Syriza’s Historic Victory and the Prospects of the Left

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Celebrating the election of Syriza

Celebrating the election of Syriza

 

The Greek elections of January 25th have given a decisive victory to SYRIZA. It is a victory not only of the Greek but also of the European Left, which can prove of historical consequences for the further course of Europe.

SYRIZA gained 149 seats in the Greek parliament, just falling short of the required majority of 151 to form a government of its own. However, it achieved a clear preponderance, with an 8.5% margin, against the hitherto ruling conservative party of ND, and was able to form a government with the support of ANEL, a small Right party.

The result of the elections was hailed by the Greek laboring people with relief as opening a prospect of escape from their sufferings, the austerity measures, unemployment and poverty, deriving from the Memoranda imposed by the Troika after 2010. It was these laboring people who gave victory to SYRIZA against the ruling parties of the establishment. These parties, PASOK and ND, had followed faithfully all directions of the Troika, resulting in an unprecedented fall of wages by almost 30% (and even more in some categories of workers) and record unemployment of about 25-30% (more than 50% in the youth). There is now broad expectation within the people that at least some of the burdens and misfortunes they suffered during the last years will be raised and that they will achieve a betterment of their condition. At the same time, besides a willingness to fight for their interests, there is also some anxiety and uncertainty about the next day. SYRIZA’s result has given hope to the people but has not completely eliminated fear, as everyone here in Greece knows that, in view of strong pressures and blackmail from the EU, it will not be easy for the new government to effect the promised changes.

SYRIZA’s victory and the formation of the new government have aroused great interest in the rest of Europe as well, provoking reactions from all sides. Conservative forces have hastened to “remind” that Greece must implement the obligations ensuing form the Memoranda – German chancellor Merkel, minister of Finance Schaeuble and French president Francois Hollande have already made such statements. On the other hand, Left parties, activists and intellectuals all over the world hailed the result as a great opportunity and spur to the fight to end austerity policies.

The elections have shown some other significant, even if secondary, trends too with regard to all other parties and the rest of the Greek Left. They witnessed the smashing up of intermediate “center-Left” parties, the formerly mighty PASOK and DIMAR, being replaced by the colorless Potami (the Greek word for “The River”), the firmness of the Golden Dawn Nazis coming out as the third party, a mediocre rise of the Anti-capitalist Left formation ANTARSYA and the relative stability of the neo-Stalinist KKE[1]1.

All these aspects have received extensive commentary in Greece from analysts on the Left and the broader political spectrum. In the present article we will commend on the result and the course taken, hoping to throw some light on the issues involved – issues that are crucial not only for the Greek but for the European Left as well.

 1. The result of the elections

Seven months ago, commenting on the result of the Greek EU elections in an article in this site, the present writer had called it “a clear, historical, but still not decisive SYRIZA victory”. The same thing may be said in an even stronger sense about the result of the present parliamentary elections. It was a still more imposing and great victory for SYRIZA but yet still not decisive.

Throughout the election campaign, SYRIZA’s leadership persistently called the electorate to give SYRIZA a parliamentary majority (i.e., at least 151 seats) in order to be able to fulfill unhindered its program. During the last days before the vote, polls showed this to be a realistic possibility. Yet, after a thriller lasting almost all the elections night, SYRIZA failed to acquire the majority needed by the narrowest margin.

The fact that there was something lacking in SIRIZA’s result in both contests cannot be considered purely an accident and some explanations have been offered.

SYRIZA’s momentous rise in the 2012 elections was due chiefly to the big social movements of “Aganaktismenoi” that developed in Greece during 2011-12. However, after ND won the 2012 elections and was able to form a coalition government with PASOK (and, initially, with DIMAR too) the movements subsided. Despite occasional outbursts, there was a general mood of weariness within the people, who saw their previous big struggles being defeated and, in an immediate sense, remain ineffective.

To this natural reaction may be added the fact that SYRIZA adopted, to a bigger or lesser extent, a tactic of waiting, expecting power to fall in its hands like a ripe fruit after the inevitable decline of the ND-PASOK rule. This does not mean, as a number of Leftists imply in their criticisms, that SYRIZA should be regarded directly responsible for the decline of the movements, or that it acted as a barrier to their revival. The retreat of the movements was to a certain extent inevitable and SYRIZA could not have reversed it at will. The point is however that during the last two years its stance was somewhat passive and inactive, consisting of excessive “realist” adjustments and failing to strengthen its ties with the people in the new situation.

The result was a developing skepticism within the people, which took deep roots and remained there until the elections day. It is indicative that, according to the findings of many polls, 40% of the electoral body voted a different party than it had done in 2012 and one third decided which party to vote during the last week before the vote.

All that being said, what SYRIZA achieved during the last two years remains impressive and remarkable. There is no precedent in the European history of a small Left party achieving such huge progress and claiming the government in so short a time. Suffice it to mention that in the 2012 elections SYRIZA rose from a small party of 4.5% to 16.8% in May and 26.9% in June, while in the present election there was a new impressive jump of almost 10%, with ND retreating only about 2%.

Even if there were a number of conditions favoring that growth, it was SYRIZA’s merit, a merit deserving the fullest praise, that it made excellent use of these conditions to further a progressive way out of the crisis. Were in not for SYRIZA to come ahead and express the prospect of a Left government, it is certain that the Greek ultra Right, especially the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, would have made far greater advances and a deadlock situation would already have developed, without any positive prospect for the people. SYRIZA gave hope to the people, a fact vividly expressed in its main election slogan “hope is coming”.

In this sense, SYRIZA’s experience, with its strong positive sides and its weaknesses too, contains important lessons for the whole of the European Left. These lessons should clearly be studied and utilized, as is already done, by other Left parties. Evidently, it is neither accidental nor unjustified, that a number of ascending Left formations, like the Spanish Podemos and the Irish Sinn Fein, draw a lot of inspiration from SYRIZA.

One curious aspect with the elections results demands a comment. SYRIZA’s victory was hailed not only by the Left, but by some reactionary forces as well. This includes not only the French Socialists or Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, but even Marine Le Pen of the ultra Right “National Front” of France. How are we to understand that?

