Greece. Against reformist illusions, for independent class struggle!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 12; Autumn - Winter 2015)
The elections in Greece on 25 January saw the victory of the Syriza party (Coalition of the Radical Left), darling of the whole European «left of the Left»: the Spanish Podemos, the German Left Party, the Italian Rifondazione Comunista or the French Front de Gauche, but also most of the «far left» which, more or less, still claims to be «revolutionary». For example, a French Trotskyist paper wrote: «The Greek people would not be bullied. By voting massively for the radical left, it rejected austerity and sacrifice. Of this it can be proud «(1).
In fact barely a little more than a third of voters (36.3%) gave their votes to Syriza (up over 9.4% compared to the 2012 elections), as against 27.8% who voted for right party New Democracy (which declined only slightly, by -1.9%); the KKE (Greek Communist Party) rose from 4.5 to 5.5% of the vote, while the neo-fascist Golden Dawn retreated from 6.9 to 6.3% and the far-right party ANEL (Independent Greeks) dropped sharply, from 7.5 to 4.8%. Antarsya, a far left disparate collection bringing together Trotskyists, Maoists and others, obtained 0.66% of the votes, while the new centrist party Potami that did not exist in 2012, garnered 6% of the vote.
It was the collapse of the socialist party PASOK (associated with New Democracy in the previous government) down from 12.3% to 4.7% of voters, which explains the electoral breakthrough of Syriza: the «Radical Left» has become the refuge of the usual social democratic voters; analysts noted that SYRIZA had actually lost votes among the most popular sectors, mainly in favor of abstention (with a 36.1% rate of abstention), undoubtedly in connection with the increasing «moderation» of its discourse as the elections approached.
This «moderation» was manifested vividly when Syriza in order to form its government partnered with ... ANEL. The «extremist» left wing of SYRIZA sucked it all up without too much difficulty: as a matter of fact Syriza had already collaborated in parliament with this party with which it shares its nationalism. Close to the Orthodox Church and the military, ANEL was given the strategic Ministry of Defense. Syriza has justified this initiative by the aegis of the need to form a stable government because it does not have an absolute majority in parliament; but in reality the alliance with ANEL means that the property of the Church, which is the largest landowner in the country, would continue to evade taxes and that the military budget would not be affected.
MILITARY EXPENDITURE: A HEAVY BURDEN FOR GREEK PROLETARIANS
Greece has the highest percentage of military expenditure of any country in Europe. In 2013, it spent the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on its armed forces. In the major European countries such military expenditures that year were equivalent to 2.2% of GDP in Britain, in France 2.2%, in Italy 1.5%, in Germany 1.3% and in Spain 0.9%. (2).
To put this into perspective, military spending in the US that year amounted to 3.8% of GDP; in Russia 4.2%, 2.1% in China, and in Japan, 1%; but relating this to the size of their economies, US military spending accounted for nearly 37% of global military spending, that is, as much as the next 9 top military spenders combined: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, India and South Korea! (3).
Over the decade 2002 - 2011 little Greece was the largest importer of arms in Europe (and 5th in the world); its main suppliers are the United States, Germany and France. During the first «rescue» plans for the country, Germany and France insisted that Greece not undermine its military purchases from them, France also trying to close sales of $6 billion euros for naval vessels (4)...
Financing military spending and the military in general (the bourgeois justify the particularly heavy weight of spending by the need to deal with the «hereditary» Turkish enemy) inevitably falls on the proletarians and the working masses of the country (practically the only ones paying any taxes at all!). But moreover the Greek military plays a particular anti-proletarian political role, as demonstrated by the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Colonels (1967 - 1974): the national and international bourgeoisie (commencing with the Americans with whom Greek Army still maintains close ties) feared that the political and social crisis at the time, which was not unlike the current situation, was leading to a «pre-revolutionary situation».
In November 2011 the Prime Minister (PASOK), faced with severe economic and social difficulties, spoke of a risk of a military coup. This evocation of the spectre of 1967 was obviously an argument used for negotiations with the European leaders, but it also sounds like an ominous warning to the proletariat: the bourgeoisie never hesitates to use violence, or to replace the democratic fiction by its open dictatorship, if it considers that its interests require this.
