Posts By Christos Kefalis

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Greek EU Elections: A Clear, Historical, But Still Not Decisive SYRIZA Victory

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The Greek EU elections have produced what is clearly a historical result, not only for Greece but for the European Union as well. SYRIZA won by a clear margin of almost 4% (3.8% to be more precise), scoring 26.5% against 22.7% of ND, the governing right party. Moreover, in the municipal and regional elections SYRIZA gained an impressive victory in Attica district with Rena Dourou, though it failed to elect Sakellaridis in Athens, who lost by a small margin to Kaminis.

SYRIZA’s victory is widely discussed by the European mass media, together with Marine Le Pen’s impressive first place in France, as the two most striking and weighty EU elections results. But while important on a general level, SYRIZA’s success is even more important for the European Left. It is the first time in recent history of Western Europe that a party of the Left gains first place since 1984, when the Italian Communist Party had achieved the same, just after Enrico Berlinguer’s death. However, SYRIZA’s victory comes at a much graver occasion, when the specter of fascism, racism and reaction hangs heavily over the continent. In this connection, it is crucial in showing that there is another road for Europe apart from the turn to the ultra Right, observed not only in France but in several other EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, etc.) as well.

Yet, precisely because it is historical, SYRIZA’s victory must be analyzed in a serious way and not be idealized or overestimated. This is not only because it was accompanied by a new rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but also because, if closely viewed, it points to some weaknesses of SYRIZA, without which it could have been even larger. Moreover, the Greek EU election results show some interesting tendencies with regard to the other parties as well, reflecting underground social trends which may be relevant for other EU countries too.

We will proceed therefore to a commentary of the Greek EU elections, hoping to highlight some of these aspects. But first of all let us give the results themselves (we also cite the May and June 2012 parliamentary elections results for the sake of comparison).

Party

%

Seats

May 2012

June 2012

SYRIZA

26.5

6

16.8

26.9

ND

22.7

5

18.9

29.7

Golden Dawn

9.4

3

7.0

6.9

Elia

8.0

2

13.2

12.3

Potami

6.6

2

-

-

KKE

6.0

2

8.5

4.5

ANEL

3.5

1

10.6

7.5

LAOS

2.7

2.9

1.6

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Greek Elections Update: A Small Step for SYRIZA, a Medium Step for Golden Dawn

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The first round of the Greek municipal and regional elections is over. The results, while indecisive, present a number interesting aspects, which give some idea about what may be expected in the second round as well in the European Parliament elections next Sunday. We shall summarize and comment them here.

First of all, abstention was quite high, though not higher than that in the previous, 2010 municipal and regional elections. It ranged between 53% in the city of Athens (it was 57% in 2010) to 35% in smaller provincial cities. This fact shows that the crisis of the political system still continues, without however SYRIZA or any other party clearly benefiting from it.

There was an interesting incident with the exit polls at 7 p.m. Sunday afternoon showing that SYRIZA was heading for a spectacular win in the biggest municipality and district, respectively Athens and Attica. They forecasted a win for Dourou, SYRIZA’s candidate for the Attica district, with a margin of 6-7% against the center-left “independent” Sgouros, and also a small precedence of Sakellaridis, SYRIZA’s candidate in Athens, against the equally “independent” center-left Kaminis. This created euphoria in SYRIZA with its leader, Alexis Tsipras, making some enthusiastic comments. However, these forecasts, which would indeed mean not only an overturn of all polls, but also a triumph for SYRIZA in the decisive battles, failed to materialize. As results began to roll in, it became clear that Dourou’s margin was much lower, of the order of 2%, while Sakellaridis was second after Kaminis, even if marginally. Still, the final result was a very descent one for Dourou and Sakellaridis. Meanwhile, it turned out the neonazi Golden Dawn scored better than in forecasts, achieving two quite positive results: 16,12% of the well known Kasidiaris in Athens and 11,11% of Panagiotaros in Attica district. Both in Athens and Attica the ruling party’s ND candidates failed to make it to the second round.

Had the picture in the rest of Greece been the same, with regard to SYRIZA and ND, than even that result would be a clear victory for SYRIZA. However, this was not the case. In most districts and in the other big municipalities (Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patra) SYRIZA’s candidates scored well below that, roughly at 15%. The governmental district candidates, on the other hand, apart from the disastrous Attica result (where the ND candidate, Koumoutsakos, took just 14.13%) averaged somewhere between 25-30% (or even more in some cases).

