On the statement of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International

SYRIZA and the position of revolutionaries

June 16, 2012

By Philippe Alcoy[1]

The unprecedented results of the Greek elections in May 2012 that gave SYRIZA the possibility of forming a government led by Alexis Tsipras bring to light once more the debate around the position of revolutionaries regarding the political forces to the “left of the left†. This is even more important taking into account that SYRIZA is softening its discourse.

The outcome of the general elections on May 6, with the defeat of PASOK and New Democracy – the main pillars of the two-party system – and the large number of votes obtained by small parties demonstrate the profound crisis of the regime established after the fall of the dictatorship of the colonels in 1974. These elections also have converted SYRIZA, the coalition of the "radical left", into one of the main actors in Greek politics after obtaining a historic result, nearly 17% of the vote, with the Greek left being offered a unique opportunity to form a government.

In these elections, SYRIZA presented a clearly reformist and vague “formula†of power: the formation of a "government of the left". Despite its ambiguity, this "formula" obtained the votes of many workers and young people who were seeking an alternative to the austerity programme implemented by the "traditional parties" of the regime. It represented in particular an alternative to the left of the Greek Social Democracy, the PASOK. As for SYRIZA’s current programme, firstly it is more conservative and right-wing than the one defended by PASOK in 1981 when it first came to power. Secondly, since its electoral success in May, SYRIZA has evolved towards the right. In fact, although SYRIZA’s programme has always been reformist in its main points, the elections in June have pushed it into making further changes.

The new elections on June 17 could result in SYRIZA becoming the largest party which could lead to a coalition government of the left forces. This forecast has had an impact on the leaders of SYRIZA. They present themselves as a “responsible left†– one which would be acceptable to the markets and the European partners. In this sense, it is not an accident that Alexis Tsipras – the main leader of SYRIZA – during his recent visit to Paris on May 21 stated that he was not a “leader of the extreme left†. In an interview with Radio Europe 1 he said: “I would like to make clear that I am not the leader of an extreme left party. I am the leader of a democratic party of the left which has found itself at the centre of Greek political life and its aspirations express the aspirations of the majority of Greek society†.

The Anticapitalist Left (GA) supports Tsipras…

Undoubtedly, the electoral victory of SYRIZA has been presented as the model to follow by a considerable number of leaders within a wide range of political parties, from the Left Front in France and even reformist academics, including anti-neoliberals who are looking for electoral short cuts to reach the masses. But the SYRIZA electoral phenomenon has also dazzled the leaders of the Anticapitalist Left (Gauche Anticapitaliste, GA), the unitary current for eco-socialism in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), which in a statement from May 24 declared: "Today, in Greece as elsewhere, we must be part of the radical left forces that create hope. We must take part in [this type of project] if we want to contribute to the building of a counter-power in order to have a say in key debates†. The National Political Committee (CPN) of the NPA added in its draft project of resolution that “this initiative shows how a modern revolutionary initiative could be.â€

At the same time they offer a lapidary criticism of ANTARSYA, the coalition of anticapitalist groups that are on the extreme left in Greece, declaring that "since they are blinded by the call for an exit from the euro, they do not represent a credible solution to the suffering of the population. ANTARSYA has obtained a mere 1.2% of the votes and it refuses to confront what is really at stake in this period, that is the call for unity made by SYRIZA, with more than a vague ’we will see in the struggle’†[2]. Besides, using a reformist method of assessing the "value" of political currents according to their election results, the leaders of the Gauche Anticapitaliste condemn ANTARSYA’s call for a withdrawal from the euro, a policy which they deem as a "fixed idea", while they are maintain silence about SYRIZA’s "fixed idea" to stay within the euro, and more broadly, in the European Union. The right-wing criticisms of ANTARSYA by the Gauche Anticapitalist, similar to those launched against Philippe Poutou during his electoral campaign and against the NPA after the first round of presidential elections[3], indicate to what extent the leaders of this movement, impressed by the outcome of the elections, have decided to take a path that will lead straight to reformism. This is one of the logical consequences of projects that seek to build "broad anti-capitalist parties" without strategic delimitation.

It is precisely the strategic ambiguity of these currents that in the end leads to liquidating any reference to Marxism, merging with the reformists of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) type.

The USFI is enthusiastic about SYRIZA

Unfortunately this stance is not limited to the Gauche Anticapitaliste. SYRIZA has also received the support of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI), the international current of which the former LCR was a member. Some of its main leaders are within the majority current inside the NPA. In a statement issued on May 24, the Executive Bureau (EB) wrote: "Confronted by the policy imposed by the Troika, the Greek radical Left, and in particular Syriza, which today occupies a central place in the Greek political situation, defends a 5-point emergency plan:

- 1. Abolition of the memoranda, of all measures of austerity and of the counter-reforms of the labour laws which are destroying the country.

