This is a guest post from Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson
In the run up to the recent elections in Greece, a number of facts became increasingly clear: the people of Greece can suffer no more austerity – they are at breaking point; Greece is being used as a gigantic social experiment and if it succeeds other countries in Europe will suffer the same fate; the working people of Greece are increasingly supportive of anti-austerity parties and there is a need – and strong desire – for unity of these forces on the left.
The elections showed a stunning result for Syriza, the main recipient of the anti-austerity vote, pushing its support to 16.7% and outstripping the former governing party PASOK whose vote fell from 44% to 13%.
The KKE vote also increased, but only marginally, to 8.5%. The other party experiencing rapid growth was the neo-nazi Golden Dawn, whose vote rose from 0.23% to 6.9%. Further polls taken since the election show Syriza’s support is now at 27%. Its popularity has been enhanced by the five demands proposed by its leader Alexis Tsipras.
• Cancelling the bailout terms, notably laws that further cut wages and pensions
• Scrapping laws that abolish workers’ rights, particularly a law abolishing collective labour agreements due to come into effect on 15 May
• Demanding proportional representation and the end to the 50 seat bonus to the first party
• Investigating Greece’s banking system which received almost 200bn euros of public money and posing the need for some kind of state control over the banks
• Setting up an international committee to find out the causes of Greece’s public deficit and putting on hold all debt servicing.
That Syriza must form a government on this basis is now the central political demand and one which reflects the political reality facing the country. It seems likely that a new election will be called for June and Syriza will emerge as the strongest party. The working class are looking to the left to resolve the problems they face in their daily lives and many middle class voters are also turning to Syriza as the mainstream parties have plunged them further and further into an economic nightmare. There is an increasing recognition from across the board that the policy prescriptions of finance capital hold no future for the country.
However, whilst support from ordinary people is increasing, the response from the left outside of Syriza has not been good. The KKE leader Aleka Papariga has refused to meet with Tsipras and the KKE have released a statement which includes this: ‘Syriza is lying that it will cancel the memorandum and the loan agreement and that it will free the people from the debt.’
The KKE calls not for a government in which Syriza can be worked with, tested out and held to its five demands, but for a strengthening of the KKE. It is likely that this isolationist policy has been shaped by its negative experience in the late 1980s when it helped form and briefly belonged to Synaspismos – the main element of Syriza – and participated in government coalitions with both New Democracy and PASOK. As a result of this experience, in 1991 the KKE began the process of reconsolidating itself as an explicitly communist party. But these experiences should not prevent the KKE from fighting for working class unity today. Syriza is not PASOK or New Democracy – it stands on a clear anti-austerity programme.
Now, more than ever, it is essential that left organisations put the interests of the class first – a principle which should be applied in Britain or any other country as much as Greece.
Any cooperation between Syriza and the bourgeois parties should be opposed but it is not currently on the agenda, and has been explicitly rejected by Tsipras. But nevertheless the KKE believes that a government led by Syriza would “meet the needs and interests of capital, the choices of the EU and the IMF.” However, this is not what the majority of the working class believes and the election results show it has made a different assessment. Syriza triumphed strongly in working class areas where it was the first party and amongst unemployed youth where it was also the first party. The second party for the young unemployed was the fascist Golden Dawn.
The KKE should now use its political weight, built largely on its undoubted courage during the second world war, civil war and military junta, to demand that Tsipras takes office in order to defend the working class. The role of communists in such a government would be to ensure practical steps forward for socialism.
What is necessary in Greece is a united front of all workers’ parties. The situation is so grave that historical and programmatic differences must be set aside in the interests of the working class. Parties can maintain their own organisational independence and slogans whilst the government centres on concrete political and economic issues for the benefit of working people.
The current position of the KKE is a tragedy both for itself and the people of Greece. At the next election its vote is expected to fall and many KKE supporters will switch to Syriza – but even then it is unlikely that Syriza will be able to form a government without the support of the KKE.
The same support for a united front should come from all sections of the left in Greece. Whilst it does not have the same political weight as the KKE, the far left anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya should also back a Syriza-led government. But as a leader of the British Socialist Workers’ Party – its British sister organisation – tweeted ‘Anti-capitalist left Antarsya will not prop up SYRIZA govt but is calling for joint-action to beat austerity in strikes, occupations’.
Antarsya is not in a position to prop up any government – they got 1.2% of the vote and polled 75,000 which is down on their result in the 2010 local elections when they polled 97,000. However, Antarsya contains many good activists and they have been at the forefront of anti-fascist activity and the call that they make for united action on the streets is important. On some demonstrations in Greece this is beginning to happen in practice, notably in February when cadre from the KKE opened their lines to protect Syriza supporters from the riot police in Syntagma Square.
But the lessons from Germany in the early thirties show that united action on the streets has to be supplemented with clear agreements between working class parties in defence of the class as a whole. We cannot repeat the errors of the left at that time, when calls for a united front from below isolated social democratic workers from communists and split the movement, allowing Hitler to take power. Of course there is not an exact parallel between then and now, and as yet neither a military coup nor a fascist take-over are in prospect. But it cannot be denied that the consequences of unbridled neo-liberalism and the effective dictatorship of finance capital are already creating the most devastating consequences for the people of Greece and must be understood as a most savage onslaught whose consequences will ultimately equal those that would be experienced under political or military dictatorship and may in fact lead to either of these being established. Those would be the consequences if the left fails. At the moment what is in prospect politically is the ascendancy of the working class. How can the left contemplate anything other than a united front to take that possibility forward and reject any possible resurgence of the right?
By the same token, the left across Europe should express the strongest possible solidarity with the working people of Greece in whatever practical and political ways can be established. Seventy-five years ago, the left from across Europe gave unstintingly and often with great personal sacrifice to support the Spanish republic against fascism. How can it now do less, in ways appropriate to the situation today, in support of the Greek people and to advance the prospect of a working class government?
At the moment the working class in Greece is undefeated and the opportunity to take the movement forward must not be rejected.