Overtime. The political crisis in Greece – Nadia Bustos
The situation is bogged down. There’s a tie between classes. The bourgeoisie, for now, cannot lead a way out and only tries to win time by promising inviable reformisms or trying to reach an agreement on impossible and ineffective adjustments. The working class barely outlines a way out of its reformist conscience, but hasn’t managed to create a force willing to develop a revolutionary alternative.
By Nadia Bustos (Political Analysis Laboratory – CEICS)
Translated by Nicolás Muñoz
Some time ago we claimed that Syriza’s keynesianism wouldn’t offer any solution to the Greek crisis[i]. The program, which rejected adjustment and sought to expand public spending, found its limit in the lack of state funds. The European help won’t solve much and won’t even arrive without a strong adjustment, impossible for now given to the political conditions. Tsipras’ resignation and his call for elections expresses not only another aspect of the general derailment, but a desperate attempt to channel it within the institutional framework. We will now give a more detailed analysis of the development of the conflicts.
The political crisis lived in Greece is not only the product of the particularly acute crisis of its capitalist system, it is also determined by the breakdown of the bourgeois policy and of the transformations in the working class conscience. The ties that bound the working class to the more traditional bourgeois parties began to collapse. In that context emerged the governing coalition that has just broken down and, not to forget, the neonazi party.
Syriza appeared in 2004, from the union of Synaspismos and several smaller left organizations. Synaspismos is the largest party of the coalition and managed to impose its agenda and its candidates. The organization was formed in 1992 out of two breakdowns in the Greek PC. In the nineties, Synaspismos tried to establish itself as a “progressive” alternative against New Democracy. In its foundational congress, it declared to be favorable to Greece’s “integration” with Europe. By the year 2000 it decided a turn towards the Left and began to connect with the anti globalization and ecologist movements. A year later, it formed a coalition of the “radical left” that was named Syriza.
Among the organizations that formed the coalition is the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), one of the most important Maoist parties of the country. The Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left, known as Antarsya, also participated. Both organizations grew in the heat of the crisis that was building up. Antarsya was formed after the Greek students riots in 2008 and its most important component was the New Left Current (NAR), a split of the PC. Syriza was also accompanied by the Socialist Workers Party of Greece (SEK), an organic party of the British SWP, and the althusserian organizations Left Recomposition (ARAN), Left Anticapitalist Group (ARAS) and Left Regroupment (ARIS), a split of ARAS. There are also other smaller organizations such as the United Independent Left Movement (EAAK), the Revolutionary Communist Movement of Greece (EKKE), and the trotskyists OKDE-Spartakos and the Internationalists Workers’ Left (DEA). Syriza became a party in 2013 and, at the beginning of this year, managed to prevail over the conservative parties PASOK and New Democracy with a Keynesian reformist program. The Greek PC and EEK, a brotherly organization of the Argentinian PO, were left out of the coalition.
The first thing to notice is that there is a serious disconnection. While the working class is turning to the Left, its organizations are turning to the Right. While the population was leaving the traditional bourgeois parties, while the union influence of KOE and Antarsya was growing (from nothing to, at least, some kind of presence), the whole of the Left caved to Synaspismos. Its political success is based on the limits that the working class’ evolution has, which at the moment hasn’t surpassed reformism. But, as long as it doesn’t seek to overcome those obstacles, it becomes a deadweight in the coalition, while the infeasibility of the program prepares its own failure, either from left or right.
The second thing to notice is the great amount of left parties, that is, of organizations with power will, which seems to show, in principle, a healthy revolutionary vocation. But they are small organizations that, at the moment, only add more dispersion where forces should be gathering instead. Synaspismos took advantage of that dispersion and weakness to impose its hegemony.
The Keynesian program of Syriza included the promise to repeal the adjustment measures implemented since the agreements with creditors in 2010 and 2012. Among those measures were the reduction of public employment, an increase of retirement age and cuts in wages, pensions and retirements. However, none of the measures could be repealed. The budget deficit put Tsipras’ government at the Troika’s feet. Financial assistance is conditioned upon a series of adjustment measures that are being negotiated since February. The initial proposal of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF, issued on June 26, included a 400 million euros cut in defense spending, higher taxes and the implementation of VAT categories, reduction of pre retirements, revision of the regulation of collective layoffs, strikes and collective negotiations, creation of a privatizations fund that covers ports, air terminals and railways. Some privatizations had been initiated by the previous government, but they weren’t implemented.
