The double Greek elections of May 18th and 25th –municipal and regional on 18th and the European Parliament elections together with the second round of municipal and regional ones where necessary on 25th– will undoubtedly influence decisively the course of the country. They will reflect the evident as well as underground trends in Greek social and political life developed in the period after the elections of May and June 2012.
Given the specificity of the situation in Greece, which became during the last few years the workshop and test field for the most brutal neoliberal policies, forged by the Brussels European Union directory and applied by the conservative Greek government of New Democracy and PASOK, Greek elections are perhaps more critical than the respective ones in other European countries. The elections will be a crucial test for the two major political parties, the ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) party and the left opposition, SYRIZA, but they will also be critical for all other Greek political forces. The main issue, which is of great importance not only for the Greek but for the European Left as well, is whether SYRIZA, the stronger left formation presently in Europe, will be able to achieve a clear electoral victory, or if the ruling ND party will achieve a satisfactory result, such as a defeat –let alone a victory– on points. There are, of course, a series of other questions, less critical but not negligible, to be answered in these two evenings, regarding the results of the other parties.
However, with just about a week separating us from the first Sunday, most commentators agree on only one thing: that everything is completely vague and the election night will certainly present us with some big surprises. This impression is further strengthened by recent developments, shortly before and during the election period, which did not give a clear lead or superiority to any party: on the one hand, the Baltakos case undoubtedly cost the government a lot; on the other, some retractions by SYRIZA on the selection of candidates and also on the issue of the Turkish speaking minority in Thrace did not make a good impression. The situation reveals a similarly confusing picture in relation to the other political forces. While some trends do emerge, it is not at all certain how they will crystallize. The prevailing big uncertainty is reflected in most polls so far, which often produce greatly conflicting results for all parties.
In the following, we will consider first the general political scene and its tendencies in recent years. Then we will examine the developments and contrasts in the main formations of the Left, SYRIZA, KKE and ANTARSYA, and the problems of strategy and tactics that have been raised mainly in connection with the country’s relations with the EU, which are also a key dimension of the ongoing political controversy.
1. The General Political Picture
What impresses one, even at first glance, is the fragmentation and liquidity of the Greek political scene today. This is a feature of the new political system that emerged in the May 2012 elections, replacing the ND and PASOK two-party system which had been dominant since 1977. However, given the partial polarization in the elections of June 2012, one would expect a relative domination of the two major parties, albeit not to the extent of the ND and PASOK before the onset of the crisis. Quite the opposite is true, with a number of 46 parties taking part in these European elections, a great record compared with the 27 of the previous ones.
Certainly, most of these “parties” do not claim a serious political role. They include 4 or 5 far Left groups, which usually elicit a few votes from the elderly and illiterate voters of the KKE, who confuse their ballot with that of the Communist Party. One will find even some fans of John Kapodistrias (the first governor of Greece after the 1821 revolution), two parties with the word “Hope” in their title, a party called “Drachma” (the old national currency before the country’s accession to the euro), the “Rural Livestock Party of Greece”, the “Party of Greek Hunters” (which however usually receives a decent 1%) and so on.
There’s even a party whose title may contain more words than the number of votes it will get in the elections. It is called “Independent Left Renewal, Right Renewal, PASOK Renewal, ND Renewal, No to War, Party of the I Donate Land Business, I Annul Debts, I Save Lives, I’m Saving the Riches of the Greeks, Greek All Workers Labor Movement”. Its completely unknown leader, Miltiadis Tsalazidis, may not be a good politician, but seems to be at least a good humorist…
Eccentricities aside, we nonetheless can count some 15 formations, which will try to win voters. Chief among those who will claim to win a MEP seat are:
1. ND, the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
2. SYRIZA, the Left main opposition party from 2012, under Alexis Tsipras.
3. Elia – Democratic Alignment, an evolution of PASOK, under Evangelos Venizelos, key partner of the Samaras government.
4. DIMAR [Democratic Left], under Fotis Kouvelis, who also participated in the coalition government with New Democracy and PASOK, but withdrew in June 2013. It takes part in these elections as “Democratic Left – Democratic Cooperation”.
5. KKE, the ultra-Stalinist Communist Party of Greece, under Dimitris Koutsoubas, who replaced the former Secretary Aleka Papariga in 2013.
6. ANEL [Independent Greeks], a right nationalist anti-memorandum party, under Panos Kammenos.
7. Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party, with most members of its parliamentary group being now in custody following the lifting of immunity for their involvement in criminal acts by the Greek parliament. As there is a chance of not being allowed to take part with this title, the neo-Nazis have also secured the alternative “National Dawn”.
8. The River, a new systemic party, under the journalist Stavros Theodorakis, which is trying to establish itself as a new reserve of the system, replacing the worn formations of the Center-Left.
9. Greens, Solidarity, Ecology, Creation. The ballot of the Ecologist Greens, Greek equivalent of the European Greens (in 2009 they had secured a seat).
In addition, some other formations will seek to make a surprise, achieving in the first place a good result:
10. ANTARSYA, a coalition of organizations of the extra-parliamentary anticapitalist Left.
11. Plan B, also a formation of the extra-parliamentary Left, under the former SYRIZA President Alekos Alavanos.
12. Bridges, a transformation of Action, a neoliberal formation that took about 1% in 2009 and 2% in the 2012 parliamentary elections.
13. LAOS, the far-right party of George Karatzaferis, who failed to enter the Greek parliament in 2012, but had two MEPs elected in 2009.
14. Union for the Country and People, a formation with several known figures of the “Popular Right” (Polidoras, Zois, Psomiadis, etc.) who withdrew from ND and ANEL.
15. The Unified Allpeople’s Front, a nationalist supposedly “Left” formation led by Dimitris Kazakis (it can gather some male votes, mainly because of the beauty of its candidate, actress Katerina Moutsatsou…).
16. The Socialist Party of Stephanos Tzoumakas, an old PASOK cadre.
A similar flood of candidates appears in the municipal and regional elections. In the Municipality of Athens we find 14 candidates (vs. 8 in 2010) and in the Municipality of Thessaloniki 15 (vs. 9 in 2010).
