The Greek general election takes place this weekend. The body swerve by the European Central Bank – quantitative easing on a massive scale to stabilise the markets and prop up finance capital – is a measure of the crisis that affects the eurozone, and beyond.
It is clear that there is no resolution of this systemic crisis in the interests of our continent’s working people within the straitjacket of the European Union, and for those imprisoned in the eurozone, even less chance to gain a bargaining edge.
Thus the argument on the left, which at this moment has its sharpest expression in Greece, has a continent wide dimensions and significance.
Illusions about the ‘social’ nature of the European Union continue to exist in Britain, most persistently among sections of the trade union leadership and cadre and among those labour politicians who have not completely abandoned themselves to the neo-liberal agenda of austerity, privatisation and its attendant wars.
Thus the Morning Star – which has editorially challenged those illusions for decades – has done a service in its reporting of the Greek election and in carrying the report by Kevin Ovenden and the riposte from our Greek comrades of the KKE.
Athens stands on the verge of its liberation
Kevin Ovenden reports from the Greek capital on the eve of its historic opportunity to break with the capitalist cabal
IN THE perfidious annals of Britain’s imperial history, our treatment of Greece ranks petty close to the East India Company’s beggaring of Bengal.
Sure, Britain recognised the creation of the proto-modern Greek state in 1828.
London’s preoccupation at that time was with cherry-picking territory from the declining Ottoman empire.
But the British Establishment moved quickly to extinguish any Greek radical democratic tendencies, whether they drew on the traditions of classical Athens or prefigured the democratic revolutions which were to sweep Europe in 1848.
The British Empire orchestrated the imposition of a monarchy as the most conservative outcome of the political crisis which engulfed the fledgling state.
Not just any old monarch — a Bavarian. Otto was of course related to the Germans on the throne in London.
In he sailed on a British warship in 1833 — and out the same way to national opprobrium three decades later.
Further meddling ensued.
It’s remarkable just how modern in their mendacity were the professed concerns of the likes of Liberal prime minister Gladstone for what we now know as “human rights.”
Royal Navy gunboats were deployed in the eastern Mediterranean and British diplomats issued offers to Balkan potentates which they would be unwise to refuse.
The most monstrous betrayal of liberal ideals in order to preserve liberal — that is anti-socialist, capitalist — economic and social relations came in the 20th century.
Greece was the battleground for one of the most inspiring and effective partisan wars against the nazis anywhere in Europe.
The Greek Communist Party led the resistance.
It was the nursery for all the later developments of the country’s left, including — by way of a very convoluted history — the particular offshoot which now comprises the backbone of Syriza, the radical left party set to win the historic general election in Athens a week on Sunday.
The retribution exacted on the Greek people was greater than anywhere else outwith the eastern front.
While Communist partisans ambushed the Wehrmacht, the Greek oligarchs set up a “government” in exile.
They bivouacked with the British army in Egypt, Palestine or wherever else resources were ill-served in the fight against Hitler but of supreme importance in preserving the British empire, for a few more years at any rate.
London did not wait for the fall of Berlin before firing the first shots of what would become the cold war.
On entering an already liberated Athens late in 1944, it sided with the simulacrum of a state which was the monarchy and its hangers on.
In December, Britain orchestrated the gunning down of 28 unarmed demonstrators on a massive popular protest led by the left. Thousands more were killed in the weeks which followed.
Britain and the US openly sided with wartime collaborators in the civil war against the left between 1945 and 1949. That resulted in near three decades of illegality and exile for the defeated communist movement.
The post-war Labour government in Britain did, of course, make some creditable inroads in domestic reform — the extension of the welfare state and the creation of the NHS most obviously.
No internationalist — and thus no socialist worth the name — can, however, ignore the fact that in foreign policy the so-called golden years of British Labourism were stained in the blood of freedom fighters and progressives, beginning in Greece.
Modernising social democracy of the 1960s was no better. There were no serious measures from Harold Wilson’s Labour government to defend democracy in Greece when right-wing colonels launched a coup in 1967.
And despite the presence of the deeply humane liberal Lord Caradon as the valedictory governor of Cyprus, Britain’s policy towards the island could not have been more calculated to undermine democratic progress.
It sowed enmity between its Greek and Turkish peoples.
I rattle these skeletons of our national history not to provoke a sense of Catholic guilt, nor as backhanded exculpation of the monstrous Greek oligarchs.
They needed no guidance from Washington or London when it came to quite simply murdering the Greek left, Grigoris Lambrakis, Nikos Beloyannis and so many others.
Recalling this past is not a signal to the left in Britain today to fall back on nostrums.
