is paramount. Workers themselves will create these popular institutions. The formation of workers defense groups to protect against far-right attacks and defend picket lines and demonstrations may point us in the right direction. The key here would be to build upon the current willingness of KKE activists in particular to provide physical defence on demonstrations and extend it to have democratic accountability to the wider workers’ movement. Broadening the defence of demonstrations must also include electing democratically accountable committees. There is, of course, no blue print for revolution, and other organizational forms may arise instead, so these are merely suggestions which the masses may adopt.
Building a Revolutionary Organisation
A new Marxist formation in Greece must be based upon the most militant and combative elements of the working class and oppressed. It would aim to appeal to the rank and file membership of the KKE and the anarchists (the two most combative elements of the left), and to a lesser extent Syriza. Winning this activist base from the reformist and Stalinist leaderships is vital. The KKE activists already constitute a large portion of organised young workers active in the trade union movement. It is these young workers and organizers who could form the basis of a new organisation. To win them over, an organisation with a Marxist programme and analysis must be the starting point. However, this organisation will need not only the rank and file and leadership schooled in the theory and method of Marxism. It will also require the democratic space necessary to facilitate the fullest debate and the accountability of its leadership in order to draw up a programme that will appeal to the most combative layers of workers, and to ensure its own leadership is able to be corrected or jettisoned should they succumb to reformist and opportunistic pressures.
To work for a United Front of the left is the only way such layers can be won to the programme of an organised revolutionary group. However, such a United Front would allow groups to put forward their independent programme in order to debate and criticise the various trends in the movement. A United Front is not a united homogeneous organisation. A United Front is a coalition of revolutionaries and social democratic workers united on the immediate tactical goals, but one that allows Marxists to point out the deficiencies of the social democratic leaders and their programme. Unlike Syriza, a genuine application of the United Front would not involve the reduction of politics to the lowest common denominator and the hiding of political ideas around an agreed minimal programme acceptable to the leaders of social democracy! The prerequisite therefore for a successful application of the United Front tactic is a revolutionary cadre organization schooled in Marxism, which is lacking in Greece at this time.
Although the KKE displays banners of Marx on its mastheads, it sees Marx “darkly” through the prism of Stalinism. Marx’s ideas have been twisted by the Stalinists but they have also been distorted too by the “erratic Marxist” Varoufakis. Those who are genuinely trying to understand Marx’s ideas are willing to work with the rank and file of all and any organisations of the left. However, this must be counter-balanced by fraternal and honest criticisms of the current leaders and theories within the workers’ movement. The complete independence of the revolutionary party and its members to think and criticise is essential.
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Gage N. ‘Aegean Blues.’ 2013. http://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/politics/a1 077/financial-crisis-in-greece/
Keel J. ‘S&P Downgrades Greece to Junk Status.’ 2010 http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1 0001424052748704471 20457521 0063379043320
Lib.com. Greek conscripts: ‘we won’t take part in fighting migrants’ 31.10.2015 https://libcom.org/news/greek-conscripts-we-wont-take-part-fighting-migrants-31102015
Margaronis M. ‘How police shooting of a teenage boy rallied the ‘€700 generation’.’ 2008. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/dec/13/athens-greece-riots
Marxist World. 201 5. Greek Referendum: Vote No, but Mass Workers’Action is Needed to Prevent Social Collapse, http://marxistworld.net/2015/07/greek-referendum-vote-no-but-mass-workers-action-is-needed-to-prevent-social-collapse/
Reuters. ‘Greek Youth Unemployment Over 60% In February.’ 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-unemployment-idUSBRE9480EZ20130509
Russia Today. ‘Half of Greek cops go ultra-nationalist at elections.’ 2012. https://www.rt.com/news/greek-police-vote-nazis-350/
The Press Project 201 5. ‘The fund they want Greek assets transferred to is managed by Q Schäuble.’ http://www.thepressproject.gr/details_en.php?aid=79155
Thompson D. ‘Europes Most Tragic Graph: Greek Youth Unemployment Hits 55%.’ 2012. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/1 0/europes-most-tragic-graph-greek-youth-unemployment-hits-55/26311 8/
Note: Facts and Figures on Greek Economy Obtained via Euro Stat.