THE DEVASTATION OF THE CRISIS IN GREECE
Populated by almost 11 million people, Greece is a country where capitalist power is feeble in comparison with the major European countries. Traditionally agricultural, it really began to industrialize in the sixties, mainly due to foreign investment. Today, industry is relatively undeveloped; tourism is the fastest growing economic sector, while agriculture remains a significant resource (it is the second largest employment sector after trade), despite its fragmentation into a myriad of small farms of precarious profitability. A flourishing sector is that of maritime transport, which employs between 150,000 and 200,000 people and accounts for over 6% of GDP; the Greek merchant fleet is the largest in the world. But since the fifties the country’s constitution has exempted maritime companies from all taxes on profits and three quarters of ships sail under flags of convenience (that is to say, unregulated and avoiding any taxation). When in 2013 the government tried to impose a tax on the industry, ship-owners threatened to leave the country: the tax was repealed and replaced by a «voluntary contribution»...
For many years Greece has experienced rapid economic growth (4% on average from 2000 to 2007, significantly more than other European countries), which was spoken of as the «Greek miracle»; the economy was boosted by foreign investment (notably European) and the use of credit (sovereign debt was equivalent to 103% of GDP in 2007). Significant immigration was necessary to fill the least skilled jobs, especially in agriculture.
But the country has suffered the brunt of the impact of the global economic crisis, which has demonstrated the fragility of the Greek «model». With a chronic deficit in its foreign trade, it has been unable to cope with the sharp increase in its debt from late 2008, when the economy plunged into crisis and the budget deficit reached 15% (two to three times more than other countries of the European Union). To avoid bankruptcy, in 2010 Greece had no choice but to ask for aid from its European partners. But among the bourgeois, «aid» comes at a high price, and it mainly aims to aid the interests of those who «help». Thus the money lent to Greece at lower rates than the market (though still high enough to allow lenders to make significant profits) was primarily used to protect the interests of European banks, especially German and French, which were engaged in the country: only 11% of the money lent to Greece has served the needs of the functioning of the state (5).
At the same time the «troika» (European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF) imposed austerity measures and «reforms» to straighten the accounts of the country: privatization, cuts in state spending (in a country where state expenditure plays a central role in the economy), legislative reforms, «liberalization» of labor laws, civil service layoffs, decreases in wages and pensions, increased retirement age, etc.
So these are the results, catastrophic for the economy and even more so for the proletariat and the Greek masses, while foreign financial investors have pulled out of the game (German and French banks were able to disengage with no substantive losses):
GDP fell by over 27% between 2008 and 2014; in the same period more than 30% of companies have closed, the share of industry in the economy has declined, unemployment increased by 190.5% (1 million fewer jobs) from 9 to 26.5%, while only 10% of the unemployed receive unemployment benefits; the average wage fell by 38%, retirement pensions by 45% , average household income by 30% – rising inequality is reflected in the fact that in 2012, 25% of the poorest households had their income decreased by 86%, while the richest 25% had declined by only 20 to 17%; meanwhile these inequalities have continued to increase, if only because the taxes on the poorest increased by 377% as against only 9% for the richest (6). More than a quarter of the population has no health insurance and 47% of Greeks do not have access to adequate care because of the collapse of the health system under the blows of austerity, etc. (7).
This shock therapy, similar to what the IMF has at other times once inflicted on bankrupt Third World bankrupt and which often led to «hunger riots», failed to re-route the economy or to truly «clean up» the public accounts. The economic plunge mechanically led to a fall in tax revenues and increased social costs and therefore increased difficulties in paying a debt that has been increasing at a rapid pace to reach 177% of GDP by 2014; if its «maturity», that is to say the time for repayment has increased, the Greek government is still faced with crucial deadlines for repayment in the weeks and months ahead, while the state coffers are empty. Economists are delighted by the fact that foreign trade for the first time recorded a (feeble) positive balance, but this is due to the ravages of the internal crisis: imports have declined much more sharply than exports in recent years; and concerning these exports the only one to post a real increase was in 2013 ... the sale of fuel to the cruise ships that bring tourists (8)!
