The Class Struggle in Greece

The class struggle in Greece continues.  A general strike of public transport in Athens was aborted after five days when the government forced the workers to return to work, using reactionary legislation left over from the period of open reaction. One week later, the same fate awaited the seafarers. The government of Samaras is recovering its nerve, and passing on to the offensive. This year alone, a minimum of 25,000 jobs in the public sector are due to be destroyed as a result of the deal with the Troika. Yet there has not been any serious response from the Greek trade union leaders.

In the last three years, Greece has seen no fewer than twenty-one 24-hour hour general strikes and three 48-hour general strikes. The total number of days lost in general strikes amounts to about one month. These figures do not include a large number of partial strikes and strikes in different sectors. The problem is that they have been spread out, and therefore have lost much of their potential impact. Like steam, which is dissipated in the air unless it is concentrated by a piston box, the strikes and demonstrations must be centralized, or else they will become useless, or even counter-productive. The workers already understand this.

The workers of Greece have shown a tremendous fighting spirit. What more can be asked of the Greek working class? They have already done everything in their power to halt the assault on their living standards, wages and conditions. But the constant repetition of 24-hour general strikes gives rise to something similar to the law of diminishing returns. Every time the workers are called out, they become less sure that it will have any effect on the government. What began as a demonstration of strength is slowly but surely becoming a demonstration of weakness. Instead of raising the confidence and fighting spirit of the masses, it is gradually being deflated, like a slow puncture.

The government remains firm, while the fighting spirit of the workers is gradually dissipating. “Why should I strike and lose a day’s pay when it has no effect?” That would be the reaction of many Greek workers today. There is a feeling of tiredness, even of helplessness, which is the logical result of repeated exertions that lead nowhere. It is this and nothing else that explains the relatively weak showing of the most recent general strike. One reaction was: “It didn’t feel like a general strike.” That is hardly surprising. Many workers remained at work.  The demonstrations, as usual, were very big and militant. However, the composition was mainly pensioners and unemployed.

The mood is as angry and bitter as ever, but it is also confused. The question in everybody’s mind is: “What do we do now?” It is clear that the tactic of a one-day general strike has outlived its usefulness. In conditions of economic collapse, mass unemployment and general impoverishment, workers fear losing their jobs. Before workers will risk going on strike, they will want a reasonable guarantee that the strike will be successful. But all the one-day general strikes so far have not made the government budge one inch.   

The trade union leaders seem terrified of calling for more serious action. But more serious action is definitely needed.  The leadership has no perspectives. It seems that they are still clinging to the hope that the government will listen to reason and negotiate a compromise with them. Vain hope! Weakness invites aggression. The more the trade union leaders vacillate, the more aggressive and confident the government becomes.

A one-day general strike can be a useful weapon under certain circumstances. In a country like Britain, for example, where there has not been a general strike for decades, the slogan of a one-day general strike would represent a big step forward. But in Greece, where the crisis of capitalism has reached its most extreme expression, and where one-day strikes have been repeated again and again, this slogan is worse than useless. As a matter of fact, the trade union leaders have used one-day general strikes as a means of dissipating the energies of the workers and avoiding decisive action.

A one-day general strike is really only a demonstration of strength. It is like shaking your fist at the government. Under certain circumstances, such demonstrations can have the effect of compelling a government to change course. But this is not such a moment. The crisis is too deep, the problems too intractable for the government, and the ruling class that stands behind it, to make any serious concessions. What is on the order of the day from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie is not concessions, but further and deeper attacks on living standards.

For this reason, the only correct slogan for Greece is: Prepare for an all out general strike. We must understand however that an all out general strike is not just a demonstration. It poses the question of power. The question arises: who is the master of the house, them or us? It is not a weapon that should be used in a light-minded manner. But in the conditions of Greece, the only correct slogan is for an all out general strike.