2. Nationalization of the banks which have been largely paid by government aid.

3. A moratorium on payment of the debt and an audit which will make it possible to denounce and abolish the illegitimate debt.

4. Abolition of immunity of ministers from prosecution.

5. Modification of the electoral law which allowed PASOK and New Democracy to govern to the detriment of the Greek population and to plunge the country into crisis.

The Fourth International calls on the whole of the international workers’ movement, on all the indignant, on all those who defend the ideals of the Left, to support such an emergency programme"[4] (our emphasis).

This statement, incidentally, was published without any attempt to consult the Greek section of the Fourth International – OKDE-Spartakos – which is in ANTARSYA and that is standing its own candidate in the elections on June 17[5]. But with this statement, the Executive Bureau of the Fourth International takes a shortcut that leads right to a reformist impasse. In fact, SYRIZA’s emergency programme, which the EB asks us to support, is totally insufficient to provide a solution to the workers and the masses facing the crisis of the country. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Does the cancellation of the memorandum mean the end of austerity measures?

The demand for the cancellation of the memorandum and all austerity measures which have been imposed onto the Greek people since the beginning of the crisis is without doubt a key demand in the present situation. But, does the cancellation of the memorandum represent the end of the austerity and all the sacrifices imposed to the Greek workers and urban poor? The leaders of SYRIZA let the doubt be installed. When a journalist from Europe 1 asked Alex Tsipras if SYRIZA will also ask the Greek people to tight their belts, he replied very clearly: “yes, we will ask people to do sacrifices, but sacrifices which are worth something, because so far all the sacrifices were worthless†[6]. We can also quote Rena Dourou, MP for SYRIZA, which declared in an interview to Le Monde that “without being against restructuring the finances, we vindicate the renegotiation with a different logic, completely different to the current one.†[7]

At the same time, SYRIZA in its “new economic program†[8] insists on this idea of "cleaning up the finances" of the state: "SYRIZA will present a legislation to parliament with a national plan for economic and social development, rebuilding of production, equitable redistribution of income and balanced consolidation of public finances "( underlined by us). So, once again we face the old talk about "sharing the sacrifices" that in times of crisis is useful for the trade union bureaucracy and reformist leaders.

Who spoke of the “nationalization of the banks†?

Even if the austerity measures were abandoned completely and the memorandum were annulled, in order for this to have an effect, it would have to be accompanied by other measures that want more than just “a return to the situation before the crisis†. In this sense, it is imperative to question the interests of finance capital. Nevertheless, even though we were told that SYRIZA defended the nationalization of the banks under workers’ control, the “five-point emergency program†that the USFI presented only offer the perspective to nationalize those banks who received public money (without saying under what conditions – through purchase or expropriation – or under what forms – under workers’ control or not). So, if this measure was applied, there would be coexistence and competition between a “public bank pole†and another private pole, with all this would imply. Even more, this “public bank pole†would be unable to ensure cheap credits for the workers and small merchants who are crushed by the debt and the horrendous interests’ rates of the private sector. Moreover, it is an illusion to think that even a simple audit of the debt would be possible without the nationalization under workers’ control of the entire bank sector, a sector who is involved in thousands of scandals of corruption and tax evasion in these last years.

Nonetheless, like we mentioned above, SYRIZA is “updating†and “adapting†its program while its polls and votes are rising. In this manner, we can read in the “new economic program†which was presented on 1st June that “SYRIZA is not opposed to the program of bank recapitalization even though it gives it a different character to the direction of their nationalization. […] Nevertheless, this program cannot be interrupted during this phase of bank recapitalization without a bank collapse. SYRIZA is not, therefore, opposed to bank recapitalization in accordance with the specific loan agreement that supports this recapitalization, the only difference being that this must happen with ordinary shares after a vote (and not without a vote as decided by PASOK and ND as part of their coalition government under L. Papademos). The recapitalization of the banks with ordinary shares after a vote will result in banks going under national state ownership. […] A government of the Left will not only nationalize banks but will also socialize then, meaning that it will put them under state and social control†(underlined by us). To avoid a “bank collapse†, SYRIZA is prepared to accept the “specific loan agreement†for the recapitalization of the bank, in other words the money of the Troika, which is an obvious contradiction of its proclaimed rejection of the memorandum. Later, we discover that the “nationalizations†wouldn’t be more than the purchase of some banks via ordinary shares and not the expropriation of the banks without indemnification. In regard to the workers’ control, SYRIZA defends a very ambiguous “social and state control†. While “social control†would still have to be defined, we already know very well what “state control†means: the administration by bureaucrats of the bourgeois State (because SYRIZA right now doesn’t question the bourgeois States) designated by the political power.

