Friday, February 6, 2015

The Greek people have shaken the world

Note: We are reprinting an article by Savas Michael-Matsas summarizing the current state of the class struggle in Greece. Michael-Matsas is the Secretary of the EEK, the Workers Revolutionary Party of Greece. The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of the permanent-revolution web site. We do think this statement gives one a good idea of the current situation in Greece and of the possibilities that have emerged for the intervention of revolutionary socialists. We have previously published the election statement of the EEK along with our comments.
We made stylistic corrections to the original English translation and added footnotes.

The Greek people have shaken the world

 by Savas Michael-Matsas

The Greek election of January 2015 was  not a normal parliamentary contest. It marks a major turning point in the post 2007 world capitalist crisis, and the international class struggle. The European Union and the Eurozone re-emerges as the epicenter of the crisis. The illusions of an apparent stabilization in the financial markets after Draghis' famous statement in 2012 that the ECB  will do whatever it takes to avoid the collapse of the Eurozone,  are now dissipating.  The Eurozone economy, both in the periphery and now in its hard core, is  entangled  in a vicious circle of  recession, deflation and over-indebtedness, while all the draconian austerity measures and policies so far implemented, have totally failed to halt the downward spiral.

       The launching of a much delayed Quantitative Easing program  by the ECB on January 22, on the eve of the Greek elections, is a manifestation of this failure. The political expression of that failure is the electoral victory of Syriza in Greece, a few days later, which, as  Philip Stephens rightly writes in the Financial Times( 29/1/2015crystallizes the impasse that has crippled the eurozone[1]

      On the very day of the  Greek elections, the World  Economic Forum of the  world's capitalist elites in Davos concluded its meeting with statement stressing that politics in Europe is the greatest risk for the world economy,  naming especially  Greece and Ukraine. The  massive repudiation of austerity by the Greek people  came  as a huge shock, confirming all their fears.

       After  five consecutive  years of social catastrophe that has reduced the Greek people into a nation of the destitute, millions of innocent victims, using their vote as an available weapon, rebelled  against their  executioners: the troika of  European Union,  European Central Bank, and the IMF as well as their  subservient  bourgeois governments in Athens that had imposed  the measures of  social cannibalism misnamed austerity and structural reforms, and codified as  the 'Memorandum' tied to the  'rescue packages' by the EU and the IMF to bankrupt Greece.

       All the parties that had governed  under the orders of  troika,  first of all the  right wing New Democracy and the neo-liberal center left PASOK, were defeated.  Some of them were marginalized, others completely annihilated : PASOK, the far right LAOS,  the Democratic Left, as well as the new  split  from PASOK headed by former Prime Minister George Papandreou, the first to introduce the Memorandum in 2010.

        For the first time in the history of modern Greece, a party of the Left was handed  an electoral triumph: the  anti-austerity reformist Syriza. Promising to put an end to  misery, to the Memorandum  and to the troika's tyranny, it was raised  by a  massive  popular  vote into the leading position, enabling it to form a government.

         Less than three years ago, up to the elections of May and June 2012, Syriza was  a small, moderate, left-reformist party, emerging from splits in the Greek Communist Party in the 1960s and 1990s, joined later by small groups of the extra-parliamentary left, with a modest base in the working class, the unions and the petty bourgeoisie  and a marginal role in the youth and student movements, getting around 4 per cent of the vote. But in the 2012 elections, it  was catapulted into the second position of the official opposition with 27 per cent. Why?

        The social devastation  and upheavals of the period of 2010-12, the mass demonstrations, occupations of public buildings and squares, above all, the occupation of Syntagma Square in front of the discredited Parliament by the Indignant people, the General Strikes, People's  Assemblies, as well as the  barbaric  brutality of the police in reaction to these events - led to the crisis of legitimacy and disintegration of the bourgeois  parliamentary system. That system, as it was established after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, consisted of New Democracy and PASOK alternately taking on the helm of government.