Some petty bourgeois commentators here in Greece took it as a sign that the character of forces like the French National Front has changed, becoming more moderate and national-democratic, as compared with the authoritarianism of the EU. Such views have been expressed even by publicists around SYRIZA, like A. Apostolopoulos, who declares that Le Pen showed “remarkable flexibility” in expressing her joy about SYRIZA’s victory and that this proves her being now “much closer to ANEL than to… Adonis and Voridis”[2] – i.e. she is closer to the Right party cooperating with SYRIZA than with Georgiadis and Voridis, two reactionary ND former ministers coming from the even more ultra Right Greek Laos.

In fact, this is sheer nonsense. Le Pen’s hailing of SYRIZA’s result is completely demagogic. Her reason for doing that is to deceive the French public, making it appear that her party too is against austerity so as to bolster its influence and prevent a Left turn in France. Even Hitler in his time swore that the Nazis would respect democratic legality when in power and used all kinds of “proud nationalist” and even “socialist” phrases. The National Front and other similar parties may change a bit their oratory in order to attract support, but it would be foolish to think there is any real change behind that façade. Their ultra Right character and pro-Nazi sympathies remain untouched behind the scene.

On the other hand, the “support” of moderate systemic forces like the French Socialists is hypocritical in a different way, in the sense that under these “friendly” gestures they are trying to dictate to the new Government their terms and force it to align itself to austerity.

 2. The character and prospects of the new government

The result being what it was, and given KKE’s refusal to participate in or support in any way a government of the Left, there were two options for SYRIZA: either cooperate with ANEL, the Right party of Panos Kammenos, or else cooperate with Potami, a supposedly “Center-Left” party with no definite political identity.

At first sight the choice made by the SYRIZA leadership may seem strange, for Potami appears to be closer to SYRIZA than ANEL. It is a little more Left than PASOK, in a way similar to DIMAR, while ANEL, with its nationalist agenda and ideology was definitely a Right break from ND, which ideologically claims to be a “Center-Right” party. However, a more concrete look to the positions of the two parties and the social strata supporting them will show that a SYRIZA alliance with Potami would not be workable.

ANEL is characterized by a strong anti-Memorandum stance and this is not accidental. This party is chiefly being based to elements from the state machine, militaries, a part of the civil servants (formerly connected with client relationships to ND), lawyers, etc., that were relatively well to do before the crisis and were hardly hit by it. These strata, usually called the “popular Right”, are conservative in their outlook, their aim being not to change society but to restore their own pro-crisis level. Yet, precisely as a result of suffering severely from the crisis, they opposed the Memorandum and took part in the fight against it.

Potami, in comparison, represents middle strata that were relatively less hit by the crisis, like some categories of freelancers and businessmen connected with new technologies, university teachers that are repelled by the antiquated “patriotic” rhetoric of ANEL, etc. These strata do feel threatened and aim at some “Left” modernizing measures, but being better of, they visualize them as being introduced in a moderate way[3]. This was very clearly expressed in the positions of Potami’s leader, Stavros Theodorakis, a media personality whose leitmotif during the pre-election period was that the country’s obligations towards the EU should be respected and social justice measures proceed from that axiom[4].

This approach was clearly incompatible with that of SYRIZA, which stresses the necessity of “hard negotiations” with the EU. For SYRIZA this is not just rhetoric, but a vital condition for any real improvements for the mass of the working people who voted it. The approach of Potami on the contrary would be at every step to retreat to any EU demands. So the alliance with ANEL, who are inclined to be “tough” with the EU, prevailed.

To these immediate considerations one should also add that ideologically too it is doubtful if Potami is any closer to SYRIZA than ANEL. Theodorakis complained during the night of the elections that SYRIZA preferred to cooperate with an “extreme Right” party, but his party, upon comparison, does not come out much better. Potami does not have any concrete program and theses, but tends to change them according to the situation. Until some months ago, when it still seemed that the ND-PASOK government stood firm, it strongly supported the austerity measures and neoliberal policies[5]. In a 2014 TV interview to right-wing journalist N. Chatzinikolaou, Theodorakis famously said that a raise in wages would not revive economic activity, because the extra money would be consumed by the working people on goods like foods and gasoline, only leading to increased imports[6]. Potami changed its rhetoric to an anti-austerity one only during the last months, when it became clear that the ND-PASOK coalition government was crumbling. Even then however, it negotiated and allied itself to the neo-liberal Greek formation Drasi – Dimiourgia Xana, including neoliberal candidates in its ballots. During the May 2012 elections Drasi – Dimiourgia Xana, proposing a reduction of taxation for the rich, had come second after ND in the most aristocratic municipalities of Ekali, Psychiko, etc., and Theodorakis’ party secured its highest poll precisely there.

This situation justifies, we think, the solution given as the only realistic one, even if it looks strange at first sight and may cause embarrassment and doubt to European Lefts. This being acknowledged, however, one should also add that this solution cannot be long-lived. While SYRIZA and ANEL coincide in taking an anti-Memorandum stance, we should not forget they do so from a different perspective and in order to serve different interests. These interests, the interests of a part of the state bureaucracy and of some lower strata related to it expressed by ANEL and the interests of the Greek people to which SYRIZA’s program more or less corresponds, are not compatible in the long run. Therefore, either the one or the other party will take the upper hand and prevail.

The talks about the formation of the government witnessed some interesting skirmishes. Theodorakis complained in particular that the formation of the government was announced in an unorthodox way by Kammenos, before he had a chance to meet Tsipras. There may be a grain of justification in this claim and one might, more importantly, point out the lack of any real discussion within SYRIZA about the proposed agreement. But in fact Theodorakis had himself excluded his party from participation by putting forward as a condition for taking part in the government the exclusion of ANEL. Clearly this was an unacceptable condition for SYRIZA, since one could not in principle exclude ANEL if they wanted to support a common government.

There is a last important question, concerning the character of the government. Is it a government of the Left?