There is no excuse for not engaging with the manifold and living reality unfolding in Greece as it stands on the threshold of decisively rejecting the parties of austerity and breaking the pro-capitalist consensus that has dominated Europe even during the worst crisis of capitalism for 80 years.
Being mindful of this history does, however, give us a clear compass for how the labour movement and the left should react now to the imminent electoral victory of the radical left after 70 years of defeat and several missed opportunities.
EU officials rather than gunboats are the primary vehicles today for frustrating the aspirations of a people who have suffered, more than any in Europe, from the occupation of our lives by austerity and reheated neoliberalism.
Britain may not be in the euro, but the financial squeeze and capital flight which are openly touted as sticks with which to discipline the new government will be launched from London, the most important finance centre in Europe, as much as from Brussels.
And expect no latitude from the Eurosceptic Tories or Ukip for a nation facing humiliation by the unelected troika of the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund and EU commission.
For Greece is moving to the left. It is set to elect a government of the left. The Communist Party of Greece is set to separately elect more than a dozen MPs. And just about every part of the variegated left is growing.
Despite the strained populism about national sovereignty from Nigel Farage or Tories facing defeat in their constituencies in May, there is a great line of division.
The labour and social movements in Greece, and the best of the left’s traditions — of the kind which defeated the nazi occupation and the Colonels’ junta — point to something far more terrible for the British right than an overweening Brussels.
They offer an internationalist rejection of all the elites of the kind which, to borrow the title of one of the most famous songs by the legendary popular singer and communist Maria Dimitiriadi in the 1970s, says, “Autous tous exo varethi” (I’m sick of the lot of them).
A deluge of questions flow from this moment in Greece. Will Syriza buckle under pressure or open a new chapter of hope? Can life for the mass of people become tolerable under the intolerable structures of the euro and EU?
In the spirit of radical, plebeian democracy I hope that the left in Britain and internationally throws itself into those debates, just as all its counterparts in Greece are.
But this must be on one condition — that we in Britain bend all of what we think, do and say in relation to Greece around resisting our own government, the City of London and all of them.
What we may do in the first instance may be symbolic. But symbols set a direction. Let’s join the hopeful debate arising from the land which gave the world democracy, but with some undisputed and unified political positions.
To the bankers and establishment in Europe and Britain — hands off Greece. To the peoples from all corners of the world suffering on our continent, all eyes to Athens.
Don’t let them fight alone.
Kevin Ovenden is being funded to cover Syriza’s general election campaign by Philosophy Football via the sales of their Syriza: Greek for Hope tees (pictured left). From www.philosophyfootball.com or (01273) 472-721.
The Greek election won’t end the fight
When in local government Syriza supported reactionary changes to industrial relations and hiving off municipal services to NGOs, none of which bodes well for the future, argues the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)
Kevin Ovenden’s article Athens Stands on the Verge of its Liberation painted a picture of the situation in Greece today which has nothing to do with reality and misleads the Morning Star’s readers.
He argued that Syriza belongs to the “radical left” and that the impending election of a Syriza government marks a rupture with the European Establishment.
He attempted to depict Syriza as the historic successor of the titanic struggles of the communist movement in Greece in the 20th century.
Greece’s anti-fascist resistance forces the National Liberation Front (EAM), the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) which fought the US and British-backed imperialist government between 1946 and 1949 came into fierce confrontation with the fascist occupier, imperialism and the class enemy in Greece, paying the price with thousands of dead, years of persecution, torture and exile.
By contrast the president and leading officials of Syriza are feted in the mansions of the plutocracy, the IMF, in Texas, in the Bilderberg Group meeting at Lake Como in Italy, in the City of London.
They loudly declare that Greece’s membership of the European Union and Nato is not disputed.
We must not restrict ourselves to the title of a party and how it describes itself — “left wing,” “anti-austerity” — if we want to examine its true character.
The reality is that Syriza accepts the strategy of the EU and capitalism. It has emerged as the new social-democratic party in the place of Pasok, a new pole in the two-pole bourgeois political system.
That doesn’t mean that New Democracy and Syriza do not have differences — simply that their differences express existing differences inside the eurozone countries, among sections of the financial elite, bourgeois class and businessmen.
The one view, which at the moment prevails in the European Commission, the EU and Germany, talks about a restrictive political line, continuing austerity measures so each country can move out of the “crisis phase” and so the eurozone does not further slide into crisis.
There is another view that talks about an “expansive” political line, as the IMF and Mario Draghi from the European Central Bank do.
They say that ready money must be provided to the businessmen in order for the capitalist economies to start to develop again.
