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Greece on the verge of revolution – but can the workers win?

27 June 2011

Greece is in a prolonged pre-revolutionary crisis. Dave Stockton points to how it can be resolved
The Greek state is unable to pay the debts and interest demanded by the banks and international finance. So the government of George Papandreou is demanding that the working class, middle class and poor pay the price of the EU and IMF bailout.
And so all the billionaires who lent money to Greece – bondholders from the US, France, Germany and Britain – can continue to squeeze obscene profits from the Greek people. Last year alone they made profits of €50 billion.
The 2010 austerity package has already cost huge numbers of jobs – unemployment is above 15 per cent. Public sector wages have been cut by a quarter, and workers are being made to work an extra half an hour a day with no extra pay. Now the vampires are coming back for more. They want another 150,000 job losses in the public sector and another swingeing round of cuts and privatisation.
The Greek people are giving their answer to the government’s cuts: “What part of NO did you not understand?” Ten one-day general strikes. Demonstrations hundreds of thousands strong. Militant resistance to police repression. And since 25 May, a mass occupation of Syntagma Square, directly outside the parliament building in Athens.
Despite this the “socialist” PASOK government has once again won a confidence vote in parliament and hopes to ram through the austerity package, amounting to over €78 billion. Around €28 billion of the total is to be raised through spending cuts and increased taxes on the people.
The tenth one day general strike of 15 June was the biggest so far. Now an eleventh, this time for 48 hours, is due on 28-29 June.
For over a month, angry crowds shouting, “Thieves, thieves!” confront the Greek parliamentarians, and try to stop them approving the second austerity package in just over a year. They are enraged that the parliamentary system refuses to enact the will of the people. For an overwhelming majority of Greeks are against the cuts.
Athenian democracy
Nightly popular assemblies in Syntagma Square give voice to their anger and frustration. The occupation is in conscious imitation of the month-long demonstration in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol in May and in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution in February. In the square the call goes up for “real” or “direct” democracy. But in Syntagma Square, as in Madrid, the occupiers have so far been unable to come up with a way to give executive power to their aspirations – to make decisions and then carry them out.
One key reason for this is the principle on which the assemblies are based. As one of their declarations says; “We organise ourselves with direct democracy excluding all political parties. Our voice is our everyday people’s assembly.”
Speakers are allowed only two or three minutes each, decisions are few and only by consensus, proposals by the hundred are simply recorded. Participants, as in the Spanish square occupations seem intoxicated by the mere experience of self-expression and self-organisation – even if this limits itself to the square and the blogosphere. There is an explosion of ideas and discussion – but if all decisions must be by consensus, the will of the majority can be blocked. The explosion of popular democracy in the squares has not yet taken form as a working class democracy where delegates from the workplaces and the estates can debate, vote and implement decisions.
Pre-revolutionary situation
With the masses against the cuts, the government tottering, a string of general strikes, mass democracy in the squares… so why say Greece is in a pre- and not a revolutionary situation? For the same reason Leon Trotsky gave when describing France in the mid-1930s: “The situation is revolutionary, as revolutionary as it can be, granted the non-revolutionary policies of the working-class parties.”
The leaders of the main Greek trade union federations have consistently blocked the road to a decisive struggle to bring down the government – which means an all-out indefinite general strike. The ADEDY public sector union and GSEE private sector unions are led by officials close to the ruling PASOK party. The smaller but more militant PAME union is close to the Greek Communist Party (KKE). They have refused to escalate their one day general strikes into an all out indefinite strike – and in fact both the KKE and the smaller radical left party SYRIZA have refused to call for an all out indefinite general strike too.
Otherwise the classic conditions for the eruption of a revolutionary situation as defined by the Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin are fully present. The ruling class cannot go on ruling in the old way. The workers are not prepared to go on living in the old way. Nor are the middle classes who are being ruined by the cuts and the downturn.
The ruling class parties have accepted the demands of the EU and IMF, but they are deeply divided over how to enforce them. After the 15 June general strike led to violent clashes between demonstrators and police, Prime Minister George Papandreou tottered. He offered to resign in favour of a national unity government. But conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras refused to take the poisoned chalice.