In our opinion, it would be inexact to call it so. Of course, the majority of ministers are SYRIZA members, the supporters of Tsipras taking most posts (with Yiannis Dragasakis becoming Vice President of the government), but the SYRIZA Left also receiving some important ministries too (notably the leader of the Left Current Panayiotis Lafazanis being appointed Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy). However, apart from ANEL, whose leader Kammenos took the very important Ministry of Defence, it includes also a number of independent personalities. One may mention notably Yiannis Varoufakis, the Minister of Finance, and Nikos Kotzias, the Minister of Foreign Affairs[7]. There are also some people coming from PASOK, like A. Mitropoulos, N. Toskas and Chr. Spirtzis, and DIMAR, like Y. Panousis, who became Deputy Ministers.

In fact, the present Greek government resembles to some extent, in a very original and untypical way, the United Front governments formed in France and Spain in the middle 30ies. This is especially true with the Largo Caballero government, which held office after the fascist coup from September 1936 until May 1937 in Spain. The common feature between that and the present Greek government is a clear predominance of the Left, combined with a significant presence and participation of some bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements.

Given the intense situation of crisis during the middle 30ies, the fascist coup etc., Caballero’s government, which included in its ranks incoherent and even strongly conflicting forces, could not last for long; it had to be replaced with a more cohesive one, by ousting either the Right or the Left elements. The Communist Party of Spain, applying the Stalinist policies of the time, supported the Right, bourgeois elements within the Popular Front, the likes of Azania and Prieto, in fact playing their game. As a result, the inevitable governmental crisis of May 1937 was solved by the removal of the Left elements, Caballero’s Left Socialists and the Anarchists.

Present conditions are quite similar as regards the acute economic and social crisis, although with the existence of the EU it is quite likely that developments will be slower and of a more complex character. Another positive difference is that while in Spain the fascist coup preceded the strengthening of the Left, today in Greece, despite the ultra-Right danger again being shown to be real by the endurance of the Golden Dawn, the Left has been able to strengthen itself before the ultra-Right becomes very threatening. In this respect is quite important that the Golden Dawn fell by almost 1% with regard to its May 2012 percentage and 3% as compared with the EU elections one. They managed to become the third party chiefly as a result of the even greater decline of PASOK and not of their own strengthening[8].

It will be the task of the radical Left forces in Greece, within SYRIZA and outside it, to work for the resolution of a future government crisis in a progressive way, while systemic forces will work and are already working to resolve it in a conservative way.

3. Some criticisms from within SYRIZA

Could the formation of a coalition government with a Right party have been avoided? Some of the Left SYRIZA components have already issued statements claiming that there were other solutions. However, these statements themselves are proof that, given the negative stance of KKE, the coalition with ANEL was a sad necessity of the moment.

The “Communist Tendency”, a small Trotskyite faction within SYRIZA, considers that “SYRIZA’s leadership could make some concrete political choices to serve the cause of forming a Left majority government”. In their opinion, this would be to ask for a tolerance vote from KKE based on an agreement on some specific measures that would put an end to austerity and the Memorandums. This government would last for a short, jointly agreed “time necessary for the beneficial to the people measures of [SYRIZA’s] Thessaloniki program” to be introduced, through voting the necessary bills in the Parliament[9].

While SYRIZA could make such a proposal, it is practically certain that KKE would have declined it, as it has declined all SYRIZA’s proposals until now. However, even more importantly, that proposal, even if accepted, meant going for a new election in one or two months, which is totally unrealistic in view of the challenges that the Left will have to face from the European Union and the conservative European governments.

A government of the Left would be a most desirable possibility, but it could be based only on the steady base of a mutually agreed program for the coming few years, not as an episode to last a few weeks. Its object would not be to vote some bills, but to force their implementation, resisting the pressures by the Greek and European oligarchies. Given KKE’s negative stance the Communist Tendency’s proposal amounts to little more than pious wishes. It is as if one was to argue in a rainy day that it would be much better if the day was a sunny one.

A more serious approach is taken by DEA, another Trotskyite SYRIZA component, which had two MPS in the previous parliament, Maria Bolari and Ioanna Gaitani (the second was reelected). DEA considers that the coalition with ANEL “was not obligatory given the conditions created by the elections, as it was possible to claim a tolerance vote from the Parliament, based on the Thessaloniki commitments… ANEL’s “red lines”… will act as transfer belt of systemic pressures on the government of the Left. Under these conditions, the coalition government with ANEL exposes to danger the political plan of a government of the Left, with a transitional program and strategy”[10].

These are in essence some quite correct remarks. However, it is very doubtful if the solution proposed would have worked better or even worked at all. Had SYRIZA appeared in the Parliament to claim a tolerance vote for a purely SYRIZA government, they might initially get that it from ANEL, PASOK and Potami. However, at the first difficulty with the EU, PASOK and Potami would retract and ANEL would demand to take seats in the government in order to support it. So, the result would be the same, the only difference being that valuable time would be lost.

With the solution given, SYRIZA made a compromise, but in return ANEL will have to support at least some of the government’s decisions. This means that, given the relation of forces between the two parties, SYRIZA will possess the initiative for some time.

If the above criticisms mean something, it is precisely that the solution given can only be a temporary one, that it cannot last for very long, at least in a beneficial for SYRIZA way. If SYRIZA prolongs it too much, it will become a tool for adjusting itself to systemic pressures, while reactionary elements will take crucial positions in the government and state, under the ANEL umbrella.

These points are indeed made in an interesting article by Andreas Payiatsos, Secretary of Xekinima, a Trotskyite group which critically supports SYRIZA. We quote here some extracts from this article:

“SYRIZA will proceed to cooperate with ANEL, a party that came from a break within ND – and is consequently a party faithful to the capitalist system, permeated by the logic of capital and the ‘market forces’. SYRIZA’s cooperation with such a party is of course a dangerous trap! The point is that SYRIZA goes on with that cooperation after having asked a cooperation from KKE and being rejected by it… To SYRIZA’s popular base, but to the working people and the Greek society as well, it must be clear that such a government will be unstable. It cannot advance long. ANEL may initially agree to some measures favorable to the people and measures of relief for the people, but the central issue, which will appear sooner or later, will concern the structure of the economy. It will touch upon the subject of policies that will tax wealth and strike the corporations’ and multinationals’ profits, it will concern the subject of nationalizations, of the workers and social control and of real democracy on the base of society… For that reason, SYRIZA’s supporters must prepare for the coming crisis with ANEL. And there is only one way to implement that preparation. SYRIZA must propound a program that will consistently serve the interests of the working and popular strata, i.e. a socialist program… If and when ANEL make clear their negation to support a policy of that kind, and measures of that kind in favor of the poor and against the ruling class, then SYRIZA will have to resort to the popular verdict, to early elections”[11].

