Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Athens: A View of the General Strike

Much of Greece came to a standstill today as public and private sector workers observed the call for a general strike issued by the two largest labor confederations, the GSEE  which encompasses 83 private-sector worker unions, and the ADEDY which represents public sector workers.  Among those striking are civil servants, teachers, doctors, hospital staff, merchants, lawyers, civil engineers, and bank employees. Journalists working for the daily newspapers went on a one day strike yesterday so that they could participate in the general strike yet still provide coverage of the event today.  Transport workers planned outages after the rallies and demonstrations have ended so that workers could participate without being stranded.  Thus the Athens metro was running from 8AM to 9PM.  There is no service during the day on the rail line going out to the airport.

Although general strikes have been a recurring feature of the Greek political landscape since austerity measures were first imposed three years ago,  today's general strike was notable for being the first such event since the right wing coalition government led by New Democracy took office this past June.  What provoked the action by the labor confederation was the finalization of plans by the government to cut another 11.5 billion Euros from vital public services.  The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is proposing to slash pensions (again) and raising the retirement age to 67 as well as laying off tens of thousands of civil servants.  This is the price the European Union is demanding in exchange for Greece receiving the next round of bailout funds of 31 billion Euros.  Without the bailout installment, the Greek government will shortly run out of cash and will be forced to default on its debts. 

A mass demonstration in front of the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square in Athens, capped off the day.  Estimates of the crowd vary but one can be certain that it was significantly larger than the police estimate of 45,000.  The Guardian in UK estimated the number of marchers at 200 thousands. The labor confederations estimate was about 120 thousands plus an additional 40 thousand who marched separately with the Stalinists. The mass media reports of the demonstration concentrated on a few incidents involving a small number of anarchists tossing Molotov cocktails at the riot police. Reports of dozens of arrests were featured in the press.

Molotov cocktail exploding in Syntagma Square. From Reuters

But the larger story, almost completely absent in the press reports, were the presence of rank and file workers from every walk of life alongside the left wing groups. The Stalinist Communist Party held its own demonstration completely separate from the main body of marchers.  (This separation of the demonstators into different groups made it more difficult to estimate the total number of participants.) Their supporters were amassing at Omonia Square and then quickly marched from there to Syntagma Square and left early.  The groups associated with the "far left" and the anarchists were massing alongside the Polytechnic.  Although the march from the Polytechnic to Syntagma Square is less than three kilometers, it took over two hours for the marchers to traverse the streets due to the crowded conditions. Heavily armed riot police with helmets, shields and gas masks were in evidence on all the side streets along the route of the march.   

Banner of one of the participating groups

An anti-fascist banner

One of the far left groups


Some of the crowd along the march

Some participants

View from the rear

Approaching Syntagma Square

Spirited chanting of slogans

Different groups line up behind their banners

The marchers were in high spirits and gave voice to the anger and frustration that has overtaken Greece. A recent survey found that more than 90% of Greeks believed the planned cuts were unfair and a burden on the poor. Among the slogans heard in the march were,

"We won't submit to the troika!" 
"EU, IMF out!", 
"People, fight, they're drinking your blood,"

One of the demands raised was that the trade union confederation turn the one day general strike into a "long term general strike",  transforming it from an impotent protest into a powerful weapon of the working class aimed at bringing about a workers government.   

The video above shows the march past the Parliament building in Syntagma Square.  After a while you can hear the loud pop of gas canisters going off and in the distance you can see smoke rising on the other side of the square.  The crowd is chanting,
"Down with the Troika government, forward with workers power!"

The mass demonstrations and general strike in Greece comes one day after a huge demonstration in Spain in front of the Parliament building in Madrid.  There too the focus of the anger of the crowds were the austerity measures being imposed by their government as the price demanded by the European Union in return for bailout funds.  And the neighboring country of Portugal is set to debate austerity measures later this week. Clearly the working class in Greece is in the forefront of a much wider social and political movement brought on by the crisis of the Euro which in turn is a symptom of the crisis of international capitalism. There is an opening for the first time in decades of a fundamental shift in social relations as more and more workers begin to see that there is an alternative to capitalism.