Polls, as already mentioned, do not give a clear prediction or, indeed, even some serious and credible evidence of trends in the voting preferences of the electorate. Moreover, some strong objections and criticisms are made concerning the methodology behind these polls, while it is rumored that some companies correct profitably the results to favor the government. It is also said that secret polls conducted on behalf of the big parties give completely different results than those publicly announced and that, in any case, the reported results concern only 50% of respondents, since the rest refuse to answer. But even if you choose to ignore all this, it is certain that there are almost as many different predictions about the outcome as the number of polling companies, with few points of agreement and great divergences on the rest.
Regarding the first place in the European elections, predictions appear divided. A poll by Pulse, published on May 2nd, gave a clear lead of 3.5% for SYRIZA (21.5% versus 18.5% of ND). Another one by Metron Analysis on May 5th showed, however, a marginal edge of half a unit for ND (20.6 % vs. 20% of SYRIZA). Such was the finding of the survey of E-voice on May 2nd (21% versus 20.2 % for ND). Yet a new poll by Pulse on 5/5 gave SYRIZA a lead again, this time smaller, of the order of 1.5% (22% versus 20.5% of ND)1. The majority of respondents forecasts a SYRIZA victory, but also expresses a preference for prime minister in the person of the head of ND and current Prime Minister Samaras.
The picture shows several ups and downs for other parties as well. The Golden Dawn, seems to recover after the Baltakos case, keeping in most polls the third place. Although rates vary from 4.3 to 10%, it receives generally an equal or higher percentage than that of the previous national election (7%), a proof that the neo-Nazi danger remains strong. Similar rates of 6.8 to 10% are drawn by The River of Stavros Theodorakis, also competing for third place, but with declining trends in recent measurements.
The only point of agreement between all polls seems to concern the parties of the Center-Left, PASOK and DIMAR, which are facing extinction. The pasokite Elia carries it off slightly better, gathering rates from 2.5 to 7%, with DIMAR ranging between 1.4 and 3%. However, Elia’s percentage is in fact disastrous, not only compared with the high PASOK levels of 40% some years ago, but also with its 14% result of May 2012, impelling its President Venizelos to threaten with elections if the party falls too low, in order to win some votes. Things are bad for ANEL, the anti-Memorandum Right, too, seeing their rates fall around 3 to 4% from 10 and 7.5% of the general elections of 2012. The Stalinist KKE, on the other hand, seems to be making a recovery of a yet undetermined extent, with polls giving it from 3.4 to 6.5% with upward trends. It is a reasonable result, since the European elections lack the pressure of the parliamentary ones to elect a government, which had cost KKE dearly in 2012. So, it is expected that they will now regain some of the voters they lost then.
The remaining parties, Greens, LAOS, Bridges and ANTARSYA, oscillate between 1-1.5%. Of course, all polls display a significant percentage of undecided voters, ranging about 10-15%. This and the high uncertainty about the level of abstention, make things even more unpredictable.
If we take into account forecasts for municipal elections in the four major municipalities, Athens, Thessaloniki, Piraeus and Patra, the picture becomes even more chaotic. In Athens and Thessaloniki, the two major cities which will determine who wins impressions, the current mayors, Kaminis and Boutaris, have a clear advantage – Kaminis achieving rates over 20% and Boutaris well over 30%. The strange thing is that these mayors were elected as “independent” in 2010, but with the support of PASOK and DIMAR, the two parties heading for disaster in these elections. The reason of their popularity, of course, is not their PASOK-DIMAR support, which no one remembers and they themselves do not dare mention, but the fact they both proved capable, even if colorless, technocrats. Good performance levels, around 30%, are also scored by the current mayor of Piraeus Michaloliakos, supported by ND, and of the ND candidates in Athens, Spiliotopoulos (15%, another “rebel” ND candidate, Kaklamanis, taking around 10%) and in Thessaloniki, Kalafatis (22%).
On the other hand, SYRIZA’s candidates in the four major cities are scoring quite low in the polls, closer to the old rates of SYRIZA, rather than those of the general elections of 2012. SYRIZA’s leadership, in a controversial choice, decided upon the candidacies of second line party figures in the large municipalities, not necessarily of poor level but rather unknown to the general public. Seemingly, it wished to shed weight in the European elections (where SYRIZA really presents a strong ballot). However, this is a quite risky choice since the first round of municipal elections takes place a week earlier, and a possible failure of the SYRIZA candidates in the large cities to enter the second round, will create a negative atmosphere for the European elections, too.In Athens, the young SYRIZA contender Gabriel Sakellaridis started, perhaps due to inexperience, quite low and languidly. Along the way, however, he improved his image and he is now the only big city SYRIZA candidate –if we believe the polls– with a serious chance to make it to the second round. In the last GPO poll he stands third, just a point below the ND candidate and with upward trends, while the outcome of the second round with Kaminis as rival looks open, with the current mayor being ahead in preferences by 5.4% (38.1 to 32.7). In other major cities, the percentages of SYRIZA candidates range around or below 10%, a typical case being that of Mitafidis in Thessaloniki, to whom the same poll gives just 8.7%.
The impression that SYRIZA’s choices in the municipal elections were not the best, is strengthened by forecasts about the largest district of Attica, where Rena Dourou, a prominent SYRIZA cadre, passes comfortably in the second round, with Yiannis Sgouros as rival. Sgouros, a representative of PASOK and current prefect, is PASOK’s last card to convince, if he wins, that it is still politically existent.
One of the Athens candidate mayors is Kasidiaris, the “star” of the Golden Dawn, who became internationally known for his audacious attack on Rena Dourou and Liana Kanelli (a media personality collaborating with the KKE), during a television show in June, 2012. Initial polls showed Kasidiaris had several chances to get into the second round, but then he experienced a fall. However, in the last GPO poll he appears to be jut 1.5% below the SYRIZA candidate, the three candidates, Spiliotopoulos, Sakellaridis and Kasidiaris, ranging between 12.5 and 15%, as compared with 20.8% of Kaminis.
If these trends are confirmed, given that polls tend to lower the rates of the Golden Dawn (inter alia, because many of its voters do not say openly that they will vote it), then the question who will confront whom in the second round in Athens is completely open. This provides further evidence that the neo-Nazi danger in Greece is far from being eliminated or reduced.
