By Eric Ribellarsi
Who could miss the excitement as a mass popular movement of people in Greece -that toppled multiple reactionary governments- elected a coalition of radical leftists of many stripes into the government of Greece? In the streets, people waved red flags and sang Bella Ciao (Beautiful Goodbye), the famous song about the defeat of fascism in Europe. All throughout Europe, people rallied in solidarity with similar hopes and dreams.
The people of Greece wanted a radical way out of the crisis that global capitalism created. For the first days, Syriza defied the powers-that-be in one way after another. This was not a revolution, but it was a very important political opening that showed the basic reality that resistance is possible and capitalist hegemony is not invincible.
But this week we’ve painfully just watched Syriza’s leadership -under extreme pressure- come to an agreement with the powers of global capitalism ruling Greece. This agreement leaves the basic ruling structure of international capital over the Greek government in place for four more months, denies Greece the restoration of its national sovereignty, and places Greece into a kind of political stalemate.
In these moments, it is maddening to see Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, speak about the crisis in Greece as if it were purely a question of levels of austerity rather than the ruling structure that dominates Greek society. But that is exactly what he has done when he declares that the new agreement “took a decisive step, leaving austerity, the bailouts, and the troika behind.”
By the troika, Tsipras is referring to the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. These are the three representatives of global capitalism and imperialism that form the Memorandum regime, dominating and dictating to the people of Greece. The troika have threatened an isolation, devaluation, and complete economic devastation of Greece if it does not comply. The troika has not been defeated, and Tsipras has obfuscated this fact by beginning to refer to the troika as “the institutions” rather than as the troika.
Despite the reality of this serious retreat, one of the most basic unknown facts about Syriza is the existence of revolutionary communists among its ranks, with their own politics and program distinct from the current trajectory of Syriza.
First, Some Background
Many people have read about how Syriza has been challenging the program of austerity of the three foreign powers dominating Greece, the troika.
The troika directed a wholesale looting of Greek society, for years forcing Greece to take on loans that it could never repay. These loans were often used to force Greece to purchase outdated and retired military equipment from France and Germany that have no real value, but which allowed the big powers of Europe to off-load their outdated military goods.
When the levels of debt were no longer sustainable, the troika directed its local representatives in the Greek bourgeoisie to engage in massive privatization and austerity measures to repay the debt. Millions of jobs were lost. Publicly owned agricultural land was privatized and given to German investors. This agricultural land is in turn being re-purposed. One particular scheme of note is the replacement of agricultural land with German owned solar farms in Greece, where German owned electricity is forced onto the Greek people, and Germany, in turn, is allowed to receive pollution credits under international law.
The people of Greece resisted these measures in massive general strikes and popular assemblies all throughout society. They toppled the current government of Greece that had been carrying out these measures.
In response, the troika created the Memorandum of Understanding, a document placing the Greek government under the subordination and the direction of international bankers and technocrats. The basic political sovereignty of Greece has been dismantled, and the whole society is being pillaged.
Syriza, a party that emerged originally as SYRIZA (an acronym that means ‘the Coalition of the Radical Left’) in the early anti-globalization movement, has now become the principal vehicle for the rage of Greece’s major social movements.
In 2008, it publicly defended the rebellions and uprisings that shook the entire country after a young boy, Aleksandros, had been murdered by the police. First one neighborhood burned, and then the entire country burned. SYRIZA representatives spoke in favor of the rebellion in parliament and in the mainstream media of Greece.
SYRIZA stood with this rebellion, while the old reformist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) declared that “the genuine popular revolt will not smash even a single glass.” In the KKE’s view, being respectable and opposing the rebellion would grant their further legitimacy to increase their influence in the Greek parliament. The opposite was true, as the Greek people continued to fight and resist.
Much like in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, the assumptions of the Greek left were deeply wrong when Greece’s 2011 Squares Movement came. The people rose up suddenly and in an unexpected way, shattering those assumptions. The KKE and other parties of the left dismissed the movement as “petty-bourgeois.” Many anarchists accused it of being “social-pacifist,” and the anarchist movement split over whether to join the Squares Movement. Dogmatism in the left caused whole movements to be left behind.
