Workers Hammer No. 218
Down with the bosses' EU — For a workers' Europe!
Banks starve Greek working people
For a Leninist-Trotskyist party!
MAY 5 — Playing on fears of impending economic meltdown, the Greek capitalist class is seeking to use the 6 May parliamentary elections to claim a mandate for further cuts to jobs, pensions and public services and for repression of strikes and protests. Behind the Greek bourgeoisie stand the imperialist European Union (EU) and the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) with whom the Greek government negotiated a 130 billion euro bailout in February to stave off a default on the country’s loan obligations. This was the second “rescue package” in the space of two years and, like the first, was in fact a bailout of the country’s creditors — mainly French and German banks — as well as Greek ones. The EU bloodsuckers are intent on ensuring that when Greece goes bankrupt, it does not take the whole eurozone down with it.
For the Greek working class, the crisis has become a catastrophe. Wages have been slashed; unemployment is running at over 20 per cent, reaching 51 per cent for youth. Homelessness has increased by 25 per cent over the past year while one in three Greeks lives below the official poverty line. The suicide rate has rocketed. In a case which has come to symbolise the anger and desperation of the population, in early April 77-year-old retired pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas shot himself with a handgun outside the parliament in Athens’ Syntagma Square. His suicide note said that he could not face the prospect “of scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child” (nytimes.com, 5 April).
The Greek capitalist rulers are more than willing accomplices of Wall Street, the German banks, the City of London and the French Bourse. The leaders of the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF — the so-called “troika” — continually ride roughshod over Greece’s national sovereignty. When then prime minister George Papandreou proposed a referendum on the EU-dictated austerity package last November, EU leaders orchestrated his removal and replacement by Lucas Papademos, former vice president of the European Central Bank. The deposed Papandreou was hardly an opponent of EU austerity: he was leader of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), a bourgeois populist party, which governed since 2009, imposing the most savage cuts the country has seen since World War II. Now led by Evangelos Venizelos, PASOK continues to govern in coalition with the right-wing conservatives of New Democracy, led by Antonis Samaras. EU leaders have demanded that Greece enshrine a commitment to repay the bankers into its constitution. This will be legally binding on whatever government emerges from the election.
As proletarian internationalists, we have consistently opposed the imperialist EU on principle. It was originally established as an adjunct of NATO, the imperialist military alliance against the Soviet Union. From its beginnings it has been a mechanism by which the combined capitalist powers impose austerity on their own working classes. The dominant powers, led by Germany, subordinate the weaker ones such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and the East European member states. Under the banner of the “flexible labour market”, the EU has rolled back trade union rights and imposed low wages and precarious work contracts.
The misery being inflicted on the Greek working people is a template for attacks on workers across Europe. Heavily indebted Spain, with the highest official unemployment rate in Europe (24 per cent), was engulfed by a one-day general strike on 29 March against the government’s budget cuts. A week earlier, a 24-hour general strike against austerity in neighbouring Portugal brought most of that country’s transport system to a standstill. It is not only in the poorer nations of southern Europe that the working class is under attack. German imperialism has driven down wages and drastically reduced welfare spending at home. The German proletariat, the most powerful working class in Europe, is potentially the Achilles heel of the imperialist EU, but it is led by the Social Democratic Party. In government from 1998 to 2005, the Social Democrats carried out draconian attacks on the working class which helped sharpen German imperialism’s competitive edge in the world market.
In the face of a wave of chauvinism against Greeks, our comrades in the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany wrote: “The workers movement in Germany must mobilize in solidarity with Greek workers and all the other victims of the EU imperialists — after all, they’ll be confronted with similar attacks in the immediate future” (reprinted in Workers Hammer no 211, Summer 2010). Last year our comrades stated that there is “no way out for debtor countries like Greece under the set-up dictated by the German bourgeoisie”. Noting that Greece might be much better off if it defaulted and left the eurozone, they warned that, “while this might provide relief from the downward spiral, leaving the eurozone will not insulate the Greek proletariat from the world economic downturn and capitalist devastation” (reprinted in Workers Hammer no 217, Winter 2011-2012).