     No party, including Syriza, had played a leading role in the upheaval of 2010-12. One week  before the May 6, 2012 elections,  Syriza's support still remained around  8 -10 per cent. The main focus of the spontaneous movement then  being  in favor of  a protest vote for many small parties considered to be  non systemic.  The decisive turn came when at the last stage of the campaign the Syriza leadership launched the call For a Government of the Left to cancel the Memorandum! Then, much of the popular  anger and hopes turned en masse to the left as a credible alternative to power and gave to Syriza an unexpected and astounding advance. Unexpected, although in a minor scale,  was, also, the threatening ascent of the Nazi  Golden Dawn,  from a  marginal group into a force  entering  Parliament for the first time.

           The call for   For a Government of the Left , in the Greek historical context has a totally different significance  in comparison  with other European countries where often parliamentary governments of the left were formed by social democratic parties in coalition or not with 'Communist' parties. Greece never knew  a  mass social democracy (PASOK was a national populist  movement of bourgeois character, later degenerating into neoliberalism). The country is profoundly marked by imperialist intervention and a bloody civil war in the 1940s to smash the communist threat coming out of the anti-Nazi Resistance. Decades of  anti-communist hysteria followed with  persecutions, concentration camps, executions, and witch-hunts of anything considered as leftist. The climax came with the dictatorship of the CIA colonels in 1967. That regime collapsed in 1974, following the brutal suppression of  the  youth rebellion of the Polytechnic  in Athens, and   the coup by the Greek junta in Cyprus opening the door to the Turkish invasion and occupation of half of the island.  Given this historical conjuncture,   a government of the Left means, in the popular social consciousness, a government by the political representatives of the  defeated revolutionary movement of the Partisans.

        Not by accident, during the revolt of December 2008, the slogan "Varkiza is finished" was written on the walls of Athens. [In Varkiza, near Athens, the  partisans  of ELAS, after the Stalinist betrayal,   surrendered their arms to the British military and to the shadow of Greek bourgeois power] Nor by accident as well, during the recent electoral period, despite Syriza's moderation, the Right wing Samaras  government  waged a  vicious anti-communist campaign using the same slogans as in the civil war, against the Sovietization of Greecefor the salvation of  fatherland, religion and family, even for the  defense of our  victory in 1949 against the communist bandits, while the Nazis of the  Golden Dawn  presented themselves as the only force able to defeat  Syriza's communists and Marxist anti-nationalism. The virulence of the slogans  reflects the sharp polarization that is now an enduring feature of social life in Greece.    

       No one should forget that the Golden Dawn, with its leaders in prison  still emerged  as the third force in Parliament with a civil war, fascist agenda. The January 2015 elections  were not the end of the crisis of State power but an opening of a new,  sharper period escalating inexorably, driven by the capitalist crisis,  towards a historic confrontation of the  workers and poor  with  the Greek and  international  ruling classes and their repression forces. 

           Despite the  tremendous victory given to Syriza by the people moving to the left,  the Syriza leadership itself  moved to the right :  they formed a coalition Popular Front type government of class collaboration with the Independent Greeks- ANEL, a far right bourgeois nationalist party, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, Turcophobic, homophobic, religiously obscurantist. Furthermore,  together with other ministries, Syriza offered the Ministry of the Armed Forces  to the leader of ANEL Panos Kammenos, a notorious chauvinist, anti-Semite,  a  close friend of the Greek shipowners and his co-thinker Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigrant far right UKIP. Memories of Chile in 1973 are raised, and the appointment of Pinochet to a similar  position by Allende are inescapable.

        Phony arguments were presented:  because Syriza was two seats short of forming a majority in parliament, this alliance with ANEL was  supposedly necessary to form a government given the  stubborn rejection of any support by the Stalinist KKE; or, that it was a lesser evil  to have as ally ANEL than the bogus Potami (River:  a party artificially constructed by  bourgeois mass media magnates, uniting remnants of the center left with the most right wing neo-liberals). 

