Strengthen Ties with the People and Maneuver Cleverly: The Tasks of the Greek Radical Left

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An article by Christos Kefalis, a member of the editorial board of the Greek journal Marxist Thought

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The last few weeks have seen a number of crushing developments in Greece. Especially the Greek referendum and the signing of a new memorandum by the SYRIZA government are historical events which will strongly influence not only the future of the Greek but of the European Left as well. They will also influence the further course of the EU and the Eurozone, which came on the verge of dissolution and showed by the way it dealt with the crisis its true class nature.

SYRIZA’s signing of a new memorandum cannot be called otherwise but a heavy, unacceptable compromise and a capitulation. This is all the more true, since the Greek people, with its decisive “No” had expressed a massive support for a break with the memorandum policies in the Greek referendum just a week ago. The SYRIZA leadership, however, and Alexis Tsipras personally, chose to come in line with the spokesmen of “Yes”, the bankrupt bourgeois Greek political forces that supported the previous memoranda and the corrupt Greek and European elites.

This choice of the SYRIZA leadership does not in the least diminish the importance of the daring “No” raised by the Greek people in the referendum. This was a “No” not only to the EU agreement proposals, but the memorandum and austerity policies as a whole. The Greek people stood up against unbearable pressures by the Greek mass media, the parties of the ruling class and the EU leaders and showed, by their stance and vote, that they are ready and willing to support another road and overthrow the austerity policies. This result, unexpected even to the most optimistic commentators of the Left, is a proof of the possibility and a call for resistance of the European peoples, as the only force capable of producing radical change.

The decision of the SYRIZA leadership to compromise at all cost with the lenders must be criticized by all Left activists and Marxists in particular. However, it is essential to provide a serious criticism, which points exactly and explains its mistakes.

A number of ultra-Left forces here in Greece, and perhaps elsewhere too, respond to SYRIZA’s compromise by shouting “betrayal”, arguing it proves the bankruptcy of reformist tactics and the fact that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is the only road. However, this kind of criticism misses the fact that the situation in January, when the SYRIZA-ANEL government was formed, was not revolutionary, and it is neither so now. In such a situation it is necessary to maneuver and arguing that focusing on maneuvers and reforms leads to a deadlock, is the wrong way to argue. While this is true on the long run, it does not rule out the necessity to deal seriously with the phases of the struggle when maneuvering predominates and this cannot be done by calling for the immediate application of revolutionary tactics.

In fact, the SYRIZA leadership must be criticized not for maneuvering in general, but for maneuvering badly. It must be criticized for the vacillations and lack of planning it showed during this phase of maneuvers, leading it to a position where it was forced to accept an intolerable compromise. In particular the following points should be noted:

  • SYRIZA lost too much time in meaningless negotiations for months. The dragging on of these negotiations was just a means for the ruling circles of the EU to drive the Greek economy to the present financial suffocation, after exhausting its reserves. The supposed progresses during these negotiations, like the Greek 47 pages proposal, were all sham, a plot intended by the German ruling circles to bring about the present situation.
  • The election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as President of the Greek Democracy was also an unnecessary concession. It indicated SYRIZA’s leadership readiness for further moves to the Right, when the situation called for cautious moves to the Left.
  • The payment of roughly €8 billion in February-June from the Greek reserves to the EMF was also a step leading to direct capitulation. If the SYRIZA government wanted to base itself on the people, it should have led things to a referendum in February or March, when it had still the means to resist for some time the economic sabotage from the EU. Obviously, if the Greek government had some billions € in reserves this might not suffice to support a break with the EU, but it could help endure for some months a situation with closed banks, etc, and this would put the EU ruling elites under pressure, as the consequences of the protracted instability would begin to be strongly felt by their economies too.
  • Apart from these Right mistakes, the SYRIZA leadership made, in our opinion, a “Left” mistake when it rejected the conciliatory proposal made by Merkel just before the decision for the referendum. This proposal for an extension of the present memorandum for 5 months would have provided the Greek state €15.5 billion for this five month period. It would have been a harsh compromise, including an “evaluation” by the “institutions”. However it would last for only 5 months leaving further options open, while not including the devastating, enslaving conditions of the new memorandum, like the sell-off of public property. During that time the Greek government would build up some monetary reserves from various sources (EU inputs, tourism, taxation etc). Moreover, the end of this five month period would coincide with the parliamentary elections in Spain. A Greek referendum at that time, together with a possible victory of the Left forces in Spain (especially if they are able to unite), would have given a strong thrust to popular movements across Europe.