The single currency has helped the German bourgeoisie make huge profits. The Greek capitalist rulers too have benefited from the EU and seem determined to retain the euro, despite the fact that it prevents Greece from devaluing its currency to lessen its debts or to increase the competitiveness of its exports. The International Communist League opposed the introduction of the euro and pointed out that a single currency spanning several different capitalist countries is not sustainable. In 1997 we wrote: “Control over the quantity of money within its boundaries is a basic economic prerogative of a bourgeois state”, and “since capitalism is organised on the basis of particular national states, itself the cause of repeated imperialist wars to redivide the world, it is impossible to cohere a stable pan-European bourgeois state” (Workers Vanguard no 670, 13 June 1997). If Greece were to be propelled out of the euro — and the EU — under the impact of mass opposition to EU-dictated starvation policies, it would be a defeat for the imperialists and a step forward for the working class, in Greece and the rest of Europe. Meanwhile working-class militants in Germany and other imperialist countries should oppose the extortionate demands that Greece pay its debt.
Opposition to the EU is a necessary starting point for the working classes of all European countries, but it is not a solution in itself. The crisis being played out in Greece — and threatening to engulf Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, stems from the world system of capitalism. Russian revolutionary leader VI Lenin in his 1916 work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, noted that: “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established”, and “in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed”. A small club of wealthy imperialist powers subordinate and oppress the vast majority of the world’s population. Dependent countries (such as Greece, or Argentina today) “politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence”.
Under imperialism, each country becomes more closely connected to the world market, while industry becomes increasingly concentrated, laying the basis for the socialist organisation of society. However, capitalism is based on individual nation states which inevitably come into conflict with each other in the drive for profits and new areas of exploitation. The capitalist nation state is thus a fetter to the further development of the productive forces. For the working class and oppressed, the only way out is through socialist revolutions which will expropriate the bourgeoisie and establish an internationally planned economy under workers rule.
Over the past two years Greek workers have staged many one- or two-day general strikes, trying to beat back the joint offensive of the European imperialists and the Greek bourgeoisie. In the run-up to the parliamentary vote on the latest austerity package, workers staged a 48-hour general strike. On the day the cuts were approved a massive demonstration converged on parliament and fought pitched battles with rampaging cops. But the government’s relentless attacks on jobs and living standards have continued.
The Greek working class has a long history of militancy and self-sacrifice. But again and again its struggles have been dissipated — or crushed — as a result of its reformist leadership which salvaged the rule of the Greek bourgeoisie at crucial moments. The critical need is for an internationalist revolutionary workers party, based on the programme of Lenin and Trotsky. The Trotskyist Group of Greece is dedicated to building such a party to fight for workers revolution throughout the region. Our programme is for a socialist united states of Europe.
The KKE’s class collaboration
The two main union federations — the General Confederation of Workers of Greece (GSEE) and the Confederation of Public Servants (ADEDY) — are run by supporters of PASOK and New Democracy, the parties primarily responsible for pushing through the austerity measures. These trade union leaders make no pretence of opposition to the EU. Likewise, throughout Europe the reformist leaderships of the working class either explicitly or tacitly accept the EU, promoting illusions in a “social Europe”.
An exception to this rule is the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, which opposed the EU and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that authorised the introduction of the euro. With the KKE gaining ground in the polls, the social-democratic left in Greece like Xekinima (Start — the Greek section of the Committee for a Workers International) and the International Marxist Tendency’s affiliate Marxist Voice, are openly touting a “left” coalition of the KKE and Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left, dominated by Synaspismos, formed out of the old “Eurocommunist” wing of the Communist Party). But the KKE rejects such a coalition, correctly criticising Syriza for “being consistently pro-E.U.” and for the fact that “it has voted for the Maastricht treaty after all” (Wikinews.org, 13 May 2010).
The KKE has the allegiance of the most militant sections of the Greek working class. Its trade union organisation, PAME, purports to offer a “class-oriented” opposition to the sell-out bureaucrats in GSEE and ADEDY, whom it correctly denounces for class collaboration with the bosses and their government. However the KKE cannot offer a way forward for the working class beyond the cycle of one-day general strikes, which amount to a militant form of lobbying parliament. The KKE does not have a programme for the working-class seizure of power. It is wedded to nationalism which is the main obstacle to building a revolutionary workers party in Greece. A strategic task in building a revolutionary party is to win the working-class base of the KKE to the internationalist programme of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.
