Greek Capitalism at a Critical Point
Sat 5th Oct 2013
Greek capitalism continues to be the weak link of the Eurozone as it is still under the “intensive care” of the EU support mechanisms for the fourth consecutive year and is in recession for the sixth consecutive year. Overall GDP decline since the crisis began will reach 25% by the end of 2013 and unemployment will reach 30%. According to the Institute of Labour (INE) of the Greek General Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) it will take at least 20 years to return to the pre-crisis levels!
With growing rage, millions of workers, pensioners, small traders and young people who have been crushed by the austerity measures of the Memorandum are discovering what a big deception the so-called “rescue” of the country by the troika is. In reality it is a rescue of the speculators who hold the Greek debt and at the same time an attempt to avoid a domino effect of bankruptcies that could lead to the end of the Eurozone.
In 2009 the Greek debt had reached 298.5 billion Euros and 128.9% of GDP. By the end of 2013, after three and a half years of such “rescue”, the debt will be 330 billion Euros and 178.5% of GDP. Up to June of this year, Greece had received 219 billion Euros from the Troika. Only 7.6 billion of this money went to towards alleviating the deficit, the rest was spent on recapitalising the banks and paying off part of the debt and the interest on the debt.
The shocking fact that the actual amount that went on interest is 48.171 billion Euros which represents two thirds of the amount that went to pay off debts, is sufficient to define this as “usurious”. Also indicative of the reactionary nature of this attempt to pay off this usurious debt is the fact that the amount that has been spent on interest is equivalent to the value of the losses in GDP. In other words, everything that has been lost in the production of wealth in the country during the memorandum era – which for the working class translates into job losses and salary reductions, which means sweat, blood and tears – has been pocketed by the loan sharks in the payment of interest.
Cancelling the debt requires a program to overthrow capitalism
Every attempt to pay off this unbearable usurious debt requires new cuts in wages, pensions, benefits and social spending, and new layoffs. Not a single progressive step is possible in Greek society and no kind of beneficial growth can come about if the debt is not cancelled altogether, if the benefits of the everyday people are not put above the benefits of the loan sharks.
However, it is not only the loan sharks that benefit from the paying off of the debt, but all sections of the Greek and foreign capitalists that are connected with this debt through their business ventures are also benefitting or they are simply benefiting in various ways from the attacks on the working class. Consequently, the cancellation of the debt means naturally a declaration of war on capitalism, and it can be won solely via the establishment of a centralised and democratically planned nationalised economy.
The fact that such a socialist programme is missing from the armoury of both of the leading factions within SYRIZA is a historic irresponsibility on the part of these leaders. Instead they present either a right-wing or left-wing version of reformist populism, with one side talking about paying off a part of the debt while trying to reconstruct a “social state” within capitalism, and the other side talking about the cancellation of the debt without overthrowing capitalism. It really makes you wonder how the supporters of such utopian policies within the leadership of SYRIZA, instead of explaining to the workers how they intend to manage such a combination of the cancellation of the debt and the building of a “social state” within capitalism, dare to call unrealistic and ill-timed the revolutionary socialist programme that is supported by the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA. Clearly for these comrades, the “strategic” goal of socialism will be relevant only after the mass extermination of our class through hunger and misery…
The illusion of the German "haircut" and the myth of the primary surplus
This autumn started in a painful way for the government. The German government was clear that there is not going to be another “haircut” of the Greek debt. At the same time, the statement from a leading member of SPD that the funding gap of the country up to 2020 will be 77 billion Euros, together with the demand of the president of the German industrialists to place the assets of the Greek state under the control of its creditors, promises new harsher memoranda and even greater submission to the demands of the creditors.
In contrast with the hope of the Greek bourgeoisie that there would be a “political solution” for the Greek debt after the German elections, the troika confirms that until the spring of 2014 there will be no new developments. This tough stance has caused nervousness among the Greek bourgeoisie who understands that if a solution to the funding is not found quickly they will not be able to justify the new measures for which they have already made a commitment to the troika, especially at this moment when their government is so fragile and has to deal with a rising working class movement. It is not a coincidence that in the camp of the bourgeoisie there are some who have started raising the idea – as a bargaining tool – that a return to the drachma should also be put on the table (such as the articles of N. Chatzinikolaou on “Real News”).
