The crisis of Greek capitalism and how it is impacting on the labour movement

The crisis of Greek capitalism is clear for all to see. The bosses want draconian economic policies to be implemented, but the workers have already given more than they can afford to give. Bosses and workers are on a collision course as the call for a 24-hour general strike on February 24 clearly demonstrates.

Greek capitalism is at a critical point in its history. After 16 years of permanent growth in its GDP, we have now entered the second year of “negative growth”, i.e. decline in production. In 2009 GDP fell by 1.6% and in 2010 a similar figure is expected. In some European countries there are signs of a recovery – albeit weak and unstable ‑ but Greek capitalism, the weakest link in the chain is falling into a deep slump.

We saw a sharp fall in industrial production of 24.5% in 2009 (September 2008 to September 2009). The Minister of Labour, Andreas Lomverdos, at the end of last year, speaking in parliament, predicted that in 2010 Greece would see a fall in investments of 20%. Unemployment meanwhile is growing rapidly. In 2009 186,000 jobs were lost.

Greece Industrial Production

Unemployment shoots up

In November of last year the official rate of unemployment was pushed up to 10.6%, up from the figure of 9.8% in October. A year earlier the rate stood at 7.8%, which gives an indication of the trend throughout the whole of 2009. There are now well over 500,000 unemployed in Greece.

This is in a country of a little over 11 million people. It would be like having 3 million unemployed in a country the size of Britain or Italy. From 1999 through to 2008 unemployment levels had been falling in Greece. Now we see a sudden sharp rise. However, this is not the end of the story. The Minister of Labour recently announced that unemployment could soon hit the 20% mark, which would mean a doubling of the number of unemployed to around one million.

This crisis of capitalism is bringing into sharp relief the structural weaknesses of Greek capitalism. Its main weakness is its very limited productive base. Industry as a percentage of overall GDP, already weak in the past, has actually gone down over recent years as Services have shot up, as the chart here shows.

Structure of Greek Economy

% of GDP
1984-85
1994-95
2003-04
Agriculture
13.5
10.7
6.9
Industry
30.5
24.4
23.8
Services
56.0
65.0
69.3

 

The other weakness of Greek capitalism is revealed by its heavy dependence on the state. The Greek bourgeoisie developed much later than the stronger more powerful national bourgeoisies of countries like Britain, France and Germany. The backward nature of Greek capitalism has always meant therefore that private capital required massive subsidies from the state.

Until recently the Greek economy was expanding, but one has also to look at what this growth was based on. Traditionally Greece had a low level of credit spending but during the recent boom this changed dramatically with a massive expansion of credit at all levels. As of 2003 consumer spending based on credit took off significantly. There was a massive shift to retail lending that started in 2003 with the total liberalisation of consumer credit. The banking system was taking “lessons” from countries like Britain and the USA. A databank was set up to gather credit histories of individuals seeking credit card loans and mortgages.

The then deputy governor of the Bank of Greece (the central bank), Panayotis Thomopoulos, was boasting that, "Greece has 55% of the European average in relation to consumer credit as a percentage of GDP, so there is still some way to go. There is room for consumer credit growth of at least 20%." The logic was that with such a relatively low level of credit there was much room for expansion. The Alpha Bank released data indicating that mortgage lending as a percentage of GDP was 17% in Greece in 2003 compared with 32% in the eurozone. Again, the idea was that with such a low percentage there was room for more.

Easy credit was thus one of the elements that contributed to the boom. There were other factors such as EU aid and state spending, particularly around the period of the Athens Olympics which saw massive funding being supplied, most of the funding coming from the state which spent over 7billion euros.

Now these two sources of economic growth, state spending and credit from the banks, have dried up. They have gone beyond the limit of what is materially possible. The banks are in crisis and the state is overburdened with debt.

Debt skyrockets

The budget deficit jumped dramatically in the second half of 2009 from 6.2% of GDP to 12.7%, doubling in just six months. Three factors contributed to this sudden leap in debt. First there were lower tax revenues due to the impact of the recession. This adds to the already chronic level of tax evasion in Greece. Secondly, for some time the Greek government had been hiding the real level of debt and state expenditure from the EU. This was in order to facilitate funding from the EU. Now of course it has all backfired. And thirdly, the outgoing New Democracy government last year, in an attempt to win the elections and stay in office was spending money it didn't really have to spend, for instance, delaying the question of “labour reform” on such issues as temporary workers. Now officially the national debt stands at 112.7% but it has been estimated that the real figure is closer to 120%.