The Squares Movement represented a new popular radicalization of the Greek people.
Much of the hopes and activity of the people who were fighting against the troika in the Squares of Greece were absorbed by SYRIZA during the 2011-2012 period. Huge sections of militant newly radicalized people from the Squares were recruited into SYRIZA, leading to a transformation of SYRIZA from a coalition of leftist organizations to a much more vibrant political party. Revolutionaries in SYRIZA argued that the entry of these new militants would offer the opportunity to radicalize and transform the party.
“Dark Days” in Greece
Sadly, the period of 2013-2014 was not a very radical period in Greece. Following the party’s defeat in the 2012 elections, much of Syriza’s leadership sought to direct the energy of the new recruits purely into electoral preparations, biding their time and “acting responsibly.” This conservatism led many in Syriza to ignore the people’s movement, which was organizing resistance, and to squander much of the revolutionary energy and enthusiasm that had emerged from such a high period of resistance.
No wonder some leaders of Syriza have acted like subordinate businessmen in their negotiations with the troika, instead of mobilizing the people themselves to engage in resistance. Tsipras himself outrageously proposed a politician of old pro-troika New Democracy to become the new president of Greece, as an act of ‘good faith’ to the troika. It is the logical conclusion of two years of dismissing and ignoring the potential of the people themselves.
These actions by some Syriza leaders contributed to the overall decline of resistance movements in Greece, combining with broad demoralization as the vicious campaign of the troika carried on. It is not the case that electoral tactics inherently run against radical organizing and revolutionary preparations. Often times electoral tactics have been used to serve revolutionary movements all throughout the world, with such tactics serving as precursors to showdowns. But for some sections of Syriza, the people’s movements were literally viewed as a distraction from their obsession with electoral victory, often with great costs.
While Syriza has now emerged as the largest party in the Greek parliament, it does so in an overall situation where the initiative of people’s movements has been in decline. No wonder some leaders of Syriza have acted like subordinate businessmen in their negotiations with the troika, instead of mobilizing the people themselves to engage in resistance. Tsipras himself outrageously proposed a politician of old pro-troika New Democracy to become the new president of Greece, as an act of ‘good faith’ to the troika. It is the logical conclusion of two years of dismissing and ignoring the potential of the people themselves.
A big part of this decline in radicalism occurred in 2013, when parties within SYRIZA were forced to dissolve, and SYRIZA as a coalition was transformed into the Syriza political party we know today. The leadership of SYRIZA claimed that a political party with such a diversity of political programs was “unelectable.” The views of Tsipras would become the hegemonic public political face of the organization, and political parties were expected to stop putting forward their own counter-political programs outside of the organization.
The unspoken aspect: revolutionary communists in the mix
But conservative views tailing after “electability” haven’t been the case universally.
One political trend within Syriza is called the Communist Organization of Greece (whose initials in Greek are KOE). In Greece, the people call them “Ko-ey,” sounding out the acronym. Today, KOE is one of the only organizations that has refused to dissolve itself, instead choosing to temporarily suspend its public presence as “KOE” and to instead appear publicly as Dromos (the newspaper known to be associated with KOE).
KOE is a creative and non-dogmatic revolutionary communist organization that emerged after the collapse of the Greek left in the 1980’s. They have their own political program within Syriza, which they refer to as “independence, real democracy, and reconstruction.”
Let’s break down this slogan, which encapsulates their political program:
Independence: KOE wants to shred the troika regime over Greece, throw out its debt and the legal basis upon which the troika dominates the people of Greece. They want to strip the troika’s political, social, and military representatives of their power, and drive them from Greece. They want the internal servants of the troika to flee into exile. “OUZT!” (GET OUT!) they say.