The reformist leaders will try to frighten the workers with dire warnings. They are frightened to pose the question of power. To these dark warnings we reply as follows: Does anyone in his right mind imagine that there can be any future for the people of Greece while the country is dominated by the same gang of wealthy parasites that have brought it to ruin? In order to find a way out of the crisis it is necessary to remove the bankers, capitalists, shipping magnates and other parasites from power. The power must be in the hands of the people; that is to say in the first instance the working class and the peasants who create all the wealth of Greece, and who are being systematically robbed to pay for the crimes of the capitalists. Any other solution is a lie and a deception of the people.

What chance of success is there? The working class constitutes the overwhelming majority of the Greek nation. Over the last three or four years it has demonstrated its willingness to struggle time and time again. The workers are tired of half measures and timid proposals. They need decisive action. They demand decisive action.  And the workers are not alone. The peasants of Greece have also shown their willingness to fight. In the month of February they put up roadblocks all over Greece. They demonstrated their solidarity with the seafarers’ strike. Here we have an excellent example of the militant unity in struggle of the workers and peasants – the two fundamental component parts of the Greek working people.

The youth of Greece has shown itself to be openly revolutionary. Young people have occupied central squares all over the country. They are actively participating in every strike, general strike and demonstration. They have fought against the police, risking their lives. The youth of Greece will be in the very front line of a revolutionary general strike.

The unemployed, whose numbers grow by the day, place all their hopes on the might of the Greek working class. The trade unions must do everything in their power to mobilise the unemployed and to draw them closer to their brothers and sisters in the factories. The women of Greece have to bear the full brunt of the crisis of capitalism. They see their families without employment, without money, without a future, and without hope. The cost of living is constantly increasing. It is hard to pay the rent and put food on the table. The women of Greece also will fight in the first lines of the revolutionary movement, provided a courageous lead is given.

And the middle class? The Greek middle class has been ruined by the crisis. Small businesses and shops are going bankrupt every day for lack of credit, while the bankers and capitalists enrich themselves and send their profits to Swiss banks. Professional people, doctors, teachers, nurses… see their jobs threatened, their conditions worsened and their rights taken away. They are taking their place in the ranks of the proletariat, the only class with the power to change society.

When one contemplates all these forces, it is difficult to see what reasons the leadership can give for refusing to give a decisive lead. The problem is not that the workers are not prepared to fight. The problem is that the strikes that are taking place lack coordination and decisive leadership. The trade union leaders were elected to their positions to give a lead. If they are not prepared to give a lead, they should be removed to make way for people that are prepared to fight.

But the problem of the Greek working class is not just lack of leadership at the trade union level. There is also a serious problem at the political level. Antonis Samaras is the obedient stooge of Angela Merkel and the Greek bourgeoisie.  By adopting a servile attitude to his masters in Berlin and Brussels, he is hoping to get concessions. More correctly, he is like a cowardly dog that cringes and cowers in the hope of avoiding another kick from the masters’ boot.

As a result, the Troika has finally thrown the dog a bone. They have graciously released money that was promised long ago and allowed their friend Samaras a little more time to squeeze the last drop of blood from the Greek people. This miserable concession provoked an irrational and exaggerated burst of optimism in Athens. Samaras in convinced that his tactics are working. But this is an illusion.

The economic figures show that there is not the slightest basis for this false optimism.

After six years of continuous slump, the GDP of Greece faces another fall of 5 percent in 2013. Unemployment continues to rise to vertiginous heights. The official figure for unemployment, which undoubtedly underestimates the real situation, is 28 percent. The figure for Athens is nearer to 30 percent. The trade unions (GSEE) calculate that the real percentage is 35%. The most catastrophic effects of unemployment are to be found in young people between 18 and 24 years of age. No fewer than 62 percent of young people are out of work. That is to say, out of every three young people in Greece, two are unemployed. On all sides, we see a collapse of living standards.

