Why Don’t the Greek Communists Just Link Forces With the Radical Left Coalition?

by Johan Boyden

The political assessment of the Communist Party of Greece (which we posted here) deserves some introduction for our readers in Canada. Afterall, as Greece heads towards Sunday elections, all eyes seem to suddenly be turned to the volatile situation in the Hellenic Republic.

UPDATE: View the election results in graphic form and read the assessment of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Greece.

Progressive-minded people in Canada are optimistic. After years of hard struggle with countless general strikes and mass rallies, maybe these elections will hand a victory to political parties that identify with the left? Maybe they will demonstrate a different direction from austerity and economic crisis to the world?

There is also a certain renewed anxiety in the voices of the ruling class.  “We cannot have a Greek election determining the future of the global economy. That’s not fair to anybody,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said recently. Today, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney referenced Greece and the European situation to warn of more mass unemployment and ‘recession’ over here.

For the working people of the world, and the capitalist class, it seems the stakes are high. In this context over the year and especially the past month, a bit of a fluster has blown-up among some voices about the best strategy for the Greek people. Rebel Youth (and People`s Voice newspaper) have a long record of reporting the news and analysis of the Greek Communist Youth, as well as the Communist Party of Greece, the KKE. But now, many left-minded intellectuals in Canada are also discovering the alphabet soup of Greek political party acronyms and especially the KKE and the self-titled Coalition of the Radical Left or SYRIZA.

The SYRIZA coalition, whose name is a pun on ‘to the roots’, is lead by the Synaspismós party.  Synaspismós also grew out of a coalition founded by the KKE many years ago, but from which the Communists quit in the early 1990s.

That break was not a light decision.

The communist change in strategy came about during a moment of intense debate over ideology, strategy and fundamental questions — is a communist party necessary in the post-Soviet world? What is it`s role? Who should it work with? What should the left`s attitude be to the new European Union? The conclusions of Synaspismós were, more or less, opportunist and they put a bitter energy into attacking the conclusions of KKE.

For Synaspismós, a Leninist-style communist party was not just a bad idea — it was a profoundly wrong and anti-democratic direction. The Soviet experience had been a profound failure; their view of socialism was, more or less, social democracy. Synaspismos drew up political alliances on the ‘left’ on the basis of being pro-European Union. The ideological framework of imperialism was now outdated, they said. Not surprisingly, the stance of Synaspismós towards NATO was not so clear or consistent either.

To most on the left here in Canada, however, it seemed an abstract debate. Some saw it mainly as particular to that country. If people were aware of the Greek political scene, they knew that main social democratic party was PASOK, with whom the Canadian New Democratic Party shared common membership in the Socialist International.  The bad guys were New Democracy, who were like the Conservative Party of Canada. And the really bad guys were LAOS, the ultra-right or fascists.

Nobody batted and eyelid (other than a few voices like the YCL) when the president of the NDP, Brian Topp, traveled to Greece for a conference of the Socialist International last summer and reported back through a Globe and Mail editorial that guys with PASOK were doing a darn good job managing a little country that got itself into a real big mess.

Now, this summer, things look very different.

Canada seems, much more clearly, to be linked hand-in-hand with Greece and Europe in the macabre international dance of global capitalism. In Greece, PASOK is politically discredited. It pursued what are now obvious pro-monopoly capitalist policies that helped further kick that country into social, political and economic crisis. SYRIZA has basically replaced PASOK in the polls. SYRIZA made its strongest showing ever in elections last month growing

So did the ultra-right and fascists, re-branded as the Golden Dawn party.

Perhaps it is forgivable that in this context of rising fascist forces in Greece, the spectators on the bleachers over here are starting to cheer for a team effort. Some progressives voices in Canada have even gone as far issuing instructions to the KKE about how to proceed — and why they should join forces again with SYRIZA to form a government. Never mind that, at least in the latest round of elections, this is numerically impossible given the total seats the two parties have in the Parliament of the Hellenes.