Yet for all that one should not minimize the practical and theoretical problems that stand in the way of a mass movement for socialism.  For one thing, the same conditions that create the possibility of a turn to the left - the collapse of the traditional bourgeois parties, [1] the destruction of the social contract through which a relative stability of the relations between classes was maintained, the impoverishment of those formerly part of the middle class - have also created fertile ground for the rise of a fascist movement.  That is the significance of the rapid growth of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.  Not only can the Golden Dawn now boast that they are the third most popular party in Greece,  but they now have established offices in neighborhoods that were formerly solidly behind the Left.  One such neighborhood on the outskirts of Athens where the Communist Party used to get 80% of the vote now hosts a local branch of Golden Dawn.   And just recently Golden Dawn has opened an office in New York where it tries to recruit among the Greek diaspora. The more the parties identified with the Left show their impotence and adapt to the austerity measures of the Troika, the more emboldened the fascists become and the more support they will garner from the more backward elements of society.

The reaction of much of the Left to the rise of this fascist movement has been to oppose the fascists by appeals to morality and justice.  Yet history shows that fascism cannot be defeated through pacifistic protests and appeals to morality.  No one understood this better than Leon Trotsky, whose classic writings on fascism should be required reading. [2] Fascism is an outgrowth of capitalism in crisis and the only viable strategy to defeat fascism is the struggle to overcome capitalism.  That is the task in front of the Greek working class.

Alex Steiner

[1] See "Greece: Collapse of the traditional parties", 

[2] A compilation of Trotsky's writings on fascism are available online through the Marxist Internet Archives:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yunanistan: Geleneksel partilerin çöküşü

Yunanistan’dan son birkaç hafta içinde gelen haberler geleneksel siyasal yapının tamamen çökmüş olduğuna işaret etmektedir. Bu durum, Mayıs ayında yapılan seçimlerde Yeni Demokrasi Partisi’nin başını çektiği bir koalisyon hükümeti oyların ancak %30’unu alarak iktidara geldiğinde su yüzüne çıkmıştı. Bu seçimlerde oyların sadece %13’ünü alabilmiş olan önceki iktidar partisi PASOK, Avrupa Merkez Bankası tarafından dayatılan kemer sıkma önlemlerinin herhangi bir kesintiye uğramadan yürütülmesini sağlamak için, sağcı rakipleriyle birlikte bu koalisyona katıldı. Ne var ki, o zamandan bu yana yaşanan gelişmeler artık bu partilerin herhangi bir desteğe sahip oldukları bahanesinin öne sürülemeyeceği bir noktaya ulaşmış durumdadır. Yunanlıların ezici çoğunluğu daha başka kemer sıkma önlemi alınmasına karşı çıkıyorlar ve bu önlemlerle özdeşleştirilen partiler halkın tüm öfkesini üzerlerine çekiyorlar. İktidardaki koalisyon hükümetinin ana partisi olan Yeni Demokrasi, şu anda seçmenlerin %20’sinden daha azının desteğine sahip. Seçmenlerin %20’sinin biraz üzerinde bir desteğe sahip olan solcu muhalefet partisi SYRIZA’nın az farkla gerisinde yer almakta olan Yeni Demokrasi, şu anda Yunanistan’ın ikinci partisi konumunda. Birkaç ay öncesine kadar SYRIZA aşırı solda yer alan –gerçek politikaları hem “aşırılıktan” hem de “aşırı sol” olmaktan uzak olmasına rağmen- marjinal bir grup olarak görülmekteydi. Daha da şaşırtıcı olanı ise neo-Nazi Altın Şafak’ın Yunanistan'da üçüncü parti konumuna yükselmiş olmasıdır. Son kamuoyu yoklamalarına göre bu parti seçmenlerin yaklaşık %13’ünün desteğine sahip. Herkesin Mayıs ayında yapılan seçimlerde aldığı %13’lük oyla dibe vurduğunu düşündüğü PASOK, şu anda, seçmenler arasında %7-8 gibi çok zavallı bir desteğe sahip. Ayrıca, seçmen desteği %3-4’e inen ve marjinalleşmiş olan, bir zamanların heybetli Komünist Partisi’nin neredeyse silinip gitme noktasına gelmiş olması da dikkate değer bir durum. Avrupa, Almanya’da Weimar Cumhuriyeti’nin krizinin 1930’larda Nazizmin zaferine kapıyı açmasından bu yana, geleneksel partilerin bu biçimde hızla çökmelerine ve hem solda hem de sağda yeni siyasi grupların yükselişe geçmelerine benzeyen bir gelişmeye tanık olmadı.
Yunanistan'da faşizm tehdidi son derece gerçek bir tehdit olmakla birlikte, uluslararası düzeyde geniş bir destek alabilecek olan sosyalist bir işçi sınıfı devriminin yaşanması olasılığı da aynı ölçüde gerçektir. Bugünlerde Atina’nın sokaklarında yapılan öylesine bir yürüyüş bile, bu ülkede sürmekte olan siyasi faaliyetin derinliğini gözler önüne sermeye yetiyor. Çoğunlukla sol siyasi nitelikteki duvar yazıları her yeri kaplıyor.