All this comes to show that, despite all negative aspects, this would have been an acceptable compromise. The reason the SYRIZA leadership failed to take advantage of that opportunity is its fear of the people, together with its illusions about the real intentions of the EU leading circles. As a result it never considered seriously the prospect of a rupture at a suitable moment and of preparing the people for it, but chose to reach a “final” agreement at all costs, falsely hoping it would not be so harsh.

On the other hand, on the basis of this analysis, one can see why the ultra-Left cries of “betrayal” and “rapture now”, etc, miss the target. A rupture with the Greek banks in their present condition would not be manageable and would end up with chaos, even after the introduction of a national currency. The correct course would have been to utilize the “5 month agreement proposal” and prepare for a rupture in the end of it.

Things having come as they did, it is clear that the vote on the preconditions of the agreement and the agreement itself in the Greek Parliament during the next days and the course of its implementation will cause major political realignments and changes in the Greek political scene. Clearly, the new memorandum is not viable in the long run and it will not solve the problems of the Greek economy but only aggravate them. Already, the Left Platform, the second stronger SYRIZA component, as well as many other components and personalities like Zoi Konstantopoulou, the President of the Greek Parliament, KOE (a Maoist SYRIZA group with 4 MPs), DEA (a Trotskyite group also represented in the parliament), etc –all in all some 30-35 MPs– have expressed their intention to vote against the agreement. The representatives of the SYRIZA Left in the government will in all probability be replaced in the next few days, and it is quite doubtful if SYRIZA’s unity can be preserved. The prospect of the SYRIZA government losing its parliamentary majority and of new elections is imminent. Moreover, there will also be important repercussions on other political forces, those of the Left and the bourgeois ones as well. The resignation of A. Samaras from the ND presidency immediately after the referendum was only a prelude to them. It is essential therefore to take a look at possible developments and especially the prospects of a successful regrouping in the Left.

After signing the new agreement, SYRIZA’s center and Alexis Tsipras personally has decisively sided with the Right of the Party against the Left. SYRIZA’s Right, comprising by people like Stathakis, Mardas and Tsakalotos, together with Tsipras’s close collaborators like Skourletis and Dragasakis, are working together for the implementation of the new memorandum. The question is: how should the SYRIZA Left react to the present situation? Should it try to remain within SYRIZA or orient itself to withdrawing (a forcible expulsion by the majority is also a possibility) and creating a new Left party.

Following the first road would imply that the Left Platform and other components will succumb to an extent to party discipline, quit their governmental posts, vote for the agreement and wage for some time guerilla warfare. However, the Left Platform seems to choose a line of direct confrontation, which if followed will most likely lead to a break in SYRIZA. This will depend also on the stance of the SYRIZA majority, but it is difficult to see how these opposing tendencies will coexist while implementing a new memorandum.

It could be argued, of course, that in such a critical moment it is preferable to try to create a new political formation that will remain faithful to SYRIZA’s declarations and program, than compromise. Even the proponents of the SYRIZA majority admit that the new memorandum runs completely contrary to these declarations and program, arguing like the former ND and PASOK governments that the EU program is a sad necessity because there is no other way. This line of action has therefore some justification. However, one should note that SYRIZA’s Left has not prepared itself for it and the groups comprising it luck the necessary cohesion that would offer prospects for success.

SYRIZA’s Left Platform, led by Panagiotis Lafazanis, has a strong base in SYRIZA’s organization, especially the trade unions cadres, etc. It lacks however a base in the Marxist intelligentsia, apart from a few representatives like Lapavitsas, Tolios and Kouvelakis, and has failed to present a serious alternative strategy and plan. It does not even possess a daily newspaper, which smaller SYRIZA components do have, and its site, Iskra, is crowded by propagandistic and sometimes even nationalistic articles. Other Left components like KOE and DEA are not free from some serious limitations too.