2. Greek Developments After the 2012 Elections
The ambiguity of the Greek political scene is certainly connected with the fact that we are still at the beginning of the election period, not to mention the traditionally loose character of European elections in Greece. There are, however, a series of annoying issues to the Left common opinion, not only in Greece but possibly abroad as well, which cannot be answered with reference to present conjunctures alone: How does the ruling ND party, despite its extreme reactionary and unpopular policies, manage to retain a significant electoral base? And why is SYRIZA, following its momentous rise of the 2012 elections, unable to take advantage of the government’s obvious impasse and gain an undeniable superiority? To answer these questions, it is necessary to say a few things about the social and political developments in Greece after the 2012 elections.
The 2012 elections took place in a political climate favoring the Left. The first Memorandum of May 2010 and the second Memorandum of February 2012 had caused a sharp deterioration of the people’s life, throwing hundreds of thousands of citizens who previously had a tolerable standard of living to poverty and unemployment. As a result, massive protests grew throughout 2011, particularly in May and June, known as the “Indignant Movement”. Although this movement involved citizens of conservative and nationalist beliefs as well, its basic direction was undoubtedly radical, as was the case in other European countries where similar movements developed. The demonstrations, quite often with hundreds of thousands participating, continued throughout the period of July-October 2011, culminating in the national anniversary of October 28, when the government officials were booed by the people, forcing the government to cancel parades in many cities. Mass demonstrations went on until the end of 2011, reaching their peak again on the vote day for the second Memorandum, February 12, 2012. At a huge demonstration in Syntagma, two internationally known symbols of the Greek Left, Mikis Theodorakis and Manolis Glezos received a gas treatment by the police, despite their advanced age, and had to be taken to a hospital.
The fall of the unpopular Papandreou government in November 2011, the subsequent resignation of the Papademos government, which lasted only half a year, from November 2011 to April 2012, and the march towards the May elections thus took place in an environment of intense social struggle with movements favoring a big turn to the Left. This led to the immense rise of SYRIZA, who expressed the moods of the people by advancing the slogan for a government of the Left. SYRIZA almost gained first place in both elections, May and June, causing worldwide interest.
The predominance of ND in these encounters, even if marginal, put a temporary end to the cycle of popular struggles which began in 2010. It was proved that these struggles, while shaking and disorganizing the bourgeois political regime, were not strong enough to directly overturn it. A period of fatigue and decline of the movement was inaugurated, as the militant mood of the people could not be held indeterminately at the high level of the previous two years. The situation created has some respects reminiscent of that in Russia after the defeat of the first Russian revolution of 1905, a period characterized, as Lenin said, by stagnation and insignificant, as compared with the previous stage, direct political action of the masses. Although anger and popular disapproval for the current policies were still in a majority, they were combined in the new period with a spirit of compromise and passivity, arising from the realization that there were no immediate prospects for a substantial change.
Under these conditions, taking advantage of its internal and international supports, the ND government was able to stabilize to some extent its position. Of course, in 2012-14 the economic situation remained as miserable as before and even worsened: unemployment, which in 2012 was 22.2%, climbed to 26.8% in 2013 (and to 58.13% for the young people 15-24 years old); external debt, despite the “haircuts”, soared to even more unprecedented heights; GDP, which during 2009-2012 had made a drop of 20%, was reduced by a further 5% in 2013. Sectors like trade, constructions, etc., suffered the heaviest blows. However, the ND government, based on the “primary surplus” announced for 2013, the recent “exit to the markets”, and also the process that began in September 2013 for the prosecution of the Golden Dawn’s criminal activities (after the brutal murder the Left artist-rapper Paul Fyssas by the Golden Dawn member Roupakias), was able to achieved a certain distraction. The so called “social dividend” –a kind of alms of 500 €, which began to be distributed during the current election campaign– also had some small impact on certain backward strata, living in the hope that an improvement of the economy might be followed by larger benefits.
Of course, the “success stories” of the government are largely fictitious. The surplus, e.g., amounting to some 3 billions, was not due to any real economic recovery, but to the heavy taxation of the people, and instead of being used to reduce unemployment, was largely handed (1 billion € of it) to the lenders. Even the supposed development of 0.6% in 2014, predicted by the government and the EU institutions, was refuted just a few days ago by the OECD, which envisaged a further decline of 0.3% for this year, and this under the favorable condition of continued development in the rest of Europe2. The most all this can achieve is to arrest the fall of the government and not lead it to a political recovery. Moreover, the Golden Dawn story was turned to a boomerang for the government after the revelations about the underground discussions between its Secretary-General Panagiotis Baltakos and Kasidiaris. In these scenes, filmed by the Golden Dawn, Baltakos was shown conversing with Kasidiaris about the lifting of the Golden Dawn’s deputies immunity, clearly taking their side, with arguments more suited to a member of the Golden Dawn than of the government3. Even if the Golden Dawn’s persecution was a victory of the movement, this incident came to show the extremely limited possibilities of a genuine fight against fascism through the institutions of the bourgeois state.
On the other hand, the retreat of the movement in 2012-14 did not mean, as is often argued, a passing to a state of complete resignation and indifference. Apart from struggles conducted at that time, like against the government’s closure of public television in June 2013, oppositional undercurrents are developing and a gradual assimilation of the protests of the past two years takes place. The current difficulties of SYRIZA and the criticisms that may be exercised to its post-2012 course are focused precisely on the way it handled this transitional and complex situation.
Some forces, like ANTARSYA in the main, accuse SYRIZA of making a right turn in this period, abandoning his earlier radicalism and adopting a tactic of waiting for power to fall into its hands of as a “ripe fruit” through the continuous wear of the government. Another aspect of this shift, they say, was the opening of the party to forces and personalities from PASOK, who distorted even further its Left physiognomy.
This criticism, which is based on a number of facts, generally loses sight of the fact that the ebb of the movement during the last two years required some adjustments. When in 1921, at the Third Congress of the Comintern, the young communist movement had been faced with a similar situation of a retreat of the revolution, Lenin had urged the Communists not to be afraid to make under such circumstances some right wing adjustments. He characteristically suggested “not to fear to say that we came back from Moscow other people, more careful, more considerate, more opportunistic, more to the right. This”, he said, was under the given situation “the only correct strategy”4.