This situation explains the present crisis affecting Greece, which could have dramatic effects for the whole of the eurozone. The Greek bourgeoisie together with the EU Commissioners are getting extremely concerned, not so much because of the rate of the budget deficit and overall level of debt - other EU countries have equally high budget deficits, among them Britain – but because of the grim perspectives for the Greek economy.

The world crisis of capitalism is revealing which countries have the strength to resist in the world market, which countries have an industrial base that allows them to compete and survive in the world market. Greek wages are low compared to most eurozone member states and yet instead of going up Greek competitivity has actually gone. That indicates the parasitic nature of the Greek bourgeoisie, which has not invested sufficiently in productive capacity and technique. The cost of labour per unit of production in the past ten years has actually risen by 30% compared to Germany, where wages are far higher. The reason for this is that the average German worker is more productive because he or she has far more advanced technology and machinery to work with. Thus, although German wages may be higher, the amount that each worker produces in a day’s work is far greater than in a country like Greece.

The serious bourgeois fear that Greece – because it is falling further and further behind its competitors ‑ will not be in a position to pay its debts and will in fact accumulate more, thus preparing the conditions for the country defaulting on its payments. This year 13 of the 16 eurozone countries will be under observation by the EU Commission, but of these Greece is the one that is giving greatest concern to the EU officials.

The international and Greek bourgeoisie are putting immense pressure on the Greek government to carry out serious cuts, like those applied in Ireland. In fact in Greece they use the example of Ireland constantly. What they conveniently forget is that not so long ago Ireland was considered a model “neo-liberal” economy. In spite of this Ireland also is very much in crisis and is having to apply stringent cuts in spending.

As we have seen, Greek banks played an important role providing easy cheap credit. Now the Greek banking system is facing a severe crisis. In the past Greek banks invested heavily in Eastern Europe and Turkey. Now, however, because of the crisis in countries like Lithuania and the Ukraine, Greek banking profits have plummeted.

Kostas Karamanlis, leader of the bourgeois New Democracy party has been forced to resign over the abyssmal election results. Photo by New Democracy.Kostas Karamanlis, leader of the bourgeois New Democracy party has been forced to resign over the abyssmal election results. Photo by New Democracy. A year ago Karamanlis's New Democracy helped the banks with a €28 billion handout. This was partly in direct cash, and partly through the government becoming guarantor for the banks’ exposed loans, thereby transforming the private debt of the banks into public debt. Now the Greek economy faces a situation of practically permanent slump conditions. Serious bourgeois analysts are comparing the situation to that of stagnation faced by Japan in the past.

A large number of Greek families have survived in the recent period only by getting further and further into debt and we will see in the coming period many of these facing personal bankruptcy. Also, many small businesses will face collapse in the next period. Debts will not be paid and therefore the banks will suffer even more.

In 2009 the Greek banks received loans from the ECB (European Central Bank) at rates close to 1% and then they passed this on as loans in Greece at the rate of 4%. This reveals the utterly parasitic nature of the Greek banks, that were getting money for nothing and with the easy profits they were making, instead of facilitating lending, they were reducing their deficits accumulated in the previous period.

Similarly to other European countries that had massively bailed out their banks, the huge amounts of public money thrown at the banks did not induce these to make mortgages easier to get. In fact the growth of credit fell year-on-year in June 2009 by 7.9%. This affected both small businesses and family households.

What made things worse at the end of last year was when Trichet of the ECB announced they were going to cut loan facilities to Greece. This prepared the present nightmare scenario for the Greek financial system. The situation is so critical that any major bank could collapse in Greece in the coming period, and this time the government would not be in a position to carry out a large-scale bailout like last time. This means that the only option open to the bourgeois is to apply “shock therapy” as they call it, with massive cuts in social spending, involving the sacking of large numbers of public sector workers, wage freezes and so on.

Crisis in New Democracy

This is causing huge political problems for the Greek bourgeoisie. It is the present deep crisis of Greek capitalism that led to the defeat of the conservative New Democracy party back in October. Not only was it a defeat; with only 32.3% of the votes it was the biggest defeat for the party since 1974, when it was founded.

