By Sarah Ensslin and Freya B.
In the wake of a 61% “no” vote on a referendum to decide whether harsh austerity was to be implemented to pay the mountain of Greek debt, the western left has been roaring in a triumphant wave over a seemingly huge victory for the left in Greece.1 Though it should be noted that no credible leftist organization would endorse the austerity measures proposed by europe, one cannot ignore the fact that the Greek left has not yet captured the will of the people and transformed the working population into a revolutionary body. The Greek left is in a complicated situation that could result in a stronger impulse towards socialism. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and as long as they fail to organize the masses of people disaffected by european intervention in the Greek economy, things will not improve. The western left broadly cheer-leading from the sideline has not helped the situation, and their clear lack of understanding and unwillingness to investigate has thrown fuel on the fire; the issue has become less the events as their interpretations.
Does anti-austerity mean that the left is strong?
With the initial rise of the SYRIZA-led government, assisted by a coalition with the “Independent Greeks” (a right wing nationalist organization),2 the western left both roared and reared in response to the development. Some stated (correctly) that SYRIZA were run-of-the-mill social democrats with no ability or intention to challenge the EU, let alone capitalism or imperialism; others asserted that the Greek people had recreated anti-capitalist revolution in the 21st century. But even among those who recognized the social democratic agenda of the SYRIZA coalition, the large majority of the radical left were still left totally unaware of the political geography surrounding the bailout referendum. Western leftists have broadly reduced the formula to the base parts of “anti-austerity = left.”3 However, it seems like a poor assumption was made that was founded on nothing but hopes; the problem being that the Far-Right in the Greek state is typically anti-europe, and that their agendas actually match quite well the 61% of Greek voters in the referendum.4
The focus following the electoral success of SYRIZA in January was on an apparent shift to the left in Greece. After all, “an enormous 42 percent of the population voted for a radical left or communist party.”5 By contrast, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn received “just” 6.3 percent of the vote. What was less talked-about however was the broader trend in Greek politics. Fascists in Greece have been rapidly gaining in popularity among Greek youth. As a point of comparison, in 2009, Golden Dawn received a measly 0.3 percent of the vote in national elections.6 In the course of six years, Golden Dawn’s electoral base expanded over 20-fold. And the basis for Golden Dawn’s rapid expansion has been, in large part, the same as that which facilitated SYRIZA’s rise to prominence: economic collapse and dissatisfaction with EU policies.7 Moreover, even the election of SYRIZA itself is not necessarily an indicator of the strength of the “radical left.” Especially in europe and elsewhere in the global metropoles, where the general populace has benefited from exploitation of the Third World, the line between social democracy and (social) fascism has historically been blurry. Support for one can easily transform into support for the other in times of severe crisis and in the absence of strong communist leadership.8
The point being: social democrats, right-wing populists, and outright fascists all oppose EU-imposed austerity. Thus, the recent “no” vote to austerity does not necessarily indicate anything about the direction Greece is headed. Clearly, resistance to EU policy is a struggle with the potential to be transformed into class struggle. While this struggle could become a revolutionary moment, in the absence of staunchly internationalist and communist leadership the anti-austerity movement has yet to become a dividing line separating the friends of the global proletariat from their foes. Triumphalism about the Greek referendum only creates confusion about what is required for communists to advance genuinely revolutionary struggles in the First World.
SYRIZA’s leadership is not novel or “unprecedented”
In addition to misunderstanding the political dynamics surrounding the anti-austerity movement in Greece, the western left seems to have a short memory. Although recent events in Greece such as SYRIZA’s election and the latest referendum have been framed as “unprecedented” or “historic,” these conditions are in truth somewhat familiar.
In the 1980’s, the social democratic party PASOK made all the same promises that SYRIZA has, and broke all the same. With a landslide victory, PASOK took leadership of the government and made big promises that they had no ability to follow through on, and it would seem that they had no real intention to either. The result was rampant corruption and a total failure to transform any of the slogans the party rode to victory on into reality. Andreas Papandreou, the Prime Minister at the time, was caught stealing hundreds of millions of dollars through the illegal transfers of money from the State enterprises to the Bank of Crete, where large sums disappeared.9 PASOK’s initial victory, however, was met with the same responses we now see to SYRIZA, and we dare ask: are we sitting in the same boat as we were 3 decades ago? It would seem that defeat after defeat has not dissuaded the opportunist sections of the left from their triumphant marches through the town square declaring the victory of social democracy to be their victory.
When the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) refused to form a coalition with SYRIZA, this caused a tremendous dismay with many pro-coalition leftists who saw it as a sectarian move.10 But if we remember the failure of PASOK, and the discrediting of all their supporters and affiliates, and the lies and hollow promises of the liberals to assault european control over the Greek economy, the actions of the KKE make more sense. The KKE sees SYRIZA as a sinking ship (perhaps rightfully) that they would prefer not to sink along with. This is not to say that the KKE has gotten it all right, or that they have managed to do any better than the rest of the left in taking command of the unrest in the country (we think their attempt to spoil the referendum vote11 was a rather ineffectual tactic and a waste of time). However, the denunciations of the KKE on the basis of their refusal to join SYRIZA are petty at best, and opportunist and reactionary at worst. The real issues that the KKE and other Greek communists face are a lack of discipline and lack of independent institutions in the face of growing chauvinism and the rise of fascist movements, not their refusal to buy into bankrupt social democratic politics.