Both the neo-Stalinist leadership of the KKE, for which SYRIZA has always been an opportunist formation in the service of the system, and the leadership of ANTARSYA, reject the above position. In their analyses they consistently start from the premise that right adaptations are unacceptable under all circumstances5. A criticism that takes account, however, of the character of the period, should focus not so much on the fact that SYRIZA made ? right-wing ?adjustments, but that they were more numerous and larger than necessary. Such a criticism will definitely bring to light not only the ambiguities and vacillations of SYRIZA, but also the strategic gaps and misconceptions of the other formations of the Left, first and foremost of the KKE, but of the rest of them too.
Before moving to this, we will just note that the observed SYRIZA “halt” is due to a combination of factors, the demonstration of which requires serious analysis and cannot be reduced dismissively to the effect only of the, actual or alleged, right turn. From a small party, which lagged far behind KKE in the past and was permanently on the margins of political life –in the 1993 elections, as “Coalition of the Left” [Synaspismos], it had not even managed to get into the Parliament– SYRIZA was transformed in the 2012 elections to a party with great popular following. It is a party that in many ways resembles the old EDA [United Democratic Left], the Greek Left formation that in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Communist Party was illegal, had significant electoral presence, culminating in its emergence as major Opposition in 1958.
The objective difficulty to accomplish the necessary adjustments in such a short period of time, despite the advance made by converting SYRIZA to a united party at the 1st Congress of July 2013, the ongoing conflict between various groups with differing political perspectives and excessive rightist adjustments were the factors that combined to cause –to the extent it really exists and will be ascertained in the coming elections– a relative halt after the impressive 2012 campaign. And that, having occurred in a background of relative decline of the movement, is not a permanent situation, but it is one which certainly requires serious and careful strategic reorientations, so as to keep open the case of radical social change in the country.
3. Conflicts and Strategic Problems in the Greek Left
One thing that is often heard in discussions within the Greek Left is that the unity of its main components, SYRIZA, KKE and ANTARSYA, would assure its victory at the next election, even under the current polling rates, without counting the additional dynamics it will create. It is a position put forth by people who understandably resent the historical fragmentation and sterile rivalries that mark the history of the Greek Left. But as justified this discomfort is, expressed some months ago by Mikis Theodorakis, fragmentation remains a fact and cannot be removed by general appeals for unity. Only a serious, grounded discussion of the open strategic problems of the movement will show where there are real convergences and differences, helping to set aside those who exaggerate insignificant points of dispute.
The main strategic problem which divides the SYRIZA majority from its minority and the ANTARSYA groups, concerns the question of the attitude towards the euro and the European Union. The majority, uniting the center and the right wing of the party under its charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras, leaves the question open, considering that when the Left government is formed, it will either find a mutually satisfactory solution through negotiations with the EU or else will have to take unilateral actions that can reach exit from the EU. The Left wing, led by the capable parliamentary party spokesman Panagiotis Lafazanis, argues that the first act of the government of the Left should be cessation of debt payments and an exit from the euro, a position pretty much shared by ANTARSYA and Plan B (the latter considers that the exit from the euro and the eurozone can be combined with staying in the European Union, at least for some time). KKE finally, after a long period of snubbing the debt issue, sided in the end in favor of a denial of payment, but declaring that this can be done only by a revolutionary people’s power which proceeds to overturn capitalism.
Strategic discussions in Greek Left are particularly important, among other things because they are closely connected with how each component faces the issue of alliances. The truth is however that while being interesting, they most often lag behind from historical demands. In some cases they even resemble a “talk between deaf” with each part providing a ready position, without considering how specific conditions can push in the direction of one or the other option.
Relatively recently, in December 2013, a significant book for the government of the Left was released6, with a collection of contributions presenting the views of all sides (except from the KKE). Let’s take a look at the various positions and approaches utilizing this edition.
3.1. The SYRIZA majority
The position of the SYRIZA majority has been expressed repeatedly by Tsipras himself and other leading cadres. In the collection mentioned, it is comprehensively developed by Yiannis Dragasakis, the SYRIZA Vice President of the Parliament and main party authority on economy.
Dragasakis stresses that an authentic left strategy should be one that “does not exclude neither negotiation nor unilateral action as elements of a strategy that unfolds according to the evolution of the relation of forces… In the sense that a government of the Left forms a framework of demands which it initially seeks to be accepted by negotiations. But it reserves the right to make unilateral actions and ruptures with the support and consent of the people if confronted by blackmail or unreasonable demands”7.
This conception is very much reminiscent of Serrati’s centrist position. Serrati, the Italian socialist leader, from 1919 to 1921, in a situation pregnant with revolutionary chances in Italy but with many unclear aspects as well, stressed the need for a flexible, non-binding in a specified direction, line. In a criticism of his views, Lenin recognized that this approach had an important element of correctness: “[Serrati] repeats a thought: the need for a flexible tactics. An unquestionable though”. But Lenin continued to show that, in the given circumstances, Serrati’s flexibility had the wrong sign: “Yet the whole issue is just that Serrati is leaning to the right, when he has to lean to the left, in the specific Italian conditions. The Italian party, in order to successfully make the revolution and defend it, still needs to take a certain step to the left (without tying its hands and without forgetting that later events may very well require some steps to right)”8.
While it is true that the Greek movement is currently in a phase of retreat, calling for some right-wing adaptations, it is clear that the formation of a SYRIZA government will be preceded or immediately followed by a new rise of the movement. Under these conditions, one should opt for a more left-wing politics, a politics accomplishing the appropriate and mature raptures, rather than a policy of compromises.
To better illustrate this point, let’s take a look at another formulation of Y. Dragasakis. In the same article, noting that the primary question that can unite the Left “is not which forces favor the euro and which the national currency”, but the overthrow of the ruling (neoliberal) policy and of the process of social fascization, he concludes: “On this basis, if one can claim a viable exit from the euro, the same correlation of forces could perhaps provide a different regime of cohabitation within the euro or even a new structure of the euro… the outcome [of a possible exit from the euro]… will be determined by the balance of power in the country attempting it, as well as in the eurozone and the rest of the world”9.
