Greece: Between two elections

“4” -3 Editorial

Surely in the upcoming elections of 7/7/19 we must “vote left”, surely we must “struggle against right-wing Mitsotakis and his friends among the “employers” and the “extreme right”. Surely we must support the prospect of a “strong anticapitalist left” rising to the occasion to prepare the “unitary struggles of the workers”. However, in order for these not to remain simple slogans, painless excuses for the guilty conscience of our class and its institutions for our failures, they must be accompanied by an understanding of the underlying conditions.

Between two elections

The upcoming elections will quite possibly transform the heavy political defeat of SYRIZA in the elections for the European Parliament into a “popular mandate” for the right-wing and, at the same time, mark the constant shift of the class balance of power after the summer of 2015 toward a conservative direction.

The reinstatement of the two-party system through the liquidation of political groupings which arose on account of the crisis of the political system at the start of the decade and the return, for the first time after the period of 1989-1993, of a shameless neoliberalism that believes that “the source of social wealth” is “private enterprise” is the result of a class balance of power which has been evident for some time now. This balance of power marks a crisis of the left which touches upon all its manifestations regardless whether they reject SYRIZA or not.

During the previous period, we were preparing for an electoral battle in which the issue at stake was for the SYRIZA government to be punished from the left. That did not happen and it will not happen due to the lack of political time until the national elections. The result of the elections for the European Parliament has changed the political situation. The question that is posed is what position the movement, the militants of the left, and labor will take in face of the more than visible likelihood of the return of a right-wing government. The national elections seem like a sui generis “second round” of the elections for the European Parliament. We must recognize that a right-wing victory will not be a linear continuation of SYRIZA’s policies, but a qualitative turning point in the political means with which the class struggle will be carried out, a worsening of conditions for the working class. Each political milieu has its share of the responsibility. Nevertheless, the political responsibility for the general result of the elections lies first and foremost with SYRIZA.

Crisis of the left, recovery of the bourgeois self-confidence

The former leader of the Italian Communist Refoundation Party, Fausto Bertinotti, stated that the Right wins “when the Left doesn’t do its job well”, an opinion that he justified with his own personal example. The seed of the strong likelihood that today we will find ourselves facing a one party government with New Democracy under Kyriakos Mitsotakis was planted in the summer of 2015 with the reinstatement of the “old political world” when the Tsipras-Kammenos government voted for the last memorandum with the support of the politically humiliated in the referendum “memorandum bloc”.

The “realistic turn” SYRIZA made morally paralyzed the social powers that brought it into power and crushed their combative morale. It allayed the social resistances and stabilized the political system. Following upon this, it tried but did not manage to form a social alliance across classes in place of the exhausted memorandum bloc which brought it into power. The forming of a party state mechanism is not tantamount to the forming of a solid coalition of power. For this to happen, significant social powers would have to be tied “materially” to SYRIZA. Under the circumstances of the last memorandum, SYRIZA lost the active support of labor, it let down the “middle classes”, and didn’t acquire essential ground among the bourgeoisie. The analysis of the results of the elections for the European Parliament indicates that the “Macedonian issue” and the Prespes agreement did not play a decisive role in the shaping of the results. The vote was basically a “class” vote.

SYRIZA managed to recycle a section of the political personnel of PASOK during the times of Papandreou, and even of the right-wing linked to Karamanlis, and to assimilate the Independent Greeks (ANEL), which was more realistically concerned with its political future. It attempted to come to an understanding with institutional representatives of the “middle” class, such as Constantinos Michalos from the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it placed Petros Kokkalis, son of Socrates, the most iconic capitalist in Greece during the period of 1990-2000, on its European slates in the elections. All of this symbolized SYRIZA’s actual intentions concerning the formation of a broad alliance across classes, which, however, did not materialize. The crude interpretation that SYRIZA simply failed to change what is referred to in journalism as the “system of intrigue”, chiefly through the administrative bid for the permits for television channels, is only partly true. It was the whole social and political situation that allowed the elite to consider the services SYRIZA provided as unnecessary.

The nomination of Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the leadership of New Democracy signified a different choice for the capitalists than continuing to tame SYRIZA. Mitsotakis first won the party over to a pure right party line irreconcilable to SYRIZA, against the guilty conscience of the right faction and the tactics of placating Tsipras advocated by Meimarakis. And he commenced to invest in the disappointment felt by the promise of the slogan “first time left” as a unique opportunity to atone for neoliberalism in Greek society.

Mitsotakis’ proposal is for for a more “self-sufficient” bourgeois policy. However, the bourgoisie clearly isn’t adequate for New Democracy to govern on its own. Consequently, today, New Democracy has managed to “repatriate” different social categories, which are conveniently characterized as middle income groups – among them some that had temporarily moved to SYRIZA from various liberal entities, and also from Golden Dawn. The cherry on the cake is that sections of labour have been lulled into believing that nothing in particular is going to happen to them, as wages will rise and jobs will multiply since investments will start.

