Sunday, March 8, 2015

Letter from Greece


VIOME occupied factory in Thessaloniki
We just received a letter from Savas Michael-Matsas, Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK) of Greece.  The letter summarizes the zig zags of Syriza's leadership since winning the election on Jan 25 till their capitulation to the Eurogroup on Feb 20.  But in sharp contrast to the pseudo-Marxists of the WSWS and other Internet sectarians, Michael-Matsas draws a cogent conclusion from this analysis:

Revolutionaries should not be rejoicing for  all this saying to the pauperized  people who invested their hopes in Syriza, "you are idiots for supporting Syriza,  we told you so!". 

It does not take the accumulated wisdom of Marxism to have predicted that Syriza, given its adherence to the program of - in the words of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis - “Saving capitalism from itself”, would not be able to carry out its election promises.   Indeed we made that very point on Jan 25 when we reprinted the election statement of the EEK. We wrote then,

As the EEK statement points out, SYRIZA will not be able to meet the expectations of those who will be voting for it. [1]

But this is not the end of revolutionary politics.  Indeed it is only a bare beginning. For the sectarian denunciators the capitulation of Syriza’s leadership to the blackmail tactics of the Eurogroup is nothing more than an “I told you so” moment.  They are completely clueless about the next step.  All they can do is pat themselves on the back for having their perspective “confirmed”.  If you ask them what initiative they propose to make a dent in the consciousness of the working class and win them to revolutionary socialist policies as the only alternative to austerity, they simply roll their eyes in disbelief. “The masses MUST read our web site then join our movement because we correctly predicted the betrayal of Syriza.”  This is not revolutionary politics but a rather sad parody of it.

We are printing excerpts from Michael-Matsas letter because in contrast to the lifeless approach of the Internet sectarians, he is proposing a set of bold initiatives that could potentially transform the political situation in Greece.  It is of course by no means guaranteed that the EEK will succeed in this endeavor.  But an important element of revolutionary politics is the art of testing the temper of the masses.  The proposed march of workers from Thessaloniki to Athens strikes us as exactly the right approach for a small revolutionary movement to take in this situation. 

Writing in 1931 Leon Trotsky gave some advice to the Communist Party of Spain that has some bearing on the political dynamics in Greece today. He pointed to the need for bold initiatives in  a situation in which reformist groups, much like Syriza today, held the allegiance of the great majority of the masses.  He sharply criticized the policies of the Communist Party, which was then going through a sectarian phase, for their lack of initiatives and their refusal to join in common struggle with the masses who were under the sway of the reformists:

In Spain, where in the near future the slogan of Soviets could already be put practically on the order of the day, the very creation of Soviets (juntas), provided there is an energetic and bold initiative of the Communists, is not to be conceived of otherwise than by way of a technical organizational agreement with the trade unions and the socialists on the method and the intervals of the election of workers’ deputies. To advance, under these conditions, the idea of the inadmissibility of work with the reformists in the mass organizations would be one of the most disastrous forms of sectarianism.
Elsewhere in the same document he writes on the subject of Reformism and the Working Class,

How then is such an attitude on our part towards the proletarian organizations led by the reformists to be reconciled with our evaluation of reformism as the Left wing of the imperialist bourgeoisie. This contradiction is not a formal but a dialectical one, that is to say. one that flows from the very course of the class struggle. A considerable part of the working class (its majority in a number of countries) rejects our evaluation of reformism; in other countries, it has not as yet even approached this question. The whole problem consists precisely of leading these masses to revolutionary conclusions on the basis of our common experiences with them. We say to the non-Communist and to the anti-Communist workers: “Today you still believe in the reformists leaders whom we consider to be traitors. We cannot and we do not wish to impose our point of view upon you by force. We want to convince you. Let us then endeavor to fight together and to examine the methods and the results of these fights.” This means: full freedom of groupings within the united trade unions where trade union discipline exists for all.
No other principled position can be proposed.[2]
 It is well to remember Trotsky’s words today.

Letter from Greece

Allow me, first,  to  remind  you what happened before the  agreement with the Eurogroup. We have to keep in mind  that the elections of January 25, 2015 in Greece was not just a banal  parliamentary contest but a dramatic  turn in the class struggle in Greece and in Europe: after  five years of a depression deeper than  that of the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s, after an unprecedented  social catastrophe  exacerbated by the  measures of social cannibalism imposed  by the troika of the EU, the ECB , the IMF, and their  servants in the successive  Greek governments, finally  the  struggles  of a people reduced into a  nation of  the destitute   led to a  huge tide of anger of the masses raising to power a left party, for the first time  in the history  of a country marked by the  civil war of the 1940s and  non-stop anti-communist witch hunts.

