Events in Greece are once again in the headlines, after another day of militant strike action and the new 'deal' agreed by the EU today. This deal to reduce Greece's debt is completely inadequate to solve the problem and is an insult to the Greek working class, who have now endured years of brutal cuts whilst the EU dithers. The only real solution to Greece's problems is for the debt to be cancelled and for the expropriation of capitalism in Greece and Europe. This article, which was produced in the second issue of the In Defence of Marxism magazine - the theoretical journal of the International Marxist Tendency - gives some theoretical analysis to the economic and political forces underlying the present radicalisation. You can subscribe to the magazine here.
The centre of world revolution has now shifted to the European continent. The crisis of the euro resembles a long drawn-out death agony, as one country after another is drawn into the maelstrom. One “decisive” European summit follows after another, each proclaiming a definitive end to the euro crisis. The markets rally for a few hours or days and then fall once more. The index of the European stock markets resembles a thermometer that tracks the process of a terminally sick patient.
This turbulence in the markets is an accurate reflection of the state of mind of the bourgeoisie, characterised by extreme nervousness. This in turn is a reflection of the fact that the present crisis is unparalleled in its scope, even greater than 1929-33. In many European countries, the once heralded “recovery” has been non-existent. The bourgeoisie finds itself adrift in uncharted waters with no map or compass. The inevitable collapse of the euro, in the words of one bourgeois strategist, would become the biggest shock of the age, threatening to plunge the world into another Great Depression.
Europe is in the eye of the storm, but Greece at this stage is at its epicentre. Every chain always breaks at its weakest link and Greece is the weakest link in the chain of European capitalism. It is the sick man of Europe, although there are also a number of other patients in intensive care or waiting for admission. Eventually, no country will escape the catastrophe that looms.
Greece has already experienced five years of economic collapse, pushed down even further with every twist of the austerity vice. Since 2008, its GDP has fallen by almost 20 per cent. Industrial production has fallen by 34 per cent between 2008 and the first quarter of 2012. Unemployment has risen dramatically to 24 per cent of the workforce, with a prediction of it rising to 28 per cent by the end of this year. Unemployment of those between 18 and 24 stands at 55 per cent. Private sector monthly wages have fallen between 50 and 55 per cent. Half a million workers have not been paid for over three months. Hospitals go without medicines, shops are without food, and schools are without books. The whole of Greek society is crumbling. Such conditions have provoked 18 general strikes and have resulted in a pre-revolutionary situation – the first time in Europe for 35 years. It is the mirror image of what is going to happen in all other countries. It means that the European revolution, with all its shifts and turns, has begun.
Given the pre-revolutionary situation in Greece, what are its characteristics? Firstly, there is an acute crisis of the regime and increasing social instability. The consciousness of working people begins to catch up with the objective situation, not gradually but in great leaps. The masses begin to break out of their old routine and become increasingly radicalised. In such a situation, a revolutionary party could place itself at the head of the masses and prepare the way for the taking of power. However, where such a party is missing, a pre-revolutionary crisis can last for a protracted period of time, going through various stages of ebb and flow in the class struggle. Such was the fate of the Spanish revolution between 1931 and 1937.
In the pre-war period, Trotsky analysed how a revolutionary situation could emerge from a pre-revolutionary one:
“The revolutionary situation, however, begins only from the moment that the economic and social premises of a revolution produce a break in the consciousness of society and its different classes. What must be produced in this way for creating a revolutionary situation? (a) In every situation which we must analyse, it is necessary to distinguish three classes of society; the capitalists, the middle class (or petty bourgeoisie) and the proletariat. Those changes in the consciousness of these classes in order to characterise a revolutionary situation are very different for every one of these classes. (b) That the economic situation is very acute, the British proletariat know very well, far better than all theoreticians. But the revolutionary situation begins only at the moment when the proletariat begins to search for a way out, not on the basis of the old society but along the path of a revolutionary insurrection against the existing order. This is the most important subjective condition for a revolutionary situation. The acuteness of the revolutionary feelings of the masses is one of the most important measures for the ripeness of the revolutionary situation. (c) But a revolutionary situation is one which must, in the next period permit the proletariat to become the ruling power of society, that depends in Britain, less than in any other country, but also there to a degree, on the political thoughts and feelings of the middle class; the revolutionary situation would be characterised by the loss of confidence of the middle class in all the traditional parties (including the Labour Party, which is reformist), and its turn of hope to a radical, revolutionary change in the society (and not a counter-revolutionary change, viz., a fascist change). (d) Both the changes in the consciousness of the proletariat and the middle class correspond to the change in the consciousness of the ruling class which sees that it has not the means to save its system, loses confidence in itself, decomposes and splits into factions and cliques.”
