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Greece: Victory marred by coalition with Right

International Secretariat, League for the Fifth International – Wed, 28/01/2015

The elections of 25 January in Greece represent a historic moment in Europe. A left party, which defies the central economic policy not only of its own ruling class but the agreed policy of the rulers of the European Union, has topped the polls, falling only two seats short of an absolute majority. Together with the 15 seats of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the parties of the Greek working class could have formed a government with an absolute majority.

The vote represents a major victory not just for the workers, the small farmers and the middle classes of Greece, but for all those across Europe who have been forced to swallow the bitter medicine, in fact poison, of austerity, mass unemployment and degradation of social services.

The best way to help the Greeks realise the full fruits of this victory is for the workers’ movement across the continent to raise two slogans:

• Hands off Greece, cancel the entire Greek debt

• Follow the Greek example; abandon austerity, restore the cuts, jobs for the jobless.

Of course, Syriza’s victory is only the first step to turning the tide. As its leaders know only too well, the real battle is only just beginning. When Greek bankers and billionaires predict economic catastrophe if Syriza implements its programme, they are in reality threatening to engineer this chaos, blackmailing the government into retreat and surrender.

In fact, Syriza’s programme is a rather modest one; halving the debt and negotiating with the EU over the rest. Nonetheless, it is a fundamental challenge to Europe’s rulers and the austerity packages they have imposed on country after country. It comes at a time when the failure of such programmes to generate economic recovery was already beginning reveal tensions between, for example, France and Italy on one side and, in particular, Germany on the other. The European Central Bank’s decision to implement “Quantitative Easing”, against German opposition, was the clearest proof of this.

A steadfast implementation of Syriza’s promise to halve the debt and restore the most savage cuts could exacerbate those tensions still further. Neither the EU institutions nor individual governments can deny the popular mandate given to Syriza and all are well aware of the rising tide of hostility to austerity policies across the continent, most notably in Spain where elections will be held later in the year.

Nonetheless, the dominant forces in the EU remain committed to their existing strategy and, whilst avoiding the harshest threats for the moment, will insist that Greece has to comply with the terms imposed by the “Troika”. For them, forcing Syriza to backdown “in the face of economic reality” would be the best lesson to teach all other potential opponents.

The stage is, therefore, set for a confrontation between the new Greek government and the Troika; the next tranche of funding under the existing “bail out” is due at the end of February and €6bn of bonds expire in June. Syriza’s strategy is to gamble everything on forcing a complete change in EU economic policy, using the threat of incalculable instability in the aftermath of a Greek default and expulsion from the Eurozone, plus massive popular discontent, to force the abandonment of austerity.

Clearly, the new government will come under the most enormous pressure both from the Troika and from the Greek capitalists. Tsipras’ response could and should have been to form a Syriza government and submit an emergency programme suspending debt payments and restoring cuts, implementing relief for the unemployed etc. He could then have challenged the MPs particularly those of the KKE to support such a programme and called for the trade unions and the youth to mobilise on the streets for its speedy passage.

Instead, within hours of his landslide victory, he formed a coalition government with the Independent Greeks, ANEL, not only a bourgeois party but a vehemently right wing, anti-immigrant and anti-semitic party. The justification for this being that it was also in favour of cancellation of the debts.

The formation of a coalition with such a partner will come as a shock to the millions across Europe, who enthusiastically supported Syriza in the election campaign. However, for those who have followed Syriza’s evolution in recent years it should not have been such a shock. The party’s programme has been become less and less radical over the last two years in order to make a government led by it more acceptable to sections of the European ruling class and of the Greek bourgeoisie. The willingness to form an alliance with the Independent Greeks had already been signalled by the proposal for an alliance of “all those opposed to the Memorandum” before the elections.

For the Syriza leadership, the reason for that was simple. Anticipating that they would fall short of a parliamentary majority, and well aware that they would have to back track on many of their promises if they were to get even a temporary deal with the dominant European powers, they calculated that the “need to maintain the coalition” with a bourgeois party would serve to justify such retreats. In the event, they came so close to a parliamentary majority that they could have formed a minority government but that would have left them dependent on the voting support of the Left in parliament, the KKE. The speed of the agreement with the Independent Greeks is a measure of their determination to avoid that possibility.

