Revolutionaries and the question of the "government of the left"

June 17, 2012

By: Claudia Cinatti

The May 6 elections showed that the great majority of the Greek people are repudiating the brutal adjustment from the "Troika" (the European Union [EU], the IMF and the European Central Bank), implemented by the main parties of the bourgeoisie: New Democracy and PASOK. The collapse of the traditional parties was mainly capitalized on by Syriza, a reformist coalition of the left, whose main partner is Synaspismos, an old split from the Greek Communist Party, that, next to old recycled Communist Parties, like Die Linke, Izquierda Unida and the French Communist Party, makes up the so-called Party of the European Left. Syriza practically quadrupled its percentage of the votes; it came out of the elections as the second-strongest force and opened up a significant political crisis by refusing to form a government with PASOK and New Democracy, which precipitated the call for new elections for June 17.

The meteoric electoral growth of Syriza is an expression of a profound social and political polarization, a product of three years of adjustments and "bailouts" and of five consecutive years of economic recession, in the framework of an unprecedented social crisis and persistent resistance from the workers, the young people and the urban poor. The other face of this process of polarization in the elections was the extreme right-wing neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, that appealed to xenophobic nationalist feeling, which has been exacerbated with the crisis.

Syriza’s political message, of rejecting the austerity "Memorandum," together with staying in the euro, undoubtedly converged with a state of consciousness of broad groups of workers, students, "indignant" young people and groups impoverished by the crisis, that, despite having led 17 general strikes in the last two years and innumerable mobilizations against the brutal austerity measures, in view of the absence of a revolutionary political alternative, still harbor the illusion that their salvation goes through continuing in the framework of the EU.

Although the outlook is still uncertain, given the great fragmentation of votes that characterized the May 6 elections, the coming elections seem to reflect a tendency to concentrate a "useful vote," both for the traditional right wing, represented by New Democracy, and for the left wing "of the possible," represented by Syriza, which could lead to a big reduction of the percentage of votes for the extreme right-wing neo-nazi Golden Dawn, and also for organizations of the left like the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and Antarsya.

New Democracy and PASOK – supported by the big European imperialist media – have focused their campaign on deepening the fears of the middle classes that precisely a Syriza government will be incapable of keeping its promise to keep Greece in the eurozone, which stirs up the specter, so feared by a majority that could vary between 65% and 80%, according to the survey that is taken, that the country will be thrown out of the euro.

To counteract this campaign of panic, Alexis Tsipras, the main figure of Syriza, has made it clear that, if he gets into government, he is not for taking any "unilateral" measure that will affect the EU, like, for instance, ceasing to pay the debt, much less nationalizing banks or affecting capitalist interests, while he is seeking allies like French President Hollande or even Obama, to push for another line, that will not be only austerity. At the same time, Syriza promises to reject the austerity Memorandum and negotiate, with Merkel and the Troika, Greece’s staying in the euro, speculating that for the leaders of the European powers, Greece’s exit from the euro would be more costly than negotiating some points of adjustment, since it could cause a spiral of crises that would drag along Spain, Italy, and, with them, the entire EU, with worldwide implications. The position of Syriza, that, since its May election success, has only moderated its discourse, is to ease the pressure from the EU and the IMF, hoping that the economy will recover something of its energy, so it can thus face up to Greece’s obligations and confront the program of "structural reforms." But the toughness of Merkel, who, first and foremost, defends the interests of the banks and big German capitals, shows that this reformist program of "saving the euro," that is, first, saving the German banks and capitalist Europe (including the Greek bourgeoisie), and the Greek workers, is completely utopian. Syriza really shares an important point of the program with New Democracy and PASOK, which is, keeping Greece as a "viable capitalism" within the euro; it’s just that the right wing is trying to appear as the most effective in order to achieve that. This explains the fact that, in the most recent surveys, people are no longer certain of Syriza’s victory, and the traditional right-wing New Democracy appears to be able to take the top position.

The illusions in a "government of the left," conciliatory towards imperialism

The Syriza election phenomenon excited many people on the left that claims to be Trotskyist, that quickly made their own Syriza’s slogan of a "government of the left," that is, a government of Syriza, the Greek Communist Party (KKE), and the Democratic Left (a split, to the right, from Syriza, that attracted several PASOK Members of Parliament), that could possibly emerge from the June 17 elections. The LIT (whose main party is the PSTU of Brazil) has declared itself in favor of the setting up of an "anti-austerity government." In its statement, it calls for the formation of a "Front of the Left," between Syriza, the KKE, New Democracy (Editor’s note: We assume that they are referring to the Democratic Left) and other forces of the left, like Antarsya, that will take office and put forward a program that "breaks with the Troika," repudiates the Memorandum and makes a "real plan for bailing out the workers and people". For them, Syriza’s inconsistencies with what could be a revolutionary policy, that is to say its program of reforming the EU’s imperialist institutions are only an “excuse “ which would not prevent them from subordinating themselves to a †left†under its leadership (i.e. Syriza). By adhering to an "anti-memorandum" minimum program, the LIT does not even intend to differ programmatically. This opportunist and electioneering policy, of uniting with everyone who is "against the right," is not something new for the LIT. Its Portuguese section not only remained for years in the Bloco de Esqerda, coexisting with a reformist and parliamentarian left, remote from the class struggle, but for years it has been proposing to build an "alternative government," to the left of the Socialist Party, with the Portuguese Communist Party, that, just like Syriza, proposes a policy of renegotiating the debt and the austerity measures and has a line of class collaboration, in order to make the workers converge with "the democrats and the patriots that are not satisfied with the liquidation of the country’s sovereignty" (La Repú, May 27, 2012).

