Greece goes to the elections on Sunday, the outcome of which will be determined by several factors, an important one being the sense of betrayal and disappointment among many of the SYRIZA voters, but there is also a process of radicalisation taking place on the left.
The outgoing government started the biggest privatisation plan ever, worth 50 billion euros. They have raised the age of retirement to 67, cut the minimum pension to 350 euros. They are also cutting by 100 euros disability pensions. Ordinary people have lost the equivalent of almost two wages because of the increase in VAT.
After the elections, in line with the dictates contained in the third Memorandum that Tsipras signed up to in August, we will see a barrage of austerity measures passed through parliament. According to the August agreement, 80% of the measures must be passed by the end of the year into law. This means that 127 different bills must be voted on in the Greek parliament before the end of this year.
All this will serve only to further aggravate the already disastrous economic situation. There has, in fact, been no real improvement in the economic situation in Greece. Austerity has only served to aggravate the crisis. According to economists overall unemployment will rise to 30% by the end of this year, while GDP is expected to contract by a further 4% this year. The Financial Times has calculated that the effects of these measures will be at least another three years of recession and that in the period 2015-17 there will be an overall contraction of 12.5%.
Already, the effects of controls on bank transactions and capital movements have been that for the first time since the Second World War there is now a shortage of basic goods. This can be seen in the supermarkets that import goods from Germany and the rest of the European Union. There is also a shortage of raw materials for big industry, further stifling the development of the economy.
All this has come like a huge social shock, and a big change in the political situation is being prepared. We should not forget that the biggest event in the last period was not so much Tsipras’ betrayal and the new Memorandum that he signed up to – the workers and youth could see this coming – but the extraordinary revolutionary mobilisation for the OXI [NO] in the referendum. That huge movement was fundamentally a proletarian and youth movement. On the basis of this big event there is now a big political vacuum on the left. The question is: who will express this politically?
While wide layers still see no alternative to SYRIZA, the most advanced layers are concluding on the basis of these events that Tsipras has betrayed their aspirations, and are starting to look for a new political expression. This will later spread to the mass of workers and youth also.
The Greek bourgeoisie understand this, as do the capitalists of the more powerful European powers. That is why they are backing Tsipras and the team around him, which is now behaving more like their puppet. The early elections are a means of completing and consolidating the betrayal after the referendum.
All this is a recipe for more class struggle and big conflicts in Greek society. One thing that is seeping into the consciousness of the masses is that things can only get worse on this basis. The problem is that at this stage they see no viable alternative.
In this situation, Tsipras remains the only real option for the Greek capitalists to push their agenda, which is dictated by the EU. The bourgeois media – for now – is being very friendly towards Tsipras and are helping him to spend what remains of his authority to impose the new Memorandum.
However, Tsipras is no longer the popular figure that he was just six months ago. He has been exposed as having no real alternative to the austerity measures being demanded by the Troika. He has betrayed the hopes the masses placed in him and in the process he has also destroyed SYRIZA as a party of active members intervening in the movement.
Electorally the party still has a base, as the masses are hoping against hope that he can still do something to alleviate the pain of austerity, but as a living, active party with an internal life, it is no longer the party it was. Added to this, there is also the fact that it no longer has a left wing, which has broken away to form a new party, Popular Unity (Laiki Enotita),, taking with it the most radicalised elements.
The calling of early elections was actually agreed with the Troika, with Merkel, Schäuble and company all expressing satisfaction and support for what Tsipras is doing now. Tsipras was in fact planning to call early elections for some time. There is a constitutional technicality which states that if elections are called within one year of the previous elections, then the candidates elected by each party are not determined by the freely expressed preference votes on the ballot paper but by each party leader. This was a way of Tsipras removing the Left MPs of SYRIZA, and was in fact the advice the Greek bourgeois had been giving him all along.
In March, the serious Greek bourgeois daily, Ekathimerini, published an article under the title, “Tsipras needs rupture with far-left, not Brussels” in which it posed this question, “Does Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, have the guts to break with his far-left faction? The country’s fate hangs on the answer to this question.” And this was followed by… “the most sensible move would be to call a second election. The prime minister could then kick out his far-left faction and replace its MPs with moderates.”