          Syriza  could  have again put  pressure  on the KKE  to join it in a coalition government, much more relevant now  than in 2012.  And in any case, it could have put  the Stalinist leaders in a very difficult  position in front of their supporters.  To choose between ANEL and Potami is to choose between cholera and pestilence. But even without the KKE, formally, Syriza could form a minority government based on 149 seats, which could stand,  if other parties  abstained or were absent, giving objectively a vote of tolerance. Otherwise, by voting against, these parties  could be shown as responsible for new elections that nobody wanted.

        It is obvious that the coalition between Syriza and ANEL was a decision already taken before the elections (Kammenos did not make any effort to hide it). And it was announced, hurriedly,  during the same night of the elections, without  formally trying to search for other options, and  behind the back of the Party itself and its supporters.   

       The main argument  to excuse this haste is that Syriza had to immediately form a coalition with [bourgeois] patriotic  anti-austerity forces to have a solid basis in its  extremely difficult negotiations with the EU as the bailout program expires in February 28. The strategy of a national anti-austerity unity above classes is counter-posed to a  strategy of internationalist class struggle  towards  workers power and  a socialist way out from the crisis of bankrupt capitalism in Greece and Europe.

        The justification advanced by Syriza of their class collaboration with  reactionary nationalists is not only unsustainable but also self-defeating. In the inescapable confrontation with the imperialists of the EU and the international usurers, any basis  for a real defense of the  workers' and the interests of the masses is undermined by their refusal to break from the imperialist EU  and  by  allying with bourgeois forces looking for an impossible national capitalist solution within an unprecedented world capitalist depression. This is a strategy not  to defeat the stranglehold of the imperialist predators  but to defeat the emerging forces of socialist revolution in Greece and in Europe. Brussels, Berlin, and Washington know it very well.
         Syriza's  demands are for an  impossible compromise. To survive as a government it has to  respond to the popular expectations by fighting austerity; but that means  to clash with the austerity imposed by the EU and Germany. To fight austerity  means to find  relief from the burden of an unsustainable Greek debt, and at the same time, to avoid the consequences of a Grexit. Syriza looks for a bargain with a hostile but  frightened  EU, hoping to find  a space in the starting international re-negotiation  imposed by the failure to confront the crisis so far by  means of austerity. 

            The new Greek government  started by declarations  that  the fired  public sector workers will be rehired, that privatizations of  harbors and  electricity will be canceled, while the flamboyant Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis  was openly defying the leader of the Eurogoup, rejecting  both  the extension of the Memorandum and any return of the hated troika. The Greek people were delighted but neither Brussels nor Berlin were smiling.  From the other side of the ocean, significantly, Obama  phoned the new Prime Minister Tsipras to congratulate him and to express his opposition to...austerity!

          While Varoufakis is  making his tour around the European capitals  insisting that he seeks no confrontation but deliberation, the confrontation has already begun.  Berlin openly expressed its  hostility to any change. The ECB has the means, by stopping the  financing of the Greek banks, to provoke their collapse after March of this year. George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, emphasized after his discussion with Varoufakis: the stand-off between Greece and the eurozone is the greatest risk to the global economy  ( Financial Times  2/2/2015).[2] The Wall Street  Journal echoed the same concern.

       The fears of the ruling classes in the imperialist West were compounded  by the initial questioning by the new Greek government of the  announcement by the EU that  it had agreed unanimously" to impose new sanctions against Russia,  blaming it for the new  escalation of the civil war in South-Eastern Ukraine. But afterward, the Tsipras government made clear that it was questioning the process, the fact that it was not consulted, and not the essence of the matter. Then, the new Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias (an opportunist who started as a high priest of Stalinism in the KKE  to jump later to PASOK becoming a close adviser to George Papandreou before  taking   the  ministry of  foreign affairs in the current government) has signed the  document of the EU extending the sanctions  against Russia  until September 2015.  By signing he made  the following servile comment:  I am not a Russian puppet[...]We are not against every sanction. We are in the mainstream, we are not the bad boys ( Mail On Line, 31/1/2015)

      From a certain vantage point, the new government Syriza-ANEL could be  seen as a  transitional formation combining all the contradictions of Greek society in the current  phase of the world crisis. Rather sooner than later  these contradictions will explode.  It has some features of a Kerensky type of government in a transitional period towards the  decisive class confrontation in the struggle for power.

