Greek elections: For a united front against austerity!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

‘The Greek people has expressed in the elections its strength and radicalism, sweeping away the pro-troika political forces, provoking an earthquake in the political system, sending a resounding message of rebellion to Europe. The Coalition of the Radical Left – Syriza – is the political force which best expressed the will for the overthrow of the pro-troika regime and the opening of a way out for the country.’

(Statement of the Communist Organisation of Greece – KOE, constituent organisation of the Coalition of the Radical Left – Syriza).

As we go to press, the European imperialist project faces its most serious crisis as Greece prepares for a new vote on 17 June following the failure of any coalition or party to form a government after the 6 May general election. Popular rejection of the austerity budget has thrown the international bankers’ plans into chaos. The recent G8 summit came down in favour of trying to keep Greece in the Eurozone – a decision that cares nothing for the misery inflicted on the Greek people and has everything to do with preserving the stability of the world’s financial system.

Voting is compulsory in Greece. So also is poverty – dictated by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the EU. Every day there are stories of humanitarian crises in Greek cities where parents cannot afford vaccinations or bus fares to take sick children to hospital. Families live without electricity for months unable to pay bills, children go to school hungry and food hand-outs sustain thousands. International charities now work in these areas. People are now being forced to pay full price for essential medicines because the state has run out of money to reimburse pharmacies for supplying prescriptions. The conditions which millions of people in the oppressed nations have suffered for decades have arrived in Europe.

Over the course of the crisis the people have often made the point that to be forced to choose between pro-austerity parties is no real choice at all. Since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974, two parties – PASOK and New Democracy – have yo-yoed their comfortable way in and out of parliament. This situation has now ended under the relentless street mobilisations and resistance of the masses. The level of electoral abstention in May was at a historical high of 40%, demonstrating the degree of rejection of the stooge parties who voted to impose the EU’s savage Memorandum on the Greek people and contempt for what had become an electoral charade. From the conservative New Democracy (with 19% of the vote) to the social democratic PASOK, those who tried to stitch up the Greek people have themselves been well and truly stitched up electorally. PASOK’s vote share crashed from 44% in 2009 to 13%. The Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza, increased its vote massively and took 17%, making it the second largest parliamentary party, while the Greek Communist Party (KKE) polled 8.5%. This represents millions of votes.

Syriza is now the most popular organisation of the Greek working class. Its programme calls for:

‘... a moratorium on debt payments, an international commission to audit Greek debt, aggressive debt write-offs, deep redistribution of income and wealth, bank nationalisation, and a  new industrial policy to rejuvenate the manufacturing sector.’

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By advancing such a programme, Syriza’s constituent organisations are heading into direct conflict with the banks. Finance capital is openly dictating the specific conditions for its own preservation. Those conditions are the complete dismantling of social welfare, massive wage cuts and massive unemployment. As it stands, Syriza’s programme presents a fundamental challenge to capitalism in its direct repudiation of debt repayment and austerity. However sections of the movement, including its leader Alexis Tsipras, believe that the problems facing Greece can be resolved whilst the country remains within the eurozone.

The KKE is also opposed to austerity and links this with explicit opposition to membership of the EU. It has so far explicitly rejected any common front with Syriza, declaring it to be an opportunist alliance. A smaller left coalition, Antarsya, which won 1.5% of the vote, accuses Syriza of preparing to sell out, saying that Syriza ‘does not dare to say anything against the euro and the EU, and is increasingly in search of “solutions” to the debt problem through agreements with the creditors!’ It therefore also rejects a common front with Syriza and criticises the KKE for refusing to accept a united front with Antarsya ‘for a workers’ and popular uprising.’

The specific circumstances of the June election present huge opportunities that must be grasped by all revolutionary, anti-capitalist and progressive forces in all parties and formations. The vote is effectively now a people's referendum on austerity.

Absolute opposition to the Memorandum must be the battle standard around which the widest possible array of forces are called and organised to unite. From the trade unionists fighting redundancies to those occupying city squares who have up until now properly rejected the parliamentary sham, to the youth and the poor who abstained from endorsing corrupt politicians, a fighting coalition has to be built that embraces all forms of struggle and mobilises the mass of people in sustained organisation up to the election and beyond.

This demands that hostility, mistrust and sectarianism between anti-austerity organisations must be overcome not just to win the election but for the inevitable battles ahead. The cost of failure will be immense: in the wings is the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, which opposes paying the debt and blames immigrants for the crisis. Its share of the vote in May was 7%; it is organising food banks for the poor in order to garner further support.

Polls showing that Syriza could achieve 30% on 17 June mean that it is not a wild exaggeration to say that this is the Greek movement’s critical moment for serious progress. To call for a united front now is not to deny the many differences between the anti-Memorandum forces. What has to be primary in all discussion and action is how the interests of the working class are represented and fought for. Leaders of Syriza who want to trim their anti-austerity programme through concerns about continued eurozone membership have to be made to respond to the masses who reject such compromise in order that they can eat. Nor can there be any concessions to Greek chauvinism in the coming struggles: fighting austerity cannot be posed in terms of whether or not Greece remains in the eurozone or in the EU. This concedes political ground to the neo-fascists who do want to put it in a nationalist framework. Mobilisation for a united front has to centrally include mobilisation against the rising racist attacks and growing fascist organisation.

The bankers on their side of the class divide are determined to make the people pay.  As the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, publicly declared, ‘If the binding agreed reform is abandoned then the disbursement of aid will no longer be possible.’ However, this presents the troika with a problem: the next disbursement will take place at the time of the Greek election. If it does not arrive, pensions, benefits and public sector salaries will not be paid: the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, street cleaners, doctors, social security staff, teachers and council and government employees will simply go without. It will be like stoking the fire.

The Greek working class must fight for its future. 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself outside the Greek parliament on 27 April this year ‘so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance’ hoped that ‘young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma Square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.’ Christoulas had been one of the thousands occupying Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament last summer as part of the Occupy movement. The temper of his final remarks sets the tone and historical significance of the movement that has to emerge in the streets and squares, workplaces, communities, councils and parliament, united around absolute repudiation of debt repayments and austerity.

Michael MacGregor