Opportunism and disorganization in the Greek left
What is undeniable is that the present time in Greece is a polarizing one which communists need to seize control of. However, for now the Greek left seems to be largely split between electoral politics and ultra-left adventurism. On the latter point, while it sounds interesting at first to hear of the bombing of Greek banks by leftists12, this begs the question: what has this done to strengthen resistance against the european stranglehold over the Greek country, and even more so, what has it done to combat the fascist tendencies within Greece?
The Greek left is driving forward to a state of heightened disorganization, rather than being pushed towards a state of greater discipline and organization. This comes from the focus on popularity over discipline, and exposure over control. The lack of direction and intensity of contradictions within the Greek state make adventurism and individual terror a more common phenomena, yet it is in this same frame that we have witnessed its own lack of sustainability. The disorganized and informal militancy of the Greek people is not unfounded, however without the transformative leadership of a revolutionary party or organization, it becomes lost in the background noise. A dead policeman, a bombed car, or a burned building makes headlines and creates stories, but this cannot be sustained without the necessary base and organization from which to sustain it. There are many more cars, buildings, and policemen, and they cannot all be burned, shot, or bombed. The fascist movement grows constantly, and without an organized and calculated resistance to it there can be no correcting it, no prevention. Though with an emphasis on exposure, rather than organization and discipline, it would seem this progress toward disorganization in the Greek left will continue.
The hype surrounding recent events in Greece on the part of onlookers is dangerous and causes a great deal of confusion about what is required of communists in the First World. While the electoral success of SYRIZA in January and the overwhelming “no” vote to the austerity referendum this month have been taken broadly as signs of a turn to the left in Greece, this is not necessarily a reality. Communists, social democrats, and fascists alike all oppose austerity. Moreover, in the face of severe crisis in “advanced” countries, support for social democracy can easily turn into support for fascism, as has been demonstrated historically. This is especially pertinent to remember in a time when the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is rapidly expanding in Greece, and when xenophobia and racism are on the rise all over europe.
In order to transform the unrest in Greece into a revolutionary communist movement, communists need to seize upon extant energy and actively steer it in a progressive direction. To do this, communists must build independent institutions which build counter-hegemony to the bourgeois state, as SYRIZA and their allies are ultimately incapable of challenging european dominance and chauvinist reaction alike. Moreover, Greek communists must take a staunchly internationalist stance, recognizing the connection between the relatively privileged existence of european populations (including Greece, even if to a lesser degree than other european countries) and the exploitation of the Third World. If communists do not play an active role in transforming unrest into long-term institutions of power for the oppressed, and if they do not work to merge their movement with the struggles of the proletariat in the Third World, it is likely that fascism will continue to expand rapidly. It is important for First World communists outside of Greece to appreciate this, as the same can be said of other places where historical privileges of the labor aristocracy are being undermined. Triumphalism about Greek social democratic politics only distracts from the hard work that First World communists have to put in to build revolutionary movements where they live.
- See: Walter Smolarek, “Greek people say ‘No’ in the streets and the ballot box,” Liberation News, published 7/5/2015, accessed 7/13/2015, https://www.liberationnews.org/greek-people-say-no-streets-ballot-box/; Xekinima, “Greece: Mighty Class-Based ‘No’ Shakes Bosses’ EU,” Socialist Alternative, published 7/6/2015, accessed 7/13/2015, http://www.socialistalternative.org/2015/07/06/greece-mighty-class-based-no-shakes-bosses-eu/. .↩
- Lizzie Dearden, “Greece has a new government as Syriza forms a coalition with right-wing Independent Greeks,” The Independent, published 1/26/2015, accessed 7/13/2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/greece-has-a-new-government-as-syriza-forms-coalition-with-rightwing-independent-greeks-10002368.html. .↩
- For example: PSL, “Greece – the shift left, the class struggle and communist tactics,” Liberation News, published 1/28/2015, accessed 7/13/2015, http://www.liberationnews.org/greece-shift-left-class-struggle-communist-tactics-statement-psl/. .↩
- Alexandra Koronaiou, Evangelos Lagos, Alexandros Sakellariou, Stelios Kymionis, and Irini Chiotaki-Poulou, “Golden Dawn, austerity and young people: the rise of fascist extremism among young people in contemporary Greek society.” The Sociological Review 63, no. S2: 231-249. ↩
- PSL, “Greece – the shift left.” ↩
- Koronaoiu, et al., 232. ↩
- Ibid., 245. ↩
- For an in-depth discussion, see: Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2010), 275-300. ↩
- Robert Ajemian, “Scandals The Looting of Greece”, Time, published 6/24/2001, accessed 7/13/2015, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,151390,00.html. .↩
- For example: Walter Smolarek, “Crisis and opportunity as EU-Greece standoff comes to a head,” Liberation News, published 7/1/2015, accessed 7/13/2015, http://www.liberationnews.org/53244/. .↩
- KKE, “The referendum of the 5th of July and the stance of the KKE,” Communist Party of Greece, accessed 7/13/2015, http://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/The-referendum-on-the-5th-of-July-and-the-stance-of-the-KKE/. .↩
- “Car bomb explodes outside Bank of Greece in Athens,” Russia Today, published 4/10/2014, accessed 7/13/2015, http://rt.com/news/greece-car-bomb-athens-564/. .↩