Trotsky went on to explain:
“It cannot be foreseen or indicated mathematically at what point in these processes the revolutionary situation is totally ripe. The revolutionary party can only establish that fact by its struggles, by the growth of its forces, through its influence on the masses, on the peasants and the petty-bourgeoisie of the towns, etc., and by the weakening of the resistance of the ruling class.”
Rise of Syriza
The emergence of a pre-revolutionary crisis in Greece was reflected in the events of the past period. The growing opposition to the austerity measures of the PASOK government resulted in its collapse and the coming to power of the technocratic government of Papademos. This managed to hold the line only for a very short period, but was forced to give way to new elections. The first elections in May saw a dramatic fall in support for the traditional parties, which produced a parliamentary stalemate. The impressive rise in support for Syriza, which predominantly comes from the radicalised workers and youth, terrified the Greek and international bourgeoisie. The prospect of a left coalition was an anathema. This resulted in a massive campaign on behalf of the Greek capitalists, backed by international capital, to discredit Syriza in the second round.
“We wanted elections soon because after June there would be a Bolshevik government”, declared Chryssanthos Lazarides, the chief adviser of New Democracy. The aim of such a scare campaign was to terrorise the population into voting for New Democracy. The second round of elections in June saw a massive polarisation. While New Democracy increased its vote over its May figures to win the election, it did so by frightening the most politically backward sections of the middle class into voting for the party. Nevertheless, the election also saw a massive boost for Syriza. With its roots in the Greek communist tradition, this reflected a further radicalisation of the masses.
The election victory for Samaras can only be described as a Pyrrhic victory. While the defeat of Syiza is likely to signal a temporary pause in the mass struggle, especially after the exhausting battles over the previous two years, it will not be long lasting. New battles loom as the Greek masses search for a way out of the crisis.
The troika of the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission are absolutely hated in Greece. The new right-wing coalition of New Democracy, PASOK, and the Democratic Left, constitutes an unstable Quisling government which has immediately abandoned its election promise of renegotiation of the Memorandum. In reality, the election has solved nothing. The unstable social base of Samaras is very fragile from which to launch a new offensive against the Greek working class. He has promised new austerity cuts of €3bn for the rest of 2012 and €11.6bn for the following two years. Yet this has already provoked the resignation of the deputy Labour Minister and the head of the privatisation programme within a matter of weeks of taking office. The electoral support for the coalition will quickly begin to erode.
Syriza has now become a point of reference for the advanced militants and radicalised youth, which have begun to enter its ranks. The PASOK, which was the mass party of the workers, has dwindled in size and influence. Their entry into the New Democracy-led coalition will continue this process. The working class support of Syriza can be seen from the votes it won in the strong proletarian areas of Athens and elsewhere. Many former supporters of PASOK have shifted over to Syriza. The party now hopes to recruit 40-50,000 new members in the next few months through local assemblies. It has the potential to become the new mass party of the left. However, the leadership of the party is still dominated by reformists who have brought with them the worst features of the old Euro-Communist Party, Sysnaspismos.
Syriza is today composed of different tendencies from right to left. Tsipras, the popular leader of Syriza, has succeeded in building his support through projecting a left image and opposing austerity. He stands on the left, but it must be said that his programme is confused. In such a parlous situation, such confusion is dangerous. His promise to renegotiate the Memorandum while also promising to stay within the eurozone reflects this. Any such renegotiation is completely ruled out by Brussels and Berlin, who are demanding that Greece pays its debts in full. They cannot tolerate any real changes to Greece’s debt-reduction commitments as Portugal, Ireland, and the rest of the indebted members, would demand the same treatment. Such a move would lead to a much quicker break-up of the euro and even of the European Union at some stage.