THE POLITICS OF SYRIZA
Despite its name – «Coalition of the Radical Left» – and its particular formation (including groupings of elements which make reference to Marxism, Trotskyism or «Marxism-Leninism», alongside others coming from various diverse reformist groups), Syriza is a classic reformist party; its program has nothing «anti-capitalist» in it and if it demagogically claims to have «socialism» as its final goal, it adds immediately that this will be «in democracy and freedom», to reassure the petty bourgeois layers. Defining itself as a program against austerity and for meeting the needs of the masses, it includes a series of demands such as the freezing of wages decreases (rather than increasing them!) an increase in the minimum wage, free electricity and food subsidies to the poor, an increase of the reimbursement for medical care, etc., through the taxation of the richest, the cessation of privatizations (which were realized with very advantageous conditions for investors, domestic or foreign). It also promises to create 300,000 jobs through Keynesian type measures typical of all reformist programs.
While claiming his willingness to respect to the letter the commitments of Greece to its lenders, the new government hoped to find support among South European countries to obtain a moratorium on its debt and for Europe to abandon its austerity policies and embark on economic stimulus initiatives.
But neither the French government nor the Italian, and even less the Spanish or Portuguese, wished to support the Greek government! All, undoubtedly to various degrees due to the diversity of the depth of the economic crisis that hit their country, impose austerity measures and cuts in social spending on their proletarians: they will not support a different policy for Greece! Anti-proletarian attacks are the rule in Europe, although the richer countries, like Germany, can afford the luxury of toning down these attacks in order to maintain social peace. Greece is a small country with limited economic weight in Europe, but to the extent that the problems it faces are only extreme examples of the difficulties of the capitalist economies of the European Union, and because of the always increasing «globalization» of capitalism, the Greek case is of international importance: a Greek exit from the euro would have consequences for the whole global economy (9)
European institutions, supported by all the States, including non-European ones such as the United States which had initially approved of Syriza’s opposition to the austerity policies (the American capitalists are always looking for the Europeans to play the role of engine of the world economy during periods of crises) (10), therefore require the Greek government to continue on the path of austerity, privatization and essentially anti-proletarian «reforms» (further liberalization of the labor market, lower wages, pension reform, etc.) – the exact opposite of the election promises of Syriza!. Various coercive measures have even been decided by the European Central Bank to compel it; for its part, the European Commission, for example, sent a note to warn that the vote of a «humanitarian» law providing free electricity and food vouchers to the needy could be considered a violation of the obligations of Greece, while the president of the Eurogroup (meeting of finance ministers) stated that «any pressure [on the government - Editor’s note] accelerating the reform process in Greece is welcome» (11)! European and international lenders demand specific and concrete commitments by the Greek authorities for the continuation of the previous policy, before disbursing the funds essential to the functioning of the economy (12): the state’s resources are insufficient to pay both creditors and employees...
The Syriza-ANEL government has no alternative: it will have to submit to the pressure of the most powerful bourgeois states so that it will not be ejected from the euro zone, or replaced by a more comprehensive government (13). And it has already started down this road, indefinitely postponing the increase of the minimum wage or reversing its decision to block the sale of the port of Piraeus to Chinese investors.
INDEPENDENT CLASS STRUGGLE, THE ONLY SOLUTION FOR GREEK PROLETARIANS
Since the beginning of the crisis Greek workers have not remained passive in the face of the continued degradation of their conditions of life and work. Many strikes and demonstrations have taken place; but these struggles, most often oriented in an interclassist manner, nationalist and respectful of legality, by the unions, including «radical» trade unions associated with the KKE, haven’t hindered the devastating bourgeois attack. So the elections were presented to the workers as offering an alternative path and without risk to the struggle: the vote to bring Syriza to power. Syriza wants the Greek proletarians and masses not to engage in a real struggle, but to trust it to protect their interests (which would be identical to those of the national economy) against the dictates from abroad. Just like all reformists, it does a great service to capitalism by diverting the workers from the only effective way to defend themselves.
All the while talking about giving the oligarchs what they deserve, its government was careful not to take any real action against the Greek capitalists (one need only think of the fabulously rich shipowners!) and capitalism as a whole. But like all reformist parties in power in a period of severe crisis, SYRIZA is placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between attacking the interests of the proletariat and the working masses, or those of capitalism; and like all reformist parties, which are inextricably linked to the defense of the capitalist mode of production, it can only attack the workers, profiting from the confidence they have in it. This is the role assigned to it by the bourgeoisie, Greek and international, and its government will only be tolerated so long as it fulfills this role.