Within months of taking office, Tsipras’ government carried forward the measures requested by the German bourgeoisie, handing over 14 tourist airports to a German consortium and the rights of horse racing betting to a company of Greek and Czech capital. This proposal was criticized by the left wing inside Syriza known as Left Platform. Faced with a crisis inside the party of government, Tsipras rejected the EU’s proposal and called for a referendum on July 5. Simultaneously, he turned to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) for a new extension for its debt payment and a credit for two years. Tsipras accepted some of the conditions proposed in the negotiations as well as he introduced a few changes: a delay until October of the increase in retirement age, gradual cuts in defense spending and the elimination of subsidies to low income pensioners only by 2019. The European Union’s response was presented only after the popular consultation was finished.
The referendum’s question was linked to the acceptance of the proposal delivered by the troika. The turnout was 62,5% of the population and the negative responds reached 61,31%. The outcome was ambiguous. The No answer won, but not overwhelmingly, not only because 40% openly supported the adjustment (which indicates that there’s even a broader base for that), but also for the low representativeness of the referendum.
Be that as it may, the result of the call for a referendum sparked controversy within the EU. Its central bank (ECB) froze the delivery of emergency funds and Greece entered in default with the IMF on 30 June, causing the closure of banks in response to a potential capital flight. Finally, Germany forced the acceptance of the agreement and normalized the country’s situation, with the condition of implementing the first package of measures before 15 July.
The members of Left Platform refused to vote in favor. The prime minister had to lean on the opposition to get the bailout approved. Among the ones that supported the package of reforms was the party of Independent Greeks, which contributed 13 votes, New Democracy, with 76 votes, The River, with 17 votes, and PASOK, with 13 votes. Days after the vote, Tsipras renounced the presidency. Left Platform’s twenty five deputies broke with the party and formed Popular Unity. The new front became the third force in the Parliament. DEA also gave its support, estimating that Popular Unity could become a platform for the foundation of Twenty-First Century Socialism. The organizations ARAS and ARAN, previously in Antarsya, also joined. Another of the breakdowns in Syriza was the one of the Antarsya Front. The organization will participate in the elections with the Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK) the upcoming September 20. In a joint statement, the organizations declare that, facing Syriza’s debacle, it is necessary to break with capital. They propose the nationalization under workers control of banks and big companies, the non-recognition of bankruptcy, debt relief and to break with the EU. Finally only Synaspismos and its pro agreement program remained within Syriza.
The referendum allowed Tsipras to win some time and gain a better position in the negotiation with the EU. However, he didn’t manage to avoid a crisis within the party of government. Greece had scheduled a new payment to the ECB for 20 August. Left Platform’s fraction, led by Panagiotis Lafazanis, asked for a meeting of the party’s Central Committee. The objective was to discuss the call for a congress before negotiating the next bailout. In that conclave, Tsipras managed to impose his motion to postpone the call until September, once the deal has been made, but because of this seventeen deputies resigned, most of them from the maoist party KOE. This organization recently called for a meeting to discuss the formation of another “radical left” organization. The movement “53+”, recently detached from Syriza, has already expressed its support. The project has established the discussion of certain foundational texts and, for the moment, doesn’t pretend to stand for election.
The bulk of the splitted fractions formed Popular Unity, which remained with 25 deputies. It currently has the support of DEA, ARAS and ARAN. The main leader is Panagiotis Lafazanis. In a recent conference he declared that “an exit from the euro and the adoption of a national currency is the only viable option for Greece”. He mentioned the cases of Denmark and the Czech Republic as successful cases. His proposals are the abolition of the memorandum, the suspension of debt’s payment, the initiation of demands for the payment of German debts from the moment of the occupation, and compensation to the victims of the Nazi’s atrocities, the cessation of austerity policies and the implementation of measures of redistribution of social wealth for the benefit of workers, a raise of minimum wage and pensions, and the nationalization of banks, functioning under an ambiguous and vague “regime of social control”. That is to say, they are trying to reissue the program that has just gone down.