Although not a Canadian, the psychoanalyst and self-professed marxist Slavoj Žižek is growing in popularity among many progressive thinkers at English-speaking and French-language universities in Quebec and the rest of Canada. His recent comments about this topic speaking at a recent SYRIZA event have been quoted fairly widely:

”Your pseudo-radical critics” he told the audience, ”are telling you that the situation is not yet right for the true social change. That if you take power now, you will just help the system, making it more efficient. This is, if I understand it correctly, what KKE, which is basically the party of the people who are still alive because they forgot to die, are telling you.”

These comments are particularly nasty given how many hundreds of thousands of Greek Communists have been assassinated, executed, massacred, raped, mutated and tortured, over the past century fighting against fascism and for democracy in that country. (Žižek is, of course, notorious for these kind of cheap anti-communist shots — he also likes to target the Communist Party of Cuba — but that deserves another article).

How do the Greek communists respond to all this?

Why don`t they want to go in with SYRIZA and ‘take power,’ as Žižek challenges?

The KKE`s view comes from their assesment of the current juncture and what role SYRIZA is playing. In an interview just after the last Greek election, the head of KKE`s International department told a Turkish newspaper that:

The result demonstrates that [the ruling class] are seeking to make an effort to give the two-party system a face-lift. […] The bourgeois class, in order to maintain its power seeks to get rid of or give secondary roles to the most worn-out parties and political figures. It is preparing a restructuring of the political scene, due to the political damage the basic bourgeois parties have suffered, the social-democratic PASOK and the conservative New Democracy. There is an attempt to form a centre-right pole around New Democracy and a centre-left pole around the social-democratic SYRIZA. […] SYRIZA has been chosen by a part of the bourgeoisie which sees it as the basic force in a government that will do the “dirty work” of the capitalist crisis, that will manage a possible bankruptcy.

As if to confirm this picture, last Wednesday the President of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, presented a ‘letter of credentials’ to an official from the US embassy and met with ambassadors and diplomats from the G20 member states at a ceremonial meeting.

The leader of the Radical Left re-stated his parties opposition to the Greek bail-out or Memorandum. Yet he also indicated SYRIZA`s support for the European Union (EU) and the Euro. He even went as far as calling for Turkey to join the EU and took the time, in front of this particular audience, to denounce the socialist experience of the USSR.

As the KKE`s newspaper Rizospastis put it:

The meeting of SYRIZA’s President with the ambassadors of the G20 countries gave us a reminder of the recent past, specifically it reminds us of the former [PASOK] Prime Minister Giorgos Papandreou […] The same slogans regarding “a new multi-facetted peaceful foreign policy”, the same references to “international initiatives for the democratization of the system of international relations” and the need to “upgrade the role of the UN.” And at the same time, no mention of NATO […] Mr Tsipras’ silence concerning the continuing intervention against Syria was astounding. […] As if the use of US [Air and Naval] base at Souda [in Crete] is not part of the plans regarding this intervention, and the use more generally of the ports, the airspace, and the sea of our country. […] But Mr Tsipras did not omit to mention that he would play a leading role in a “nuclear-free Middle East”, pointing to Iran’s nuclear programme, which is in any case the pretext which will be used by the USA and Israel to justify a possible military attack against Iran, a new war. Not a word about the nuclear weapons Israel already possesses!

What reveals SYRIZA`s political positioning in the class struggle, the Greek communists say, is that parties demands. And it is not just that SYRIZA is soft on peace and NATO, but also that the coalition is fully committed to Greek membership of the EU and the single currency.

UPDATE: Read post-election analysis and more about the support SYRIZA recieved from sections of the capitalist class.

The SYRIZA strategy around the EU is outlined in more detail here by Kenny Coyle, who writes:

On May 10, when Tsipras was first attempting to put a government coalition together, he sent a letter to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. He wrote: “We need to re-examine the whole framework of existing strategy if the threat to social stability and cohesion in Greece, and the stability of the whole eurozone, is not to be threatened. “The common future of European peoples is threatened by those catastrophic choices. We deeply believe that this crisis is European, and therefore the solution lies at a European level.” Tsipras’s approach takes as one of its fundamental concerns stability of the eurozone and removes the initiative from the hands of a mobilised and militant Greek people only to file it in the in-tray of the Eurocrats.

