Greece: The simmering revolt

Mike Kay

Recent mainstream media reports on Greece have focused on the two general elections held in quick succession: the first, inconclusive; the second, a shaky win for the right wing New Democracy party, after voters were blackmailed into backing pro-austerity parties. But beyond the spectacle of parliamentary politics, Greece remains in simmering revolt, as the economic hardship ratchets up daily.

Union federations have called a number of general strikes, albeit with little in the way of a co-ordinated and on-going campaign to change the political game plan. A couple of disputes exemplify the militancy of workers who have had enough of being screwed. Employees at Greek Steel have faced down legal challenges and employer scab-herding to continue their struggle against job losses and cuts in pay. As the strikers put it: “we are not returning to a dangerous job that places at risk our lives for the pittance of 500 euros per month and without our 120 sacked work colleagues being reinstated”. Meanwhile workers at Phone Marketing have been on strike for over 100 days against demands by their employer to reduce them to working one day a week and being paid less than €200 a month.

On the political front, the emergence of a hard left coalition, Syriza has been remarkable. In 2009, it was polling 4.5%, but the most recent election gave it 27% of the vote, beating the social democratic Pasok party into third place. Whilst the leadership of Syriza is reformist, the coalition includes a large number of revolutionary groups. Where the revolutionaries stood independently (most notably in the Antarsya coalition) their results were disappointing. The other major force on the Greek left is the Communist Party, KKE, which remains die-hard Stalinist, has suffered a decrease in its vote, but retains a heavy base in the working class.

The fascist Golden Dawn scored a disturbing 7% in the last election, and defeating this scourge is one of the most urgent tasks facing the Greek left. SEK (affiliated to the International Socialist Tendency) calls on the state to ban it, while some anarchists resort to single combat with the fascists over the heads of local communities. In any case, no coherent and united response by the left to Golden Dawn has emerged yet.

Antarsya activist Kostas Gousis diagnoses Greece’s problems this way: “Participation in the eurozone and the EU over the last three decades has resulted in unemployment, destruction of the agricultural sector and industrial sectors, and the conversion of the Greek economy to tourism and services. The EU and its dictates were responsible for all the aggressive attacks even before the crisis”.

Both KKE and Antarsya have criticised Syriza for not proposing that Greece Quit the Euro. But Gianna Gaitani, a Syriza MP, and also a member of DEA [Internationalist Workers’ Left] responds by saying the struggle “does not depend on the question of currencies. It is not a technical matter. We must look at things much more concretely. The need is not to change currency, but to change policy”

Xaris, an activist with Kokkino [part of Syriza] in Thessaloniki said that Antarsya is “probably right about the intentions of [coalition leader] Tsipras. You can see this not only in terms of his decision to talk about ‘renegotiating’ rather than scrapping the Memorandum, but also in the way that the leadership ‘forgot’ about migrants and the demand for open borders in their slogans. But Syriza is not just about what Tsipras says. It is also about the expectations of most workers. Syriza is the only hope for most workers. If you want to win people to socialism, you have to start from where they are. We need to organise workers to support Syriza in a move to the left. The position of Antarsya is defeatist.”

A Syriza government would face a backlash from the bourgeois establishment when trying to implement its policies. Nikos Anastasiadis of DEA cautions that: “Tsipras thinks he can control the state apparatus with the help of the movement and of collaborators inside the civil service. In fact Syriza would have to rely on the labour movement and workers’ control of services to implement its programme. For example, they would have to rely on the workers of the tax collection service rather than the heads of the service”.

Syriza needs to grapple with what the reality of winning state power may mean. Greece was under a military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974, and elements of the army and police are sympathetic to the fascists. Syriza has developed policy calling for: the disbandment of MAT [riot police], demilitarisation of anti-insurrectional special troops, a ban on police wearing masks or using firearms during demonstrations and union rights for police.

Syriza plans to convert from a coalition into a party, and has set itself the aim of building a mass membership linked to Popular Assemblies in neighbourhoods. Revolutionaries will have to work out how they relate to this new phenomenon in Greek politics. As the struggle spreads to other European nations such as Spain, Greece may provide us with valuable new models for fighting capitalism.

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