In our opinion, there is an element of simplification in the above analysis, when it is stated that a socialist program should be the kernel of SYRIZA’s policy in the present period. A socialist transformation and program is not directly in the order of the day. It may become realistic in a next, not very remote phase, when the Left is strengthened further and Left governments appear in some more European countries (e.g. Spain, Ireland, etc.), so that the economic crisis turns into a political one. In fact, the rupture with ANEL may appear much sooner, if SYRIZA proceeds even to elementary democratic measures like the separation of church and state, which would hit the interests of ANEL’s conservative social base. And the real question presently is if SYRIZA will courageously proceed to such measures or will make the cooperation with ANEL an alibi to limit them to a minimum.

In any case, the main prospect is here ably and correctly put by Payiatsos: either the SYRIZA leadership will realize that the alliance with ANEL will have to be broken at a suitable moment, or SYRIZA’s project will be undermined and end up to a simple repairing of the system.

 4. The results and tactics of other Left forces in the new situation

SYRIZA is by far the stronger force of the Greek Left, but by no means the only one. The two other Left parties, the neo-Stalinist KKE and ANTARSYA, also exert some influence to political developments. They have already done so and will continue to do in the coming period in certain important ways. It is suitable therefore to conclude our analysis with a reference to them and their attitude towards the new government.

 

4.1. KKE and the new government

KKE’s stance regarding the prospect of a government of the Left and SYRIZA’s proposal to cooperate in it was firmly negative from the first moment SYRIZA raised this issue during the 2012 elections. The KKE leadership called these proposals an “opportunist” trick to trap the party in the machinations of the system, constantly equating SYRIZA with ND and PASOK. As a result, KKE was totally isolated from the people, lost the dominant position it had in the Greek Left from 1974 and sunk to the low percentages it enjoyed some 80 years ago.

In a previous article we had argued that this policy of KKE is not accidental. It is the result of the Stalinist turn taken by the party after 1991 and strongly intensified during the last years, when KKE practically severed its bonds with all popular movements, building instead sectarian structures of its own and condemning everyone else on the Left as “opportunist” and “reactionary”. As we had pointed, the KKE leadership slandered the great Indignant movements and the Arab Revolutions as fake-movements incited by the imperialists. In its 2009 18th Congress KKE even went as far as to apotheosize Stalin and repeat the Stalinist slanders against Trotsky, Bukharin and other Bolshevik leaders who fell victims to the purge, presenting them as fascist agents. KKE’s current tactics are a new edition of the Stalinist policies of the Third Period and especially the famous “social-fascism theory”. In the same way 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[12].

All this did not change a bit after A. Papariga, the age long General Secretary of the party, was replaced by D. Koutsoumbas in 2013; one might say it even worsened. In a series of speeches and interviews during the pre-election period Koutsoumbas categorically refused even to consider the possibility of a vote of tolerance for a SYRIZA government. Speaking at a mass gathering in Larissa he even went so far as to say: “It would be unconceivable for KKE to show even the slightest tolerance [towards SYRIZA], for it would then make a great historical mistake which would be equivalent to a treachery of the people, and then the people would show no tolerance towards KKE”[13].

KKE took 5.5% of the vote, almost 1.0% above its June 2012 vote. This was presented as a “success” in the party press and statements. Thus, the Declaration of KKE’s Central Committee of January 26 appraises it as a confirmation “of the positive tendency of rallying forces, recovering lost votes and an inflow of new ones”[14]. This in fact is a lie, since KKE is still 3% behind its percentage in the May 2012 elections (8.5%) and 0.5% behind the EU 2014 elections (6.1%). However, it gives the party bureaucrats the alibi and the imaginary justification needed to continue their self-destructive policy.

The same KKE declaration makes the following appraisal of the new government:

“The SYRIZA – ANEL coalition will continue its anti-popular commitments to the EU and the lenders and of course this will be a breath for the bourgeois political system, which is seeking a deeper integration of people through the reconstruction of the bourgeois party system, at a critical moment for the people and its movement. SYRIZA’s program is not in the interests of the workers and the people. It is a program… moving on the track of serving the interests of monopolistic groups, the EU strategy, which tells the people to forget that they can get back everything they lost and promises only some crumbs of a ‘poorhouse’ to the most extremely poor, which will be outweighed by the overall anti-popular policy. For the majority of workers… SYRIZA’s program is sharing poverty and unemployment to more”[15].

When SYRIZA announced the reuptake of some 10.000 public employees who were dismissed by the previous government, the nationalization of some privatized public enterprises, a ban of residential foreclosures, the provision of free electricity for 300.000 poor families and a rise of the minimum wage to 751€ in the private sector, KKE hastened to repeat the above position.

Clearly these KKE declarations are unjustified and cannot be substantiated by any serious arguments. It remains, of course, to be seen if SYRIZA will be able to withstand pressures and blackmail from the EU and lenders, which has already started and will intensify in the next few months, by cutting liquidity, etc. But in themselves, these are positive measures, which should be supported by everyone in the Left.

Nor is there any truth in KKE’s assertions that SYRIZA is the same with ND and is furthering the interests of monopolies and the ruling classes, who support it because they determine and guide its “anti-popular policies”. As an answer to the later claim, we shall invoke two commentaries, from diametrically opposed sides.

The first comes from the Greek bourgeois press. Any look to the conservative and “democratic” Greek systemic newspapers proves their fears about the situation, stemming from the fact that the new government is not controlled by them. Limiting ourselves to just one example, we shall quote some comments from the January 31th issue of Ta Nea, a systemic newspaper which was considered democratic but which staunchly supported the Memorandums and austerity measures during the last years.

In their editorial of the day, “A hundred days”, they say: “The continued announcement of subversive measures on all levels –as if everything is going to be done in one day– certainly is a cause of insecurity for the markets as well as big segments of Greek society”[16].