It also holds that Greece will never get the boot from that happy family, and therefore EU membership is a bargaining chip to renegotiate the deal. Time will show if that is the case — but the Greek communists think there is a strong case that they are dangerously wrong.

In the view of the KKE, any government formed after the Sunday elections out of the current balance of forces will not only fail to halt the deterioration of the situation for working people, but will actually be forced to escalate the attack; instead, the people must take the matter into his own hands, the KKE says, outlining a programme for social transformation as we reprinted here and summarized below.

  • for the immediate future, organize the struggle of the workers, the poor farmers, the lower-middle popular strata against the anti-people measures which will be taken by the government (whether centre-right or centre-left);
  • through this struggle, forces will be liberated from bourgeois ideology and a social alliance will be formed that will pose the question of power.
  • disengagement from the EU and unilateral cancellation of the debt;
  • socialization of the concentrated means of production, the people’s producer cooperatives, nationwide planning;
  • full utilization of the production potential of the country, with working class and people’s control which will operate from the bottom up

The KKE sees the election as an important opportunity to broadcast this message of a comprehensive political proposal highlighting the need for working class-people’s power and economy. Having elected members of parliament on the inside also strengthens that process.

What about the allegations that the communists in Greece are a bunch of narrow-minded sectarians? To this the KKE replies:

How is it possible for the KKE to rally hundreds of thousands of people in Greece, with the line of class struggle, if the party is sectarian? How is it possible, for example, for the All-workers’ Militant Front (PAME) to rally dozens of first-level trade unions, sectoral federations, and labour centres which represent hundreds of thousands of workers?

We should note here that PAME, as the class-oriented pole in the labour and trade union movement rallies 8 sectoral federations, 13 labour centres, hundreds of first-level and sectoral unions, with 850,000 members. In addition, PAME also operates in trade unions where the class-oriented forces are not in the majority. […]

How is it possible for the Panhellenic Anti-monopoly rally of the self-employed (PASEVE) to organize thousands of self-employed people, who understand the need to come into conflict with the monopolies? How is it possible for thousands of poor farmers, through their farmer’s associations and their committees, to be inspired by the struggle of the All-farmers Militant Rally (PASY) against the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy? How is it possible for women and thousands of students, who belong to the working class and popular strata to enter the struggle in the framework of the demands and the initiatives of the Federation of Greek Women (OGE) and the Students’ Front of Struggle (MAS)? The members and cadres of the KKE play a leading role in all these socio-political organizations without hiding their identity.

Many of these arguments are repeated and elaborated in an article by the KKE hereas well as an article we posted here.

Some, if not most, of the enthusiasm about the KKE joining hands with a left formation like SYRIZA comes from honest misunderstanding and unfamiliarity with the circumstances in Greece. Although those who do it no doubt have lots of fun, plotting the future of the revolution in various countries from the safety of an urban coffee shop in Canada, or blogging it from your basement, runs the risk that your conclusions most likely will not be grounded in the objective political reality, hundreds of thousands of miles away.

This is just one reason why the YCL strives to go in the direction of working class internationalism. While reserving our own opinion, we listen very closely to the view point of comrades around the world about the situation in their own countries.  And by expressing solidarity, it is in the sense of being united in a global struggle — as Marx said, ‘workers of the world unite!’

Other voices that critique the KKE, however, are no doubt grinding an ideological axe. In this, they are not just against that far away party, but are also trying to call out the views of the communist movement in Canada on the revolutionary process, no matter the many differences between of our situations (and therefore conclusions). But perhaps it is no surprise that those particular voices are deeply taken by SYRIZA, a force that the Greek communists see as, more or less, opportunists and renegades of socialism.

*Note: Originally posted on June 15, 2012 on the Rebel Youth blog.

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