Any rejection of the Memorandum would mean that Greece would find itself ejected, not just from the eurozone but also from the EU, cut off from international money markets and unable to borrow money to pay wages and pensions. All attempts to find a “realistic” solution within the confines of capitalism will only end in disaster. The final result on a capitalist basis would resemble a collapse as in Germany in 1923, with drastic falls in living standards and hyper-inflation. All bets would be off as Greece is pushed towards a revolutionary situation.
“The economic change of society is very slow and is measured by centuries and decades”, explained Trotsky. “But when the economic conditions are radically changed a transformation of the retarded psychological factors can be produced very quickly. However, quickly or slowly, such changes must inevitably be effected in the consciousness of the classes. Only then can we have a revolutionary situation.”
The largest left tendency within Syriza led by Panagiotis Lafazanis calls for a return to the Drachma as a solution to the debt problems. But this will only be another road to ruin for the workers on the basis of capitalism. The value of a new Drachma would plunge, provoking a further collapse in living standards. For the working class, it is not a question of inside or outside the euro. Either way, the workers would lose. The problem facing the Greek people is not a currency problem but a crisis of the capitalist system. Such a muddled approach to vital issues on behalf of the Greek left will only make matters worse and offer no way forward for the workers.
On a daily basis, the economic situation for the masses is becoming increasingly serious. The crisis is shaking the masses out of their past apathy everywhere. There is a growing ferment in society, especially in the working and middle classes. A critical mood is rapidly developing, together with a questioning of the capitalist system, which was not the case before. It is sudden and abrupt changes in the situation, as Trotsky explained, which creates revolutionary consciousness in the masses. This constitutes the key characteristic of a pre-revolutionary crisis within society.
The ultra-left sects are screaming about the immediate threat of fascism. They are like the Russian fool who sang funeral songs at weddings and wedding songs at funerals, and was thoroughly thrashed on both occasions. While over the next period we will see a sharp polarization to the left and to the right, as in Greece and France, there is no possibility of fascist or Bonapartist reaction in Europe in the immediate future. While, unlike the sects, we do not exaggerate the growth of Greek fascism around the Golden Dawn, it is nevertheless a warning to the working class of what could come if they do not move to take power.
Today, the balance of forces in society is overwhelmingly in favour of the working class. The social reserves of reaction are tiny in comparison. The peasantry has been whittled way, while the working class has grown enormously in strength and cohesion. Nevertheless, if, over a period of years, there is no solution in sight, backward sections of the middle class can become desperate and out of despair can turn towards reaction. The Greek ruling class, faced with unending instability, social turmoil and industrial strife, will begin to prepare for reaction. Then the slogan of Order will be advanced. Plots and conspiracies will be hatched, like the Gladio Conspiracy in the 1970s. Then, at a certain point, they may move towards a military coup, as in 1967, with the fascist gangs as auxiliaries. But given the revolutionary traditions of Greece, such a provocation would lead to civil war, and the ruling class would not be confident of winning. This is a warning! But this is the music not of the present, but of the future.
Over the coming period, all parties, including Syriza, will be put to the test. Since the last election, Syriza’s leadership has moderated its stand, dropping the demand for the nationalisation of the banks for “control” and replacing cancellation of the Memorandum with “renegotiation”. This is a slippery slope. There is no solution for the Greek masses on a capitalist basis, whether inside or outside the euro. Greek capitalism is too sick and can no longer afford reforms. On the contrary, vicious austerity is on the agenda, whether inside the EU or not. To argue anything else is to deceive the working class for there is no middle road in this situation.