The fraction that Left Platform represented in Syriza seeks a return to the drachma, that is, an exchange rate devaluation. Tsipras, on the other hand, wants to resolve the crisis problem by implementing the adjustment that the European creditors are asking for. The maneuver allowed him, initially, to delay the negotiations with the Troika and the discussion inside the party. Tsipras’ resignation reveals the incapacity to hegemonize the adjustment program over the rest of the party’s fractions. In this context, a new call for elections would give Tsipras greater power to govern. So, actually, he didn’t resign, he only expelled the left wing of the government. Thus he begins a process of drifting to the right, which exceeds him and could end up taking him down. Of the two governments that succeeded Tsipras (New Democracy and Popular Unity), none of them managed to form a new government. Pavlopoulos called for anticipated elections next 20 September. Despite Syriza’s crisis, Tsipras leads the polls with 35%, followed by New Democracy with 26,5%. Golden Dawn reaches 6,5% and the PC (KKE) 5,5%. If nothing changes, Tsipras would have to form a coalition with New Democracy, initiating a new cycle of discredit.
The German friend
The proposal of agreement with the EU coincides with the interests of Greek business chambers. The presidents of the chambers of commerce, industry, tourism and SMEs, issued a statement once the results of the referendum were known, where they asked Tsipras to remain within the EU and to rapidly lift the bank freeze. Most of Greek companies depend on imports. A return to the drachma and, therefore, the loss of value of the Greek currency, would make the purchasing power of those products more expensive.
Within the EU, Germany has a decisive weight over the Greek bailout. Despite the uneasiness due to Tsipras’ referendum, Merkel favored the negotiation of the memorandum. She didn’s agree with a debt reduction, but agreed on the possibility of extending the expiration date or diminishing interest rates. Various German deputies were skeptical about the Greek payment compliance. Nevertheless, the bailout was approved with only thirteen votes against and eighteen abstentions. This result represents a reduction compared to the vote in the first negotiation in July, when there were 119 votes against and 40 abstentions. At that time the opposition was headed by the minister of finance Wolfgang Schäuble, who suggested that a reduction of the Greek debt would only be possible if Greece exits the Eurozone for some time. The IMF was another of Schäuble’s preoccupations, since that entity refused to participate in the negotiations. The minister of finance finally casted a positive vote in August. He based his change of mind on “the amount of concessions that the Greek government made in the last weeks”[ii].
The IMF, despite approving the new bailout, abstained from participating in the negotiation of the conditions of the agreement. The entity has made a study about the Greek debt and recently admitted that it is unsustainable. For this reason, it proposed a reduction and an extension of the payment deadlines. In the view of the Fund, the bailout plan must include the Greek government’s compromise to make adjustment measures, and a restructuration of the debt by the European creditors. This proposal confronts the proposal of the European governments, that seek to cover the deficit through austerity measures. The total of the Greek debt reaches 323 billion euros. Out of that total, 142 billion were lend by the Eurozone and only 32 billion by the IMF[iii].
The “bailout” requires a strong adjustment program. A return to the drachma would imply a devaluation and an economic chaos, since the Hellenic economy has no way of supporting the currency. The problem is that Greece has an extremely small and unstable economy. Under capitalism, it can only be a reserve of relative surplus population. If there’s money and the political necessities require it (to avoid a collapse, to get military support and votes in the EU and the international forums), it can live miserably with the German help. If not, the destination is migration or, through massacre, the southeast Asia solution, although that would compromise its place in the EU. None of the alternatives show a favorable scenario for the workers.
The worker’s response
While the bourgeoisie tries to negotiate the bailout, the Greek working class see the conditions of life worsen. As of today, official statistics affirm that unemployment reaches 25% of the population[iv] and that four out of ten people live in poverty[v]. The suicide rate increased 37,5% since 2011[vi]. In Athens alone, one of the popular soup kitchens run by the government, feeds more than twenty thousand people a day[vii]. The budget cuts affected schools, public hospitals and unemployment insurances; only one out of every ten unemployed workers receives some kind of state assistance[viii]. To this situation is added the refugee crisis. Greece is one of the main destinations of the population escaping the Middle East in search of better conditions of life. Recently the Greek government admitted not having enough structure to address the immigrant inflow[ix].
Most of the workers’ movement is organized through unions. So far this year, 17 strikes were coordinated by the union federations. That figure surpasses the amount of strike calls of the previous year, which ended with 11 strikes called by unions and is the highest figure in the last five years. Analyzing the content of the protest we can see that the political claims represent 70% of the calls.