The United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USEC) (of which the former LCR, currently in the French NPA, is a part) does not beat around the bush, but calls directly for adopting as one’s own, the five-point "emergency plan" that Syriza proposed, that, among other demands, includes cancellation of the Memorandum, suspending payment of interest on the debt and an audit to separate the "legal" debt from the "illegal" debt, and public control over the banks (something that Tsipras took it upon himself to clarify, does not mean any nationalization). In a public statement, the USEC openly called for voting for Syriza, even against the policy of its own Greek section, OKDE - Spartacus, that appears in the elections as part of the anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya, maintaining that Syriza’s program is reformist, which is creating a big debate in its ranks. The USEC leadership has not drawn any conclusion from the crisis of the NPA in France, that, as a result of its lack of strategic definition and its construction in election periods and not in the class struggle, has generated openly opportunistic internal tendencies, that are fighting for abandoning any pretension to an "anti-capitalist left" in order to converge with Mélenchon’s Front of the Left and the PCF, which has led it to paralysis and to suffering a great loss of militants.

The comrades of the Partido Obrero have also joined this chorus of organizations that have come out to propose the slogan of the "government of the left" against the right wing. In an article in Prensa Obrera 1224, despite exposing the limits of Syriza’s utopian reformist program and admitting the obvious fact that, if Syriza gets in the government, the only thing this left would do is "gain time" to avoid administering the collapse, Altamira ends up by proposing that "in these conditions, more than ever, we defend the slogan of a ’government of the entire left,’ against the alternative of the right wing," to which he adds the appeal that it "should break with imperialism, or with the European Union, and take anti-capitalist measures, and promote a workers’ government." Since organizations of the masses in struggle that would tend to create dual power do not exist, this call from the PO appeals to the willingness of the Syriza leadership to "promote" a workers’ government, with which, far from fighting reformism and pacifism, it strengthens the parliamentary illusions encouraged by this center-left. The PO’s policy, of "defending the perspective of a government of the left against the right wing, by denouncing the character or the strategic limitations of the program of that left wing" is a policy, in fact, of critical support to a possible government of the left led by Syriza, something that Altamira himself had considered, just two weeks ago, as "the danger of an opportunist approach, as support – even ’critical’ – for Syriza would be, in the name of ’a struggle against austerity’" (Prensa Obrera 1222). Despite the fact that Altamira states that in this way he backs the "election campaign of Greece’s revolutionary left – the EEK," what he appears to reinforce are the illusions in Syriza and the reformist left that, far from promoting a workers’ government, could turn into a means of diversion, in the service of Greek capitalism and the EU.

The call for a possible "government of the left" headed by Syriza, far from helping groups of workers and young people advance in drawing the conclusion that the only program for confronting austerity is an anti-capitalist and revolutionary program, feeds the illusions that a peaceful, parliamentary solution to the crisis is possible, without confronting imperialist institutions like the EU or attacking the interests of the capitalists. This policy is particularly opportunist, given the likely prospect that the deepening of the crisis and a jump in the class struggle will develop openly counter-revolutionary tendencies that will have the backing of groups of the bourgeoisie and of the frightened middle classes, anticipated by the emergence of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn. The proposal of a "government of the left" resembles other, similar acts by parties of the "Moreno" tendency, in which the tactic of the "workers’ and peasants’ government," as a demand on the reformist workers’ leaderships or petit-bourgeois leaderships of the masses in struggle (not of electoral movements) in the context of revolutionary situations, that they break with the bourgeoisie and take power, indissolubly linked to the bold impulse of the emergence of organizations of dual power of a "soviet" type, is bastardized through electoral support to candidacies and programs of class collaboration. The current proposal of the PO is being adapted to this policy. The Greek workers and young people have shown a lot of will to resist and a lot of fighting spirit to confront the austerity plans in the streets. Some advanced groups, although of minorities, have even experimented with workplace occupations. However, up to now, those actions and energies for struggle have been channeled by a union bureaucracy that has sold out to the bosses’ parties, that, with isolated days on strike, have prevented the development of a tendency to a general strike. The KKE (Greek Communist Party) has also had a lot of responsibility for this; with its policy that combines self-advertisement and sectarianism with a reformist and electioneering program, it has been an obstacle to developing the workers’ united front. To defeat the plans of the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie, a revolutionary program is needed, that will be on a par with the capitalists’ offensive to make the workers carry the weight of the crisis, that should combine urgent measures, like canceling the debt and the austerity programs, with transitional measures like the nationalization of banking under workers’ control, the expropriation of the big capitalists with the prospect of imposing a workers’ and popular government based on organizations of workers’ democracy, that will be a first step in the struggle for the Socialist United States of Europe.

June 6, 2012