The tide continues to grow, full of hope, despite  the confusion and doubts spread  above all by the zigzags of the leadership of Syriza. 

First zigzag: after its victory, Syriza formed a coalition  government with a far right, xenophobic, anti-Semite  nationalist party, the Independent  Greeks, linked with the shipowners and the Church, although it could  form a real government of the Left, which, even with only 149 seats among the 300 seats in Parliament, it could be  much stronger politically  winning a much broader  political base in society itself.  (See my previous essay,  The Greek people have shaken the world.) The initial announcements by  Tsipras, Varoufakis and other Syriza  ministers defying  the EU, the troika, Schauble, Merkel  and the Memorandum, had produced   enthusiasm  among the devastated people.

Then, Syriza  once again disappointed its supporters and the people by another right wing step: its leadership, without even consulting the Party elected bodies, proposed  in parliament as a candidate for the position of the new President of the Republic, a notorious  right winger who supported and voted for all the austerity measures,  an ex- minister in previous New Democracy  governments, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.  Within the party there was  anger and criticism.  This was evident when the pro-Syriza main evening newspaper  Efimerida ton Syntakton published our Call “to stay  faithful to the popular mandate and vote down the right wing candidate” ( Only one abstention was   recorded) As many Syriza members protested to the Party, the  following statement was made in Syriza' s  Radio Station Kokkino,

"Unfortunately, we have only 149 deputies; if we had 180 we could propose ....Savas Michael-Matsas as a candidate!!!" 
A rather rude joke but it shows  that the alternative to an alliance with the Right should be an alliance - to be avoided -  with forces in the revolutionary Left.

These right wing openings to hostile bourgeois forces for class collaboration were done with the excuse that "a broad national patriotic, anti- Memorandum  front" was necessary to face the  enormous  pressures  by the "ordoliberal"  Germany, the EU, the ECB, and the IMF.  Syriza was  in any case vulnerable to these pressures  as it always stressed  that it will avoid any break from the EU and the Eurozone, and it considered  Grexit a calamity.

John Milios et al. (Greek left  economists  and cadres of Syriza) were correct,  in their criticisms later against the agreement with the Eurogroup, pointing out that  by making common cause with Greek bourgeois interests, Syriza became even more  vulnerable to the pressures and blackmail of a hostile  EU led by Schauble's Germany.

The  strategy of Syriza in these "negotiations" was self-defeating. Never was it prepared  for a break and the EU knew this very well. Furthermore, the Syriza leadership never fully understood, or used, the crisis of Germany itself, which while it is facing the crisis in the Eurozone leading to an anti-austerity rebellion by Greece and the other over-indebted countries  of the European periphery, is also facing at the same time the Ukrainian crisis. It never played the "geo-political card",  threatening, for example, a veto of the EU sanctions against Russia or a withdrawal  from NATO. You have to keep in mind that Greece is  situated at the center of the triangle of wars  in Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, and Libya. 

On February 20, Varoufakis and  Tsipras  received an  open ultimatum, a cynical blackmail by the EU  Commission under orders from Schauble: either the Greeks sign immediately the Statement  already prepared or the last channel of financing of the  Greek banks by the ELA ( Emergency  Liquidity Assistance) of the ECB would be cut off, leaving Greece to face a run on the banks and a declaration of insolvency. 

We can never call the result of blackmail  by the gangsters of big capital "an honorable compromise". It is true that the Eurogroup  Statement signed by the Greek  side  is written  in terms of "a constructive  ambiguity" as  the EU and  Varoufakis had said. They have changed  semantics: the troika is now called "the institutions", the Memorandum is called "current arrangement", the dictatorial  control by the troika is called "review".

Nevertheless some points are crystal clear:

1. Syriza abandons its  pre-electoral pledge for a negotiated  cancellation of the biggest part of the Greek  debt.  The Statement clearly and unambiguously says: "The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely".

2. Even if the so-called primary surplus of Greece (the surplus after payment for debt and interests)  could be  a topic of negotiation taking  notice of the current "conditions of the economy in 2015", nevertheless the acceptance of the policy for "primary surpluses" as it was imposed on Greece by the troika  in November 2012 is accepted by Syriza  i.e  the need to continue  austerity to get these " primary surpluses", larger or smaller. Paul Krugman is, in a sense, right when  he says in the NYT [3] that the Greeks accepted austerity to "avoid more austerity".  But the nightmare of austerity continues, anyway! 

The crux of the matter is that you cannot fight austerity without cancelling the debt and you cannot  fight against the crashing  burden of the debt without  rejecting austerity.