        The EEK  fights  among the masses in all fronts  to prepare, organize, educate the proletarian vanguard  for this confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution.  This is the reason  behind our independent intervention in the elections with our own lists and program:  to  build a revolutionary alternative in  the working class without tail ending Syriza, and without turning our back on the masses following Syriza.

        As a small revolutionary party  with the  vast majority of members  unemployed and the rest  with wages or pensions  drastically cut in the last years, we could not afford  the enormous  financial cost, a few months  from our latest national participation  in the May 2014  European elections,  to  present independent candidates all over Greece. So we  were limited  to participate only in 25 among the 56 regions of the country.  We got  only 2,441 votes votes, 0.04 per cent. The dominant tendency was to vote Syriza  to get rid of the Right, the Memorandum of austerity, and the rule of the troika.

        In a very polarized  situation and  with only  2-3 weeks for  campaigning, all our comrades made  a heroic effort that everyone in Greece respected.. We had  found  a warm response among new layers of the oppressed. Our appearances on television and radio  on a national and local level made a deep impression and provoked energetic debates.   Our intervention  was also discussed on the international stage.  Not only did we get the support  of our  comrades of the CRFI   in Argentina, Italy, and Turkey ( the comrades  of the Turkish DIP actively helped our campaign, and we are grateful to this demonstration of internationalism in practice) but also beyond: from Russia and Ukraine to Portugal, and from the US  to Scotland, England, Austria, South Africa and Australia. The international importance of this battle attracted the attention of fighters everywhere.

       Internationalism  was one of the main demarcation lines  of the EEK from  reformism and centrism, in a situation where all forms of   virulent  nationalisms are clashing all over Europe again as in the 1930s.

       Two battles on that front were particularly important:  the  clash before the elections with the centrist ANTARSYA when its majority made an alliance with left nationalists advocating the return to the drachma and opposing the socialist unification of Europe; secondly, after the elections, immediately after the formation of the coalition government Syriza-ANEL when we  raised the transitional demand: Out with the far right  nationalist bourgeois ministers - for a Syriza/KKE government of the Left, based on the organizations of the working class, and with a socialist program to exit from the crisis. Our call found a great response among the members and supporters of  Syriza, even  in the ranks of the KKE which remains dominated  by bureaucratic  sectarianism and blindness to the change in the situation. The main  pro-Syriza evening daily Efimerida ton Syntakton  published (28/1/15) in  a prominent place in its center pages our Call against the class collaboration of Syriza with  the   far right nationalist party  ANEL.

       Fighting both  sectarian  blindness and opportunist adaptation to the new government, we  intervene in the class struggle actualizing our program with transitional demands - to cancel the debt, to end austerity and unemployment, to break from the imperialists of the EU, the US and NATO, for bread, jobs, freedom, health, education, to take back  the life that they had stolen from us, the people. Thus, we develop our ties  with the broad masses now entering, with renewed hope and courage, into the arena of struggle where their fate  will be decided. 

                                                                                        February 3, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Experience in scare quotes: sectarianism and the Greek election

by Frank Brenner

First cabinet meeting of new government of Greece, presided over by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
On the premise that sometimes knowing the wrong way to do something helps in figuring out the right way, here is a quote from the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS)  about the victory of Syriza in last week's national election in Greece.

The International Committee of the Fourth International rejects with contempt the political excuse offered by the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left to justify support for Syriza and its pro-capitalist agenda—that a Tsipras government is a necessary “experience” for the working class, from which it will somehow come to understand the necessity for genuinely socialist policies.
Such sophistries are advanced only to oppose the emergence of a revolutionary movement of the working class, a development possible only through a relentless political exposure of Syriza. This task is undertaken by the World Socialist Web Site in order to prepare workers and young people for the decisive struggles they face in Greece and internationally.