Deregulation of the dynamism of the market economy and “law and order” constitute the platform of New Democracy’s programme and ideology under Mitsotakis. Business and the police force. If we take New Democracy’s economic programme at face value, we must admit that it is simply unrealistic. It wants to have its cake (reduced tax rates for large and small capitalists) and eat it too (guarantee of bank liquidity and public expenditure, in other words, cheap loans from the European Stability Mechanism).

The revival of the Greek bourgeoisie necessarily goes through the defeat of the (multi-national) working class of the country, the suppression of its rights, and the curtailment of its freedom. In the best case, New Democracy will achieve a limited number of its goals and, with the full support of the bourgeois powers, might manage to be re-elected for another four years: in this case, the serious risk will be the promotion of restructuring, such as “linking the universities with the labor market”, the privatization of rubbish disposal, reinforcement of the “private pillar” in social security, the further dismantling of the public energy sector to the benefit of the capitalist “heroes” of entrepreneurship, which is receiving choice sectors of public infrastructure at a cutthroat cost and with the only investment on their part being the new advertisement of the businesses – to name just a few of the most outrageous examples in the new party programme.

The aim is for the weight of the working class to be further reduced in the total class balance – its ability to struggle, to make collective claims, and to determine political developments. That is why the curtailment of public goods and social rights are a priority. An individualist ideology of social prosperity (“my house”, “my studies”, “my health”, “my security”) permeates the political discourse of Mitsotakis’ New Democracy and is offered to counteract the dismantling of the collective political and trade union experience of labor.

This tendency to focus on the individual is accompanied by the reinforcement of repression. The promise that there will be no tolerance of social no-go zones” (Exarcheia and Menidi are mentioned in the New Democracy programme) means further criminalization of sectors the youth and minorities. It is impressive that the issues relating to migrants and refugees have been pushed out of in the electoral campaigns of the large parties. Nevertheless, the any references to the issue in the New Democracy programme are limited to the statement that “Greece is not free-for-all” and that the borders will be guarded at all costs. This is a course that leads to repressive operations against the “invaders”, in other words the victims of wars, violence and poverty. Mitsotakis’ vision is the conformist subjection of society to the market, where “hardworking people” will prosper along with the entrepreneurs who have been liberated from bureaucracy and taxes, and where the roads will be kept clean not only of rubbish but also of whatever does not comply with “law and order”.

The return of political bipolarization

In spite of its contradictions and failures, SYRIZA will possibly ensure its medium-term political future thanks to the simple fact that it constitutes the unquestioned main parliamentary opposition, the obligatory choice against Mitsotakis’ New Democracy when it will begin to show signs of wear and tear. We can already imagine the SYRIZA members of parliament showing up at every social protest, and, having “learned from their mistakes” will be handing out support and commitments, etc. in order to win the support of sectors of labor, offering promises for post-electoral “coverage”.

SYRIZA constitutes a quasi-social democracy, without an organized workers base, with a new party mechanism that is shackled to the state. Even after four years of austerity and restructuring, SYRIZA still maintains its largest electoral influence among the unemployed, in specific sectors of constituencies in Athens and Pireaus, in other words in the most plebeian layers of the city, although even there its influence has declined significantly in comparison to the previous elections. Paid employment cannot remain without political representation in a bourgeois parliamentary democracy, and SYRIZA will not be able to contend for a return to power without, in one way or another, regaining its influence among the employees of the public and private sectors, the springboard for an appeal for wider social alliances. However, it must be taken for granted that that SYRIZA’s party mechanism today does not want to and cannot organize the poor, it wants them simply as voters. Its priority is the affiliation of existing “bureaucracies”.

A left (to the left of SYRIZA) which repeats the story that SYRIZA betrayed and humiliated the left and is just the same as New Democracy and the Movement for Change (KINAL), after the shock of the return of the right, may undergo another shock of witnessing social challenge and protest being channeled once again through SYRIZA, or its future development. Over the last twenty years we have been witnessing a constant transfiguration of political formations which have arisen from the crisis of the traditional labor parties, a shift from parties of protest to parties of the radical center and the other way round. What could humiliate social democracy in Europe more than Blairism? Nonetheless, the president of Stop the War, Jeremy Corbyn, won the leadership of the party through an unprecedented rebellion of the rank and file of the British Labor Party against their leadership, with an alliance between the marginalized by Blair trade unions and the radicalized youth who essentially invaded the party. Does this mean that Corbyn can reform British capitalism? It is more likely that British capitalism will “reform” Corbyn if he ever gains governmental power.