That defeat has led to a big internal crisis in ND, with a bitter leadership battle following after the leader resigned. The two main contenders were Dora Bakoyanni and Andonis Samaras. Bakoyanni is the daughter of a previous Prime Minister, Mitsotakis and also the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs. Samaras in the 1990s led a split from the ND when he brought down the then Mitsotakis government in 1993, although in the late 1990s he returned to the ranks of the ND.

During the contest all opinion polls indicated that the ND with Bakoyanni at the head would find it difficult to recover in the coming period. This is because Bakoyanni is totally identified with US imperialism, the policies of the recent Karamanlis government and the bourgeois elite and is a very unpopular politician in Greek society.

Samaras on the other hand has the image of being a rebel against the leadership, a populist who uses patriotic rhetoric, such as on the question of “Macedonia”. This is regularly used by the right wing in Greece to divert attention away from the real social problems. To this day Greece insists that Macedonia cannot us this name, but must call itself FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia). The reason for this, they claim, is that Macedonia could develop aspirations to expand into Greek territory, as the northern part of Greece is also called Macedonia. The idea that little weak Macedonia could ever seriously threaten Greece is laughable, but it is kept in reserve to frighten Greeks and foment nationalism.

The problem of the Greek bourgeoisie is that its direct political representative, the New Democracy party has been seriously damaged by its recent period in office. Therefore one section of the bourgeoisie understands the need to clean up the image of ND and give it a new profile if it is to play a role in the future.

There is also the added factor that Bakoyanni seems to have been involved big time in the Siemens scandal, which involved the Mitsotakis family. The German company Siemens allegedly paid over 100 million euros to Greek officials in order to win state contracts.

Considering all these problems, Samaras was seen as a populist leader that would be able to unite the social base of the party, galvanising the right-wing vote.

The ND thus proceeded to organise open primaries for the position of party leader and Samaras won with 52%, and Bakoyanni coming second with 39%, and Psomiadis coming in third. The latter, the mayor of Greater Saloniki, represents the extreme right of the party.

From the bourgeois point of view this was a good result as they hope that with this “new leadership” the party will be stronger. In fact at the end of 2009 ND was picking up in the polls somewhat, falling only 10 percentage points behind the PASOK, whereas just after the elections it was 20 points behind. Samaras is now trying to consolidate the right-wing voters and may even appeal to the extreme right-wing LAOS party of Karatzaferis for collaboration in parliament.

Dilemma of the new PASOK government

George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece. Photo by philippe grangeaud / solfé communications.George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece. Photo by philippe grangeaud / solfé communications. However, in spite of everything the right wing could do, it was the PASOK that emerged as the big winner in the elections. But the new Papandreou government is very different to the previous PASOK government of Simitis. Simitis governed at the peak of the boom and during a period of relative lull in the class struggle. Except for the year 2001 he governed during a period of falling strike figures. Now the economic, social and political situation in Greece is very different.

Back in 2001, after a general strike, Simitis was forced to withdraw his proposed attacks on pensions and other welfare reforms. Because of the boom, he could afford to delay some of the planned attacks on welfare. Now this new PASOK government has far less room to manoeuvre. The ruling class is putting huge pressure on it in a period where there is no economic growth. And at the same time the Greek labour movement and the youth is in a stage of recovery and reawakening.

Since 2004, under the ND government there were eleven general strikes, three of which were very big. There were many youth movements in the universities and schools, culminating in the December 2008 semi-insurrectionary explosion after the killing of a school student by the police. We saw then the courageous stand of the school students who were the most active protagonists of that movement.

In such a situation Papandreou realises he must tread carefully. In fact, in the first couple of months in office he tried to ignore the pressure coming from the bourgeois, both in Greece and internationally. He was publicly insisting that the rich should pay and not the poor and the pensioners. This reflected the huge pressure he felt from below, from the millions of working class families that are taking the brunt of the present crisis, who voted in the PASOK because they want a government that will govern in their interests.

Thus, one of the first measures he introduced was to give small subsidies of between €300 and €800 to the pensioners and the unemployed and also to impose a special tax on the rich and the private companies. This provided a small revenue income of €300 million euros as a one-off tax that was applied only for this year. This was clearly not what the bourgeois were expecting from Papandreou.