A pre-revolutionary situation as ripe as this can quickly turn into a fully revolutionary situation: one where the question of an alternative power to the weak and divided government is posed. This can happen – if mass pressure forces the union leaders to go further than one-day protest strikes and call a general strike, and if the square assemblies go beyond consensus-limited talking shops and set up democratic councils of action with delegates from the workplaces, the unions and the neighbourhoods. These could not just discuss, but take control of the strikes out of the hands of the hesitating union bureaucrats of PASOK and the KKE.
Revolutionary socialists need to take the fight for this perspective into the heart of the battle – not just join the masses on the streets, wait and hope this happens, nor just congratulate and raise the “self-confidence” or the masses. The task is to fight for a general strike and workers’ councils to control it, fight for this in the unions and in the squares against those who are blocking it, whether sincerely like the libertarians or cynically like the union bureaucrats.
And there is no time to lose. A pre-revolutionary situation as ripe as this can go rotten too. If the working class does not succeed in putting forward a fundamental social alternative and establish a workers’ government to carry it out, if those in the squares and workplaces do not create organs of an alternative power to the capitalist state then there will be a further decomposition of Greek society. We could see a reactionary radicalisation, a proto-fascist and racist mass movement focused on “restoring order and national pride”, inciting pogroms against migrants, building on the nationalism of some of the demonstrators (which has been stimulated by the Stalinist KKE’s emphasis on “Greek independence”).
With mass unemployment and social misery caused by the French, German and British bankers, and with the risk of default and exclusion from the Eurozone leading to isolation, the threat of a descent into nationalism and barbarism could emerge. Against this there is only one alternative: a socialist revolution that is not afraid to speak its name.
Instead the main trade union federations, ADEDY and GSEE, pin their hopes on restoring social partnership, based on a “compromise” with the government, accepting some “necessary” cuts and poverty.
The KKE and PAME see the solution in the fantasy of a return to an “independent” but still capitalist Greece, outside the EU, with a restored drachma in place of the euro. This is a reactionary utopia – Greece would be as much a victim of the bond markets and currency speculators as it is now. And a “patriotic” national government would demand even more savage cuts to shore up the country’s supposed independence.
General strike
The way forward is an all out general strike. To organise it means building action councils composed of delegates elected in the workplaces, as well from mass assemblies in the city neighbourhoods, towns and the villages. The danger of police provocations means it would need to organise the protection of the strike against state repression and fascist gangs – by forming armed pickets as the embryonic form of a workers’ and youth militia.
But as Trotsky said, the general strike inevitably poses the question of power because it paralyses and suspends the normal functioning of both the economy and the state. This is why the trade union leaders and the reformists of the KKE and Syriza fear a general strike like the plague. So revolutionaries should raise the call for a workers’ government, based on the workers’ parties and unions and on the councils of action – not on the discredited bourgeois parliament.
This is the only way an emergency programme to combat the crisis could be implemented in the interests of workers, youth, peasants and the impoverished middle class.
Such a programme would need to include immediate renunciation of the public debt, expropriation without compensation of the banks and big business, both domestic and foreign, the confiscation of big private capital and the reorganisation of the economy under workers’ control.
It would mean fixing a minimum wage and social benefits, such as pensions and unemployment pay, at a level set by the labour movement and launching a programme of socially useful public works to employ those without jobs.
These are just the most urgent measures for an anticapitalist workers’ government. This could set the pattern across Europe as Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy all face bailouts and massive cuts.
As the bosses’ attempts to unite Europe fail, the workers could make it happen – in a Socialist United States of Europe.
For this something more is necessary. The many thousands of far left militants in Greece must set themselves the task of building a united revolutionary workers’ party that can fight for such programme. Such a party need not be a vote-catching machine of deception like PASOK or a big bureaucratic sect like the KKE. Nor need it be a confused mixture of the two like SYRIZA. It must assemble in its ranks as many as possible of the youth and the trade union militants.
It should fight to break the hold of the union bureaucracy, and also the limits of the spontaneous assemblies which are paralysed from making anything but utopian consensus decisions and blocked from electing representatives. A new revolutionary party must fight for the formation of workers’ and popular councils in all the cities and towns of Greece.
The one thing that will cry out for such bodies and convince workers and youth of their necessity is an all out general strike to bring down the government.
The present state of the workers, and youth, mobilised and militant, makes this fully possible.

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