Out of a total population of about 11 million, almost four million (over 30 percent) are living at or below the poverty line. It is estimated that from January 2010 till now there has been a 50% fall in wages and pensions. The situation is desperate. The masses cannot tolerate any further attacks on their living standards and yet for Merkel and the Greek bourgeoisie, this is not nearly sufficient. They demand new attacks, new cuts, and new outrages. This is a finished recipe for an intensification of the class struggle.

It may well be the case that the movement in the short term may recede somewhat. This is not a reflection of a lack of willingness to fight on the part of the masses. It is a reflection of a crisis of leadership, of constant vacillations, evasions and prevarications at the top and an unwillingness to fight to the finish. Nevertheless, any decline in the class struggle will be a temporary phenomenon. The workers are reflecting on their experience and attempting to draw conclusions. But life itself will not permit them the luxury of contemplating for too long. New explosions are being prepared.

A recent poll published from the 1st to the 3rd of February indicates both anger and confusion, reflected in contradictory moods. When asked whether they supported the government’s anti-strike legislation, 40% of the respondents were against and 39% were for. When asked what was more important, democracy or law and order, 44% said that democracy was more important, while 32% preferred law and order.

Of course, the result of any poll must be treated with caution. They are like snapshots which partially indicate the moods of different sections of society at a given time. After four years of constant upheavals, leading to a serious dislocation of social and economic life, a layer of the population – mainly the petit bourgeoisie and older people – are tired and frightened. They long for peace and tranquillity. That is why they tend to support law and order (although they are, interestingly, in a clear minority on this question). But no return to tranquillity is possible. The economic crisis and the brutal pressures from the Troika rule out such a perspective.

After gaining his concessions, Samaras temporarily won a breathing space. His credibility increased in the eyes of sections of the petit bourgeoisie and the more conservative layers that want nothing more than a return to normality.  But these moods are superficial and are already rapidly disappearing. They are like froth on the surface of the ocean that arises and disappears without trace. The same poll produced a very interesting result which indicates the strong revolutionary currents that lie beneath the surface of Greek society.

When asked if the economy is worse now, 43% said yes, which represents an increase since January. More significantly, when asked what is needed to solve the crisis, small reforms, deep reforms or revolution, they answered as follows: for small reforms, 12%; for deep reforms, 60% and for revolution 23%. The difference between deep reforms and revolution is not very clear. But the fact that 83 percent of Greek people have pronounced in favour of one of these two options clearly reveals a revolutionary tendency in society.

In the next period there will be new explosions of the class struggle, punctuated by a series of brief lulls. This reflects, in part, the entry of new layers into the struggle, while other layers retreat to the rear, exhausted by their efforts. There will inevitably be periods of tiredness, disappointment, even despair. There will also be some defeats. On the other hand, no lasting solution can be found without a fundamental restructuring of society. Every lull will only be the prelude to new upheavals. In their search for a way out of the crisis, the masses will test every party, trade union and leader. Those that fail will be mercilessly discarded, as we see with PASOK. Other leaders and parties will rise and fall. The pendulum will swing sharply to the left and right. But in the immediate future the general direction will be to the left.

The present coalition is inherently unstable and cannot last. PASOK, which once had a commanding position in society and the working class, has seen its support collapse to as little as six or seven%. The leaders of PASOK have paid the price for their organic opportunism and their betrayals. The so-called Democratic Left (DIMAR) has no more than four percent, while New Democracy, the main bourgeois party, seems to have stabilised around 22 to 23%. In other words, the ruling coalition parties, all together, have only 35%, and this figure is falling. In order to shore themselves up they have resorted to draconian anti-strike laws. This is an early attempt to move gradually in the direction of parliamentary Bonapartism. But they will find that they are leaning on a broken reed.

Samaras is praying that after the September elections in Germany, Angela Merkel will soften her heart and forgive him his debts. Will Merkel and the Troika agree to forgive Greece’s debts? If they were to do so, then Ireland, Portugal and Spain will demand the same. Not much help can be expected from that quarter. And in any case there is a long time between now and September. The economy is still in free fall and discontent is growing. Seventy five per cent of the Greek debt is now in the hands of the Troika. The total debts for Greece now amount to 165% of the GDP.  But what was agreed with the Troika was 120%.   In other words, all the efforts, sacrifices and suffering of the Greek people over the last four years have been in vain. The more the living standards fall, the more the deficit increases.