This contradictory approach of Papandreou reflected the pressure from below, of the social base of his party, the working class. An example of these contradictory class pressures being brought to bear on the PASOK government was when Papaconstantinou, the Minister of Finance, announced a wage freeze for all those in the public sector earning over €2000 a month. The leader of the PASOK MPs in parliament, Papoutsis, came out publicly against and the government was forced to back off. But then the pressure of the Greek and international bourgeois was brought to bear again on the government and in mid-December 2009 a wage freeze in the public sector was finally announced, together with other measures to create a “better mood” in the markets.

Before all this – and in order to pile on even more pressure – Greece was demoted by the credit rating agencies from A to B, which has had the effect of making borrowing for Greece more expensive, i.e. it has to borrow at a rate of interest 2-3% percentage points higher, thus actually contributing to making the debt even bigger. The banks started to feel the squeeze even more as this situation was clearly eating into their ability to make easy profits.

It was this outside pressure that pushed Papandreou into another about turn and proceed to impose the original proposal of a wage freeze in the public sector as a well as freeze on hiring news staff - with the exclusion of Health and Education. This also did not meet all the demands of the bourgeois as most hiring in the public sector in Greece today is precisely in Health and Education. They considered this as Papandreou playing games with them! They in fact defined it as a “joke”.

However, in attempting to appease the bourgeois, Papandreou also announced some further measures of privatisation. Before being re-elected he had promised the renationalisation of Olympic Airways and OTE (telecommunications). At the same time, in order to appease the workers, he imposed a 90% tax on bankers' bonuses! This attracted the wrath of Kathimerini, one of the serious bourgeois journals in Greece that accused him of “populism” as according to them this was not the solution to the problem.

The pressure of the bourgeois media has been unremitting. There has been a constant barrage against Papandreou, demanding he take action. This led him to announce a radical change in the Greek social security system and he opted for one similar to that introduced in Chile under Pinochet. The plan is to guarantee a small minimum pension for all and the rest is to be covered by workers having to turn to private pension funds. This goes hand in hand with plans to cut pensions and raise the age of retirement.

From the very beginning – in fact even before the elections – Papandreou has been fully aware of what his task is, but due to his fear of arousing the working class he tried to compromise, trying to be all things to all men. But Greek capitalism has no time to spare. The level of the state deficit means they must cut and cut and cut.

Greece is staring default in the face. The EU has stepped in only to avoid the IMF coming into what is part of the eurozone. In these conditions the pressure is remorseless. Papandreou's initial measures were only a prologue to what we are seeing now, an even bigger attack on welfare.

What Papandreou is aware of is that the PASOK can be pulled in different directions. Already there are clear signs of a division within the government. There are two basic wings. One is gathered around Papaconstantinou and Pangalos (the vice-premier) who represent the openly “neo-liberal” wing that is demanding more cuts. Another wing is gathered around Nora Katseli, the Minister for Growth (ex-Trade and Commerce), that is demanding measures to put more pressure on the banks and to provide greater relief for the poor and the indebted.

Pressure on the trade union leaders

Papandreou is attempting to balance between the two wings. However, it must be said that there are no fundamental differences between these two wings at this stage. Both wings declare themselves for the “market”. At this stage there is not yet a genuine left opposition inside the party. That is something we will see in the future, starting first in the trade union wing, the PASKE faction in the GSEE (general confederation of workers) and in ADEDY (public sector workers).

The trade union leaders linked to the PASOK until recently were still trying to hold back the ranks. For example, while in the recent big public sector strike, ADEDY was no longer in a position to hold back the pressure from below, the leaders of the GSEE did not call their members out. Now, however, under the pressure from below and because of the big attacks on the workers, the trade union leaders have been forced to abandon the “dialogue table” and call a 24-hour general strike for February 24.

What has the attitude of the Greek working class been towards Papandreou since he was elected? First of all one has to remember that it was the working class that voted him in. Initially it would be natural for them to wait and see what he could achieve. They do not see him as the enemy, but as a “friend”. But as each day passes, and as the policy of Papandreou is exposed more and more for what it is, important layers of the working class have been rapidly losing these illusions.