The coalition with ANEL is not “just” another reactionary, class-collaborationist government such as we have seen between social-democracy and open bourgeois parties for decades. It is a popular front which has been installed at a decisive point in the class struggle. Such a government will mean that the Greek bourgeoisie has got a veto over every reform. Its purpose is to subordinate the working class, via the coalition, to the bourgeoisie.

A coalition with the Independent Greeks will mean an immediate turn against the working class. From its nationalist position, ANEL may well oppose the Memorandum, but it will also oppose the implementation of all progressive policies, such as Syriza’s solemn promises to immigrants and its pledges on the minimum wage and welfare. The reactionary ministers will act as guardians for Greek and European capitalism. It is no accident that the initially shaken euro rallied on the news of the coalition’s formation.

Finally, the coalition with ANEL will disorient and confuse the only force in Europe and worldwide which really shares a common interest with the Greek masses in overcoming austerity, poverty and misery; the working class and oppressed masses.

The rank and file of the party and the left inside and outside Syriza must make clear their opposition to the formation of such a government. They should immediately adopt the famous slogan of 1917, “Down with the Capitalist Ministers!” With some 25 MPs, the left wing of Syriza could prevent the passage of bills in parliament. In any case, in alliance with the 15 KKE MPs, it could outvote the 13 Independent Greeks to pass progressive measures, thereby challenging the Syriza leadership to break the coalition.

This scenario immediately focuses attention on the policies of the KKE, the trade unions of PAME and Antarsya who have, until now, adopted a sectarian attitude to Syriza. The KKE’s rejection of Syriza’s proposal for an alliance in the run up to the election may have been presented as revolutionary intransigence but it worked entirely to the advantage of the Tsipras leadership, giving them justification for their collaboration with ANEL.

Of course, the KKE should also have demanded more far-reaching anti-austerity policies and intransigent resistance to the EU rulers, mobilising workers to defend the government from attacks both in parliament and outside. Such a united front would have enormously increased workers’ self-confidence and capacity to fight, and Tsipras would have had no excuse for courting the Independent Greeks.

Even now, a united front  of all the trade unions, workers’ parties and groups to demand Tsipras carries out his promises in full, and to defend him if he comes under attack for doing so, will enormously increase workers’ self-confidence and capacity to fight. This would also rob Tsipras of the excuse for his alliance with the Independent Greeks.

Equally, whatever some of the groups in Antarsya may think, genuine revolutionary intransigence does not mean sitting back and waiting for Syriza to betray, or collapse under the attacks from the right and the EU, and then saying “we told you so, that’s reformism for you”. “Revolutionaries” or “communists” who think that their rejection of support for Syriza in the elections is now justified by the class collaborationist politics of Tsypris are like people who refused to join a strike because the bureaucracy might sell it out.

Whether Tsipras is able to sell out the victory of the 25 January is not decided yet, but it will be in the coming period of struggle. This means that revolutionaries must throw themselves into the battle now, defending any progressive measures by the government, opposing any retreats from the electoral programme. Anything else is simply to throw away the mass initiative taken by workers when they voted for an anti-austerity government; it is, in fact, passivity in the face of the class struggle.

There are two dangers facing the working class in this situation; the opportunism of the Left within Syriza who may tolerate collaboration with the Independent Greeks and, therefore, a retreat from the election programme, in the name of “defending the government”, and sectarianism on the part of the Left outside Syriza who may be prepared to see that government defeated rather than mobilise the workers to defend it by means of mass mobilisations.

In the years immediately after the crisis, between 2010 and 2012, Greek workers and youth not only mobilised on a mass scale but began building new organisations to coordinate and lead their struggles. Even today, after two years of decline in those struggles, hundreds of thousands are still active within their communities. It is they who expect most from Syriza and it is they who can rebuild not just self-help organisations but fighting organisations.