Real Democracy: KOE wants a democratic society, like that modeled in the Squares Movement. They want a society where the people themselves become the masters of society. They want to restore Greece’s political sovereignty. They want to abolish the way in which Greece has been dictated to by the troika, and treated as a neo-colony.
Reconstruction: KOE aims to “reconstruct” the political, social, and economic spheres of Greek society. They fight for a political system that serves the people (away from the old corrupt parliamentary systems). They want new social relations that replace nepotism and corruption with a culture of “serve the people, love the people” and solidarity economy. (1)solidarity economy is the practice of freely sharing the goods of production. For example, Greece’s potato movement involved farmers freely giving away potatoes to parts of Greece where the people are starving. They want to restore the economic production that Greece – and other societies internationally – would need to ultimately break away from global imperialism. Today, a “Grexit” from the EU is a very real scenario, and in such a scenario, how will the people continue to feed themselves? These three forms of reconstruction, in their view, lay the basis to ultimately make a revolution, and build a transitional society on the way to an egalitarian communist future.
At the core of KOE’s theory is their political-economic analysis of Greek society. They believe that Greece is a “capitalist country of a dependent kind.” That is, they believe that Greece is a developed capitalist country that has been made dependent and subordinated to capitalism-imperialism, and that the troika is the principal representative of that political-economic system in Greece.
In Greece, the demand for the overthrow of the troika has been great, but socialism has not (yet) been a major demand from among the oppressed. While some in Syriza argue for a position of “unity of the left” at all costs, KOE argues (in this particular moment) for the broad unity that emerged in the Squares Movement of Greece: a political front including all forces that genuinely seek to overthrow the troika(2)the fascists, who claim to oppose the troika but really direct their main blow at the left, are not included in this “broad front”.
KOE believes that Syriza has a particular role to play in this situation. They believe that it must fulfill a historic responsibility to the people in this juncture by breaking the power of the troika in Greece. This, they believe, will lead to a new situation where everything is up in the air, where different futures could contend, and where revolution might become a real possibility. For this reason, KOE has aimed to contribute and lead within Syriza in a non-sectarian way, aimed at helping Syriza to defeat the troika.
KOE has aimed to give political leadership through creative political practice. It was in the streets during the 2008 rebellion from the very first moments, contributing to the way in which SYRIZA supported the rebellion. In 2011, they went to the Squares Movement from the very first day, challenging and criticizing those in SYRIZA who were calling for a turn towards electoralism in those moments.
Today, KOE has played an important role in the Solidarity for All movement, a countrywide solidarity network that organizes all people and movements to fight the troika. It organizes electricians to turn people’s electricity back on and doctors to treat people (including the undocumented) for free, in a way that shows that a different kind of economy is possible. KOE fights to kick the troika’s representatives and efforts at privatization off the campuses and brings students to fight the troika everywhere. It organizes strikes against austerity. It organizes farmers to share crops for free with people in need. Where the troika has privatized Greece’s farms and stopped its agricultural production, KOE aims to restore the agriculture production so that the people could continue to eat outside the domination of the troika.
KOE is fighting for the hundreds of thousands of Greek people who flooded into the Squares of Greece on February 11, 2015, in over 40 different cities, demanding sovereignty, dignity, and the end of the troika’s looting of Greece.
Huge conflicts are coming in Greece, and it is impossible to know how this situation might develop. The troika remains fully in control of Greece. The troika is unveiling vicious blackmail and psychological warfare against Greece’s people, trying to terrify them into submission. Every day, new stories air telling the people of Greece that unless they remain complicit, their society will be devalued, economically destroyed, and completely isolated. Greeks were threatened with “consequences” if they voted for Syriza.
But the people of Greece are remaining resolute, defiant, and militant. That is why they’ve poured into the squares once again. They are fighting for their very lives.
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Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||solidarity economy is the practice of freely sharing the goods of production. For example, Greece’s potato movement involved farmers freely giving away potatoes to parts of Greece where the people are starving.|
|2.||↑||the fascists, who claim to oppose the troika but really direct their main blow at the left, are not included in this “broad front”|