The truth is that the mass of the working class, since the beginning of the recession, has been in a state of shock, of fear. Mass sackings created a spirit of terror, of fear of losing their jobs. This was enhanced by the role of the leadership, which has offered no alternative. This is also true of what in Greece is called the “traditional left”, i.e. those parties that emanate from a Communist tradition, the KKE (Communist Party) and Synaspismos. These two parties combined received over 12% of the vote, which highlights the fact that a significant layer of the Greek working class and the youth already have no confidence in the PASOK government. The problem is that their leaderships have proven incapable of offering a real alternative perspective to the working class.

The trade union leaders are also facing a dilemma. In reality they have no coherent alternative to the policies of the PASOK government. We can see that on the question of social security “reform”. In spite of the government attacks both Panagopoulos, the President of the GSEE, and Papaspirous, President of ADEDY, continued to “dialogue” with the government for a “common solution” to all the problems. But as we have seen, the pressure of the situation forced the ADEDY leaders to call a general strike on February 11.

The government has been terrorising the people with the idea that there is only enough money to pay pensions for a further four years. They ignore the real problem, which has always been the fact that many private firms evade paying into the social security funds. The fact is that 30% of all Greek companies do not pay into these funds, because they operate in the black economy. In the eurozone the level of evasion is only 5-8%. If the companies that operate in the black economy paid contributions for the workers they employ, the social security funds wouldn't be in such a sorry state.

What is required is workers' control over the social security system. That is the only way of solving this problem. Instead the trade union leaders attempted to limit everything to negotiations with the government over how much the age of retirement should be raised by and how much pensions should be cut!

Working class being radicalised

The initial impact of all this was to create confusion within the workers' movement and a certain paralysis. That is already beginning to change now. It started with the “stage” workers (workers paid with funds provided by the EU special “stage” programme for “work experience”). These are mainly young workers in the public sector that are on half wages and without permanent contracts or any rights whatsoever.

General strike in Athens on December 10, 2008. Photo by solidnet_photos.General strike in Athens on December 10, 2008. Photo by solidnet_photos. This was the sector that felt the main brunt of the attacks of the PASOK government. They were in fact all sacked! This provoked big strikes of this 25,000-strong workforce (and three big demonstrations) who then attempted to link up with other sections. Incredibly, the initial response of the trade union leaders was that nothing could be done about this and that the workers must accept the sackings!

We also saw the reaction of the dockworkers against the privatisation of the Piraeus docks that had been sold to the Chinese company, COSCO. Before the elections the PASOK leadership had promised to reverse this privatisation, but once elected it reneged on its promises. The strike of the dockers, because it came early in the process, and because there was no leadership, was eventually defeated.

All this led to confusion within the working class and a kind of “wait-and-see” approach towards the government. The problem was that the workers were not in a position to wait for long. They have already made enough sacrifices and there is hardly any room for more.

This is what has led to a complete change in mood of important layers of the working class, and especially of the youth. There has been a clear turn to the left in the consciousness of a significant layer. That mood surfaced clearly in December 2008 and is now surfacing again.

This radical mood of the youth is reflected in their voting patterns. Among the youth between the ages of 18 and 25 years, 25% voted for the KKE and the Synaspismos, i.e. more than twice the level of support among the wider population. Within the same age group only 17% voted for the ND, about half what this party receives from the population as a whole.

An opinion poll published in Kathimerini already at the end of November revealed that 46% of Greeks have a positive opinion about socialism; that 21-26% of people between the age of 18 and 34 expressed the view that “we need a revolution”; and 60-65% of all age groups expressed the view that “we need deep social change”.

This reveals how profound the change in consciousness has been. Unfortunately this is not yet reflected fully in the leadership of the left. And because of this crisis of the left we see certain layers of the youth being attracted to the ultra-left fringe and certain anarchist moods prevail. The journal Vima published an article in early December based on a Police Report that revealed that up to December 2008 the anarchists in Athens had 800 members, but had now reached 2000-2500 members.

In fact last year on the traditional November 17 rally to commemorate the 1973 massacre of the Polytechnic students, the anarchists had a large turnout, second only to that of the KNE, the Communist Youth who gathered 2500 youth behind their banners. These facts are further indicators of the level of youth radicalisation. Because the reformists offer no solution, a layer of the youth seeks the road of practical, “direct action” and that is why the anarchists attract a certain layer at this stage.