KKE, with the stance it took regarding the referendum proved once again its ultra-sectarian, dogmatist and, in essence pseudo-communist character. Its leadership declared the referendum to be fraud, arguing that both possibilities of a new memorandum and a Grexit are equally harmful to the people. D. Koutsoumbas, its General Secretary, went as far as to state, in his speech during the discussion concerning the “authorization” for the Tsipras proposal in the Parliament in July 10th, that big segments of the Greek bourgeoisie were in favor of a Grexit as this would allow them to exploit the labor force even more intensely. This support of the bourgeoisie towards a Grexit in fact existed only in Mr. Koutsoumbas’s head, since all major corporations, as well as the official associations of the industrialists and merchants, the media, etc, openly advocated and campaigned in favor of “Yes”. In essence, KKE, used the conciliatory plans of the SYRIZA leadership as an alibi to turn its back to the people. But a number of its members fought for the victory of “No” in the referendum.

However, KKE has a solid organization and SYRIZA’s Left Platform has refrained for years from criticizing it, even allying itself with shallow KKE journalists like N. Bogiopoulos. There is therefore a danger that, in the case of a SYRIZA break, it will able to attract some of the dissatisfied Left supporters of SYRIZA, instead of them going to a new, unknown party formed by the SYRIZA Left.

ANTARSYA has also condemned fiercely the new memorandum, calling for the strengthening of the anti-capitalist Left. This being legitimate, however, there is no concern within ANTARSYA about its complete failure to obtain a mass base and build real ties with the people. Definitely, its activists took a very active part in organizing the fight for “No” in the referendum, a fact that opens some prospects for its strengthening in the coming period. However, the sectarian and circle mentalities prevailing in it put in doubt if this push will be significant enough while there remains to be seen what stance it will adopt in the case a new Left party is formed by the SYRIZA Left.

The referendum’s result, with its resounding “No”, intensified the crisis in the establishment parties (the former ruling parties of ND and PASOK and the yuppies party POTAMI). Their plans, which aimed at a direct overthrow of the SYRIZA-ANEL government, were frustrated. Without abandoning these plans, they have therefore adopted a more flexible tactics of tolerating the present government and trying to reach a deal with it. Dora Bakogianni, the favorite for the ND leadership, has already proposed the formation of a “special cause” national government with Tsipras at its head.

In the coming period, the danger from the Golden Dawn neo-Nazis will increase. Golden Dawn took a position in favor of “No” in the referendum, for demagogic purposes and also hoping to take advantage of the chaos that will ensue in the case of a SYRIZA failure and a disorderly break with the EU.

During the previous years the leading role of SYRIZA in the anti-memorandum front ensured that the majority of the Greek people moved towards the Left. With SYRIZA taking the course of becoming a memorandum party and the situation deteriorating even further, the neo-Nazi danger will again be on the ascent.

In a recent article, Petros Papakonstantinou, an able journalist of ANTARSYA, makes a valid comparison between the Versailles Treaty and the new memorandum signed by the SYRIZA-ANEL government, which can serve as a suitable occasion for summing up what we have already said. As he puts it:

“Just like with the Versailles Treaty, the First World War victors sew pain and humiliation in the German nation, only to reap a fierce reprisal, so the present German elites demean and enslave Greece, to reap –one hopes in another way– the indignation and aversion of the peoples of Europe and the whole world”[1].

Papakonstantinou is right in the historical analogy he makes, in the sense at least that the ruling imperialist circles have no mercy to those who are weak, either it be a big but temporarily weak country like Germany or a small one like Greece. He fails however to mention in his analysis the tactics Lenin had recommended to the German communists regarding their fight against the Versailles Treaty.