The prospect of not having any candidates elected on the lists of SYRIZA was one element that precipitated the split, together with the blatant abandonment of the Thessaloniki programme and the betrayal of the No vote in the referendum.
New Democracy calling for grand coalition
SYRIZA, however, is not the only party to have suffered internal frictions. For different reasons the main bourgeois party, the New Democracy (ND), have also had their problems after Samaras resigned. They were incapable of finding a new leader with sufficient authority to hold the party together and lead it. They do not want to organise internal elections now because they fear that this could provoke a split between the Samaras and Bakogianni groups, the far right and the “neoliberal” wings of ND.
In fact, one of the reasons why the bourgeoisie is using Tsipras to push through the Memorandum measures is that they have no authoritative bourgeois politician that can do it. They are trying to use Tsipras as much as they can for the next period and then they will proceed to change the leadership in ND and try to get rid of Tsipras when he has been further discredited. That explains why Meimarakis, who is only supposed to be the acting leader of ND until they can elect a new leader, is being kept in place without any internal discussion in the party.
Meimarakis is calling for a grand coalition of ND, SYRIZA and all the pro-Memoranda parties. The reason for this is that Brussels and the Greek bourgeois need a stable government with a comfortable majority over the next few years if they are to get the austerity measures through. Without ND, any coalition government of SYRIZA with smaller forces would have a slim majority. Some have calculated that a SYRIZA-PASOK-Potami coalition may muster only 160 MPs out of 300, which is considered as being unstable and too weak to resist the various pressures such a government would come under.
This is placing Tsipras in an uncomfortable position. He is trying to portray himself as the only political leader who can at least soften the pain imposed by the austerity, and to be seen as being prepared to govern with the party of the class enemy would be an embarrassment. That explains why Tsipras keeps insisting he is not willing to govern with ND and poses the option of forming a coalition with PASOK and To Potami, but these also were pro-Memoranda parties, thus the message goes out that what SYRIZA has to offer is a continuation of austerity. However, in spite of stating he does not want to form a coalition with ND, it is clear he is under pressure and is open to the idea.
This can only happen because after the depth of the betrayal of the masses after such a massive No vote in the referendum, the working class and the youth are disorientated and disappointed. In these conditions we see a move towards abstention among wide layers, with people simply not knowing who to vote for. However, many will continue to vote Syriza, but without the previous enthusiasm. They feel that ND back in government would be worse and therefore they will vote for SYRIZA in an attempt to at least reduce the amount of austerity they will have to suffer.
Tsipras is tapping into this mood by openly saying he is the only one who can “reduce the pain” of the Memorandum. Therefore, many of the disappointed Syriza electorate, seeing no viable alternative, will vote for the party with the idea of giving Tsipras “one last chance”.
These conditions explain why ND has made a significant recovery since January. After the January elections, opinion polls were putting ND as low as 15-16%, but now after the betrayal by Tsipras ND has recovered and is very close to SYRIZA at around 25% or more. This does not mean that the masses are turning to ND, for in absolute terms there is no such recovery; it is only in relative percentage terms that ND is getting stronger due to the tendency towards abstention on the part of a section of the SYRIZA electorate. PASOK is also expected to recover some of its vote, although only very slightly, and the same applies to To Potami, which could reach 6-7%.
Different opinion polls give different results:
One conducted by MRB for the newspaper Agora gives the following picture: SYRIZA 29.6%, ND 27.4%, Golden Dawn 7.5%, To Potami 6.7%, KKE 5.7%, Union of Centrists 5.7%, Popular Unity 5.1%, PASOK 4.7%, ANEL 2.8%, Other parties 4.8%, Undecided voters: 16.9%.
Another opinion poll conducted for ISKRA, the website of Lafazanis gives the following: SYRIZA 22%, ND 24%, Golden Dawn 9%, To Potami 6%, KKE8%, Union of Centrists 3.2%, Popular Unity 10%, PASOK 4.5%, Papandreou’s party 3.5%.