At present, the government is trying to strengthen its position inside the country as well as abroad, by cooking the statistics as to present the desired primary surplus. It went so far as to announce for the first seven months of the year, a primary surplus of 2.6 billion Euros, not including, however, in the official calculations the amount of 9.35 billion Euros which constitutes all kinds of state debts after the given drastic cuts of the planned programme of public investment.
The primary surplus, according to government propaganda, is supposedly going to reduce the debt and lead the country back to the markets and growth. Nothing of all this is going to happen. The government, according to the statements of the finance minister on 2ndSeptember, is anticipating a primary surplus of 1.1 billion Euros for 2013. What they have not said, however, is that this primary surplus should cover all the public spending and the paying off of the interest in such a way that this surplus helps in the reduction of the debt. For 2013 the paying off of the interest alone is 6.4 billion Euros, while the amount going towards amortization is 52.9 billion Euros. Consequently, since the interest payments will be much more than the primary surplus, the debt will not decrease but will actually increase. In order for the primary surplus to progressively reduce the debt an average annual growth rate of 5% would required for the next 20 years, such that through the tax revenues, the primary surplus will outweigh the interest payments. Such a development, however, can only exist in the dreams of the Greek bourgeoisie.
Consequently, the government in order to attend to the debt only has one road, that of new and tougher austerity measures. The very much advertised privatization programme, which had as an initial goal to bring in 50 billion Euros, later revised down to 15 billion Euros, has only brought in 850 million approximately, including everything that was gained by the scandalous sale of OPAP (the national lottery). Therefore the only thing left for this government, after the privatization-give away of public assets like OPAP and the reduction of salaries and pensions, is to start closing down businesses, organizations and services by making massive lay-offs. The first step in this direction was ERT (the public broadcaster), with the defence industry (LARKO, EAS, EAB, ELBO) to follow and of course through the closure of public schools, hospitals and city councils.
General political strike is only way to bring down the government
The Samaras-Venizelos coalition will not fall easily. The Greek bourgeoisie do not want to go to elections before they manage to find a solution to the funding gap. This means that the coalition government has to stay in power until the spring of 2014, when the discussions with the Troika will commence again. If during this period there is a parliamentary “accident” in the passing of a bill, then the ruling class will call on the help of DIMAR (the Democratic Left who have already shown their willingness to collaborate in the past), their very own “Independent Greeks” and, of course – as was revealed by the recent public statement of the “infamous” bourgeois journalist Babi Papadimitriou – the wild dogs of the system, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Their primary concern will be to find a solution within the present parliament. This means that the militant working masses must bring down this government. [Note: this was written before Golden Dawn members were involved in the killing of Pavlos Fyssas, thus rendering this option unfeasible in the immediate period ahead].
The call for “subversion” that is often raised as an abstract formula by the labour and left leaders, for the working class constitutes the only way of survival. They have already realized that the fight needs to be political with the goal of overthrowing the government. This reflects the large pressure of the rank and file of the labour movement to move in this direction, and is confirmed by a series of trade unions since the beginning of the summer that have moved in favour of a political strike and moreover have moved towards joint coordination.
How can the overthrow of the government be successful? Certainly not via the method of sporadic 24-hour and 48-hour strikes or through the occupation of squares. These methods have been tried and have failed, leading to an increased feeling of hopelessness and scepticism about the possibility of achieving victories through mass, class struggle. For a long time now the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA has explained that the struggle must be aimed at paralysing and blocking the class enemy and its government. The only way for this to happen is for SYRIZA, the KKE and the trade unions to carry out a very well organized, unified all-out political general strike.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the KKE is stubbornly rejecting any kind of cooperation with SYRIZA, even on a more limited scope in the context of the ongoing class struggle. Even worse, contrary to the mood of a growing layer of workers that is clearly being expressed in the decisions taken by their trade unions, the KKE leadership even refuses to adopt the goal of overthrowing the government and suggests – as it did during the teachers’ strike – methods of struggle that are timid and insufficient to lead the movement to victories. But what is the position of SYRIZA that has officially adopted the slogan of bringing down the government and needs to be done to realize it?
