Greece: Actually overthrowing the troika or seeking a stabilizing left unity?

[From Kasama Project.]

Eric is the national organizer of the Kasama Project, and reported from Greece last summer as part of the Winter Has Its End team.

by Eric Ribellarsi

The three-horse troika has become a symbol for the three forces most directly oppressing the people of Greece: the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank.

I would like to share some of the thinking and questions that have been going through my head as of late:

1. I have noticed that a great deal of the response (among radical people in the U.S.) to the jolting political developments has been starting from whether enough seats can be attained to form a left government. Actually, it seems no government can be formed, which is probably a very good thing — from the point of view of revolutionary openings.

But more, merely counting parliamentary seats and seeking one or another left coalition is a wrong starting point:

The main thing to note here is that the long-standing establishment political parties of capitalism have been shattered, that the Greek parliament has become increasingly polarized between a hard left and a hard right. This is more what a society looks like before a revolution or a civil war than before some grand resurgence of social-democracy and rescue of capitalist stability.

A communist orientation in such moments and crises requires exploiting these cracks and fissures to unravel the previous system.

That’s why the point is not the seats (even though seats play a role in certain revolutionary programs of agitation) — it is who is establishing a revolutionary alternative (at one real existing social pole) — increasingly opposed to a horrific and fascist alternative acting as an opposing pole. The center is not holding.

2. It is notable that KKE (the “traditional” parliamentary and trade union based Communist Party in Greece) experienced virtually no change in its electoral presence (which under these conditions is a measure of its broader influence and support).

In the middle of this historic crisis, where others are growing or shrinking in sudden ways, the KKE is frozen (for the moment) presumably around its “traditional” institutional support. They have not benefited from a significant swing of many people from establishment capitalist politics to leftwing politics. As has been noted, this partially has to do with a widespread distaste for their long-standing sectarian hatred of more radical forces, and their refusal to consider alliances with the hard left.

But I suspect that it also has a great deal to do with the reality that KKE actually has a very old social base, among a specific sub-section of the industrial working class in Greece. That section of society, while not without strategic importance, is not where a revolution can come from at this moment: it is relatively ossified and cut off from the rapid changes sweeping Greek society. The KKE is not particularly connected politically with the immigrant workers who have entered Greece, with unemployed and laid off workers from former state industries, or with the middle classes with no future..

This is why KKE has chosen to present itself using antiquated nostalgia, including a decision to adopt the former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as one of their defining symbols. They are appealing to an older section of society that had it peak (and reference points) in the Greek Civil War following World War 2.

The KKE,has been pursuing a parliamentary path — seeking influence within mainstream Greek politics using their trade union base as a lever. For them to accept an alliance with more radical forces (including specifically SYRIZA) would mean abandoning attempts to come to power by being the “responsible” forces among the discontented people. Their strategy has now failed — as so many competing strategies within the previously existing political mainstream. Their choices are now to liquidate themselves into the diverse rising leftist pole of SYRIZA, or to abstain in a hostile way (and seek to hold on to their traditional influence over one very small section of society). They have chosen the latter.

3. I have read some articles, which claim the main problem is a lack of unity of the left, such as this one written by the Marxistiki Foni forces in Greece, and circulated internationally by the International Marxist Tendency (IMT).

While making a somewhat correct criticism of KKE’s right-sectarianism, they also, under the banner of “left unity,” criticize an alleged sectarianism of the more radical left.

“Furthermore, it is time that SYRIZA abandoned its present structure as a weak alliance between a large traditional party (Synaspismos) and several small left-wing organisations and ‘individuals’ and transformed itself into one big mass party to organise the working class and the youth.”

At the heart of this argument is a call that the revolutionary left-wing within SYRIZA dissolve itself, and allow the larger social-democratic wing of SYRIZA come into its own, unopposed. The current leader of SYRIZA, Alex Tsipras, ultimately represents a road of seeking socal-democratic reforms (as an answer to the crisis). And the call for generalized “left unity” is a call for extinguishing aspirations of revolution and a radically new socialists system — and of having everyone fall in behind such social democratic politics.

The less radical wing SYRIZA is not simply social-democratic. The calls of Alex Tsipras for a “Greek New Deal” are obviously non-revolutionary, but they are also almost certainly impossible. Synapismos (that right-wing within SYRIZA) envisions a society where all debts and austerity are cancelled, and Greece suddenly develops a new flourishing of social-democracy and radical environmentalism… rooted in an essentially capitalist economics.

Such a development is almost impossible to imagine. It is in fundamental contradiction with the current interests of the “Troika” that currently rules Greece (the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank) — without being in fundamental opposition to the system that has given rise to that Troika.

In other words, abandoning or suppressing revolutionary aspirations — of actually seizing power and breaking out of the domination of oppressive institutions — will not serve the people, even if it is done under the banner of “left unity” and beating back the fascist Golden Dawn.

While communists have benefited in many ways from operating within larger radical formations — like SYRIZA — they also need to speak with the own voice, and move with their own aims.

The Communist Organization of Greece (KOE) and others have written that this situation is how openings emerge for radical transition stages.. And I think we should understand such polarization as a part of the pre-cursor to revolutionary attempts at power, and even possible civil war.

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