The question of the nationalization of the strategic enterprises

In the five points on which the EC of the USFI bases its support for SYRIZA, there isn’t even the mention of the nationalization of the strategic sectors of the economy (to not even talk about workers’ control). But without nationalization under workers’ control of the fundamental industries, it is impossible to give an answer to one of the most urgent problems of the workers in Greece like the unemployment. Only a distribution of the working hours could stop the unemployment which affects more than one million people in the country, i.e. 21% of the active population. But about this point, the new economic program of SYRIZA also has something to say: “A fundamental strategic direction of SYRIZA will be the state control of strategic areas of the economy (e.g. energy, telecommunications, railways, ports, airports etc.) In this context, strategic enterprises will gradually go under state control, ones that are either in the process of privatization or have been privatized (DEH, OTE, OSE, ELTA, EYDAP, public transportation etc.)

The timeline, manner, speed and means by which the above fundamental and non-negotiable strategic course will materialize, will be specifically determined by the government of the Left based on the specific circumstances, capabilities and problems it will be faced with.†First of all, we can see that we’re not even dealing with the vague “social control†but plain and simple with “state control†- capitalist state control without a doubt, even with a leftist government. Afterwards, there is no mention of the modalities or the rhythm of these nationalizations, except that the “government of the left†will decide later on. Lastly, if this plan would be put into practice one day, in the best case scenario we would see the coexistence of a public sector, limited to some sectors of the industry (communication, transport, energy) with some large state companies (or joint ventures) who are led by high functionaries and where the workers would have no right to decide and control, side by side with a private sector that is dominated by large Greek or foreign multinational companies.

Pay the “legitimate debt†?

While the demand of payment of the Greek state debt, which is led by the banks of the imperialist powers of the EU, first of all by France and Germany, is being used b them as a pretext to apply the terrible attacks against the masses in Greece, the EC of the USFI joins the calls of the reformists who ask for a moratorium on the payment of the debt and an audit to pay the “legitimate debt†. Because when they say they want to “abolish the illegitimate part of the debt†, that doesn’t mean anything other than to be in favour of the payment of the “legitimate part of the debt†. However, we have to ask since when do the workers should have to pay the debts, even partial ones, of the capitalist State, i.e. the State of the bourgeoisie and the bankers who exploit and oppress the workers and who are leading us into barbarism right now? They talk to us about illegitimate and legitimate debt as if the workers and the masses could decide and control where the bourgeois State invests and under which conditions it gets into debt! Even if we considered, only for a second, the payment of the money that was used to finance the health-care or the educational budget, in reality this money was already paid a long time ago with the payment of the interest rates of the debt.

When we say that the capitalists have to pay their own crisis, this also means that the debts of the capitalist states belong to the bourgeoisie. This doesn’t seem to be the orientation of Tsipras. “SYRIZA intends to annul the Loan Agreements, in order to replace their onerous terms and renegotiate the process of cancelling of the largest part of the total public debt, in order for the remainder to be repayable, under terms and conditions that will not place in doubt the national sovereignty and economic viability of our country†, we can read in the new economic program. But attention: for those who think this is already too “radical†, Tsipras’ “comrades†didn’t forget a small “clause†: “The manner, timing, as well as the entire political and legal aspect of this condemnation and the renegotiation of the Loan Agreements will be decided and implemented by a government of the Left depending on its capability and the particular circumstances.â€

Are the revolutionaries indifferent towards the question of the Euro and the EU?

Another central element which doesn’t appear in the famous “5 points of emergency†is the question of the relationship between a hypothetical “government of the left†formed after the elections of 17th June, and the imperialist institutions of the EU and the Eurozone. And we can perfectly understand that because the leaders of SYRIZA don’t stop proclaiming to whoever wants to listen that they want to keep the country within the Eurozone and the EU. In this sense, in the declaration of the EC of the USFI we can read that “The crisis is not Greece’s crisis, but the crisis of the European Union subjected to the will of capital and of the governments in its service. It is the crisis of the capitalist mode of production in the whole world. It is not up to the Troika, but to the Greek people to decide on the policy to be followed in that country. [...] It is not the euro, but the diktats of the Troika that have to be combated today†(underlined by us).Here we can see that the EC of the USFI, in order not to enter into contradiction with the official line of the “champion of the radical left†, presents us the EU not as an instrument of the “will of the capital†but as a “victim†of capital and its governments. Later, they intent to lull us in with sweet illusions about how the workers of Greece could fight consequently against the “dictates of the Troika†without fundamentally questioning the participation of the country in the Eurozone, or that this is at least “not a struggle that is on the agenda today†, as if we would be faced with two different struggles or phases.