By  surrendering at this point  the rest follows: the privatizations already done are not touched and they will continue for example the privatization of the Pireus harbor; " labor flexibility" will continue in  the labor market etc. etc. Every step taken by the Greek government in favor of the people  can be considered a forbidden "unilateral measure" and  be punished  by pushing Greece into default. Anyway the agreement is very precarious , it did not resolved the crisis between Greece and the EU, and it is a factor for new explosions of crisis in the near future.

The problem is not only that the leadership  of Syriza retreated:  they declared the defeat - a victory, and, to add  insult to injury,  they compared their agreement with... the Brest -Litovsk agreement of the Bolsheviks with Germany!!!

Of course, neither  Greek workers or the destitute are idiots nor the Syriza members themselves. Already there is an  internal  crisis in Syriza  and it  is growing.

Revolutionaries should not be rejoicing for all this saying to the pauperized  people who invested their hopes in Syriza "you are idiots for supporting Syriza, we told you so" like the Stalinist KKE and many sects  do now. From our side, we  are in a continuous  dialogue with these people, patiently explaining  what happens, and what are the  disastrous  results of  the policies of class collaboration with the EU, the IMF and the Greek bourgeoisie. We are advancing  transitional demands   for the cancellation of the debt, nationalization of the banks and for an emergency program to put an end  to austerity, hunger, unemployment, the humanitarian disaster;  furthermore to build  solidarity and  coordination with the  workers, and social movements in Europe on an internationalist basis and perspective, against the EU, for a socialist unification from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

To give you a more concrete idea, here are two of our current practical  projects  together with the self managed VIOME factory workers [4] we are preparing a national March from Thessalonika to Athens, in a month, mobilizing the people all over the country against unemployment and privatizations, and concluding in Athens demanding, among others,  a special law to guaranty the rights of the workers of VIOME. 
A second project is the preparation of our 3rd European Conference  early June to bring together  fighters and movements  coming from different radical traditions and struggles to debate and elaborate  a program for a  socialist way out from  the crisis and a plan for action all over Europe.

[3] Link to Paul Krugman's article in the New York Times, What the Greeks won
[4] The VIOME factory in Thessaloniki has been occupied and managed by its workers for the past two years. See their web site,  


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a great article. Had commented on the North sect's website. My goodness the replies I received were totally ignorant. I live in Sweden. Know people, real people who live in Athens. All I tried to say in my comments is that Greece is bankrupt and has been since 2010 if not earlier. Thank you for a point in the right direction.


Anonymous said...

A non-sectarian sense of the tactical is one thing, but all tactics are not Marxist.

The term "zigzag," doubtless carelessly lifted from Trotsky´s description of the Third International's manoeuvres, describes the sharp changes in direction of a counter-revolutionary movement, it's shifting from ultra-left to opportunist positions, in reality, two polar expressions of the same phenomenon. It´s use with regard to Syriza, whose left credentials never passed beyond words and whose trajectory to the right is in practice uninterrupted, is inappropriate. What tactics flow from such a clumsy attempt to describe one situation with terminology historically used to describe quite another?

Is Savas Michael-'Matsas suggesting that Syriza SHOULD have played the "geo-political" card, that is, threatened to pull out of NATO to gain better terms? It sounds like it. Put another way, having secured a better deal, Syriza commits Greece's inflated military to NATO provocation and war against Russia. Interesting.

Mind Your Own Business

Alex Steiner said...

I think "zig-zag" is an appropriate term to describe the maneuvers that a reformist party like Syriza employs when it tries to reconcile its election promises with the reality of what it is doing once in office. It is a contradiction and they must live with that contradiction at least to the extent that they need to provide explanations to their constituency. Maybe another word is better but the point should be clear.

I think Savas Michael-Matsas was not suggesting what Syriza should do, but rather explaining that if Syriza were serious about negotiating then even according to their limited perspective they should at least keep their bargaining chips intact. The fact that Syriza gave up its bargaining chips before the negotiations even began - and those bargaining chips would include the threat to leave Nato or veto EU sanctions against Russia - shows that Syriza was never serious about the "negotiations". It did not go into the negotiations with any notion of playing hardball, but basically was just hoping that the EU would give them a break.

Anonymous said...