Aynı şekilde, önemli kavşaklarda ve insanların toplanabileceği bölgelerde ağır silahlı polis ve paramiliter birimler de her köşeyi tutmuş durumda.

Çeşitli sol grupların afişlerine her yerde, özellikle Sindagma Meydanı ve Üniversite çevresindeki alanda rastlamak mümkün.

Son birkaç aylık dönem, bir yıl önceki kitlesel gösterilerle kıyaslandığında, görece sakin geçen bir dönem olmuştur, ancak bu durumun her an için değişebilir. Bu hafta için bir başka genel grev çağrısı yapıldı. Daha önceki genel grevler gibi, bu genel grev de sendika bürokrasisi tarafından, herhangi bir gerçek değişikliğe yol açmayacak biçimde tasarlanmıştır. Geçmişte bu tür gösterilere katılmış olan insanların çoğu, sadece protesto ederek herhangi bir olumlu sonuç alınamadığını gördükleri için, artık bu tür gösterilere katılmıyorlar. Ancak bu söylenen, bu insanların sonu gelmeyen acımasız kemer sıkma önlemlerine uyum sağladıkları anlamına gelmiyor. Aksine, insanlar bu noktada uygun zamanı bekliyorlar ve müflis kemer sıkma politikalarına karşı gerçek bir alternatif arayışı içindeler. Karşı karşıya oldukları sorun geleneksel partiler ve onların önderleri itibarlarını yitirmişken, inandırıcı bir alternatife işaret edecek yeni bir önderliğin ortaya çıkmamıştır olmasıdır. Bu alternatifin, önderi Alex Tsipras’in kendine model önder olarak müteveffa Salvatore Allende’yi aldığını söylemiş olan SYRIZA olmadığı çok açıktır. Hatırlanabileceği gibi Allende, Şili'de, 1973 yılında, kanla boğulmuş olan solcu bir hükümetin başında yer almıştı. Tsipras gibi, Allende de demokrasiyi koruması için askere çağrıda bulunmuştu. Yunan ordusu ve polisinin önemli kesimlerinin neo-Nazi Altın Şafak partisine sempati duyduklarının söylendiği bir ortamda, 2012 yılının Yunanistan’ında bu stratejiyi izlemek, 1973 yılının Şili’sinde olduğu kadar ölümcüldür. Yunan işçi sınıfının Tsipras gibi önderlere ilişkin yanılsamaları aşabilmesi halinde, Yunanistan’da gerçek anlamda yeni bir şafağın sökmesi mümkün olabilecektir. O zaman bu şafak faşistlerin “Altın Şafağı” değil, sosyalist devrimin “Kızıl Şafağı” olacaktır. Hem Avrupa burjuvazisi tarafından dayatılan kemer sıkma politikalarının hem de Yunan kapitalizmini temel alan, drahmiye dönüşü öngören ve aynı ölçüde gerici nitelikte olan milliyetçi çözümün oluşturdukları ikiz kötülüğe verilebilecek tek tutarlı yanıt budur.