However, this question is not superfluous and without implications. This is true for all the countries of the Eurozone and the EU, but the question is posed in a particular form in Greece, due to the relationship between its participation in this inter-imperialist alliance and the privileges which the Greek imperialist bourgeoisie obtains from it. In this sense, “Membership of the EU and the Eurozone constitutes a strategic choice of the Greek capitalists. It is the concrete way that Greek capitalism is integrated in the global imperialist chain. It is the concrete process through which the Greek capitalism is taking part in the international capitalist competition and the global sharing of the surplus values and the profits. Therefore, it cannot exist a contemporary revolutionary program and an actual revolutionary perspective without analysing this particular way of participation and function of the Greek capitalism in the international capitalist division of labour [...] Without any doubt, participation in the EU and the Eurozone is the new “Great Idea†of the Greek capitalism; in the name of which they call –especially now, during the crisis– the subordinate classes to suffer terrible sacrifices, which are imposed through the Memorandums and the Programs of Stability. This involvement with the EU empowered Greek capitalism to play the role of a peripheral force –a local imperialism– in the Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean region. Participation in the EU made Greek capital the necessary partner of the big European imperialist forces alongside with the US to their interventions in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe (an example is the fact that the expansion of Coca-Cola in the above regions through the Greek company 3E). [...] The introduction of the Euro enriched the Greek ruling class with the necessary hard currency and the needed low interests rates in order for them to obtain the appropriate capital funds and be able to take part in the theft of public property of the countries of Eastern Europe, thus making Greece an exporter of capital all the last decade. Without its participation in the EU and in the Eurozone, Greece could not play this role in the region.†[9].

We can thus see all the superficiality in wanting to separate the question of the Euro and the EU from the “dictates of the Troika†and the interest of the Greek bourgeoisie. The participation of Greece in the Eurozone and the EU is an instrument which the Greek periferic imperialism possesses to participate in the oppression of the semicolonies of the region. Thus, we understand better “why for the time being the bourgeois think tanks have not produced an alternative strategy on how to control the crisis; a strategy that could include the exit from the Euro and the return to the national currency of the drachmas, in order for the Greek capitalism to obtain some instruments for implementing a currency policy†[10]. In this sense, the wish to want to stay in the Eurozone and the EU at all costs, which SYRIZA defends, is not only no contradiction to the interests of the Greek bourgeoisie but it is functional to them.

But the belief in the “European values†and the “European partners†that SYRIZA expresses seems to be “firm†, to the point that they consider the expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone as practically impossible: “The possibility of a country’s exit from the euro is used as the primary blackmail on the road to these elections. For us this possibility cannot be the choice of our partners, unless they have decided on the destruction of the euro and the dismantling of the Eurozone†, we can read in the new economic program. The reason for this is that SYRIZA shares one fundamental point of its program with Nea Dimokratia and PASOK: to maintain Greece as a “viable capitalism†within the Euro. While the Right wants to show itself as more efficient in achieving this, Tsipras and the leaders of his coalition bet that the fear of a sector of the European imperialist bourgeoisie of the perspective of another catastrophe like “Lehman Brothers†(or worse) in the EU makes a SYRIZA government look like something acceptable in the framework of the crisis. In this sense, Tsipras’ “gestures†towards François Hollande, presenting his election in France as a “first step towards a political change in the EU†, are not innocent.

This doesn’t mean – like some leftist parties like the Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other nationalist-bourgeois currents do – that revolutionary Marxists should advocate a rupture with the EU and the Euro in the name of a “national sovereignty†. No. We defend the rupture with the international imperialist institutions in the name of the socialist revolution and in the perspective of the conquest of power by the workers. In other words, for the proletariat, the only progressive rupture with the Euro and the EU is that one that will be the consequence of its fight to end capitalism and for the construction of its own power. Such a rupture with the EU, the euro and other structures of imperialism like the NATO or the UNO, which only a workers’ government brought to power by a victorious socialist revolution could carry out, could constitute a first step towards the extension of the revolutionary struggle of the workers and the masses on the continent in the perspective of the construction of the United Socialist States of Europe. Evidently, the struggle of the European proletariat would also have an impact on the workers south of the Mediterranean who already find themselves in a full-on revolutionary process. This is the most efficient way to fight against imperialism and its international institutions, as well as against reactionary nationalist tendencies.