What this shows is that under the current conditions, workers as well as other currents of resistance are repeatedly trying out reformist political mechanisms that weigh heavily on the balance of power. For the time being, SYRIZA had adopted that weak form of reformism, “smoothing the extremes”, that the socialists in Spain and Portugal represent with greater electoral victory. On account of SYRIZA’s specific characteristics (lack of an organic relationship with the social subject), it is possible that it will function as political weather vane of the general social mood. It will move to the the right if Mitsotakis is successful, or to the left if the roads are filled with militants. Sectarianism against SYRIZA is (also) a mere indication of the political incapacity to break off sectors of the working class that are traditionally left-wing from its influence. The political legacy of the Greek CP (KKE) is the epitome of this incapacity.

KINAL is entering a new phase of anxiety which may prove to be mortal. The interpretation of its electoral results as a success in face of it being flanked by SYRIZA is one-sided to say the least. The truth is that the plan for the reconstruction of the “center left” set a target of a double number in the national elections, procuring the third probative mandate to form the government which would secure a “regulatory role” for the post-PASOK faction. The likelihood of this happening seems not only unrealistic but also politically undesirable. In the case that New Democracy does not achieve a majority vote that would allow it to form a one-party government, and also in the case of a weak majority, a vote of confidence – sooner or later – from KINAL would render it in the throes of an existential crisis. This particular gathering of fragments of PASOK has no organic role in the political system in the stormy waters between ND and SYRIZA. The ousting of Venizelos indicates just how fragile KINAL’s position is. The mass media, which were until recently favorably disposed towards KINAL, have started systematically undermining and taunting the leadership, showing that the bourgeoisie have no mission to assign them other than that of the “center-left” “procurer” for New Democracy.

Fragmentation of the far right

The weakening of Golden Dawn is the result of the combination of the stabilization of the political system, its being held hostage judicially for a long time, and the anti-fascist mobilizations, which are becoming fewer and fewer. The emphasis which some analyses place on the “ability of the movement to stop” the fascists is exaggerated. The anti-fascist movement has subsided following the slow pace of the trial of Golden Dawn. Buildings occupied by militants for social purposes were protected from fascist attacks during the recent demonstrations against the Prespes agreement and certain attempts to occupy schools by nationalists were held off. But the extreme right in the roads and among society, in regards to the Macedonian issue, did not receive the answer it deserved, as the “anti-Nato” left was out of commission in face of the “national discourse” of the far right. That is why Golden Dawn hasn’t been obliterated, or even more importantly, we haven’t seen its ideological defeat in Greece; we merely see actual obstacles in its autonomous development as a political power capable of challenging bourgeoisie bipolarization. ND is regaining a section of its voters who had moved towards the far right during the years of the memoranda, while Greek Solution as a sort of Golden Dawn for the whole Greek family, a mix of religious obscurantism, nationalism and racism without truncheons and knives, highlights the problem of credibility that Golden Dawn faces with its “public”.

The electoral fragmentation in combination with the lack of orientation and charismatic leadership do not allow an antagonistic autonomous presence of the far right in the present conjuncture. However, we cannot underestimate the appeal of the ideas that nurture it. The social reservoir of the far right is bigger than its present electoral results. The synthesis of neoliberalism and conservatism that ND proposes may absorb part of the far-right protest today, but tomorrow it is likely to mushroom thanks to the qualitative upgrading of racism “from above” and the discourse about “law and order”. The movement must take advantage of the weakening of Golden Dawn to cross over to a total counter-attack on racism and nationalism, and not cultivate a false feeling of security that we have won.

The absence of a left alternative to SYRIZA

The misfortune of our times is that the left (to the left of SYRIZA) has failed to gain from SYRIZA’s adaptation to the administration of mnemonic policies in order to present the oppressed layers of society with an alternative with mass appeal. The bankruptcy of the patriotic anti-memorandum narrative of the left is clearly evident in the obliteration of Left Unity (LAE). LAE did not have the historical and social depth to remain standing in a period when there was no demand for a renovated SYRIZA. Of course, the political choices mad by the LAE leadership, which was entirely devoted to an orientation of left patriotism, worsened the situation. KKE remains stationary; it is incapable of influencing labor sectors beyond its historical social base, in spite of the unrest and the redeployment that swept the country’s political system. It failed to play a leading role in the movement against the memoranda, namely the barbaric attack on the standard of living and the rights of the working classes. It failed to constitute a convincing opposition to SYRIZA. The Tsipras government never felt under substantial pressure from the actions of KKE.