This is from an article on Jan. 27. And here's another one posted the next day, making the same point. (In both cases, the underlining is by me).

Another of their arguments is that one must support Syriza, so that the working class can go through these experiences and learn from them. This is pure cynicism. Given the enormous dangers posed by a Syriza government, the task of a Marxist party is to expose the class interests represented by Syriza, to warn the working class against its consequences and provide it with a clear socialist orientation.

This is how the World Socialist Web Site and the International Committee of the Fourth International participate in the “experiences” in Greece. The numerous pseudo-left groups cling to Syriza because they represent the same class interests as this party. They speak for better-off layers of the middle class, who fear an independent movement of the working class, and who are concerned to ensure their own social elevation within the bourgeois order.

These quotes are both examples of what Marxists call sectarianism. You can read Trotsky's classic diagnosis of this degenerative political disease here.

What I find striking is how in both these quotes the word experience (or experiences) is in scare quotes. The ostensible target of this criticism is other “pseudo-left” groups, but the real target is the masses: it is their experience that is being denigrated (“rejects with contempt”) with these scare quotes. They voted in their millions for a party whose Greek acronym stands for Coalition of the Radical Left. Nothing like this has happened in Europe in more than half a century. The election has also aroused the hopes of millions of other victims of savage austerity in Spain, Portugal and Italy. It marks the upsurge of a mass movement seeking radical social change. If you don't find this important, then you aren't a revolutionary.

Sectarians see things differently. What they see is – to use a prefix much favored by WSWS writers – a 'pseudo' experience. Nothing significant happened in the Greek election. “Syriza’s election victory does not express a political development, a step forward, progress or anything of the kind by or for the working class.” For them political analysis is quite simple: what happened is not a revolution, hence it is reactionary. One bourgeois party replaced another bourgeois party in power: that is their reading of the election.

To be sure, Greece is still a long way from a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, but you hardly need the accumulated wisdom of Marxism to see that. What you do need that wisdom for is to properly assess whether or not this experience is a step towards that ultimate goal, and use that assessment as the basis for intervening in the political life of the masses.

Sectarians aren't interested in steps, or should I say “steps”. For them the Syriza victory doesn't count as a step forward. But what would count? Apart from more people reading the WSWS or joining the SEP, these sectarians have no answer for that, and see no pressing need to come up with one.

Marxists use a category like “bourgeois party” to understand political reality more deeply, but in the hands of a sectarian such a category becomes devoid of content, and little more than a form of name-calling. Thus we are told by the WSWS that in “its origin, social composition and politics, Syriza is a bourgeois party” comparable to Barack Obama and the Democrats. In fact, the core of Syriza comes from the Eurocommunists who split from the pro-Soviet wing of the Communist Party in the late 1980s. Stalinist parties are not revolutionary parties, but Trotskyists have never simply labeled them bourgeois because this distorts their origin and the specific nature of their relationship to the working class.

Syriza eventually evolved into an umbrella organization for 13 groups, including social democrats, Maoists, Trotskyists, left ecologists and liberals. Again this is not a revolutionary party but neither is it a conventional bourgeois party: to that extent at least, the featuring of Radical Left in its name is not false advertising. And that matters because millions of voters came to identify their aspirations with Syriza precisely because they saw it as a radical departure from the mainstream. Nor are those aspirations just for vague promises of hope and change a la Obama: they are very clearly for an end to austerity.

Such distinctions are important for revolutionary Marxists but not for sectarians. “Sectarians are capable of differentiating between but two colors: red and black. So as not to tempt themselves, they simplify reality. They refuse to draw a distinction between the fighting camps in Spain for the reason that both camps have a bourgeois character” (Trotsky).

Another way of saying this is that sectarians have a kitchen-sink approach to politics. A good example is the constantly used epithet “pseudo-left” on the WSWS. If you unpack this phrase, what it means is that everyone else on the left isn't left at all, they're all just “pseudo-left”. This includes any and all parties calling themselves Marxist or Trotskyist or revolutionary socialist. The only truly left party on the planet is the SEP. Everyone else belongs in the sink of “pseudo-leftism”. Here the rhetoric gets so far removed from reality as to become delusional.