Most of the working class legally occupied is in the public sector, which represents 31% of the active labor force[x]. This workers are organized in the Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY). This organization gathers more that one thousand two hundred unions, among them are the ones of teachers, railway workers, firemen, employees of defense, health, customs and administrative staff. ADEDY was one of the most active sectors in recent workers struggles. It called for mobilizations against layoffs, for improvements in working conditions and against the agreement with the Troika. The executive committee of the union is formed by members of the anticapitalist coalition of Antarsya, the trade union fraction of Syriza (META), the Greek PC and PASOK. There’s also a union organizers founded by the Greek PC known as All-Workers Militant Front (PAME). During the vote of the agreement with the Troika in the Parliament, the union organizers called, along with ADEDY and META, for a massive mobilization the past 15 July in opposition to the austerity plan. The protest was suppressed by the police, leaving 35 people arrested. Although META supported the anti-austerity mobilization, its history of attacking workers doesn’t make it look good. In the branches where Syriza’s forces signed collective agreements the workers received cuts in their wages. An example of that can be seen in oil workers, supermarket employees, railway workers and seamen. There were even experiences of workers conflicts where they operated as strikebreakers[xi].
The workers of the private sector are organized in the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE). It represents more than two thousand three hundred unions and an estimated of 450 thousand workers. The Communist Party has ten of the Confederation’s 45 posts, the rest of the members belong to PASOK and New Democracy. Most of the private sector workers are in the branches of food, retail and hotel service. The GSEE had a small participation in workers claims. In spite of this, various struggles were led by rank and file unions, an example of which is the Union of Waiters and Cooks demanding payment of wage arrears[xii]. The epicenter of the protest of workers from the private and public sectors was the city of Athens, although the mobilizations against the memorandum had repercussion in the rest of the country.
In the heat of the crisis a few factories occupations under workers control have also sprung. Such is the case of the workers of the state multimedia company ERT, who rejected the closing of the station in 2013 and continued the production of radio and television programs, and of the workers of the construction materials factory Vio.Me. Also, the breakdown of relations has led to the emergence of a movement called “Solidarity”, which distributes donated medication, medical attention, centers of legal assistance. Also cooperatives without intermediaries that look to sell more economic food. Ways of surviving that try to make virtue out of misery. The important aspect of the moment is that, despite the great number of unemployed, this fraction of the working class has not yet generated a political representation of its interests. No party has taken this task. It is strange that the Argentinian Workers Party has not suggested its Greek peer to form an organization of that sort. There is much scope for growing there.
Which are the prospects of the Left that has broken or has not been allied with Syriza and Popular Unity? There are many workers organizations outside Syriza. In terms of structure, the largest left party is the Greek PC (KKE). The KKE characterized Syriza as an opportunistic and social democratic organization. It is not in favor of the agreement with the Troika or the return to the drachma. The party sees socialism as the only way out for the Greek workers, but actually has a clear tendency towards reformism. Antarsya, for its part, hasn’t joined UP or maoism, and has called the rest of the left to an electoral front. Antarsya has representation all over the country and delegates in various unions, among them the sectors of energy, railways, hospitals, private and public education. It recently called for mobilizations along with EEK to repudiate the memorandum approved by Syriza.
Xekinima, of Trotskyist tradition, proposes the application of the transition procedures to break with the capitalist system and the EU. But lately it began to approach the UP. In the midst of such crisis, the EEK hasn’t played an important role, nor even has grown significantly. First of all, this party owes itself a strong discussion and a serious balance. At this moment, it proposes the realization of a national conference of unions, social movements and militant collectives to prepare future struggles.
The working class managed to hold the offensive. The situation is bogged down. There’s a tie between classes. The bourgeoisie, for now, cannot lead a way out and only tries to win time by promising inviable reformisms or trying to reach an agreement on impossible and ineffective adjustments. The working class barely outlines a way out of its reformist conscience, but hasn’t managed to create a force willing to develop a revolutionary alternative. That is the great difference between Greece and Argentina or Venezuela. There isn’t yet in Greece an ongoing revolutionary process. The working class is in a situation that could be called “resistance”, that is, purely defensive of its current conditions. The Greek bourgeoisie, allied to the German bourgeoisie, still has the initiative and it’s better armed to define the confrontation, but it doesn’t have economic resources. In this conditions, we are witnessing an “extra time”. It will be a long extra time while none of them can decidedly advance, which would imply, necessarily, the use of force.