Events are also provoking debate and questioning within the Greek Communist Party, the KKE, which has played a very sectarian role up till now. The loss of 50% of its vote from May to June has provoked ferment in its ranks. The KKE leadership has refused to advocate the Leninist policy of a United Front to Syriza, but has simply said that the rise of Syriza is just another “centre-left” formation promoted by the establishment to replace PASOK. This whole approach smacks of “Third Period” Stalinism, which can only serve to split the workers’ movement, with tragic consequences. The KKE has important historical roots in the working class, built up over generations. On the basis of events, the militant ranks of the party will come into conflict with the sectarianism of its leaders. Only in this way will they be able to play a key role in the Greek revolution.
Despite all attempts by the bourgeoisie to prevent a left coalition from coming to power, sooner or later, a Syriza-led left-wing government will emerge. This will open up a new stage in the Greek revolution. As soon as it comes to power, it will come under the intense pressure from the workers, on the one hand, and from the capitalists, including international capital, on the other. The left government will be forced to make a choice: either capitulate to the pressure of the bankers and capitalists, or mobilise the masses to abolish capitalism. This is the stark reality. In such a dire crisis, there is only one way. Any attempt to tinker with capitalism and simply restrict its functioning by partial measures will only make matters worse. If a left government fails to overthrow capitalism, and is forced to operate within its confines, it will alienate its support, the workers and youth, alienate the middle classes and pave the way for the return to power of the right wing. Of course, any new right-wing government will not solve the problem and would not last long either.
Today, the Marxists in Greece are fully involved in Syriza, as well as conducting work in the neighbourhoods, schools, universities and trade unions. They are determined to build the party and arm it with a Marxist programme as the only way forward. This means the repudiation of the Memorandum and the nationalisation of the banks and the big monopolies – the commanding heights of the economy – without compensation and the organisation of a socialist plan of production under the control of committees of workers, pensioners, students as well as the representatives of small businesses. This would place power in the hands of the Greek working class. Such a programme would have an electrifying effect throughout crisis-ridden Europe, beginning with Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. It would have a similar world impact to the Russian Revolution of October 1917. There would be a ready response to a revolutionary appeal for workers and youth in all countries to follow the same path and take power into their hands. There is no more room for reformism. Only a bold revolutionary internationalist programme can resolve the crisis in the interests of the masses.
At the present time, following two years of struggle, including 18 general strikes, and the set-back on the electoral front, the Greek working class is taking a momentary breather. However, such a lull will not last as the conditions are too grave. There can be no stable government on the basis of the terrible crisis of Greek capitalism. That is ruled out.
In the meantime, the working class will be presented with numerous opportunities to come to power. There will be no shortage of revolutionary situations. It is hardly necessary to explain to people who have lost everything that a fundamental change is necessary - not partial solutions or “clever” slogans but the complete overthrow of the present system is needed. It is essential that the forces of Greek Marxism are built up as quickly as possible. The workers and youth, starting with the advanced layers, need to be won over to the Marxist tendency through systematic and energetic work.
The developing Greek revolution has shown that we have entered a new epoch of wars, revolution and counter-revolution, and today the key to the world situation lies in Europe, starting with Greece.
Capitalism has resumed its protracted death agony, burdening the masses with unbearable toil. The struggle of the strategists of capital to find a way out of the impasse will mean further impositions on the shoulders of the working class. Everything is being prepared for class battles and struggles on a level not witnessed since the Russian Revolution. Events, events, events, will shake all classes to their very foundations. The objective conditions for world revolution are not simply ripe, but over ripe. The capitalist system is in a complete impasse, reflected in the deep crisis and the existence of millions of unemployed.
The new generation has to arm itself for the coming struggles. The theory and programme of Marxism will become an invaluable weapon in their revolutionary arsenal. The youth, who are being squeezed and discarded by capitalism, are destined to play a key role. Their enthusiasm and inspiration must be taken into the organisations of the working class. “Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle”, explained Trotsky, “only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution.” Won to the banner of revolutionary socialism, the workers’ organisations can be transformed into fighting organisations. We stand for the complete material and spiritual emancipation of the working class through the socialist revolution. Without this, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of humanity. There can be no greater task facing us.
No to the Europe of bankers and capitalists!
Yes to a Socialist United States of Europe!