Chr. Papachristou, a main commentator of Ta Nea, asserts in his column that as a well-intentioned person he would be willing to give the new government some time, but reproaches it for proceeding without creating a “secure base” which would “convince the markets”. He refers to the sorry impressions made by Tsipras to Martin Schulz, the European Parliament President, as an example of SYRIZA’s “ineptitudes”. More significantly, the same commentator expresses his regret that the “democratic” pole in Greece (i.e. PASOK, Potami and Papandreou’s KIDISO) has sunk to a percentage bellow 15%. He views that as a calamity and urges for the need to begin “a discussion within the Center-Left which would potentially lead to the reconstruction of the democratic camp”[17].

Another commentator, M. Mitsou, is even more explicit. He refers to the “statements of new ministers about the reuptake of public servants, the increase of basic salary and abolishment (which later became reappraisal) of privatizations”, to conclude that “the government is playing with fire”[18].

Clearly, these are not statements of systemic circles who feel they are in control of the situation. They do indeed try to direct the new government and political developments into favorable channels, but they themselves acknowledge that they are a far way from having achieved it. Their main fear is that the initial changes announced by SYRIZA together with the coming confrontation with the EU on the debt could lead to uncontrolled events and an intervention of the popular movements, in Greece and elsewhere. Their urgent call to reorganize the “democratic pole”, so as to have a secure barrier to any progressive developments, comes precisely from these fears.

The second commentary comes from Alekos Halvatzis, a former cadre of KNE (the KKE youth), who withdrew from KNE and KKE a few years ago, denouncing its sectarian practices. He presented a new criticism of KKE in his blog a few days before the elections. Halvatzis is of the opinion that “SYRIZA is more likely to become an instrument of the bourgeoisie, an ordinary pole of management and alternation [within the system]”, which is of course a questionable view and cannot be taken as granted. But he convincingly explains why KKE’s allegations about SYRIZA being “a new PASOK” and “a pawn of the ruling classes” are wrong even in this scenario.

“This transformation”, he says, “will not take place undisturbed, it [SYRIZA] will not be in the beginning just the same thing… So it is now neither a choice of the bourgeoisie, nor will there be a typical alternation. No SYRIZA is not a ‘new PASOK’. It may, analogously how the comparison is made, be better or worse or more vulnerable from some version of PASOK, but it is not PASOK. And it could not be, because PASOK was founded and evolved under different conditions and with different materials… At the present moment, SYRIZA is not PASOK, neither of 1974, nor of 1981, nor of 1985, nor of the modernization [i.e., Simitis] period… KKE, by throwing vulgar phrases to close the matter makes its audience not to take it seriously”[19].

Halvatzis also explains why KKE’s reasoning and stance are wrong even if one assumes that SYRIZA does become gradually incorporated into the system:

“The ongoing for months terrorizing campaign by the mass media and ‘systemic factors’, the attempt to demonize SYRIZA and identify it with all that is ‘irresponsible’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘subversive’, ‘anarchist’ and ‘antichrist’, did not take place simply as a result of love for Samaras and petty party support for ND. It took place in order to avert or at least postpone or at least weaken SYRIZA’s rise to the government. This of course is no proof of SYRIZA’s revolutionary character but shows it is not, at this moment, the choice of the bourgeoisie… A SYRIZA government, either by its rather unlikely radicalization or by its incorporation will create turbulences in the stagnant political and social scene and this is definitely something different than the undisturbed decay we experience, on all levels, during the last years. Even only SYRIZA’s declarations against the authoritarian downturn and the ultra-Right, fascist course of the present government suffice to activate the brutish reflexes of the more cannibalistic sections of the bourgeoisie, the ‘deep state’, the secret services, who do not have the ability and mood to invest on a slow course of SYRIZA’s incorporation. These pocks will ‘yelp’ or even ‘bite’ for its immediate overturn. This is something different than the present ‘business-as-usual’, relatively undisturbed course of fascization of the state, law and society. It is something more glaring and will necessarily put everyone in front of his responsibilities”[20].

In our opinion, this is an excellent exposure of the main mistake of KKE’s policy. This mistake does not lie in pointing to the Right-reformist forces within SYRIZA and the new government, for such forces do undoubtedly exist. It consists in presenting these forces as the only ones, and indeed the already dominant ones, in this way ignoring the radical possibilities imminent in the new situation and in practice helping the conservative elements, while verbally denouncing them.

Halvatzis was raised in the conditions of the Stalinist turn in KKE after 1991, which he has used to consider as something given. He does not therefore see the connection between this Stalinist turn and the sectarian tactics followed by the KKE, tending to regard the later as something accidental, the result of bad reasonings and not of the bureaucratic character of the Papariga-Koutsoumbas leadership. He therefore thinks that KKE could heal itself form sectarianism and return to a more sound policy and a positive relationship with the movements.

This however is harboring an illusion. The policy and character of KKE is fixed and cannot change; to perform such a change would demand from the present leadership to admit first that it was wrong in all its main positions. This they will do under no circumstances. On the contrary, the policy of KKE in the coming period will be to count on a possible SYRIZA failure and demagogically exploit it in order to increase its influence. This is an adventurist policy clothed with pseudo-Marxist phrases, with no prospect of success, as the beneficiary of such a development will be the ultra-Right.

The heavy responsibility of the KKE leadership is further underscored by the fact that KKE’s rank and file consist of fighting elements of the proletariat, who really want to struggle for socialism. A different stance by the KKE leadership would be beneficial not only for KKE itself but for the cause of the Greek Left. It would create a more stable basis in the trade unions and other organizations than that possessed by SYRIZA who is mainly strong in white collar workers. Yet KKE activists and people are led astray by the spirit of blind discipline cultivated by its Stalinist leaders during the last decades.

As Paris Makridis of Xekinima justly observes, in an article in the latest issue of Marxist Thought, KKE’s policy, tactics and ideology have as little in common with Marxism as sheep have with nuclear physics[21]. It is therefore the task of the Radical Left to work for creating a new communist vanguard party and call honest activists in KKE to disobey their leadership.

 

4.2. The result and course of ANTARSYA

ANTARSYA, together with MARS (the group of A. Alavanos) received 0.64% in these elections. ANTARSYA’s Central Committee announcement views this result as “a positive one”, stating that “It reflects the influence of the other road, of rupture with the debt, the euro, the EU and the forces of capital which of higher significance than recorded by elections”[22]. We feel however that this is an over-statement, which attempts to embellish a poor result and the bad choices made by ANTARSYA during the last years, which lay behind it.