The above argument essentially ends up to saying that the change of the situation can be attempted by reform and by measures of a revolutionary type and that both ways are equally legitimate and possible. History shows, however, that in cases of great crisis, a progressive way out is possible, provided there is a favorable relation of forces, only with revolutionary measures, while an attempt to exploit this favorable relation in a reformist way, results in the wastage of the favorable conditions. In the very typical case of the Popular Fronts in France and Spain during 1935-37, for example, some significant revolutionary possibilities certainly appeared. However, the insistence of the Stalinist communist parties to address the issues in a reformist way meant to settle for some minor demands, leaving intact the economic structures and bases of the reaction, which was able to counterattack later, canceling any concessions it had made. This danger, revealed most clearly and tragically in the case of the Allende government in Chile, still lurks today, as long as the lessons of history are not sufficiently realized.
Let us indeed suppose that a government of the Left is formed in Greece, based on SYRIZA, and simultaneously an improved international relation of forces is created (a rise of movements in the rest of Europe), which allows to contest for both revolutionary and reformist solutions. A revolutionary solution to the given situation would be the exit of some small countries from the EU and the beginning of an independent and equitable integration process of their own, much like the one promoted by Chavez in Latin America. A reformist solution would be pressure for the introduction of the Eurobond, which would allow all countries to borrow on equal terms, thereby restoring a certain rate of protection and equality for the poorest countries. Suppose also, for the sake of argumentation, that both possibilities are at some point equally realistic in terms of the relation of forces. Everyone will see that the first option, although more difficult in general, is incomparably more radical, because it would allow the countries exiting from the EU effective independence, freedom and the possibility of introducing progressive transformations, such as workers’ control and so on. In the second case, by contrast, these small countries would remain in many respects under the domination of the big powers of the EU, which would put strong constraints on any further changes.
This, however, does not fully settle the issue. For it is really possible, and quite probable in fact, that a first positive shift in the relation of forces may take place, which will allow claiming reforms such as the Eurobond but not suffice yet for a revolutionary upheaval. In such a case, a government of the Left under SYRIZA, could actually embark on reform initiatives, such as an alliance with other small countries for the Eurobond. But it is clear that a thing like that, if achieved, would only be a partial positive conquest and the main social conflicts would still remain to be solved.
Similar positions to those of Y. Dragasakis have been expressed by a number of well known SYRIZA cadres. Sophia Sakorafa, who came to SYRIZA from PASOK in 2011, in her contribution to the same collection, notes that “the abolition of the Memorandum” and “an effective debt reduction… if needed should be imposed even unilaterally”10. Similarly, Rena Dourou, after referring to the need for a “tough negotiation” with the lenders, adds: “A government of the Left must be prepared for any eventuality. For all developments. It must elaborate alternative solutions”11.
On the other hand, some cadres of the SYRIZA majority express definitely right-wing positions. In one typical case, the economist George Stathakis said a few months ago that only 5% of the public debt is odious. That would imply that there is no room even for a negotiation, and the country must honor its obligations faithfully. Yet clearly this is not the case. The loan agreement of 80 billion € in 2010, for example, was not ratified by the Greek parliament, which leaves room for a leftist government to contest it.
3.2. The Left Current
The Left Current was the SYRIZA trend which stressed, after the beginning of the crisis, that in order to overcome it, it is necessary to cancel a big part of the debt. This requires a payment default, a move incompatible with the country staying in the eurozone, which necessitates the fulfillment of its obligations set by the successive Memoranda. A similar position was taken by ANTARSYA and economists like Costas Lapavitsas, who contributed greatly to initiate a lively discussion on the issue and to inform the public, at a time when the media shamelessly resorted to scaremongering about the “dire consequences” of such a choice.
A weakness of the Left Current lies in its advancing the “exit from the eurozone” strategy in a one sided way, without really considering the tactical conditions for its success. The exit from the eurozone is a drastic action which implies a radical conflict with the major powers and bodies of the EU. In order to be successful this move should have the support of the Greek people, who will be convinced by their very experience for its necessity. And it should also be undertaken at an appropriate moment, a moment of ascending movements in Greece and internationally, to provide strong international solidarity and a realistic chance that it will be soon followed by some other countries. These conditions do not yet exist and it is uncertain that they will exist in a sufficient degree when the government of the Left comes about. Even in Greece itself, despite the crisis, public opinion is divided, combining the requirement for debt cancellation with a support for staying in the Euro. Therefore, an exit from the Euro should be prepared thoroughly and not be the first and immediate step of a left government. Otherwise, the dangers of failure may be great. Obviously, just as it is true that a decisive radical overturn in Greece will give strong impetus to the movements of other countries, it is equally true that an untimely break and defeat of the Left in Greece, will throw back the movements in other countries too.
An article by Yiannis Tolios, a well known Marxist economist, candidate MEP with SYRIZA’s list and cadre of the Left Current, written jointly with the author of this text, deals somewhat with these aspects. It notes that “the necessity in economic and political terms, of a rupture with the eurozone mechanisms doesn’t mean that this rupture must be implemented in the first day after the government of the Left is formed. The political flexibility in choosing the right moment, after making the appropriate preliminary maneuvers and exhausting any possibilities of substantial negotiations is necessary, as it will help convince the big majority of the Greek people for the necessity of this option”12. However, this approach is not generally dominant in the Left Current, which at the 1st SYRIZA Congress presented its positions in a “pure form”, the result being to see the amendments it made rejected by the majority of delegates 13. Issues such as the Eurobond are not even discussed in its ranks, as it is incorrectly considered that such an option would in all circumstances mean a capitulation to opportunism.