Your argument against the ICFI here amounts to nothing more than a crude straw man. "If you bring up the betrayals of Syriza to them, members of the SEP will surely say 'I told you so'" etc.. In claiming that the ICFI has no "concrete" solution,you never mention the ICFI's position that workers throughout Greece and Europe must not only become familiar with the historical lessons of the international workers movement, the living embodiment of which is the World Socialist Web Site, but you also never mention the IC's call for workers to form their own independent political organizations. It is precisely this which you want workers to avoid at all costs which is why resort to crude subjectivity. There can be no doubt that had you been alive in the summer of 1917, you would doubtless have denounced the Bolshevik Party as "sectarians" and claimed that the Provisional Government was simply "zig-zagging." Further, your quotations from Trotsky once again actually undermine, rather than strengthen your position. Trotsky is speaking of creating soviets in Spain which would inevitably have the involvement of the trade unions and other reformist elements, but nonetheless the class content would be of a proletarian character. You would have us believe that a group of pettit bourgeois academics who have explicitly renounced Marxism, i.e. Syriza, constitute a genuine workers organization. This, in spite of their, "zig zags" which consistently "zig" to the right but somehow never "zag" back to the left.

Alex Steiner said...

This is Part I of my reply:

As far as the WSWS is concerned, and in this respect their perspective is no different than that of the Spartacist sectarian group, since Syriza is a bourgeois party, the victory of Syriza in the election is no different than a victory for New Democracy or Pasok would have been. And nothing therefore flows from it that could possibly influence their practice. Had New Democracy won the election instead of Syriza they would be saying and doing exactly the same thing they are doing now. But this is just to illustrate a point that Trotsky made in his classic article on sectarians, one that we have previously quoted:

“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”

Following the same logic, an abstract definition of a reformist party like Syriza not only misses its differences with other parties it also misses the internal contradictions that mark these formations. This was well illustrated in your comment,

"You would have us believe that a group of pettit bourgeois academics who have explicitly renounced Marxism, i.e. Syriza, constitute a genuine workers organization. This, in spite of their, "zig zags" which consistently "zig" to the right but somehow never "zag" back to the left."

I will leave aside your accusation of that we characterized Syriza as “a genuine workers organization”, - a patently false statement as we never said anything of the sort - in order to focus on your assumption that a reformist party like Syriza is somehow incapable of maneuvers, that it can only follow a straight right wing trajectory. Such a conception is not only non-dialectical, it completely denies that there is any connection between Syriza and the masses who voted for it. If that were the case then why did Alexis Tsipras refuse to be sworn in by the Archbishop of Greece, and why did he pay tribute to the martyrs of the partisans who were murdered by the Nazis on his first day in office? To be sure these were symbolic actions and in no way set the fundamental path on which Syriza is and has been embarked, which was to try to follow the impossible logic of ending austerity while at the same time remaining within the EU and within the capitalist framework. It was an impossible contradiction and Syriza’s capitulation to the Eurogroup was entirely predictable. But the twists and turns of its leadership and the internal dissension this has generated is not without significance for those who are trying to make the most of the political situation. It's a fissure from which it may be possible to win over some of Syriza's supporters. For the propagandists who are disconnected from the masses and think their job begins and ends with denunciations then of course it really does not make any difference.

Alex Steiner said...

This is Part II of my reply:

This same formal and abstract, that is, non-dialectical thinking, cripples sectarians not only in assessing a historical event, but also in formulating a program for intervening in the situation at hand.

Your characterization of what the ICFI proposes is I think a fair one. But this in no way resembles a program aimed at bridging the gap between the present consciousness of the working class and the need for a socialist transformation of society. They propose the building of “new working class parties” that are already committed to carry out a social revolution. This is all very well, but how to get there? That is a question that the ICFI is incapable of even asking let alone supplying a coherent answer. They have abandoned the approach that was once championed by the Trotskyist movement of placing before the masses a series of transitional demands. They have instead proclaimed what used to be called in the days of the Second International, the maximum program. Thus instead of concrete proposals for joint work with those sections of the working class not yet convinced of the need for revolution, they announce in a completely abstract manner the need for “the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a world socialist society”. (These statements are taken directly from ICFI's statement here: )

Indeed it would be very difficult for members of the ICFI to find anyone anywhere with whom any kind of joint work is possible. It would not be possible for them to work with any political group since by definition any political group that is not already affiliated to the ICFI is by definition “pseudo-left”. The same goes for unions, who the ICFI never tires of telling us, are all “bourgeois”. So who in the world will join this "concrete"
"independent political organization" that the IC proposes other than that tiny group of people who are already convinced that the IC is, as you say,
"the living embodiment...of the historical lessons of the workers movement." You are aware I trust that the Holy Roman Catholic Church considers itself "the living embodiment" of Christ?

As for your speculation about what I would have done during the Russian Revolution, I think I know what you would have done. You would have posted screeds on your Facebook page thinking that is somehow equivalent to making a revolution.