ANTARSYA, a formation comprised by a number of Leftist political groups who created it in 2009, adopted it is true a more creative and productive stance than KKE during the last years. Its activists had an essential contribution to the Indignant Movement of 2011-12, helping it mature and overcome its initial confusion. A number of Marxist intellectuals working in its ranks did a lot to popularize the prospect of debt default and exit from the euro as a legitimate and viable way of answering the crisis and the Memorandums. They presented this prospect as a practicable one and a solution to be sought now, not after the workers revolution which would create the “popular power”, as KKE did. Of course, other Left intellectuals like Costas Lapavistas (who was elected an MP with SYRIZA presently) and Yiannis Tolios of SYRIZA’s Left Current (who unfortunately was not elected), contributed to that work too, as did ANTARSYA’s people, like Petros Papakonstantinou, Panayiotis Sotiris and Leonidas Vatikiotis.

However ANTARSYA failed the crucial test of developing strong bonds with the people and this is not just due to “negative external circumstances”. It relates to the “circles” mentality and sectarian frictions of its components which make it work on a somewhat unrealistic basis, colored by ultra-Left and intellectualist tendencies. This was expressed in a number of unfortunate political choices, which prevented it from strengthening its influence.

ANTARSYA chose to refuse the cooperation offered by SYRIZA in the 2012 May elections. As a result it was unable to elect any MPs receiving 1.2% then and being crushed in the second, June elections, with 0.33%. That was a totally unfortunate choice, since SYRIZA’s 2012 program was an acceptable base for cooperation. It prevented ANTARSYA from acquiring a parliamentary group, which would have been practically independent from SYRIZA and had helped make it more known to the people.

In the 2014 EU elections, after long and dull discussions, ANTARSYA failed to cooperate with Plan-B of Alavanos (a precursor of his present a bit enlarged group MARS, which includes one or two ANTARSYA components that came to his side). Whether one attributes that failure chiefly on ANTARSYA or Plan-B or to both, it made a bad impression to all people of the Radical Left who are not blinded by sectarian passions. As a result, another chance was spoiled, the two groups taking part separately and receiving 0.72% and 0.2% respectively.

ANTARSYA again rejected the cooperation proposal made by Tsipras himself before the 2015 elections. The 0.64% it took may show a small part of the possibilities of the Radical Left, but is in itself rather negligible. However, it would not have been negligible if ANTARSYA and MARS had accepted SYRIZA’s proposal. Added to SYRIZA’s percentage, it would have given 2 or 3 more MPs. SYRIZA would obtain in this way the 151 majority and ANTARSYA would most likely elect some MPS. The result would be that instead of the present government being pressed by the Right (by ANEL) there would be a homogenous SYRIZA government pressed by the Left (the ANTARSYA MPs). This chance was missed too.

ANTARSYA’s representatives will most likely say that, even if one acknowledges SYRIZA as a party of Left reformism and admits that a pressure of this kind could have some minor results, it would not be sufficient to change it to a revolutionary party, nor prove decisive in the coming battles against capitalism.

Theoretically, this may be true. It ignores however the small detail that we are presently not in a revolutionary but in a preparatory period. In a period like that, during which parliamentary battles have still the main say, being able to pressure SYRIZA from the Left and securing some MPs for ANTARSYA would be very important. In fact, it would the best possible thing to achieve under the present conditions, and it would allow ANTARSYA to find a way to the masses, benefiting too from the sectarian attitudes of KKE.

Another argument frequently brought up by ANTARSYA’s representatives is that they are in favor of common action and a united front with SYRIZA within the movements, but they reject an electoral cooperation, because this is in itself opportunist. The first part of this argument is definitely correct and differentiates ANTARSYA positively from KKE, who rejects united front tactics in all fields in favor of acting separately. Restricting cooperation and alliances only within the movements however is wrong: ANTARSYA repeats here a mistake made by Trotsky who exempted the parliamentary field from the united front tactics, saying they are applicable only to joint mass actions. In fact, the united front should be applied to all fields of the class struggle and Lenin himself had suggested to the British communists an electoral cooperation with the Labor Party, despite the fact that this party was opportunist and chauvinist during World War I[23].

ANTARSYA resembles in some ways the Spanish POUM, being an amalgamation of Trotskyite groups (like SEK, OKDE, etc.) and semi-Bukharinist ones (mainly NAR, a Leftist break from KKE in 1989, which followed the footsteps of the 1917-1918 Russian Left Communists, while Kotzias, its main theoretician, changed his course, like Bukharin did later, towards the Right). There is one important difference, however. In Spain, an important leader was found in the person of Andre Nin, who was able to really unite these trends. In Greece, this was not the case until now.

Of course, a later upsurge of the movements might give some push to ANTARSYA. Yet, as things stand presently, its prospects appear dubious.

 In conclusion

In his famous “Left Wing” Communism, Lenin insisted on the fact that in the future struggles in Europe communists would be forced, by the logic of the class struggle itself, to conduct quite a number of compromises. He enumerated many such instances from the history of the Bolshevik Party and stressed that the whole point was not to reject compromises in general but to learn to discern the acceptable from the unacceptable ones. This, he said, would be by no means easy, and there would appear “individual cases of exceptional difficulty and complexity, when the greatest efforts are necessary for a proper assessment of the actual character of this or that ‘compromise’… in politics, where it is sometimes a matter of extremely complex relations –national and international– between classes and parties, very many cases will arise that will be much more difficult than the question of a legitimate ‘compromise’ in a strike or a treacherous ‘compromise’ by a strike-breaker, treacherous leader, etc”[24].

These farsighted remarks of Lenin give, in our opinion, an important clue for answering the key question put in an article by Michael Burke and John Ross, the question of “how to turn hope into reality”[25] after SYRIZA’s victory. Their timeliness and aptness has been confirmed from the very first day of the new Greek government, when it chose to opt for a compromise on the question of sanctions against Russia, agreeing with a softer version instead of vetoing them. Was that a legitimate or an illegitimate compromise?