But this is not the main problem. The main weakness of the Left Current is its unrealistic policy of alliances, aiming to change the position of the KKE leadership on the issue of the cooperation of the Left, so as to make the choice of exit from the EU a majority current within the Greek Left and within a left governmental cooperation. This is a totally unrealistic assumption, since the KKE for over twenty years now after breaking the Coalition of the Left in 1991 refuses any cooperation not only with SYRIZA (as it did with Synaspismos before it was transformed to SYRIZA) but with the Left Current as well, many cadres of which come from the KKE. In the official organ of the KKE, Rizospastis, 2 or 3 articles appear daily, where SYRIZA and the Left Current are stigmatized as opportunists who seek to dissolve the Communist Party, using cooperation proposals as a Trojan horse. To expect that the KKE leadership can change its policy on the issue of alliances, when its negative attitude has become during the last years ten and a hundred times more determined, cannot be a basis for a serious left strategy, both within SYRIZA and outside it.
In practice, the result of all this is a passive stance of the Left Current, which marks time and does not create the conditions for a more radical regrouping of SYRIZA and the Left in general, hoping that this regrouping will occur in a unrealistic way. The Left Current has achieved a collaboration with some other radical SYRIZA groups like DEA (one of the Trotskyist Greek formations), but this has not been turned to an organic organizational process. The Left Current lacks its own newspaper or magazine, basing itself just on a significant website, Iskra. Of course some other factors contribute to these difficulties. Apart from some notable intellectuals such as Yiannis Tolios and Stathis Kouvelakis, the Current rallies mainly trade unionists and members of the public services sector etc., a fact with a negative impact on policy production. However, these difficulties are only covered and exacerbated by its unrealistic line on the alliances issue. On the one hand, the Current continuously lowers the tone of its criticism to the KKE, in order not to complicate the supposed future approach between them, reaching the point of discovering fantastic positive aspects in its current extremely sectarian policies. On the other hand, in this way, it avoids or hampers the actual approach with forces withdrawing from the KKE, as was done in the 19th Congress by the Workers’ Struggle group, and with other leftist groups (e.g., the Trotskyist Xekinima [Start]) operating near SYRIZA. A strengthening of the Left Current, through an approach with such other groups, would of course be beneficial, since it could counterweight any excessive Right leanings.
3.3. The KKE
The KKE tactics from 1991 onwards include a rejection of alliances with anyone who does not agree with its program (which means in practice that it makes “alliances” only with itself), a denial of proposing democratic demands such as the overthrow of Memoranda and a non-participation in the mass movements if they are not fully controlled by it. This tactic, being inextricably linked with the process of Stalinist restoration, is rooted in the counter-attack strategy developed by its leadership in the same period, a strategy completely inconsistent with the current balance of forces and the real tasks facing the movement.
The KKE leadership, both under Aleka Papariga and under Dimitris Koutsoubas who succeeded her at the 19th Congress, considers as the main task of the movement at this stage to organize a counterattack aimed at people’s power and a popular economy, which it defines in a way identified with socialism. This strategy is completely unrealistic, because none of its conditions is currently at hand or even faintly visible. In fact, the whole period after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 was a period of retreat of the movement, which, especially after the beginning of the crisis in 2008, was combined with the brutal attack of neo-liberalism on the workers’ conquests and a strong rise of neo-fascism. Under these conditions, the primary task of the movement was not and is not to conduct a counter-attack, but the organization of defense to repel the reactionary capitalist attack. With its counterattack logic, the KKE leadership makes a wrong assessment of the character of the current stage, thus by stepping its actual tasks, for the sake of future, immature now tasks, while also rejecting the necessary means, such as a united front, to promote the presently urgent tasks. Their declarations for the socialist revolution under these conditions are no more than bubbles and the bureaucrats’ fig leaf to hide their political and ideological nakedness.
The Labor Struggle publicists, who were expelled from the KKE in its 19th Congress, for correctly arguing the necessity of democratic demands and program, and some other people argue that the KKE recent positions signify a turn to Trotskyism. They base this assertion on the fact that KKE adopts the position on the socialist character of the revolution, as Trotsky did during the interwar period. The truth, however, is that, if we assume that the KKE continues something from Trotsky, it is only some mistakes he occasionally made and not his basic position. After 1917 Trotsky generally supported the united front tactics, founded by Lenin and himself, and the logic of the transitional program. The essence of the current KKE line, however, is the refusal of both these basic strategic elaborations of the communist movement. In this way, in the name of the struggle for socialism it is in fact refusing the means –united front tactics and transitional demands– that can help the masses join this struggle, a fact resulting in extremely dogmatic, sterile and sectarian tactics.
In fact, the current policy of the KKE leadership is not derived from Trotsky, but from the Stalinist tactics of the Third Period and especially the famous “social-fascism theory”. In the same spirit the Stalinists equated the fascists with the Social Democrats as twins, the KKE leadership equates ND and SYRIZA, failing to discern any substantial difference between them. Indeed, in its European elections propaganda KKE has concentrated its attack almost solely on SYRIZA, doing in fact some of the “dirty work” of ND, which it would be a bit awkward for it to carry 14. In some recent comments in Rizospastis, they even manage to discover an affinity between SYRIZA and the Golden Dawn.
These haughty aspersions and slander are just the other side of the failure and opportunism of the KKE leadership itself, which in all key issues labors against the movement. It is characteristic that in recent years this leadership slandered the great Indignant movements and the Arab Revolutions as fake-movements incited by the imperialists, while on the other it supported and continues to support oppressive regimes like that of Assad. The KKE, which had previously taken under its protection policeman Korkoneas, the killer of young Alexandros Grigoropoulos during the 2008 youth riots, publishing a wretched apologetic vignette for him in Rizospastis, came to characterize the 84 years old fighter Dimitris Christoulas, who committed suicide in Syntagma in April 2012, calling the new generation to resist, an instrument of the bourgeoisie, on the pretext that his act was cultivating defeatism. Meanwhile, in her meeting with the President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, during the discussions for the formation of the new government after the 2012 May elections, the then General Secretary of the KKE Papariga expressed her willingness to even sit next to Michaloliakos, the now jailed Golden Dawn leader, if she was told so by the President, explicitly recognizing that the Golden Dawn was legitimized by the support of a significant portion of the people. The apotheosis of Stalin at the KKE 18th Congress and the repetition of Stalinist slanders against Trotsky, Bukharin and others Bolshevik leaders who fell victims to the purge, as organs of fascism, was just an icing on the cake of the KKE neo-Stalinism, a cake decorated with communist candles and slogans, but emitting bureaucratic mold and stench.
