Greece: SYRIZA, the Communist Party and the desperate need for a united front.
Courtesy: Michael Karadjis, May 21, 2012
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- This article does not aim to give a full account of the current Greek political crisis.
The sensational outcome of the May 6, 2012, Greek elections, in which SYRIZA, a coalition of left-reformist and radical left organisations, gained nearly 17% of the vote, second only to the right-wing New Democracy (ND) party, comes on the back of the catastrophe being imposed on the Greek working class as it is forced to pay for the crisis of Greek and European capital.
This catastrophe has resulted in Greek workers and pensioners, already on some of the lowest wages and social security entitlements in Europe, see their wages and payments directly cut by as much as 40% over the last few years. The “debt crisis” which this austerity is supposed to pay for is of course the debt accumulated by their capitalist class enemies and the endemically corrupt state under its twin dinosaur parties of austerity, New Democracy, the major party of the capitalist class, and the one-time vaguely social-democratic PASOK party. One important part of this debt was caused by the state’s purchase of a few billion dollars worth of military rubbish via NATO in recent years.
The key issue has been the “Memorandum”, the brutal austerity and wage- and job-cutting package, imposed on Greece by the ‘Troika’ (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) to squeeze workers and poor to “pay back” German and French banks. Both of the twin ruling parties have supported and imposed this memorandum, and as a result their votes have crashed from 33% to 19% for ND and 43% to 13% for PASOK, effectively wiping out the entire post-WWII order of two-party trickery.
Combined, the vote for left-wing, anti-memorandum parties was some 27% -- 17% for SYRIZA, 8% for the sectarian-Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and 1.9% for the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left (Antarsya), a smaller coalition of radical left organisations. Another 6% voted for the Democratic Left, a right-wing split from SYRIZA that wants to soften the austerity package but believes total rejection will get Greece kicked out of the EU (which they see as a fate worse than death). If these misguided but nevertheless left-leaning votes are also counted, one third of the electorate voted for parties associated with the traditional communist movement in one form or another, a considerably higher result even than the huge 25% vote for the United Democratic Left (EDA, the front group for the then illegal Communist Party) in 1958, which sent shock waves around Western capitals.
United front opposed
In other words, in this situation – a “Year Zero” situation for the literally hungry masses – these masses handed their votes to SYRIZA, and secondarily to the KKE, with the mandate for them to take power, reject the memorandum, reject austerity, restore their livelihoods and do so by turning the tables on the Greek plutocracy, those who actually still have their bucket loads of cash despite the “crisis”, while telling the German-French plutocracy to shove off.
Yet it is in such a context that the Greek left now seems unable to form a united front for the salvation of the people. The responsibility for this lies mostly, if not entirely, with the spectacular sectarianism of the KKE, which has point blank refused to join a united front with SYRIZA. More than that – criminally – the KKE has refused to even talk about it.
In a quasi-reenactment of Stalin’s Third Period disaster in Germany – when the German Communist Party was ordered to refuse any joint work with the German Social Democrats against Nazism, indeed the Social Democrats were declared “social fascists”, allowing the Nazis to walk into power unimpeded – the KKE claims it will not work with SYRIZA who it denounces as social democrats who will inevitably sell out.
But if history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, then the tragedy being prepared by the KKE is based entirely on farce. For anyone aware of modern Greek history, the idea of the KKE having some principled left position opposed to collaborating with social democrats or even neoliberals and right-wing nationalists is a fantastic joke.
While there is much to validly criticise about the program of SYRIZA’s leadership group, as a whole the SYRIZA coalition is light years to the left of the German Social Democrats of the 1930s, let alone the neoliberal “social democrats” today, and the only actual revolutionary policy in such a dire situation is to “take the bull by its horns” and form a united front with SYRIZA around the most immediate needs of the working class, and work with the more radical left components of SYRIZA in a non-sectarian fashion to challenge its leadership to keep left and to move further left as the ensuing crisis will inevitably demand.