We will not attempt to answer here this question. Arguments might be presented for both sides and it would be difficult and lengthy to discuss them. What we wish to point out is the urgent character for the Left, Greek and European alike, of developing a culture and a tactics that will enable it to discuss in a serious way such questions.

To answer the question as KKE did here in Greece, saying that the compromise made was by definition unacceptable and that it showed SYRIZA’s hypocrisy, is childish and foolish[26]. On the contrary, the question which should be put is: Under the specific conditions prevailing now was that a legitimate compromise? And if yes, under which ones will it cease to be?

This problem of legitimate and illegitimate compromises is destined to come up at every step. It will appear in the coming election of the new President (the termination of office of the former President Karolos Papoulias was the cause of the early elections) in mid-February. A compromise on this subject –scenarios are heard about electing a President coming from the Right like D. Avramopoulos– would in our opinion be a wrong choice, since it would be a concession with no real gain. Moreover the Left may not be so strong in Europe to directly challenge European reaction, but SYRIZA definitely has the dynamic to elect a progressive President in Greece. And it will appear, of course, with regard to the burning debt issue, on which Varoufakis, after his crush with Dijsselbloem a few days ago, has already presented some new, conciliatory proposals in a Monday meeting with City of London investors[27].

The problem of compromises is also closely connected with that of alliances. What are the extent of programmatic retreats and the “broadness” of alliances the Radical Left can make without losing sight of its aims? This problem presents itself even more acutely in countries with a rising Left like Spain and Ireland since Podemos and Sinn Fein seem to be somewhat more Right formations than SYRIZA. It is justly raised by Des Derwin in an article in ILR[28].

In our opinion, while it is necessary to point to the dangers of broad alliances as Derwin does, it would be a mistake for the Radical Left to avoid taking part in them if they are formed. Such a stance would only isolate it, bringing to a position of impotency like that of ANTARSYA in Greece.

In his “Left Wing” Communism Lenin insisted on the fact that Bolsheviks had made occasional alliances and election blocks not only with other genuine Lefts, but also with reformists and Rights. He mentions specifically their political block with Piotr Struve, the leader of Russian liberalism, in 1901-1902 and their alliance in the 1907 Duma elections with the Socialist Revolutionaries, a party including not only Left but “social-liberal” elements too.

While insisting on the necessity of such compromises, Lenin mentioned two conditions on which they can prove beneficial to a communist vanguard. The first is that the communists retain their right to ideologically criticize and expose their allies’ inconsistencies (without that condition, he said, an alliance with the reformists “would be a treachery”). And the second one, that they consider these alliances as only temporary ones, which will have to be broken at a later stage, at least with some of the allies[29].

The Radical Left in Greece, i.e. SYRIZA’s Left wing and ANTARSYA, has not managed until now to develop such a concrete and grounded way of thinking with regard to tactics. It has tended to restrict itself to questions of strategy, proving the need for a radical break with the EU, debt cancelation and the introduction of a transitional program, if the Left cause in Greece is going to succeed. But arguing this, while essential, is clearly inadequate. One should also be able to develop a concrete tactical thinking, which takes account of the real (and always changing) relation of forces, and does not argue as if all conditions for a revolutionary change have matured, when this is obviously not the case. The October Revolution took place and triumphed after a four years world war had dealt a deadly weakening to world capitalism, at least for some time. Today capitalism has been weakened by the world economic crisis, but it is patently still not in such a wretched condition to justify the view that every moment and every subject is suitable for making a revolutionary break or gesture.

SYRIZA’s victory is such a break. Or, to put it more precisely, it can prove the beginning of such a break, if it is properly developed and utilized by the movements and the Left in Europe. It is very probable that it will deepen with coming victories of Podemos in Spain and Sinn Fein in Ireland. Whether this initial break will develop to a real revolutionary change will depend though on the maturity of the movements and the Radical Left.

 

*Christos Kefalis is editor of the Greek journal Marxist Thought.

 Notes

 

[1] The results of the first seven parties that entered the parliament:

Party Votes % +/- % Seats +/-
SYRIZA 2,246,064 36.34 + 9.45 149 + 78
New Democracy 1,718,815 27.81 – 1.85 76 – 53
Golden Dawn 388,447 6.28 – 0.64 17 – 1
Potami 373,868 6.05 17
KKE 338,138 5.47 + 0.97 15 + 3
ANEL 293,371 4.75 – 2.76 13 – 7
PASOK 289,482 4.68 – 7.60 13 – 20

KIDISO, the new party of the former Prime Minister Papandreou, got 2.46%, below the 3% limit necessary for entering the Parliament. DIMAR of Fotis Kouvelis, who broke from SYRIZA in 2010, in cooperation with some ecologists, took just 0.49%, compared with 5.76% in 2012. Finally, the anticapitalist ANTARSYA, together with MARS (of former SYRIZA leader Alekos Alavanos) received 0.64%, also a rather poor result. The last three were far below the Union of Centrists of Vasilis Leventis (a comical “perennial contender” in the Greek elections) and Teleia (the party of Apostolos Gletsos, an actor who had flirted some years ago with KKE), receiving 1.79% and 1.77% respectively.

 

[2] A. Apostolopoulos, “All Greece echoes with one voice…”, article on iskra.gr  .

[3] One might say aphoristically that ANEL’s supporters are radically conservative, while those of Potami are conservatively radical…

[4] Strictly speaking that would be impossible, like the division a/0…
[5] As G. Katsambekis rightly observes, a coalition between SYRIZA and Potami “would be a very problematic and indeed contradictory choice, because ‘The River’ has an outright neoliberal economic agenda and supports the continuation of austerity in Greece, which is exactly what SYRIZA opposes on every level. It even has members like Miranda Xafa, a former executive of the IMF that was actively involved in the disastrous austerity (‘stability’) programmes in Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, or MPs like Stathis Theocharis, a former public revenues general secretary in the Samaras government and a prominent supporter of the austerity/memorandum agenda”. The same commentator aptly comments also on ANEL: “They are indeed right-wing and nationalist, and in some sense even ultra-conservative, but by no means are they extremist or outright racist/xenophobic. Nevertheless, ANEL do indeed contain some very worrying xenophobic, racist and sometimes conspiracy-mongering elements that need to be seriously taken into account”. G. Katsambekis, “A government of the Left in Greece: the coalition of SYRIZA with ANEL and what lies ahead”, http://www.chronosmag.eu/index.php/g-katsambekis-a-government-of-the-left-in-greece-the-coalition-of-syriza-with-anel-and-what-lies-ahead.html.
[6] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jw7wQfoCUg.