In the same opinion poll published by Kathimerini it was found that 4% of youth declare themselves communist, but another 4% declare themselves “anti-authoritarian”. This is a reflection of the crisis of reformism. Unfortunately, the marvellous revolutionary potential of a layer of the youth is being dragged down the blind alley of anarchism.

These are, however, very favourable conditions for the Marxists to intervene and offer an alternative to the impasse of both anarchism and reformism. As the labour movement and the working class as a whole put their mark on the situation, the limitations of the ultra-left will become clearer.

Under growing pressure from the EU and the Greek bourgeois, Papandreou has announced stringent measures, with severe cuts in social spending. This provoked the partial general strike of February 11. It was partial because it was not called by the whole of the trade union movement. ADEDY called a strike of the public sector. This is where the full brunt of the attacks is being felt. But PAME, which is the KKE faction inside the GSEE also added its name to the call. This produced an important reaction with big rallies across Greece. As we have seen, it is clear, that the leaders of the PASOK faction of the GSEE, the PASKE, would prefer to hold back the workers back, using their authority as PASOK trade unionists. But the anger of the workers is growing day by day. There is a limit to what these leaders can do.

There have been strikes by taxi drivers against changes to how they will be taxed. Customs officials have taken strike action against measures that would cut their wages. Public servants took part in the big strike against a pay freeze earlier this month. Yesterday Papaconstantinou, the Finance Minister, could not get into his office because striking government workers had set up a picket outside his ministry building. Outside the same ministry former workers of the recently privatized Olympic Air were demonstrating.

Meanwhile, the government’s austerity measures are provoking further strike action. Customs officers ended a 48-hour strike yesterday, but have announced more strikes for next week. And this has all culminated in the GSEE leaders call a 24-hour general strike for next Wednesday, February 24. The fact that the GSEE leaders have finally been forced to call a general strike is an indication of how strong the pressure from below has become.

Ultra-left tactics

Now the movement is becoming generalised, but in the recent period the antics of the PAME leaders did not help in building up a united working class movement. They have been for some time on what can only be called a “Third Period” type ultra-left binge. The leaders of PAME have no real alternative to offer, and to cover this they have been involved in a kind of “revolutionary gymnastics”.

Back in December they called their own “general strike” on 16th . They made no attempt to appeal to the PASKE workers for joint action. There was no preparation, no campaign to convince workers, no resolutions in the trade unions. It was basically a KKE strike, a party strike, with a clear division of the working class. They first announced the strike in the KKE journal, Rizopastis! In the process they even managed to alienate the Synaspismos trade union members, accusing them of being simply the “same as PASKE”.

The fact is that the majority of workers voted for the PASOK and were not keen to join a strike which they saw as being against “their government”. They were waiting to see what “their government” would come up with. On November 24 there had already been another such sectarian approach to calling strikes. There was a PAME strike and demonstration, which was so small that it was clear that not even all the KKE members had turned up.

On the December 16 strike there was even division on the left. The KKE (PAME), the Synaspismos and the various small left groups, all organised their own separate rallies. This was not the best way to inspire the PASOK workers that there is a serious alternative on the left.

However, in spite of all these limitations, it is the sheer pressure of the situation that has led to the recent February general strike of ADEDY with PAME. And now the PASKE leaders have finally bee n forced to call, strike action as well.

Situation in the Communist Party

These ultra-left tactics on the part of the KKE trade union front have led to some internal criticisms inside the KKE itself, with open discussions with dissenting views being expressed in the KKE journal and website. There was also a much more open pre-congress dialogue last year. This is something new for the KKE. However, it also explains on the one hand a growing number of expulsions from the party and at the same time the ultra-left trade union tactics of PAME, the KKE front inside the GSEE. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Lenin’s tactic of the united front. It has a lot more to do with the ultra-left turn at the end of the 1930s under Stalin known as the Third Period.

In an attempt to cover up their own opportunism, the party leadership at the last party congress pushed for the reaffirmation of the party’s adherence to Stalinism, justifying the Moscow Trials in the 1930s. All this is an attempt to isolate the party ranks from the impact of the real objective situation. They try and hide behind the banner of Stalinism, somehow trying to show that this means they are still loyal to the ideas of Communism.