Today, it seems that Syriza enjoys a record popularity, also fueled by nationalist rhetoric, among the population, including the proletariat. But illusions in Syriza are doomed to evaporate quickly; so the honeyed reformist discourses will give way to the brutality of the forces of the capitalist order if the workers try to resist – it is not by chance that Syriza’s election promise to disband the anti-riot police units was quickly abandoned! The history of Greece, not to mention that of other countries, teaches proletarians that the bourgeoisie — supported and advised by its international sponsors — never hesitates to sweep out a democratic government and establish a military dictatorship to maintain order. Blind faith in reformism always leads to defeats and catastrophes. The proletarians must therefore give no confidence to Syriza and its government; they should not believe it is possible to put pressure on them to adopt a policy, let us not say anti-capitalist (all the machinery of the bourgeois state is there in order to prevent this), but at least in favor of the workers: even if he does so mumbling and grumbling, the valet always obeys his master, and this is even more true for the reformist valet in relation to the capitalist master. But neither should they place trust in the «left» critics of Syriza such as the KKE: they have already given ample evidence of their anti-proletarian politics, spreading nationalist propaganda and practicing collaboration with bourgeois forces (14).
The workers can only rely on their own strength, their own struggles provided they are oriented and organized on authentic class positions for the exclusive defense of their class interests. There is no other way to resist capitalist attacks than the open struggle against capitalism; the repudiation of the debt or the exit from the European Union that the KKE or so-called «far left « groups present as a solution to the crisis, are only dead ends: not departing from the bourgeois framework, they can only lead to a further worsening of the proletarian situation. The rupture with reformist, collaborationist orientations and forces, the adoption of classist methods and means and class organization are a necessity for the proletarian defense, before being able to go on the offensive.
But for the class organization in the immediate defensive struggles and the broader struggle against capitalism it is necessary to wage a political and practical struggle against political and trade union collaborationism, against all false friends of the proletariat, against all obstacles placed by bourgeoisie. It means the necessity of class political organization, the class party, authentically communist, internationalist and international, to avoid all the pitfalls facing the proletariat, through its Marxist program which is the synthesis of the lessons of past struggles, and to centralize and lead until the end its struggle against capitalism.
To work in conjunction with the proletarians of all countries, for the constitution of this party, that is the task which faces ever more urgently the vanguard proletarians and militants in Greece.
April 23, 2015
(1) Workers Struggle No. 2426, 01/28/2105. Electoral illusions are widespread among the Trotskyists as well as the interclassist vocabulary ...
(2) According to SIPRI data (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), SIPRI Milex Data from 1988 to 2104.
(4) See Le Point, 01/27/2015
(5) http:// www. macropolis.gr/?i= portal. en.the-agora.2080
(6) Institut für Makroökonomie und Konjunkturforschung Studies No. 38, March 2015
(7)https://www. opendemocracy. net/ournhs/louise-irvine/what-%27austerity%27-has-done-to-greek-healthcare
(9) See for example the statement of the Governor of the Bank of France, «the whole world economy would be affected» [by a Greek exit from the euro], Le Figaro, 04/19/15.
(10) The Greek authorities have also stated that they were subject to a «very strong American pressure» that they not participate in the construction of a pipeline in the region envisioned by the Russian giant Gazprom. cf http:// www. leblogfinance.com/ 2015/ 04/ la-grece-fait-etat-de-fortes-pressions-us-pour-la-dissuader-dadherer-au-projet-du-gazoduc-russie-turquie.html
(12) «The fund lenders of Greece continue to demand a pension reform and further labor market liberalization» le monde.fr, 03/31/2015
(13) A London financial daily has written: « Eurozone authorities’ frustration with Greece has grown so intense that a change in the current Athens government’s make-up, however far-fetched, has become a frequent topic of conversation on the sidelines of bailout talks. (…) Many officials — up to and including some eurozone finance ministers — have suggested privately that only a decision by Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, to jettison the far left of his governing Syriza party can make a bailout agreement possible. (…)A senior official in a eurozone finance ministry added: «This government cannot survive.» Financial Times, 04/05/2105. It’s well known that the German Finance Minister has said many times that the Greek government is irresponsible.
(14) See «The interclassism of the KKE» Le Proletaire No. 496
International Communist Party