But the idea of the KKE working in a non-sectarian way with anyone on the left is like the idea of a pro-Palestinian position emerging from the White House. In all the mass movements against the class war being imposed by the rulers over the last few years, the KKE has made sure to join no one else and only organise its own actions. Worse than that, the KKE has vigorously denounced militant actions by any left forces outside of its control; indeed, for all its “left” rhetoric now, it has deployed its cadres to effectively act as marshals defending the state against actions by enraged and militant protesters. In terms of sectarianism towards the left, militant and revolutionary forces in Greece, the KKE has been nothing but absolutely consistent.
“Consistent”, however, is a funny word. One thing important to understand about SYRIZA is that its left momentum today has been partly helped by the split of its most right-wing, social-democratic component into the “Democratic Left” as noted above. And it is important to know that the one and only section of the left that the KKE has ever actively collaborated with was precisely those who now make up this group, historically the “right-Eurocommunists”. And also with PASOK and New Democracy. In other words, the KKE has collaborated with everyone but the left. To explain all this, a little history is necessary.
Greek left’s history
The KKE has historically played a large part in Greek politics since its historic role of leading anti-Nazi resistance in WWII, always making up a solid bloc of support, measured in double figure votes, just after the traditional right and centre blocs of the two-party trickery. When the traditional Communist parties internationally began to split following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the rise of the radical new left, the Greek party also split. The majority remained pro-Moscow and was called KKE (Exterior), while the more critical wing loosely aligned with the Eurocommunist current was called KKE (Interior). The dominant party eventually dropped the “Exterior” tag and is now just known as KKE
However, the KKE (Interior) suffered its own right-left split in the 1980s, due to the contradiction between the reformist dynamic of Eurocommunism on the one hand and the left-radical dynamic of the new left and anti-Stalinist critique, especially in Greece’s strongly militant political environment, on the other. The left, who wanted to maintain and renovate a genuinely communist perspective, had the majority, and so kept the name KKE (Interior). The right minority split away and formed the Greek Left (EAR), dedicated to a “modern” left “discourse” and all that entailed (i.e., junking “old” ideas like class struggle etc.).
The KKE drew closer to EAR despite its opposite positions on the Soviet Union, and in 1989 formed the Coalition of the Left and Progress (Synaspismos, the Greek word for “coalition”) to stand in the elections that year. It received a respectable 13% of the vote (most of it gained by the KKE’s historic working-class base). For future reference, the core of EAR is precisely what today forms the Democratic Left organisation.
In the context of no party emerging strong enough to form a government on its own, and of the withering assault by the right-wing media on the ruling PASOK government’s (only too real) hyper-corruption, Synaspismos (i.e., KKE and EAR) agreed to take part in a coalition government with the victorious reactionary, neoliberal New Democracy party, under Konstantine Mitsotakis. Under the banner of “cleansing”, the right-left coalition would cleanse Greek society of the stench of corruption, apparently associated entirely with PASOK social democracy, until new elections at the end of the year.
However, these new elections were inconclusive, so now Synaspismos – with a reduced vote as the working-class base punished it by swinging back to PASOK – agreed to form an “ecumenical” government with both New Democracy and (a presumably cleansed) PASOK. Under both the “cleansing” and the “ecumenical” governments, Synaspismos was essentially hostage to an emerging neoliberal program of restructuring the Greek economy. In the third election, New Democracy emerged victorious.
The KKE’s coalition with New Democracy led to a split by a minority of the party and by the leadership and the majority of its youth organisation, the KNE, which strongly opposed this class collaboration. These forces formed a new left-communist party named NAR (New Left Current), which is today one of the key components of the radical left coalition Antarsya, alongside Trotskyist, state capitalist [those who believe the Soviet Union was a capitalist country] and left environmentalist groups. They have never had anything to do with KKE since. At the time they were laughably slandered by the media as hardened Stalinists for rejecting such a “modern” sophisticated idea as class collaboration with ND, which was highly ironic given that in the very same year, during the coalition with ND, the KKE hailed the Chinese regime's massacre in Tiananmen Square, whereas the KNE and KKE dissidents vigorously condemned it from a left-communist perspective, pointing to the capitalist restorationist policies of the Chinese leadership.