Greece has a longstanding historical Communist tradition. Prior to 1974 the main party of the Greek working class was the KKE. To this day its youth wing, the KNE is the biggest left youth organisation in Greece. This creates problems for the KKE leaders, for such large numbers of youth inevitably bring into the party the growing pressures from the objective situation. In order to cover their own limitation, therefore, the KKE leaders cover themselves on the left by expressing allegiance to Stalin and Stalinism. In spite of this however, in the past this has not saved them from huge opposition mounting from below and opposition currents and even splits emerging within the KNE. Under the present circumstances it is inevitable that opposition will grow once more, as thousands of communist workers and youth seek the genuine ideas of Lenin and revolutionary Marxism.

The Synaspismos

It is precisely this rigid adherence to Stalinism on the part of the KKE leaders, combined with ultra-leftism in the trade union front that explains why the Synaspismos exists. This is a party that was born out of splits in the KKE in the past. Synaspismos was originally an electoral coalition towards the end of the 1980s, bringing together the two Greek Communist Parties, the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Greek Left, the successor to the eurocommunist Communist Party of Greece (Interior). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the openly Stalinist wing of the KKE purged all the other currents from the party and broke from the coalition that had made up the Synaspismos.

Since then, to the left of the PASOK there have been two parties, the KKE and the Synaspismos. The Synaspismos is a much more open party, where there is greater freedom to express dissenting views. Synaspismos has promoted an electoral front known as SYRIZA, which has within it many different left groups. However, the bulk of the front is made up of the Synaspismos.

The pressures of the objective situation have led to an open left-right conflict within the party. The right wing is more inclined to seek an alliance with the PASOK, and also in favour of liquidating the party. The left wing reacts against this and has been moved further left under the hammer blows of events.

In 2004 for the first time the left wing of the party took the position of chairman when Alekos Alavanos was elected party leader. In 2008 he was replaced by Alexis Tsipras, again from the left wing of the party. But the right wing of the party has been a constant thorn in the side, with its attempts to pull the party further to the right.

For the past few years the idea has been raised to transform SYRIZA into a party. Tsipras has defended this idea in the past, even issuing an open call on all left groups to join a single party with the right to organize tendencies. This is part of the struggle against the right wing of the party, which is very small numerically, but has a large representation in the parliamentary group, with 5 MPs out of the total of 13 that SYRIZA has.

Before the October elections the right wing of the Synaspismos was making a lot of noise about splitting and moving towards an alliance with the PASOK. They based this on the perspectives that the PASOK would need the right-wing SYRIZA MPs to give it a majority in parliament. In the end the PASOK won enough seats to govern on its own and the prospect of a split receded somewhat. However, there is much resentment within the ranks of the Synaspismos against this wing, as it is seen as openly working against the party.

The coming period

In the coming period the severe crisis of capitalism is going to put all the labour movement organisations under immense pressure. The present PASOK leadership will show in practice where it really stands. Papandreou will have to carry out the policies dictated by the bankers, the capitalists, the EU officials. There will be huge cuts in public spending, sackings of public sector workers, wage freezes and so on. Unemployment will continue to increase. This will mean enormous suffering for the masses.

The workers have voted in the PASOK, but with the present policies the leaders of the party will prepare the conditions for another defeat, as Simitis did in the past. This will provoke open divisions within the party as the workers will push for a break with right-wing policies.

The situation inside Synaspismos will also become more tense, as the ranks move against the right wing, as they strive for a policy more in line with the interests of the workers and youth. The KKE will also be pushed into an ever more radical stance.

A huge majority of the Greek workers voted for left parties in the recent elections. The forces are there for a radical transformation of society. Unfortunately, the present PASOK leadership, rather than acting on the aspirations of the workers who voted them into office, are bending under the pressure of the bosses. But this situation cannot hold for ever.

Inevitably, the pressures of the situation will push the workers and youth of Greece to seek a revolutionary path. That can only be provided by the ideas of Marxists. The present crisis shows quite clearly that what the Marxists have argued for all along is the only way out. The workers’ parties should abandon any attempt to tinker with the capitalist system and adopt a programme that puts an end to capitalism, which is the source of all the problems.

The only way of achieving the modest demands of the workers, jobs for all, good healthcare, decent housing, decent pensions and so on, is through the nationalisation of the banks and the major companies of Greece, to be run under workers’ control and management. There is no other road.