These events, which can be greatly multiplied, show that KKE has become an obstacle to the struggle for socialism and that the circumstances call urgently for the creation of a new communist party, a new revolutionary vanguard that will continue the struggles and positive traditions of the communists. This requires however a continuous Marxist critique of its leadership’s policies, which will not change its stance, but will further petrify it after even a slight success in the coming elections.
ANTARSYA was created in March 2009 by ten organizations of the anti-capitalist, extra-parliamentary Left. During the intervening years it had a positive contribution to the movements, particularly the anti-fascist movement and that of solidarity with immigrants. After the onset of the crisis, it contributed to the spread of anti-capitalist consciousness. In the regional elections of 2010 it received 1.79% of the vote, electing some councilmen. However, the fact that it consists of small groups without strong ties with the masses, has a negative influence, enhancing sectarian and hegemonist or intellectualist tendencies.
A comprehensive presentation of strategic approaches within ANTARSYA is given by Panagiotis Sotiris, a university teacher and one of its key figures, in his contribution to the Topos volume. Sotiris reckons that a left revolutionary strategy must be based on “radical changes such as the direct exit from the eurozone, the prospect of disengaging from the EU, or the nationalization of banks and business strategies… when combined with a strategy of labor and social control and democratic planning” 15. This is open to the criticism already developed regarding the respective positions on the Left Current, that exit from the eurozone should be done at a favorable moment, which is not certain to directly coincide with the formation of the left government. However, Sotiris basically agrees that the formation of a left government should be a component of the strategy of the revolutionary Left. “We need to look today at the question of governmental authority –as a marginal possibility and not as a self-evident pursuit– and the challenge of a left government not in the sense of managing or rolling the system but as part of a modern revolutionary strategy that identifies possibilities and does not overlook challenges and risks”. As he notes, making a comparison with the experience of the October Revolution: “A modern revolutionary sequence… will find itself… faced by a more contradictory procedure of rise to power that will include the element of rupture and the element of continuity, both in process and as to the expectations of the working classes”16.
The ANTARSYA forces that adopt this position, argued recently for a collaboration with Plan B of Alekos Alavanos in the coming elections, which could strengthen the influence of the anti-capitalist Left, creating a base if not for a left alternative to SYRIZA, at least for a left formation that will constructively press on the future government of SYRIZA and be able to absorb a significant part of popular dissatisfaction with any faulty choices it makes. After lengthy discussions, however, rejection of cooperation ultimately prevailed, with both parts putting the blame of the failure to each other.
Regardless who will be given primary responsibility for the failure, the fact remains that the entire process left bad impressions to the people and to many activists of the extra-parliamentary Left. A common ballot of the two formations, which could have been combined with the support of Alavanos as a candidate mayor in Athens, would for the first time allow the extra-parliamentary Left a significant presence in the Greek political life, that should be its main objective in these elections. Any programmatic differences could be discussed further in the process, since there was no question of merging the two parties, but only of an electoral cooperation. As things came out, ANTARSYA and Plan B were led to quarrel on two different programmatic declarations, one presented by each side, differing really only on a few points. This development does not foretell, of course, nothing good for both formations. Almost inevitably they will remain in the next period, a period of critical battles, weak as now, without serious possibilities of actively intervening in the coming developments.
4. The Fascist Danger
In our previous analysis we have noted more than once that the fascist danger remains real despite the legal prosecutions against the Golden Dawn. This danger does not, of course, concern an immediate coming of the fascists to power, but the realistic possibility of their further reinforcement, if the Golden Dawn surpasses its 2012 rates (6.97% in May 2012 and 6.92 % in June). This, depending on how big this rise is, will not only legitimize the neo-Nazis, being a political victory for them, but it will make a further deepening of the already problematic and snag judicial proceedings against them very unlikely. All this will apply even more if Kasidiaris passes to the second round in Athens. But even retaining their forces will certainly be hailed by the neo-Nazis as a victory, a proof that they endured despite the prosecutions they suffered.
In the face of this danger, the Left has shown a strange inertia, avoiding to open a front against the Nazis before the elections. This may be due not only to its preoccupation with its own results but also to a complacency that prevailed after the Golden Dawn’s persecution, which created an illusion that as the climate of the period was anti-fascist, the fascist danger had subsided. Of course, the Greek anti-fascist movement mirrors all the general weaknesses of the Greek Left: the KKE, as with every other activity, organizes separate gatherings; SYRIZA’s participation is somewhat loose; even the organizations of the extra-parliamentary Left, who bear the brunt of the movement, fail to cooperate.
In the last days, Xekinima, one of the leading organizations in the anti-fascist movement, gave weight to the issue, noting the worrying signs and calling for an anti-fascist mobilization. An article by Takis Yiannopoulos stresses that the main danger is in Athens, where Golden Dawn records according to polls its highest percentage, while nationwide still appears to lag a bit behind the 2012 election results. And he notes: “The truth is that all reasons nourishing the Golden Dawn continue to be in force. And this will continue to strengthen it, irrespective if it goes on with its present or another name. This is also an international phenomenon. In the coming elections it is likely that the far right and Nazi parties will record their bigger postwar rates in European elections. Also the Samaras-Venizelos government and bourgeois justice do not want and cannot deal effectively with the neo-Nazis. Because they need them. Both as a potential government partner, as well as a shadowy fifth column against the movement”17.
Yiannopoulos is right that the Left cannot be based in its anti-fascist struggle on any support of the bourgeois state and its ruling elites. In fact, as the historical experience of Nazism in Germany demonstrates, in moments of crisis the bourgeoisie needs the fascist gangs to enforce social discipline, not hesitating even to surrender power to them. It is unrealistic to believe therefore that the ruling elites could decisively turn against one of their props. An attempt to dissolve the Golden Dawn would require to cut its ties with the police (it took around 50 % of the votes at police election divisions in 2012) and the state apparatus. It is instructive in this regard that Prime Minister Samaras, in an interview on May 6, stated that the Golden Dawn should not be outlawed but dealt politically18. Moreover, in March 2013, when the atmosphere, of course, was more favorable for the Golden Dawn, Kasidiaris was acquitted in a case against him for involvement in robbery and attack on a student in 2007. All these show that the prosecution of the Golden Dawn will not go far beyond such ineffective measures as those the German state had taken in 1924 and during the period of the Brüning government against the Nazis. Besides that, even a ban would not have a substantial effect as they would simply go on under a different name, although in this case it would be more likely that some serious punishments will be imposed on the accused MPs.