Alex Steiner

Monday, September 24, 2012

Greece: Collapse of the traditional parties

The news out of Greece the past few weeks is that the traditional political structure has completely collapsed.  This was already evident in the election in May when a coalition led by the right wing New Democracy Party that received barely 30% of the vote came to to power.  The previous ruling party, the PASOK, which obtained a mere 13% of the vote in that election, joined the coalition with their right wing rivals in order to ensure that the austerity measures being dictated by the European Central Bank were carried out without interruption.  However,  things have progressed since then to the point where there can no longer even be a pretense that these parties have any support.  An overwhelming majority of Greeks oppose further austerity measures and the parties identified with them have borne the brunt of their anger. New Democracy, the main party of the ruling coalition government, now commands support from less than 20% of the population.  They are now the second party in Greece, trailing slightly behind the left wing opposition party SYRIZA, which now commands the support of slightly over 20% of the population.  SYRIZA was until a few months ago, considered a far left fringe group, although its actual policies are far from being "extreme" or "far left".  Even more astounding is the rise to third party status in Greece of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.  They now command approximately 13% support according to the latest polls.  And PASOK,  which everyone had thought had seen its low point at 13% in the May elections, now commands a miserable 7-8% support among voters.  Also significant is the near obliteration of the once formidable Communist Party, which has been marginalized to between 3-4% approval.  Europe has seen nothing like this swift collapse of traditional parties and the rise of new political groups both on the left and on the right since the crisis of the Weimar Republic in Germany opened the door to the triumph of Nazism in the 1930's.

But while the threat of fascism in Greece is quite real, so are the possibilities for a working class socialist revolution,  one that could garner wide support internationally. Even the most cursory walk in Athens these days reveals the depth of political activity.  Graffiti, mostly of a left wing political nature, is ubiquitous.

 So is the presence of heavily armed police and para-military units at major intersections and areas where people might congregate.

Posters from various left wing groups are everywhere, especially in the area around Syntagma Square and the University.

There has been a period of relative quiet in the past few months compared to the daily mass demonstrations of a year ago, but that can likely change at any time.  Another general strike has been called for this week. Like previous general strikes, this is designed by the trade union bureaucracy to be a toothless one day protest. Most people who participated in such demonstrations in the past did not see any positive result emerge from merely protesting and thus are no longer demonstrating. However, that does not mean that they have adapted to the relentless rounds of austerity measures without end.  Rather, they are at this point biding their time and looking for a real alternative to the bankrupt politics of austerity.  The problem they face is that while the traditional parties and their leaders have been discredited, a new leadership has not emerged that can credibly point to the alternative. It is certainly not SYRIZA, whose leader Alex Tsipras was recently quoted as saying that his model of a leader was the late Salvador Allende.  One may recall that Allende led a  leftist government in Chile that was drowned in blood by the military in 1973.  And just prior to his murder in the Pinochet coup, Allende, like Tsipras, appealed to the military to safeguard democracy.  With significant sections of the Greek military and police said to be sympathetic with the neo-Nazi  Golden Dawn party, this is as suicidal a strategy in Greece in 2012 as it was in Chile in 1973.  If the Greek working class is able to overcome their illusions in leaders such as Tsipras, then a new dawn could indeed arise in Greece. It will not be the "Golden Dawn" of the fascists, but the "Red Dawn" of the socialist revolution. That is the only viable answer to the twin evils of the austerity imposed by the European bourgeoisie or the equally reactionary nationalist solution of a return to the drachma based on Greek capitalism.

Alex Steiner