The last few months have seen a remarkable increase in the electoral support for Syriza. This was a clear vote for the left. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras aroused great hopes with his radical left speeches about defying the Troika and repudiating the debt. But to the degree that Tsipras gets closer to power he has become increasingly moderate in his public declarations. Apparently, he wishes to appear responsible, not before the people of Greece but before the leaders of the EU and the USA. In December he visited Brazil, Argentina and then Germany and the USA. It is perhaps not an accident that Venezuela, which he has previously visited, was not in the itinerary.

Tsipras has frequently held up Argentina as a model for Greece to follow. This shows a serious misunderstanding of reality. Argentina managed to emerge from a deep slump in a period of world economic boom, when its exports were in demand, particularly in China. There is no analogy with Greece in a context of a world slump. Moreover, the Argentinean economy is already heading for a recession. For some reason, Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner did not receive him. However, he had better luck in Brazil where Lula did meet him, but only to advise him to collaborate fully with the IMF. In Germany he met with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who took a very hard line with him, insisting that Greece should meet all its obligations. In the USA he apparently had a meeting with the State Department, the contents of which have not been made public.

It seems clear that the leaders of Syriza are backtracking on their earlier radical declarations. They no longer talk of renouncing the debt. In public Tsipras still makes radical speeches, but at the same time he has spoken of a government of national unity and even proposed the setting up of a committee of technocrats to discuss the party programme. This confusion and ambiguity has caused serious disquiet in the ranks of Syriza and even cracks in the leadership.

As a result, Syriza’s support in the polls has dropped from 30% to about the same level as that of New Democracy. The Bible says: “No one can serve two masters.” Either the leaders of Syriza will fight to defend the interests of the working class, which means a decisive break with capitalism, or it will be forced to obey the dictates of the Troika and the bourgeoisie and continue to attack jobs and living standards. There is no third way.

There is no way that Greece can meet its so-called obligations to the Troika and at the same time save the Greek people from sinking into the abyss. If Syriza is to succeed, it is essential that it drops all ambiguity and adopts a clear and bold socialist policy. It must break with the Troika and the bourgeoisie, fight the election on a clear socialist policy and expropriate the big banks and monopolies, both Greek and foreign. The Marxists in Syriza have formed a left current called the “Initiative for a Communist Tendency in Syriza”, which is fighting for just such a programme. That is the only way forward.

Meanwhile there have been significant developments in the Communist Party (KKE). The next Party Congress will take place in April 2013, and the Central Committee (CC) of KKE’s central programmatic proposal to the Congress will be the abandonment of the old Stalinist two stages theory and the adoption of the slogan of a workers’ and people’s government and a planned economy.  The leadership no longer speaks in terms of “patriotism” but rather internationalism. This undoubtedly marks a big step forward compared to the past.

The KKE criticises Syriza from the left, making a number of valid points. Unfortunately, their revolutionary phrases are accompanied by a pessimistic perspective. They see the position as one of black reaction in Greece. Therefore, any perspective for revolution is relegated in practice to a more or less remote future. This reminds one of the famous words of Saint Augustine: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”

In opposition to this leftward shift in the KKE, a right wing Stalinist faction has been unofficially formed, which accuses the KKE leaders of “Trotskyism”. The KKE paper and website in the pre-congress discussion period are full of articles expressing different points of view. This is a welcome development in contrast to the stifling of inner-Party discussion in the past. The entire history of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party was one of constant debate and discussion. Only in this way can the necessary political clarity be achieved.