The general political strike, and the political tasks and responsibilities of SYRIZA
The leaders of SYRIZA have adopted the aim of bringing down the current coalition government. This, undoubtedly, is the most important and immediate aim of the movement at present. It is impossible for this government to make any concessions to any one sector, however heroically the workers in that sector may fight. This is because we are in a period where the ruling class and its creditors have reached a critical juncture in their efforts to burden the masses with the costs of the crisis in order to avoid the collapse of Greek capitalism. A single concession to even one sector of workers would also encourage a fightback in the other sectors.
After three and a half years marked with 30 days of sporadic general strikes and five rounds of mass popular and worker mobilisations against the governments supporting the Memoranda (May 2010, May-June 2011, October 2011, February 2012, November 2012) it is clear by now that only a radical change of power can solve the needs of the struggling masses. The only form of struggle that could pose the question of power, and create the preconditions for such a scenario, is the general all-out political strike.
Such a general political strike requires the coordinated suspension of labour on the part of all workers (wage workers, waged peasants, professionals and so on) focused on achieving one single aim: to take control of political power out of the hands of the current ruling class in order to apply a policy that would serve their own interests. This form of struggle could lead to the political weakening and paralysis of the class enemy and its government, thus elevating the workers, and their organisations of struggle, to the position of dominating society.
The decisive, leading role in such a formidable battle can only be carried out by the organised working class which, after all, exists, produces, and acts collectively, that is to say, the proletariat. And within this class, that section that is the most concentrated and on whose labour depends the functioning of the centres of economic life, that is to say, the industrial proletariat, will play the leading role.
Many SYRIZA leaders, particularly those with “experience in the movements”, are most likely to counter what we have said here with a retort along the lines of: “but what you are describing is a ‘proletariat revolution’!” The only answer to that is “that is precisely the point!” It is a revolution whose time has come, a revolution which can counter the political illusions of those who defend the idea that a harmonious, reformist “overcoming of capitalism” is possible… because, yes, these are times of revolution! These are times during which nothing long-lasting can be achieved, if the working class does not stand up to the ruling class, as has been clearly stated in some “old texts” (see the ‘Communist Manifesto’), which should be re-read by every militant on the Left.
Do the working people, however, want a revolution? Or does it shirk from such an idea? A series of events and facts would indicate that the working people would support such a revolution. We have the Greek world record in general strikes in the recent period, the mass demonstrations, the repeated mobilizations by all sections of the working class, including even many typically petty-bourgeois social layers. We also have the latest opinion polls on social consciousness, which all confirm that the overwhelming majority of the population support fundamental, revolutionary changes in society (see recent research and polls conducted by “Public Issue”, December 2011, and 2012, respectively).
The broad masses of the working class and the poor are absolutely prepared to follow a revolutionary path to overthrow capitalism. These have mobilised jointly and separately, and spontaneously continue to move in that direction without any political leadership and programme, constantly learning from their experience, armed with their class instinct. The only element that renders the current period pre-revolutionary, and not openly “revolutionary”, is the absence of a movement that could envelop the broad masses of workers and that would raise the issue of which class rules.
However, we have to understand that when the working class moves, historically, it turns to the tools and weapons at its disposal, that is to say, to the traditional mass organisations, as they believe these could help organise the movement and provide it with political solutions (of course, they do not solely rely on these as it also depends on how far the revolutionary mood of the masses has reached and on the particular juncture in time we are in). In fact, during the last three and a half years the working class has turned again and again towards its trade unions. However, due to the role of the bureaucracy in these mass organisations, these did not unite the working class in an escalating movement and struggle until victory. Since 2012, the working class, which has been reaching radical political conclusions, has turned to SYRIZA.