The KKE has adopted, on paper at least, a leftist posture against the Greek capitalists and their anti-working-class austerity. In the theses of party conferences, and in particular on its internet postings, the KKE spouts Marxist-sounding rhetoric. It even says in its 18th Congress Resolution on Socialism that “In the place of the bourgeois army and repressive organs, which will be completely dissolved, new institutions will be created, based on the armed revolutionary struggle for the destruction of the resistance of the exploiters and for the defence of the Revolution” (February 2009).
This verbal leftism is so much hot air, as shown in the KKE’s actual practice. On the question of the capitalist state, ie “the bourgeois army and repressive organs”, the KKE’s real programme is common-or-garden variety reformism. In an article in Rizospastis (25 May 2011), the KKE reports on a meeting of the Panhellenic Confederation of Police Officers, which its members attended. The KKE’s representative, one Spiros Halvadji, lectured the cops that “the role of the police must not be repression against the popular movement, but must have as its primary role the prosecution of crime”. The cops, together with the courts, prisons and military, make up the core of the bourgeois state, which Lenin described as “the ‘special coercive force’ for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, of millions of working people by handfuls of the rich” (State and Revolution, 1917). Today in Greece, the reactionary crusade against “crime” is the pretext for rounding up hundreds of immigrants and throwing them into concentration camps.
A Leninist party would combat national chauvinism, which is whipped up by the capitalist rulers, particularly against Turkey, Greece’s historic enemy, as well as towards neighbouring Balkan countries. In the context of heightened Greek nationalism caused by the EU’s trampling on the country’s national sovereignty, the government has launched a racist campaign against immigrants, opening up new detention centres and arresting hundreds. Attacks on immigrants have increased, as fascist organisations such as Golden Dawn have been emboldened.
Defence of the rights of oppressed nationalities and immigrants is essential to working-class unity in the struggle for socialist revolution. Nationalism sets workers of different nationalities against each other, poisoning class consciousness and aiding the capitalists to drive down the wages of all workers. Workers from Albania, South Asia, Africa and elsewhere must be drawn into common struggle alongside their Greek class brothers and sisters. A class-struggle leadership in the trade unions would fight for jobs for all and for full citizenship rights for immigrants.
The KKE has the social power to mobilise powerful contingents of workers to defend immigrants and to sweep the fascist vermin off the streets, but their nationalism is a barrier to such a perspective. In the early 1990s, an intense wave of Greek chauvinism over Macedonia contributed to the growth of Golden Dawn. When the former Yugoslav republic included the word “Macedonia” in its name, posters across Greece declared “Macedonia is Greek!” At the time we wrote that “the response of the KKE to the tidal wave of chauvinism is a sustained capitulation to Greek nationalism”, expressed in KKE statements such as: “we don’t let any foreign nationalist lay claim to even a centimeter of Greek soil” (Workers Vanguard no 565, 11 December 1992). Our article demanded: “For the right of self-determination for Macedonia, including Greek Macedonians! For full democratic rights for minorities in Greece! For a Balkan Socialist Federation, including Greece!”
In contrast to the proletarian socialism of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik party, the KKE espouses nationalist populism. This is apparent in incessant, anti-Marxist demands for “people’s power”, sometimes expressed in the absurd coupling “working class people’s power”. For example, they argue “the basic direction of the people’s movement must be the overthrow of capitalism. The only way out is the working class popular power with disengagement from the EU and unilateral cancellation of the debt. There is no other solution for the people” (“The list of the measures included in the new memorandum”, 16 February).