The only way forward for the Greek working class consists of the formation of a united front of all genuine Communist and Socialist tendencies. Above all, it is necessary to fight for a united front between the KKE and Syriza. This proposal meets with resistance on the part of sections of the KKE who fear that the Party can be dragged in the direction of opportunism and Social Democracy. They take refuge in a kind of abstract revoltionism, which sounds very radical but in fact serves as a fig leaf to cover weakness and a lack of confidence in the working class and socialist revolution.

The KKE must stand for an uncompromising revolutionary policy. But in itself that solves nothing. It is also necessary to find a road to the masses. Without a mass base, even the best programme in the world will be impotent. That was understood very well by Lenin, who urged the Communists to find a road to the millions of workers who remained under the influence of the reformist leaders by offering them a united front.

Lenin also explained that the youth was the key to the proletarian revolution. The radical mood among the youth is shown by the opinion polls which give Syriza the support of 35% of the youth, while the KKE has 15%. This means that at least half the youth of Greece supports the Left. By energetically pursuing the slogan of the workers’ united front, the KKE and its youth organization will gain the respect and confidence of the mass of youth and workers who support Syriza. That will be a big step forward for the cause of socialist revolution in Greece.

Comrades of the KKE and Syriza! The fate of Greece depends on you. The working class does not understand why its political parties are divided and fighting each other instead of fighting the common enemy: the Troika, and its local office boys, the Greek bourgeoisie. The workers demand unity, and they are right to do so. “Unity, yes, but not at any price,” some will say. We do not ask the KKE to abandon its commitment to socialist revolution. On the contrary, we consider this to be the only correct policy. But the road to socialist revolution must be prepared concretely by a series of small battles. Without this, it becomes merely an abstract idea, an empty phrase.

A united front does not signify that each party must abandon its programme and principles. It means uniting for practical purposes, to achieve concrete demands. It is necessary to fight unemployment and factory closures, to fight against any reductions of wages and pensions, to fight for the immediate demands of the peasants, the unemployed, the women, the youth and the pensioners. Is it not possible to work out a programme for this and organize a united struggle around these demands?

In the present circumstances, however, it is not easy to win such demands. A serious struggle is necessary. The slogan of an all-out general strike is on the order of the day. But it cannot be organised by a simple appeal. It must be thoroughly prepared through a mass campaign involving the trade unions and members of Syriza and the KKE, youth organizations, students, peasants and all who wish to fight the Troika and the bourgeoisie. This movement must be united in action committees, organised in every workplace and district, in every school, college and village.

Mass meetings must be called to discuss the situation and make proposals. The committees should be linked up at every level: local, district, provincial and national. The aim should be the eventual convening of a national congress of action committees. This can be transformed in the future into a centre of power of the revolutionary people.

At the same time, it is necessary to carry on a broad agitation against the Samaras government. Demand new elections! Down with Samaras and his gang of thieves! For a government of Syriza and the KKE, with an anti-capitalist programme! Expropriate the banks and monopolies under democratic workers’ control and management!

“But we cannot stand alone against Europe,” others will object. No indeed, neither Greece nor any other country can stand alone. But if the workers of Greece take a bold step, they will soon discover that they are not alone. All Europe would rally to the support of a Greek workers’ state: not, of course, the governments, who are hostile to the interests of the Greek workers just as they are hostile to those of their own workers. But the working class, which is the overwhelming majority of Europe, would be entirely favourable to a socialist Greece, as they were to the Russian Revolution in 1917.

A socialist Greece would make an internationalist appeal to the workers and youth of Europe to follow its example, overthrow the hated bankers and capitalists and take power into their hands. That would immediately get a response from the workers of Spain, Portugal and Italy, who are suffering the same attacks. The rest of Europe would soon follow. The basis would be laid for a genuine European Union - not the false and unjust Union of the bankers and capitalists but a genuinely united Europe based on common interests and solidarity: the Socialist United States of Europe.

Would such a programme alienate people? On the contrary; the above-mentioned poll clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of Greeks now stand for either deep reforms or revolution. They would respond enthusiastically to such a programme and such a government. That is the only viable option for the working class. It is the only way forward for Greece.

London, 6 March 2013.