The clear words that “SYRIZA must call on the people to take to the streets” that we hear more and more being uttered by the thousands of struggling people, condenses this important process. However, the so-called “leaders” and “experts in movements” who have not learnt to trust the political judgements of ordinary working people, and who consider them to be by definition “politically immature”, have rushed to interpret this call as an intention on the part of the working class to relinquish its responsibility to participate in this struggle and to assign the tasks of the struggle to SYRIZA. May these comrades of ours forgive us for saying this, but this reference to “delegating responsibility”, which seems to have become a mantra, is not only unsubstantiated but is also at fault.
According to this idea, the masses are delegating their tasks and responsibilities to SYRIZA. Within this example of profound bureaucratic thinking, SYRIZA presents itself, in the final analysis, as something alien from the working masses, as some electoral machine that will contest in the elections for the votes of the masses after which it will take up the responsibility of bringing to an end the “dirty work” of the much desired “overthrow”. And it is only then that the various, red, pink, or formerly green ministers, will all take up to their posts as some kind of saviours of the working class…
An opponent of the theory of “delegation” might rush to reply that: “well, is it not equally bureaucratic and practically impossible for SYRIZA to set as its aim that it alone can bring down the government”? Naturally, no one is suggesting such a thing. If we listen more clearly to ordinary folk what we hear is that they are looking to SYRIZA to get people out on the streets. What this means is that they understand the principal agent to be “the people”, that is to say, the workers, youth, and other victims of the Memoranda. SYRIZA has become for them the force who will coordinate, and organise, and offer political aims and perspectives. People are approaching SYRIZA not as an electoral machine but as a pioneering, conscious, and militant sector of the movement, that is to say, as an agent that is to be true to its founding origins.
The fanatical opponents of the idea of “delegation”, however, have a very different opinion. And, unfortunately, we witness this being forced upon us everywhere as the official line of SYRIZA. Such comrades say to us, “SYRIZA is not going to tell the trade unions what to do” as if SYRIZA – as an organic part of the most conscious political sections of the working class – were not duty-bound to have an opinion on something so important as the means by which to achieve the much desired overthrow of capitalism. At the same time, the slogan of the overthrow of capitalism remains present in the official party rhetoric, and, what is more, it is complemented with the proposal for the creation of special organs for the struggle (Committees of Action, according to the last decision of the Central Committee), without, however, this being supported with any elementary reference to what form of struggle these organs are to support and so on. The comrades in the leadership are slipping towards total confusion and denial of their political duties.
This confusion and denial to accept the duty they owe to the struggling workers is very dangerous at a time when high school teachers and public sector workers are entering a period of protracted struggle. We must emphasise the following lest there be any misunderstanding. No, SYRIZA alone cannot achieve the overthrow of the government! In order to achieve this, what is necessary is a united front between SYRIZA, the KKE (i.e., Greece’s sectarian Stalinist Communist Party), and those trade union federations that are already mobilised, a united front that would declare its intention to organise a successful all-out political general strike, a front that would call for mass assemblies in every workplace and neighbourhood, and for the election of Action Committees, that would take all the necessary measures to prepare for this battle.
SYRIZA, however, is a mass organisation that, more than any other organisation at present, has the status, standing, and influence to win, patiently, persistently, and stably, the working masses and their trade union organisations to this necessary policy, even if, as it is becoming clear today, the leadership of the KKE is unlikely to follow.