Despite all the political dangers, the victory at the polls and the experience of a radical left party in government (reformist as its leadership is) can be an immensely valuable experience for workers, not only in in Greece but across Europe, but only if they are combined with strengthening the conscious revolutionary forces as an alternative for when the reformist leaders weaken and fail. Given the balance of political forces today, only such events are likely to open the road to the formation of a genuine workers’ government that is based on the fighting organisations of the working class and is willing and able to solve the crisis at the expense of the super rich.

There is, of course, an alternative and very dangerous scenario; if Syriza “fails”, or betrays the hopes of millions, then enthusiasm will turn to despair and for many this will not necessarily mean a return to New Democracy and the Troika. There is ready in the wings a party of counterrevolutionary despair, the Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) which came third in the election, with 6.3 per cent, and has 17 seats in parliament, more than the KKE. Even more significant is its support in the ranks of the police and the army. For this reason, building a powerful mass movement that can support every positive action of Tsipras and Syriza but is ready to go further and adopt revolutionary measures, is not an ultra-left fantasy but a necessity in the coming months.

Europe and the Syriza Government

When the Greek capitalists, backed up by the EU authorities led by Germany, predict chaos and collapse for the Greek economy they are, in reality, threatening to bring this about, at least on a scale sufficient to blackmail the new government. Even if they try a softer approach at first, soon enough polite words will turn to threats and threats to actions. Greece could soon face a virtual economic siege.

A few dozen millionaires, hidden behind faceless “markets”, will try to reverse the votes of millions of Greeks by organising yet more capital flight. Votes in the ballot boxes do not give a government control over a capitalist economy. Those who own it, control it, until their ownership and right to manage are challenged and taken from them.

The parts of the state machine not under the control of any “democratically elected government”, that is, the courts, the police, the army, are just as dangerous enemies of any government that tries to act for the workers. That is why the Greek workers and youth cannot now sit back and leave it to Alexis Tsipras and his ministers, even if they were to turn back to more bold and intransigent policies. Indeed, if people want these policies they will have to mobilise for them.

They need go back no further than the experience of the most recent highpoint of struggle; to the square assemblies, the occupations, the mass demonstrations. They need to elect committees in every workplace, councils of workers’ delegates in every community, defence squads to protect against the inevitable provocations of the police and the Golden Dawn fascists who will try to destabilise the political situation and could, if chaos and demoralisation set in, usher in some sort of coup.

The Syriza victory has frightened the ruling class but a frightened ruling class is all the more vicious and dangerous. It will not restrict itself to playing parliamentary games or stick to the rule of law. Greek history has shown this within living memory.

Beyond Greece, the European labour movement and the left have an urgent duty of solidarity with the struggle to free Greece from the chains of the Troika, to enable Greek workers and youth to restore living wages and pensions, full employment, decent social services, health and education. They should demand that the new government announce an audit of the debt and a balance sheet of the social destruction wrought by the memoranda and the unions and left parties across Europe should make this known to the great mass of the working class.

The “bailout” which the lying western media presented as a gift to the “profligate” Greeks from hard working German taxpayers went, 95 per cent of it, to the banks and bondholders in Frankfurt, Paris and London. Syriza could easily expose this by opening the accounts and the correspondence files to reveal exactly what went on.

Greek bank workers could start by establishing workers’ control over the banks and opening their books to inspection not only by the Greek but the European labour movement. The case for nationalising the banks and concentrating them into a single state owned bank would soon be seen as unanswerable.

The various parties of the left and the trade unions should as soon as possible summon a European conference of delegates to agree a strategy for practical solidarity, that is, action to be taken against all governments that try to blackmail or economically besiege Greece into submission.

This will point to the need for a genuine workers’ government in Greece, for a socialist transformation of the country, replacing market chaos by a system based on democratic planning. It would also highlight not only the need to co-ordinate European wide resistance, but for a European wide revolution, for the struggle for workers’ governments and a United Socialist States of Europe.

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