By preaching the common interests of “the people”, the KKE dissolves the proletariat into the whole of the population and obscures the class divisions of bourgeois society. With its hands on the levers of production, the working class is the only force with the potential power and objective interest to overthrow capitalism. The interests of the Greek capitalists, who make their profits from the exploitation of workers, and of the working class cannot be reconciled. The capitalists are inextricably tied to the imperialist powers and turn to them for aid in repressing the working class. The petty bourgeoisie comprises a heterogeneous layer between the capitalists and the workers, everything from teachers to small farmers to students. It includes the substantial proportion of the Greek population employed in family-run businesses. The strong influence of nationalist populism in Greek society is rooted in the fact that the industrial proletariat is very small and the urban petty bourgeoisie correspondingly large.
The KKE’s vision of “socialism” is a reactionary programme of national autarky based on the exploitation of the supposed wealth of natural resources, including energy resources within Greece alone. What the KKE envisions is a variety of “socialism in one country”, the dogma adopted by Stalin in late 1924 when the bureaucracy usurped power in a political counterrevolution that led to the degeneration of the Soviet workers state. “Socialism in one country” expressed the nationalist opportunism of the Soviet bureaucracy and ran counter to the Bolshevik party’s historic revolutionary, internationalist programme. It provided the Stalinist bureaucracy with an ideological justification for transforming the foreign Communist parties into bargaining chips in an illusory search for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism. Lenin had explained at a Bolshevik party congress in 1919: “We are living not merely in a state, but in a system of states, and it is inconceivable for the Soviet Republic to exist alongside of the imperialist states for any length of time. One or the other must triumph in the end” (“Report of the Central Committee”, 18 March 1919).
Despite its degeneration under Stalinism, we Trotskyists defended the Soviet Union, and fought for workers political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose policies of appeasement of imperialism undermined the existence of the workers state. Capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92, after decades of military and economic pressure from world imperialism, definitively demonstrated the bankruptcy of Stalinism. If “socialism in one country” was impossible in the Soviet Union, covering one-sixth of the earth’s surface and rich in mineral wealth, in the context of Greece it is simply absurd.
The KKE’s history of betrayals
In February, as the Greek parliament debated the second bailout and workers outside battled with police, government spokesmen evoked the spectre of civil war. KKE leader Aleka Papariga responded by referring to the Greek bourgeoisie’s repression against Communists in the 1940s. The 1946-49 Civil War continues to haunt all sides in Greece today. To the Greek bourgeoisie the KKE, the oldest party in Greece, embodies the hatred of the working class and peasantry for its rule. In reality, it is a travesty that the KKE retains a reputation as a militant fighter against capitalism based on the Resistance against the Nazi occupation and the subsequent Greek Civil War.
The KKE’s long history of betrayal of the Greek proletariat begins with the Stalinisation of the party in the late 1920s. The KKE faithfully followed every twist and turn of policy emanating from the Stalinist leadership in the Soviet Union. During the economic crisis of the 1930s, Greece was convulsed by massive workers strikes, notably the May 1936 general strike in Salonika. The KKE dominated the whole working-class movement and enjoyed strong support in the countryside. But the KKE subordinated the fight for working-class power to pursuing an alliance with the bourgeois Liberal Party, paving the way for the military dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas. As our Trotskyist forebears explained:
“Instead of organizing the workers for decisive revolutionary action and working to draw the peasants in the countryside into the struggle, throughout the fateful months between April and August 1936, when the working class was in deep revolutionary ferment, the Stalinists busied themselves with a campaign to force the Liberal Party to organize with them a People’s Front. The Liberal Party, however, had heard its master’s voice and turned down the Stalinist offer. They were busy easing the way for Metaxas.”
— “Civil War in Greece”, Fourth International, February 1945
Far from forming an alliance with the KKE against the right wing of the bourgeoisie, the Liberals united with the right to crush the workers.
During the brutal Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II, the KKE established itself as the leadership of the Resistance. The Greek workers and peasants flocked to the military wing of the Resistance — ELAS — and fought heroically against both the Nazi occupiers and the Greek bourgoisie’s anti-Communist quislings like General Zervas, a tool of the British imperialists who also collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. By the time the German forces withdrew from Greece, the entire country was in the hands of the ELAS fighters and the hated Greek bourgeoisie was at their mercy.