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Greece on the Eve of Municipal and European Parliament Elections: a Riddle Waiting to be Solved

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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…

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01-05-2014 23-07-43

Marxists and the National Question

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The recent sharpening of national rivalries between Russia and Ukraine brings to the forefront the national question. This is certainly only an episode in the chain of national rivalries the capitalist globalization stimulates, by widening inequalities between nations and within each nation. It was preceded by national crises in Yugoslavia, in regions of the former USSR and also in many other parts of the globe.

Marxists became intensely interested in the national question in the late 19th and early 20th century, when capitalism was passing to its imperialist stage. Particularly Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky dealt extensively with it. Their analyses, which we will briefly summarize here, are quite interesting with regard to contemporary problems.

Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Trotsky

Kautsky, in a series of articles and in his work Nationality and Transnationality (Nationalität and Internationalität, 1908) analyzed in particular the establishment of European nation states after 1848. While Bauer was emphasizing the common traditions (language, national identity, customs, etc.) to explain ethnogenesis and support his idea of ??national – cultural autonomy, Kautsky stressed that the formation of modern nations and nation states had mainly economic reasons: the need to develop a unified capitalist market, which was certainly facilitated by the existence of common traditions. So the nation state was the norm in the period of free competition, while multi-ethnic states were remnants of feudalism or exceptions. This meant that the creation of new states that characterized European history during this period, through the wars for national independence and self-determination (the national revolutions of 1848, the struggles for national unification of Italy, national revolutions and wars in the Balkans, etc.) had a progressive and historically necessary character.

From this starting point, Kautsky developed a valid polemic against Bauer’s positions, held also by a number of other Austrian Marxists (Adler, Renner, et al). The latter envisioned a peaceful, reformist regulation of national contradictions within existing transnational feudal states such as the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire, through the central power granting a genuine national autonomy (teaching of national language, freedom of national culture) to their constituent nationalities. In a letter to Victor Adler Kautsky declared such a prospect to be utopian:

“In Austria of all places, a gradual approach to some solution or other is unthinkable. The only cure lies in complete collapse. That Austria still exists is to me not proof of its viability, nor yet evidence that we now have the political basis for a slow and peaceful development; all it proves is that bourgeois society is no longer capable of doing away with even the most rotten structures: the Sultan, Tsarism, Austria”.

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Costas Gavras, “Le Capital”: An Anti-Capitalist Masterpiece

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1. Motivation and history of the movie

Marxist theorists, beginning with Marx himself, did much to illuminate how capitalism moves, to reveal its laws and demonstrate the necessity of its replacement by socialism, when it becomes a hindrance to historical progress. This criticism was always applied “from outside”, starting from the class position and perspective of the proletariat, the class destined to overthrow the capitalist system, and aimed at orienting the actions of that class towards the directions dictated by the broader social conflicts of each period. In his latest film, “Le Capital” (“Capital”), Costas Gavras –Karim Boukercha and Jean-Claude Grumberg also contributed to the screenplay– proceeds to give a catalytic criticism of capitalist globalization from within, a criticism which, though not focusing directly on the social and class struggles of our time, is still, in its way, highly penetrating and effective.

“From within” in no way implies that Gavras contents himself to show the decay and corruption of the world of capital, to write the record of its decline and to highlight its manifestations in the lives of its representatives. All these things certainly abound in his film. Yet had he limited himself to that, it could result to an improved version of soap operas like Dynasty, even making the representatives of capital likable within their degradation. The film is mostly an anatomy of capitalism’s general objective motion, taking an X-ray of the banking and finance system, whose impunity triggered and impels the current global economic crisis. But if Marx had presented the inexorable logic and inevitable results of this movement using the objective language of science, here its reality is refracted through the artistic prism in a realistic representation of the world of its actors, the leaders of modern capitalism.

Gavras is undoubtedly not only an extremely gifted, but, in the best sense of the word, a militant filmmaker whose entire work contributes positively to the understanding of the conflicts and meaning of our times. In “Le Capital” we can see though the climax of his creativity. Having started from uncovering authoritarianism, anti-democratic aberrations and conspiracies of the holders of power, the engagement of the state with para-state apparatuses, etc. in films like “Z” and “Missing”, he ends up here capturing and reconstructing the molecular processes of capitalism which inevitably generate these results. A look at the occasion and history of the film, as recounted recently by the director himself in an interview he gave to the Greek newspaper Vima, will better clarify his intentions and motives.

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