Meanwhile, the KKE (Interior) also opposed this coalition with ND (and the ensuing one with ND and PASOK), leading to a semi-convergence with the KKE dissidents on class-struggle issues. It is today part of the constellation of radical left forces in the SYRIZA coalition.
As for Synaspismos, it split back into its component parts. EAR on one hand drifted closer to PASOK, which had sought to “cleanse” its image from the stench of corruption by via “modernising”, i.e., junking aspects of its social-democratic past and holding itself up as a more human face to drive through the neoliberal “restructuring” of the Greek economy in line with the wishes of global capital, especially after it returned to government in 1994. As it was the KKE that quit the coalition, the small minority party EAR maintained the name “Synaspismos” despite it no longer being a coalition.
KKE ‘rediscovers’ Stalin
Meanwhile, the KKE withdrew into a hidebound neo-Stalinist shell. In 1995, the KKE, which had faithfully followed Khrushchev, then Brezhnev, then Gorbachev, suddenly rediscovered that Stalin was allegedly one of the greatest Marxist thinkers and began doing absurd things in the 1990s like glorifying the 1930s purges. This seems to have little logic other than that of protecting its human “assets” from contamination by the rest of the radical Greek left, consisting of a dizzy constellation of Trotskyist, Maoist, anarchist and other far-left and revolutionary formations, and giving some justification to its abject refusal to work with anyone on the left.
A key difference that emerged on the left was that of attitude towards the European Union. On the right, despite criticisms of the neoliberal Maastricht treaty, Synaspismos (i.e., EAR) attached itself to the view that membership of the EU was essential and part of Greece’s process of “modernisation” that could only benefit the left in terms of progressive social policy (despite the regressive economic “side effects”). The KKE by contrast made withdrawal from the EU a shibboleth to use in its struggle to maintain its relevance. While formally correct from a left standpoint, the obsession with withdrawal tends to look in a nationalist direction; its coalesces with the KKE’s traditional view of Greece as a colony of Western imperialism rather than a mini-imperialist power in its own right, and with its populist-nationalist “anti-monopoly” alliance.
While the KKE in the early 1990s tended to take decent anti-nationalist stands on some issues, such as the Macedonian issue, for which it was vigorously condemned by the chorus of reactionary right-wing nationalism that dominated that decade, later in the decade the KKE adapted precisely to this same Greek nationalism.
For example, it tended to echo the support given to Serbian nationalist leader Milosevic by the Greek ultra-right, Greek Orthodox Church, PASOK, New Democracy, indeed everyone except the principled left, in his Crusader-style anti-Muslim propaganda for an “Orthodox” axis against “the Turks” (i.e., Balkan Muslim peoples). With Milosevic and his cronies personal friends of both ND leader Mitsotakis and PASOK leader Andreas Papandreau, both of whom escorted him around Greece in their boats and mansions, and with Greek fascists proudly taking part in Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaigns, including in Srebrenica, there was little radical about this. When gigantic Greek rallies – supported by all Greek parties, from the far right, through ND and PASOK, to the far left – opposed NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, the KKE ingratiated itself into the most right-wing chauvinist section of the movement by blocking with the Greek Orthodox Church and fascists in demanding that only Orthodox Serb refugees, not Muslim Albanian refugees (i.e., most refugees), be allowed into Greece.
This fitted with the nationalist flavour of its anti-EU campaign. By contrast, the radical left preferred a perspective along the lines of opposing the European Union of capital but counterposing it to a Europe of workers, immigrants and the environment, a perspective of actually increasing connections across Europe of working-class struggles, of a united Europea