The illusions about a “government of the left†that reconciles with imperialism

In the framework of this scandalous programmatic support, the EC of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International proposes the following demand: “We want the Greek people to succeed in imposing, by its votes and its mobilizations, a government of all the social and political Left which refuses austerity, a government capable of imposing the cancellation of the debt. It is in this perspective that we call for the coming together of all the forces which are fighting against austerity in Greece — Syriza, Antarsya, the KKE, the trade unions and the other social movements — around an emergency plan†(underlined by us). But this call to form a possible “government of the left†headed by SYRIZA is far away from contributing to sectors of workers and the youth advancing in reaching the conclusion that the only program to confront the austerity measures is an anticapitalist and revolutionary program. Instead it nourishes the illusions that a parliamentary and pacifical way out of this crisis is possible, without confronting the imperialist institutions like the EU or attacks the interests of the capitalists. This policy is particularly opportunist in light of the probable perspective that the deepening of the crisis and a leap in the class struggle develop openly counterrevolutionary tendencies that are supported by sectors of the bourgeoisie and the scared middle classes, which is already anticipated in the rise of the neo-Nazi party Chrissy Avghi (Golden Dawn).

In the best case, we can consider that the call for a “government of the left†by the EC of the USFI would be an aberrant deformation of the tactic of the “workers’ and peasants’ government†that is expressed in the Transitional Program, as a demand towards reformist or petit-bourgeois leaderships of the workers in struggle (and not of electoral movements like in Greece today), in the framework of revolutionary situations (something that is not yet the case in Greece). For Trotsky, this demand has the objective that the masses break with the bourgeoisie and take over the power, which is insolubly connected to the audacious impulse of the development of organisms of double power of the “Soviet†type.

In the “Transitional Program†, Trotsky explains the experience of the October Revolution where “From April to September 1917, the Bolsheviks demanded that the SRs and Mensheviks break with the liberal bourgeoisie and take power into their own hands. Under this provision the Bolshevik Party promised the Mensheviks and the SRs, as the petty bourgeois representatives of the worker and peasants, its revolutionary aid against the bourgeoisie categorically refusing, however, either to enter into the government of the Mensheviks and SRs or to carry political responsibility for it. (...) the demand of the Bolsheviks, addressed to the Mensheviks and the SRs: ‘Break with the bourgeoisie, take the power into your own hands!’ had for the masses tremendous educational significance. The obstinate unwillingness of the Mensheviks and SRs to take power, so dramatically exposed during the July Days, definitely doomed them before mass opinion and prepared the victory of the Bolsheviks.†[11] (underlined by us). As we can see, the objective of this tactic was above all to accelerate the experience of the masses with the reformists and attract them towards the revolutionaries. In this sense, while the Bolshevists proposed their support to a government of the reformists in view of the attacks of reactions, at the same time they categorically denied to enter this government.[12] The USFI does the opposite thing when they give their programmatic support to an openly reformist government. An that is not a “detail†. It is a central question, above all in a moment where “former members of the bureaucracy of PASOK governments (like Katseli, minister of national economy and later of labour in the memorandum government of Papandreou, or Kotsakas, also a former minister and close partner of Tsohatzopoulos, currently imprisoned for corruption)†[13]. This indicates that SYRIZA could even transform itself into a “popularfrontist†force that is a force of collaboration with a fraction or elements of the bourgeoisie that until yesterday applied the plans of austerity that SYRIZA pretends to combat[14].

In this way, the USFI transforms a tactic to accelerate the experience of the masses with the reformist leaderships, in acute situations of class struggle, in an electoral support to class-collaborationist candidates and programs.

For an actual revolutionary policy

The Greek workers and youth have shown a strong will to resist and a great fighting spirit to confront the plans of austerity in the streets. Some advanced sectors, althougha minority, have even had experiences of work-place occupations. However, until now, these actions and energies of struggle were canalized by a trade union bureaucracy that sold out to the bourgeois parties which prevented the development of a tendency towards an unlimited general strike by calling for isolated days of strikes. This has also been a big responsibility of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) who has been an obstacle for the development of a workers’ united front by combining selfproclamatory and sectarian policies with a reformist and electoralist program[15].

Without a doubt, in order to defeat the plans of the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie, a revolutionary program is necessary which is at the height of the offensive of the capitalists who want the workers to carry the weight of the crisis, a program which combines emergency measures like the cancellation of the debt and the austerity programs with transitional measures like the nationalization of the bank system under workers’ control, the expropriation of the grand capitalists in the perspective to impose a government of the workers and the masses based on organisms of workers’ democracy, which would be a first step in the struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe.

June 8, 2012