This does not mean, of course, that the judicial procedure against the Golden Dawn was futile or that the Left made a mistake in supporting it. The revelations made about the criminal activities of neo-Nazis, sensitized the public and prevented a more serious growth of the Golden Dawn in the upcoming election. However, the provocative stance of the neo-Nazis and their possible election gains, face the Left with the task to create a strong anti-fascist movement, the only thing that can effectively block their road. One of the main criticisms made on ?SYRIZA is that despite their participation, they had not supported as actively as they should anti-fascist initiatives in the neighborhoods.
It is also true, as Yiannopoulos notes, that the neo-Nazi danger appears now strong on a European scale, a fact having to do with the favorable conditions to fascism created by the crisis, in a way reminiscent of 1929. There is a difference however between Greece and the other EU countries. The rest of Europe is expected to have some economic growth in the coming period, which means that there is some possibility (but by no means a certainty) that the neo-Nazi rise might be slowed down a bit. Greece, however, will remain stagnant at least for two years more and will take much more time to recover, even at an elementary level. This means that the typical social conditions that favor fascism will continue to persist in Greece in their classic, pure form.
On the other hand, the possibility of Kasidiaris entering the second round puts an urgent and serious question of political tactics regarding the position of the Left in that event. It should go without saying that whoever is Kasidiaris opponent, the Left should call the people to close the way to Kasidiaris by supporting the other candidate. Unfortunately, the KKE does not understand this need. Liana Kanelli openly expressed by the end of February their readiness to abstain in the second round, even in the event of a duel between Kasidiaris and the SYRIZA candidate, Sakellaridis19. If such a position is adopted by the KKE leadership, it will be a criminal choice that will objectively transform the members and activists of KKE to aids of fascism.
5. Has SYRIZA been incorporated into the system?
While the KKE has always considered SYRIZA (and its predecessor, “Synaspismos”) a systemic party, some other left commentators, particularly from ANTARSYA, have a different view. They argue that while this was not the case in 2012, this conversion has essentially taken place during the last two years, as the shifts in SYRIZA policy substantially integrated it into the system. The question is a serious one: its answer bears heavily on the assessment of the prospects and tasks of the Left in the present stage.
There is no doubt that a number of developments in SYRIZA are a source of concern: Ambiguities in its policy have been strengthened in the last two years; several PASOK figures found a refuge in it; a series of incidents and statements show a clear mitigation of its original radicalism. Such phenomena appeared in the period preceding the elections too. SYRIZA’s electoral lists include some controversial figures, such as Dimitris Christopoulos, a university teacher and vice president of the International Federation of Human Rights, who made some unfortunate statements about the minority in Thrace, in connection with the nomination of Sabiha Suleiman20. Another example was the statements made by John Michelogiannakis, a SYRIZA parliamentary, against lifting the immunity some Golden Dawn deputies. Christopoulos remained eventually in the Syriza European elections list after Suleiman was ousted. But the left economist Costas Lapavitsas was not included, despite the fact that he received initially a proposition by the SYRIZA leadership. On the other hand, the list includes radical candidacies too, such as those of Tolios, Sakorafa, Glezos and Konstantina Kuneva, a cleaner and immigrant who was attacked with vitriol in 2008 due to her fighting for her rights in the company she worked.
In our opinion, the view about SYRIZA’s “incorporation” is not correct. That the danger of such a development or of a SYRIZA retreat to pressures has been strengthened in the last two years is a fact. To say, however, that this transformation has already taken place is an extreme exaggeration and not true. Both at the leadership and at the grassroots level, things are open and will be determined by the choices made when the SYRIZA government is formed. To declare SYRIZA a power of the system, whether it is done with a view to attract forces from its following or other calculations, affects negatively the case of the Greek Left. Criticism is necessary, but it must simultaneously be valid, based on arguments accurately assessing the real situation, and not on dismissive generalizations.
Reality shows that the system is afraid of a SYRIZA rise to the government, just because it has not been able to control it and it is deeply concerned about the social dynamics such a development would release. An incident that happened when the Topos book on the government of the Left appeared is quite enlightening. Some weeks later Dimokratia, a semi-official newspaper of the Samaras Government found it necessary to devote three pages to it, including its front page, full of alarmist attacks about its contents. The author of the articles, Manolis Kottakis, attacked furiously not only Dimitris Belantis, a representative of the SYRIZA left wing who contributed an article to the volume, but also contributors considered moderate, such as Dragasakis and Dourou. In an analysis peppered with war cries such as “extremists Red Guards of Tsipras become menacing” he came to talk about pogroms and nights of St. Bartholomew after the formation of the left government 21. All this, of course, is a sign of fear of the ruling elites, rather than a belief that they are in control.
The result of the 18th and 25th May elections will have a substantial impact on the question if these fears are confirmed. Their totally unpredictable result, reflects the complexity of the situation, one element of which is the mistakes of the SYRIZA leadership. But SYRIZA’s problems are not related only to right-wing turns, some of which may have been justified, but also to the lack of sufficient coherence between its various wings, creating doubts to the people whether it will be able to govern with a clear and effective program. The condition of this, however, is that the “adjustments” made will not cancel SYRIZA’s radicalism, which gave to it the vote of the people in 2012 and is only capable to conserve their support and trust22.
The uncertainty of the situation makes the Greek political scene look like a riddle. All possible solutions, improbable and probable ones, are current, from a glorious SYRIZA triumph to a small ND victory. However, based on the overall picture, it seems more likely that they will bring a partial victory for SYRIZA, with many still unknown variables. Whatever the outcome, the solution to the Greek enigma cannot be delayed very long. The elections on 18 and 25 May will not decide this solution, but will determine its direction.
Christos Kefalis is a chemist, writer and member of the editorial board of the Greek journal Marxist Thought.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis May 18, 2014.
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