And Kapa Research which carried a poll for the To VIMA daily paper gave these results: SYRIZA 27.3%, ND 24.2%, Golden Dawn 6.8%, To Potami 5.5%, KKE 5%, Union of Centrists 3.3 %, Popular Unity 4.8%, PASOK 4.3%, ANEL 3%, Undecided 13.2%
Although there is inevitably some degree of variation between the different polls, the general picture seems clear, but it is the “undecided” voters – between 16.9% and 25% – that render difficult any precise prediction of the outcome of Sunday’s election. Most of these will decide at the last minute who to vote for.
The polls were showing that SYRIZA and ND were more or less neck and neck at around 25-30%, but more recent polls indicate that SYRIZA has a small lead over ND. The SYRIZA electorate has three main possibilities, to continue to vote for SYRIZA, to vote for Popular Unity or to abstain, with a small number moving over to the KKE.
In these conditions we also have the growth of the populist Union of Centrists, led by Vassilis Leventis, a group that never went above the 3% threshold and has therefore never had a parliamentary representation. This time, however, due to the utter bankruptcy of the mainstream parties, it could get into parliament with 3.5-4% of the votes, mainly from disillusioned ex-SYRIZA voters and ex-Golden Dawn voters, mainly youth who wish to ridicule the whole political system..
The Golden Dawn is not gaining from this in any significant manner. We must remember that two to three years ago it stood at 12%. Now it is expected to get between 5 and 7%.
Prospects for Popular Unity party
The Popular Unity party that has emerged from SYRIZA’s left wing has gathered the best active layers of the old Left Platform, including practically all the trade union cadres that were part of the SYRIZA trade union faction. Its leadership is mainly in the hands of the Left Current, the main tendency within the Left Platform. Its programme is to the left of SYRIZA’s old programme. It includes such demands as the cancellation of the public debt, exit from the Eurozone, a new national currency the nationalisation of the banks under workers’ and “people’s” control, the nationalization of the “strategic sectors” of the economy and a radical reform of the state through a constituent assembly.
The problem with the position of Lafazanis, the leader of the new party, is that, in spite of sounding very radical and left-wing, he still envisages his programme of being one that can be carried out within the confines of capitalism. It is a programme for stimulating the growth of capitalism. A return to the drachma is seen as a means of boosting exports and thereby economic recovery. In reality, if such a programme were carried out, a new currency on the basis of capitalism would be as disastrous as staying within the confines of the EU.
It is clear that socialism cannot be built in Greece on the basis of the euro. Only on the basis of a socialist transformation of Greece would a national currency make sense. But by not explaining this, Lafazanis opens himself up to being easily attacked by the bourgeois media, who have mounted a scare-mongering campaign about a disastrous exit from the euro.
The irony of this situation is that sooner or later Greece will in fact be pushed out of the euro. With the economy further contracting and the public debt going above 200% of GDP, the situation will be unsustainable. Then Greece will be forced to adopt a national currency. And on a capitalist basis this will lead to an immediate devaluation and further deepening of the crisis. Lafazanis will then have to explain why a return to drachma has not solved the problems. Unless he clearly links a return to the drachma with an overall programme of socialist transformation he will become an easy target for the bourgeois media. That must be avoided at all costs. The party must adopt the programme of the Communist Tendency if it wishes to avoid such a scenario.
In this situation what are the electoral prospects for the new party? As we have seen, the opinion polls indicate that it will get sufficient votes to get into parliament, but it is clear that at this stage there is no serious mass surge towards it.
How does one explain this? The masses have been betrayed by a leader they believed in. It is always the case that when a left party betrays the aspirations of the masses, a new party from within the old cannot simply present itself promising to be better and convince the masses easily. The general mood of disappointment, the growing levels of abstention, and the desire among another wider layer to give Tsipras one last chance, all contribute to the weakness of the new party, at this stage.