Sectarians have only contempt for “experience” but they have enormous faith in propaganda. In their view, it is “sophistries” to say that the Greek working class needs to go through the experience of a Syriza government “from which it will somehow come to understand the necessity for genuinely socialist policies.” What the workers really need is “a relentless political exposure of Syriza”, which is to say, propaganda by the WSWS. The second quote hammers home the same point: it is “pure cynicism” to imagine that “the working class can go through these experiences and learn from them”. Instead, “the task of a Marxist party is to expose the class interests represented by Syriza, to warn the working class against its consequences and provide it with a clear socialist orientation” ... in other words, propaganda.

Which raises an important question – how does the working class learn? Does it learn primarily from propaganda, no matter how “relentless”, or does it learn primarily from its own experiences, with or without scare quotes? The SEP, which is vehemently materialist in its stated philosophical views, is actually idealist when it comes to its politics: propaganda matters, experience not at all.

But this isn't how the real world works. Nor is it how Marxists have traditionally understood their task as revolutionaries. Marxists aren't contemptuous of the experience of the masses; on the contrary, they do everything possible to engage with that experience. What does engage mean in this context? Trotsky addressed this in The Transitional Program: it means finding a bridge between the present situation – in Greece, the fight against austerity – and the fight for socialism.

Of course this involves propaganda for socialism, to the widest extent possible. And it means not pulling any punches in criticisms of the new government, particularly any concessions it makes to the domestic bourgeoisie or the European financial elites. A major political upsurge of the masses creates great dangers as well as great opportunities. We already have an example of this in Greece, with Syriza forming a government with a right-wing populist party. But sectarians see only the dangers and “reject with contempt” the opportunities. They do “not understand the dialectical action and reaction between a finished program and a living – that is to say, imperfect and unfinished – mass struggle.”

In the case of Greece, engaging with the masses means putting demands on Syriza which can mobilize broad support. Employment in particular seems to be what in American political parlance is called a “wedge issue” – an excellent phrase that revolutionaries should adopt. In Greece we need a program of demands addressed to “wedge issues” – demands designed to drive a wedge between the deep desire of the masses to end austerity and the obscene wealth of the elites who cannot accommodate that desire. Such a program would work to activate mass struggles and create the conditions for workers and young people to learn from their own experiences that only socialism will bring an end to austerity. This really would be a  revolutionary policy, in stark contrast to the pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric of sectarianism.

Engaging with the masses also means listening to them, not just hectoring at them. Take for example Syriza's alliance with the right-wing populist Independent Greeks. For a sectarian this is just an 'I told you so' moment. But this isn't how revolutionaries operate. Here is a Syriza supporter, in fact writing a comment reacting to one of the WSWS sectarian diatribes:
“The cooperation between SYRIZA and the 'Independent Greeks' was a necessary evil in order to make an anti austerity coalition in order to form a government. The Communist Party of Greece will not even speak to SYRIZA and the 'River' party, although claiming to be what you would call 'pseudo left' is more for maintaining the economic status-quo than the other parties and the PASOK is completely sold out so not much room for choice. The expressed line of the IGs are anti-austerity and their actions have shown this to be so.”
Marxists would disagree that the alliance with the Independent Greeks was a “necessary evil', but it's not enough just to dismiss such an argument or denounce it. The points about the other parties are entirely true, and the voters who backed Syriza wanted them to form a government. Under these circumstances, it would seem that a minority government would have been possible, and that the Syriza leadership opted for a formal alliance, including handing the crucial Defense Ministry to the Independent Greeks, to give themselves some political 'wiggle room'. This raises a crucial question: can you fight austerity and yet be pro-capitalist, as the Independent Greeks are? This person still seems to think that's possible, and no doubt he is far from being alone in this regard. If Greek revolutionaries are ever to get a hearing from such people, they will have to inoculate themselves against sectarianism.

The Transitional Program is still offered for sale at the  online bookstore affiliated with the WSWS