ANTARSYA, which we supported in the elections for the European parliament, is equally stationary, of course at a lower level than KKE. What was once a militant dynamic venture – but under the leadership of the anti-memorandum patriotic narrative of the left – in the first period of its formation has become restricted, after 2012, to an election-oriented coalition of powers of the extra-parliamentary left, without political cohesion, internal life and organized intervention. It is obvious that ANTARSYA, from 2015 to 2019, has not won over anyone from the crisis of SYRIZA. Its stationary percentage with a tendency toward decline cannot be considered hopeful (it would have been ten years ago). It does not respond to the needs of the period and it does not weigh on the general political balance of powers. In reality, it cannot be said that it even corresponds to the actual social strength and composition of labor, student and other groupings and formations of the anticapitalist left milieu.

MeRA25, the Greek party of the international DiEM 25, is in some ways the “winner” to the left of SYRIZA, if we take into consideration the previous demonization of its leader who had remained on the shelf of the political life of the country. In any case, the treatment of Varoufakis by the mass media has radically changed with the generous provision of airtime in the effort to strike SYRIZA. It is a non-transferable formation around the persona of its founder, but it constitutes something more than the “empty” of recognisable cadres party of Konstantopoulou. In fact, its relative success is accompanied by a wave of transcriptions. Against the dry, dated, anti-European Union discourse of the traditional left, the soft internationalism, naïve Europeanism, and reassuring technocratism of Varoufakis have proved to be more attractive.MeRA25, at the moment, is a vehicle with doubtful organizational foundations and very problematic views on class collaboration. Its small success is a measure of the failure of the other versions of the Left. If it manages to enter parliament, it will most likely function as a complementary power to SYRIZA, in a cunning manner, a sort of bridge of return. On the programmatic and strategic level, there are no fundamentally unbridgeable differences with SYRIZA.

A useful left is one that organizes the resistance

The expected arguments on both sides relating to a useful vote (“a vote to block the road to the right wing”, “when the right wing is in power, society becomes radicalized more easily”, “no to false dilemmas”, “neither, nor”) are already being developed. Many on the left who dreamed of the unraveling and punishment of SYRIZA have begun to worry about the rise of the Right. And, as we said above, the national elections seem like a “second round”.

Nevertheless, the pressure on the left outside of SYRIZA is not enough to limit the victory of the Right, or to prevent a majority vote. The shift towards ND cannot be stemmed by the useful vote of the left in favor of SYRIZA. On the whole, the class political balance has shifted to the right. A useful vote for SYRIZA merely means a “monopoly” of the parliamentary opposition of the Right on the next day, reproduction of parliamentary representation without the “organization of the poor”. We saw what the “monopoly” of the struggle against the memoranda by SYRIZA meant in the September 2012 elections. It is mandatory that we break with the viscious circle from SYRIZA to SYRIZA. Is it possible though? The real problem is that there is no credible alternative to SYRIZA which does not remain in the realm of good intentions.

We know that the transcendence of reformism is not an electoral, parliamentary issue. It is possible only through the revolutionary movement of the oppressed social majority. It is also reasonable that the revolutionary left should constitute a recognizable political reality within bourgois society in conditions that are not revolutionary. To rephrase the argument in a less abstract manner, we need a strong anticapitalist left on the day after the national elections for the specific battles of the workers, women, migrants, and youth against “this” right-wing government that we see coming.

Here is where the essential problem lies: the proposals to the left of SYRIZA, including that of the exhausted venture of ANTARSYA (which we have supported), under the circumstances today, fall short of the expectations. They have no visible prospects. They cannot contribute even as sui generis electoral alliances that will send here and now a useful “message”. It is clear that we see an impasse both in the useful vote as well as in continuing what we have been doing with ANTARSYA. As what remains from the first hopeful convergence, with significant “advances” but also many “problems”, these powers must be able to overcome the weight of their defeats and mistakes and surpass their entrapment in a divergent defence, as well as their by and large verbalistic self-congratulation against the misled masses and among their own constituent elements.

With our limited resources, in the coming period, we will work specifically to build a militant, anticapitalist, internationalist power, a vanguard and unifying power, with the goal of changing the balance of power among social classes, committed to the struggle for social emancipation, equality and to saving the natural environment from destruction. On the current ground of defeat, it does not seem easy for successful unifications to take place. We know that we are not the only ones in the revolutionary movement with this orientation. Powers that orient towards this kind of prospect can be found for example, within ANTARSYA and also in the milieu of those who have broken ranks with SYRIZA, and maybe even further away. The crisis of the plans that have been tested liberates from self-deception but also leaves militants who invested a significant part of their lives to these plans with fears. The power of hope arises from the self-action of militants; the uplifting of revolutionary visions arises through collective experiences in struggle. Lets try to be ready for these experiences without illusions and without fear.

TPT (Fourth International Programmatic Tendency)


[Cf index «4», No 3]

[For the original in greek, clic]

[For the text in french, clic]

[Index of no 3 of «4» ]

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