This is the essence of the debate and it has nothing to do with the interests of the working class or its allies.
Its lack of strategic differences with the line taken by New Democracy is expressed by Syriza’s electoral lists, which include many “pro-memorandum” (the accord signed between the Greek government and IMF pledging huge spending cuts) figures from Pasok and other parties. These include Pasok theoretician Konstantinos Tsoulakos, former minister Theodora Tzakri and former Defence Ministry chief of staff Nikos Toskas.
Syriza has abandoned its radical demagogy, especially in relation to membership of the imperialist inter-state union that is the EU.
Its president Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly made clear that Greece will retain membership: “Greece has some institutional obligations as an equal member of the EU, our obligations are to achieve the fiscal goals.”
“We have an institutional obligation to have balanced budgets.”
“We must observe the founding treaties of the EU, this is an absolute obligation.”
We should bear in mind the consequences of these “institutional obligations” for healthcare, pensions, education, foreign policy, immigration and so on.
Tsipras is equally clear on the issue of Greece’s membership of Nato.
“Our country is committed to the institutional framework and agreements in relation to Nato.”
A Syriza government would continue to provide Nato with access to Greek airspace and waters, the use of its infrastructure and the Suda base from which it can continue to butcher people.
It would continue to provide frigates for Nato missions in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere.
We would continue to be entangled in imperialist plans in a region full of flashpoints and tensions — the Aegean, Cyprus …
Some say we are hasty to judge. That we should wait and see how Syriza in government will operate. But Syriza is not an untried, untested political force. It supported the Maastricht Treaty. It supported Greece’s accession to the euro.
In local government it supported reactionary changes to industrial relations and hiving off municipal services to NGOs.
Syriza’s candidate for the prefecture of Attica Rena Dorou said before local elections that she would abolish the memorandum in the region if elected.
After the election, as the new prefect, she has voted for and implemented the budget drafted by her predecessor, a pro-memorandum figure from Pasok.
This is a budget that provides tens of millions of euros to business interests and crumbs to projects related to people’s living conditions, such as anti-flood and anti-earthquake infrastructure.
In the municipality of Drapetsona-Keratsini, the Syriza-controlled council decided to end permanent, stable work with real rights for local government workers and hired 485 workers on two-month contracts, contracts for only 135 days a year and contracts that provided only five days’ work a month.
This at a time when Communist mayors are fighting to ensure that no workers are dismissed, against “flexible” labour relations, for the reduction of taxes, the abolition of nursery fees and the expansion of municipal services.
We can also look at Syriza’s stance in the trade union movement. Over the past two years, it has not tried to utilise its increased electoral support to mobilise trade unionists but has fostered passivity and the softening of workers’ demands.
It has told workers to stay at home and wait for a Syriza government, their alleged “saviour.”
It wages war on the class-oriented trade union movement PAME.
Trade union elections in Greece are different to those in Britain — we vote for a slate for the executive committee as a whole and not for individual posts.
Each trade union grouping puts forward its own slate of candidates and elects the number of seats on the basis of the percentage they receive.
Syriza participates in joint electoral slates with PASKE, the Pasok-oriented movement, and DAKE, the New Democracy aligned movement, against PAME in dozens of trade unions.
In the private sector, where it has a trade union majority, it signs unacceptable agreements — recently in the Veropoulos supermarket chain it agreed to wage reductions of between 10 and 12 per cent.
There should be no illusions that the “leftwingers” in Syriza will have a positive effect. They are the same people who voted for Maastricht and the euro.
First they said they would never accept any “pro-memorandum” figures on their electoral lists. Now they have them, they say there should be no “pro-memorandum” ministers.
They’ll probably end up with pro-austerity ministers and adjust their demand to saying there should be no “pro-memorandum” prime ministers.
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has a diametrically opposed approach. Through important struggles and mass political work it demonstrates that whatever bourgeois management formula is followed, while Greece remains in the framework of the EU, Nato and capitalist development it will not benefit the working class.
We fight for the emancipation of the working class and the people from social democracy and opportunism.
We struggle to isolate fascism in neighbourhoods and workplaces.
We fight for the regrouping of the labour movement and the formation of a people’s alliance against the monopolies and against capitalism.
The KKE calls on the workers to support it in the elections so that there can be a strong workers’ and people’s opposition inside and outside parliament the day after the elections.
The KKE will not support any government that is bound by the anti-people strategy of the EU and capital.
We are ready to play a role in a workers’ government, where the people will be the masters of the economy and control state power — a government that will unilaterally cancel the debt, disengage from all imperialist organisations and socialise the monopolies.
This article was produced by the International Section of the Communist Party of Greece.