The workers and peasants, however, were cheated of their victory by the betrayal of the KKE leadership. The Stalinists joined the capitalist government and, in February 1945, signed the Treaty of Varkiza, disarming the KKE-led resistance fighters and handing power back to the miserable Greek bourgeoisie. In this, the KKE embraced the anti-revolutionary perspective of Stalin, who, at the Tehran Conference with Churchill and Roosevelt in 1943, had agreed that Greece would remain capitalist and under the thumb of British imperialism. Thousands of Communists were killed in the subsequent civil war. After the final defeat of the KKE’s Democratic Army in 1949, thousands were forced into exile. Those who could not get away were rounded up and put in concentration camps on prison islands. There they were subject to torture unless they renounced the party. The KKE was banned for decades and its members blacklisted.
What the comrades of the Fourth International wrote at the end of World War II holds true for the role of the Stalinists throughout the Civil War:
“The Greek masses were burning with revolutionary determination and wished to prepare the overthrow of all their oppressors — Nazi and Greek. Instead of providing the mass movement with a revolutionary program, similar to the Bolshevik program of 1917, and preparing the masses for the seizure of power, the Stalinists steered the movement into the blind alley of People’s Frontism. The Stalinists, who enjoyed virtual hegemony of the mass movement, joined with a lot of petty bourgeois politicians, lawyers, professors, who had neither mass following nor influence, and artificially worked to limit the struggle to the fight for capitalist democracy.”
Today the KKE continues the Stalinist tradition of popular frontism and class collaboration that historically has politically disarmed the working class and bound it to the Greek bourgeoisie.
Imperialism and Greek capitalism
The dependent character of the modern Greek state did not begin with its accession to the EU, but was stamped on it from birth. At the treaty which carved an independent Greek state out of the decaying Ottoman Empire in May of 1832, no Greeks were present — only representatives of the “protecting” powers: Britain, France and Russia. An absolutist monarch — Otto of Bavaria — was imposed on the new country. Throughout the 19th century Greece was a pawn of British diplomacy, particularly vis-a-vis tsarist Russia. Despite early attempts to modernise the country Greece remained overwhelmingly agrarian, dependent on the export of currants. While there was very little investment in industry, a very wealthy commercial bourgeoisie developed, based on merchant shipping and, later, banking.
In the early 1830s, to pay for the war against the Ottoman Turks, the Greek government contracted loans in the City of London on ruinous terms. By the 1880s Greek debts to Britain exceeded 630 million drachmas, the service of which consumed a third of the state’s revenues. When the currant market collapsed, Greece went bankrupt. This established a pattern that has persisted to the present. British imperialist policy towards Greece was geared to using loans in order to subjugate the country and to bring about its complete financial and diplomatic dependency. Following WWII and the Greek Civil War, the US supplanted decaying British imperialism in Greece, and similarly employed aid and loans as a weapon to subordinate the country.
The Greek bourgeoisie has always depended upon one or another imperialist power to guarantee its position, jointly exploiting the Greek proletariat. Such relationships of dependency are inevitable as long as imperialism exists. The only way out is the road taken by the Russian workers and peasants in the 1917 October Revolution. Led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks, they seized state power, expropriated the capitalist class and the landowners and swept away the tsarist autocracy and the state church. Lenin established the Third (Communist) International as the world party of proletarian revolution, conscious that, to survive, the workers revolution in backward Russia had to be extended to the advanced capitalist countries — especially Germany.
Proletarian internationalism is a life-and-death question for the working classes throughout Europe, who must struggle against the attacks of the national bourgeoisie and against the EU robber barons. Workers in the imperialist countries, in struggling against their “own” bourgeoisies, have the potential to strike a blow in the interests of all those, throughout Europe and worldwide, who are ground under the heel of imperialism. In countries such as Britain and Germany, immigrant workers from Greece, Turkey and elsewhere bring with them traditions of militant struggle and form an organic tie to struggles in their countries of origin.
The global economic crisis starkly poses the need to do away with the boom-bust cycle of capitalism. This can only be done through workers revolutions that expropriate the super-rich exploiters and reorganise production to meet human need. To transform the working class into a class fighting for power at the head of all the oppressed requires the leadership of a revolutionary party.