Given that the high-school teachers are already carrying out a heroic battle and the simultaneous struggles of workers in the various welfare departments and at the OAED (i.e., the state unemployment office), and given the mood of the workers in other sectors that show they are willing to follow these examples of struggle, the SYRIZA leadership, if it genuinely wishes to see the bringing down of the government through popular mass struggle, should adopt the following:
- It should support an all-out political general strike (and, obviously, not limiting itself to declaring it) as a recommended form of struggle aimed at the overthrow of the government. SYRIZA members and supporters in the assemblies and other collective organisations in their workplaces, trade unions, various societies and so on, should call for a vote on the need for serious joint preparatory work of all the mass organisations of workers and youth;
- It should call for the creation of Action Committees in all workplaces and neighbourhoods, aimed at the preparation of the political general strike, which should be coordinated in each town and city across the country, together with the creation of a Nationwide Action Committee. These committees should ensure that they protect and guard the movement and the struggle through the creation of local teams of self-defence against state and fascist violence. They should also set up central units to guard the various mobilisations, and also set up strike funds and organise daily meals;
- The political general strike must be accompanied by the transformation of schools, universities, and all public and municipal services, alongside with all mass workplaces, into centres for the struggle, with daily assemblies and events. The Nationwide Action Committee, must then manage the pooled resources and combined infrastructure in a manner that would secure the satisfaction of the basic means for the struggling masses during these struggles;
- Discussions should commence in all centres of the struggle on topics and issues such as the need to take political power, the election of a Left government with a socialist programme which would be controlled and accountable to the mass organisations of the working class and the poorer social layers;
- It should call on all soldiers and lower-ranking army officers to be vigilant and to thwart through their self-organisation any attempt to use the army against the popular mass movement. At the same time, it must call upon all members of the security forces with democratic leanings to expose and isolate all fascist cells, and to refuse to obey any order from their superiors that is aimed at terrorising and suppressing the struggle of the working class;
If the SYRIZA leaders were to move in this direction, the result would be twofold. On the one hand, it would embolden the militant strikers and encourage the remaining sections of the working masses. On the other hand, it would put fear into the hearts of the ruling class, which would realise that it has to contend with a movement which is increasingly taking on a more revolutionary character and that is threatening its rule. And, due to the fact that at present the ruling class finds itself increasingly politically isolated and is facing a strengthened labour movement which possesses mass trade union organisations, a KKE deeply rooted in the working class, and an impressively ascending SYRIZA, it (the ruling class) would not dare to enforce some sort of totalitarian regime, but would exhaust all “democratic” means at its disposal in an attempt to disorientate the movement.
If SYRIZA were to limit itself to simply calling for an all-out political general strike this could push the ruling class to call for early elections to buy some time for itself and to thwart the ongoing process whereby the working class is becoming aware of its revolutionary strength, and to also release some of its built-up anger. Even if this were the case, then SYRIZA would achieve an electoral triumph, with a clear mandate to apply a programme that would radically solve the problems of the working masses.
Should SYRZA, however, remain in its current political position of confusion and lack of political courage, the striking high-school teachers that are likely to be tired out and isolated, and the other sections of workers that are currently striking alongside them, are likely to be disheartened. The actual dilemma is not between two forms of struggle – that is to say between a well-prepared political general strike and, on the other, sector-specific strikes coupled with a “let’s suck it and see” attitude. The actual dilemma is: either to fight for the sake of doing something merely to save face, which is likely to wear down the movement, or to fight successfully for the overthrow of the government – that is to say, for a revolutionary struggle. SYRIZA must take a very clear position on the latter by actively participating in every form of struggle that the mass movement adopts.
The initial drafts by the Central Committee of 31 July and 1 September were disappointing. All the other tendencies within SYRIZA (the Majority, the Left Platform, and Project), apart from the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA, came out against the need for a revolutionary line. In fact, some, such as the leadership of DEA (i.e., the so-called “Trotskyists”), made every effort to stop the line that our Tendency proposed from being put to the vote on the Central Committee.
The SYRIZA leadership still has some time to change course. However, should it fail to do so, the main tendencies within it, in the long run will go down in the memory of the working masses as being jointly responsible for new and painful defeats.
This article was first published on the website of In Defence of Marxism, journal of the International Marxist Tendency http://www.marxist.com/greek-capitalism-at-a-critical-point.htm
Stamatis Karayannopoulos is a member of the SYRIZA Central Committee and a leader of the Communist Tendency within SYRIZA