[7] Varoufakis himself until 2012 stressed his non-partisan political position, while Kotzias comes from KKE, but had approached PASOK later and served as advisor for George Papandreou in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[8] The massive mobilization of the anti-Nazi movement after the murder of the Left activist Pavlos Fyssas by Roupakias, a Golden Dawn member, in 2013 played an important role on this outcome. For an analysis of the Greek anti-Nazi movement during the last few years, see an article by the Takis Giannopoulos, “The anti-fascist movement in Greece: a necessary evaluation”, in Marxist Thought, vol. 16, pp. 287-298.

[9] “Was there another way apart from the alliance with ANEL?”, Statement of the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA, http://www.marxismos.com/greece-menu/24-greek-politics/syn-syriza/2296-allos-dromos-oxi-sunergasia-anel.html.

[10] “Statement of DEA on the elections result and political developments”, http://dea.org.gr/.

[11] A. Payiatsos, “A cooperation government with ANEL and not KKE – why?”, http://www.xekinima.org/arthra/view/article/kybernisi-synergasias-me-toys-anel-alla-oxi-me-to-kke/.

[12] Chr., Kefalis, “Greece on the Eve of Municipal and European Parliament Elections: a Riddle Waiting to be Solved”, http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/05/13/greece-eve-municipal-european-parliament-elections-riddle-waiting-solved/.

[13] D. Koutsoumbas, “No tolerance to governments who offer a helping hand to the system”, Rizospastis, 15/1/2015, http://www.rizospastis.gr/story.do?id=8276796.

[14] “Statement of the KKE Central Committee on the result of the January 15th Parliamentary Elections”, http://www.kke.gr/anakoinoseis_grafeioy_typoy/anakoinosh_ths_kentrikhs_epitrophs_toy_kke_gia_to_apotelesma_ton_boyleytikon_eklogon_ths_25hs_genarh_2015.

[15] Ibid. Let us note, by the way, that a similar analysis with that of KKE is offered by some European Trotskyite groups, notably the WSWS, a group combining good social analysis with absurdly sectarian politics. Thus, Peter Schwarz claims in an article that “SYRIZA does not represent the interests of the working class, which is under attack by the financial elites and their political representatives not only in Greece, but throughout Europe, including in Germany. It speaks for sections of the Greek and European bourgeoisie, who feel side-lined by Berlin and advocate a different capitalist financial policy that more strongly corresponds with their interests” (P. Schwarz, “SYRIZA’s electoral success and the pseudo-Left”, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/01/28/syri-j28.html). The proof of all this is that SYRIZA does not conduct “a socialist policy, which strives to unite the working class in Europe and internationally in a struggle against capitalism”.

This type of argument was also propounded by the Stalinist sectarians of the KPD in Germany during the 1930ies, to denounce any alliance with the SPD on the grounds that it tolerated the capitalistic Brüning government and its harsh austerity measures. Trotsky had validly answered those who argued that way by saying that “in another and a wider historical sense you, raucously bleating gentlemen, are nevertheless compelled to ‘put up with’ Brüning’s government, because you lack the thews and sinews to overthrow it” (L. Trotsky, What Next?, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/germany/1932-ger/next02.htm#s6).

Gentlemen in the WSWS would do well to give some thought to the fact that, since neither SYRIZA nor themselves have the forces to overthrow the German and EU oligarchy, arguing in this way is the totally wrong way to criticize SYRIZA’s concessions and blunders. It is as if they are saying: “If we were in SYRIZA’s position, everyone would see that we are the real revolutionaries – but alas we are not, and no one has seen it as yet”.

[16] Ta Nea, p. 2.

[17] Ibid, p. 7.

[18] Ibid, p. 10.

[19] A. Halvatzis, “Thoughts motivated by the coming elections”, www.alekosch.wordpress.com.

[20] Ibid.

[21] P. Makridis, “The Squares Movement and the movements’ strategy: a criticism to KKE’s assessments”, Marxist Thought, v. 16, p. 282-283.

[22] “Announcement of the Central Committee of ANTARSYA for the results of the Greek elections”, http://www.antarsya.gr/node/2901.

[23] For Lenin’s positions, see the chapter “‘Left Wing’ communism in Britain” in his Left Wing Communism, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch09.htm. Trotsky’s argument was most clearly expressed in his Wither France?, where he turned to a basis for rejecting participation in the Popular Front, even for a limited time, as a matter of principle.

[24] See the section “No compromises?”, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch08.htm.

[25] M. Burke and J. Ross, “Syriza’s Victory: Turning Hope into Reality”, http://www.irishleftreview.org/2015/01/29/syrizas-victory-turning-hope-reality/.

[26] With regard to the commentary of KKE, see “Coalition government ANEL-SYRIZA: it lined with renewing sanctions against Russia”, Rizospastis, 30/1/2015, http://www.rizospastis.gr/story.do?id=8299172, and “Blustering and reality”, Rizospastis, 31/1/2015, http://www2.rizospastis.gr/columnStory.do?publDate=31/1/2015&id=15569&columnId=7401.

[27] The main idea of these proposals, abandoning debt cancelation in favor of exchanging debt with “perpetual bonds”, is criticized by P. Papakonstantinou of NAR in an article, “The cheese and the mousetrap”, http://www.iskra.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19414:papakon-tyri-faka&catid=58:oikonomiki-politiki&Itemid=182. Papakonstantinou justly considers that a compromise made on these terms will be a harmful compromise. He points to the fact that in order to get the most it can the Greek government should not make unilateral and beforehand concessions, but should insist on debt cancellation.

[28] D. Derwin, “Leave it out!  Left in and left out in Irish Syrizian thinking”, http://www.irishleftreview.org/2015/02/03/leave-left-left-irish-syrizian-thinking/.

[29] See Lenin, ibid, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch08.htm.

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