Lenin discussed the matter in his famous “Left Wing communism”. Arguing against the ultra-Lefts’ position that it was the duty of the communists to denounce the Versaille Treaty at once in case the German revolution was victorious, Lenin said that it was not correct. “We are in no way obligated”, he insisted, “to repudiate the Treaty of Versailles, come what may, or to do so at once. The possibility of its successful repudiation will depend, not only on German, but also on the international successes of the Soviet movement”. In this connection, he criticized Kautsky and Scheidemann, the reformists of the time, not for maneuvering but because they “maneuvered very clumsily”. The German Left communists were accepting battle prematurely and this, said Lenin, was a crime: “To accept battle at a time when it is obviously advantageous to the enemy, but not to us, is criminal; political leaders of the revolutionary class are absolutely useless if they are incapable of “changing tack, or offering conciliation and compromise” in order to take evasive action in a patently disadvantageous battle”[2].

A number of commentators suggest that Greece might be able to break with the Euro independently and, under a government of the Left, become an independent, socialist oriented country, like Cuba or Venezuela. The comparison, however, is mismatched, as Cuba and Venezuela attained there independent status without having an American Union to face. The EU is a prison of the peoples and, in order to successfully escape from it, the collaboration of some prisoners is required. This comes to testify that one should criticize SYRIZA not for maneuvering, but for maneuvering badly because of insufficient trust towards the people. The cries about “betrayal”, against “compromises” in general, etc, miss in fact the difficulty of the task involved. In this sense, they use the inadequacies of SYRIZA to hide the inadequacy of those who resort to them.

The signing of the new memorandum by the Greek government has opened a new phase of the class struggle. Millions of people in the EU had a direct experience of the nature of the EU, which has nothing to do with the interests of the peoples. In Greece, already major strikes have been announced. The task of the radical Left under these conditions will be to strengthen its ties with the people, and in view of the complexities of the coming struggles, learn also to maneuver cleverly and successfully.

Addendum (10PM 15th July 2015)

With developments running as quickly as they do, it is difficult to keep up with them. We should mention however the appearance today of a Statement supported by the SYRIZA Central Committee (CC), which condemns the new agreement. This Statement, signed, for the time being, by 109 members of the CC (out of a total of 201) states between other things:

“The agreement with the “institutions” was the result of direct threats of economic strangulation and constitutes a new memorandum with excessively heavy and humiliating surveillance terms, disastrous for our country and people… This agreement is not compatible with the ideas and principles of the Left, but above all, with the needs of the popular strata. This proposal cannot be accepted by the supporters and the cadres of SYRIZA. We request an immediate convocation of the Central Committee and call the SYRIZA members, cadres and MPs to safeguard the unity of the party, on the basis of the conference decisions and our programmatic commitments”

The whole statement can be found in Greek in Iskra.gr.

It will remain to be seen if the strength of internal opposition within SYRIZA, together with the pressure of the masses, through struggles developing during the coming days, could be strong enough to force the SYRIZA leadership change its stance or if a SYRIZA break can take place by the formation of a “No” majority.

A big and peaceful demonstration at Syntagma tonight, protesting against the new memorandum, was dissolved when a small number (perhaps 50 or 60) of “hooded” supposed “anarchists” and agents intervened, throwing Molotov at the police, which responded with tear gases. The demonstration was called by ADEDY, the Union of civil servants, together with a strike that took place today at various branches of the public sector. SYRIZA’s youth and ANTARSYA had also called to it.

This demonstration shows the readiness of the people to fight and the way it was dissolved is a sure indication of the fear of the ruling classes that a mass movement of the “indignant” type of 2011 might develop out of the mass protests. It shows however too the inability  of the SYRIZA Left and other Lefts calling to it to safeguard the movement, due to lack of a strong, disciplined organization. KKE, which has such an organization, was as usually demonstrating separately in Omonoia…

Christos Kefalis is a member of the editorial board of the Greek journal Marxist Thought.

Notes

[1] P. Papakonstantinou, “Versailles 1919 – Brussels 2015”, http://iskra.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21337:papakwnstantinou-bersallies&catid=83:aristera&Itemid=200.

[2] V.I. Lenin, “Left-Wing communism, an infantile disorder”, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch08.htm.