Although it stands to the left of what SYRIZA defended prior to bowing to the pressures of the Troika, there is still a lot of suspicion towards the new party, in particular towards the Left Platform’s ministers in the Tsipras government Panagiotis Lafazanis, Dimitris Stratoulis and Kostas Ishichos. This is because of the role they played in the Tsipras government. They stayed in the government to the very end, and did not resign but were pushed out by Tsipras. It will therefore take some time for Lafazanis and the party as a whole to regain their authority. The party is also being squeezed by the general mood of either abstention or voting unenthusiastically for Tsipras. Where the party is particularly weak is among the youth. There is in fact a widespread rejection of all parties on the part of the youth and the new party is no different.
If the Popular Unity maintains a presence in parliament – as seems most likely – while Tsipras applies all the austerity measures demanded of him by the Troika, leading to a debacle such as that which the PASOK suffered after it carried out the previous Memoranda, then the new party would be in a position to grow on the left. A grand coalition of all the pro-Memoranda parties together with a right-wing SYRIZA would creat the ideal conditions for growth of both Popular Unity and the KKE on the left. The Golden Dawn would also grow in such conditions, although it is still relatively weak at this stage.
The state of SYRIZA
As we said, SYRIZA remains the main option for most voters who do not want to see a return of ND into office. But from the point of view of an active party with a rank and file taking part in the internal life of the party, as a party which can be a point of reference for those who want to be actively involved in fighting austerity, in fighting for a change in society, it has been destroyed by Tsipras.
There has been wave after wave of resignations from the party. At its peak, in the winter 2012-13 SYRIZA had more than 40,000 members, and just prior to him surrendering to the Troika the party had on paper around 30,000 members, although less than half were active. After July 12th the majority of the active members left the party. Since the 20th August acceptance of the new Memorandum every day we have had the announcement of resignations from the party. The group around Tsipras now controls an empty shell made up mainly of party officials, party members who are state officials and functionaries, MPs, councillors, etc.
This is no base for a serious election campaign among the workers and youth in the workplaces, colleges and neighbourhoods. That explains why the campaign is mainly a media one. It also explains why recently Tsipras called a party conference with no elected delegated, but simply a gathering of the party “cadres”. At that conference Tsipras referred to a “parallel programme to the Memoranda”, one which would “reduce the pain”, but he made no concrete proposals, uttering simply empty words.
On Wednesday of last week there was four-hour long TV debate between representatives of seven parties, Tsipras (SYRIZA), Meimarakis (New Democracy), Koutsoumpas (KKE), Genimatta (PASOK), Kammenos (ANEL), Lafazanis (Popular Unity) and Theodorakis (To Potami). The general opinion of people who watched the programme was that no one made any real concrete proposals, with some deciding to switch the TV off at a certain point. The only one who stood out to a certain degree was the representative of the KKE. Then on Monday of this week there was a one to one debate between Tsipras and Meimarakis to add to the boredom. Neither of them came out clearly with what they would do in government. The reason for that is that they would both carry out more or less the same programme, as their programme has been decided elsewhere. In fact the Troika has made it clear that whoever wins the elections must stick to the agreed terms of the latest Memorandum.
It is this similarity in the programmes of the main parties that explains the opinion polls we have quoted above. When there is very little to choose from the general public find it difficult to decide who to vote for. In the end most on the left will vote SYRIZA in the hope that it will somehow alleviate the austerity.
The KKE (Greek Communist Party)
The KKE has moved very far to the left in recent years, abandoning its old ideas of stages towards socialism, of popular frontism, etc., and has made many correct criticisms of SYRIZA and the reformism of its leaders. It has explained, for example that, “Capitalism and its international unions, such as the EU, cannot have their character changed by negotiations, referenda, allegedly left-wing governments. Any government that functions on the terrain of the capitalist economy is obliged to observe its immutable anti-people laws that bleed the people in order to reinforce capital’s competitiveness, profitability, and investments.” [See: No Compromises]
It also states that, “…the only alternative solution in favour of the people, proposed by the KKE, is found in the socialization of the means of production, unilateral cancellation of the debt, central planning of the economy, disengagement from the imperialist unions of the EU and NATO, with the people in power.”
The KKE also has a much clearer position on the question of a return to the drachma. It says the following:
“What will a return to a capitalist Greece with a national currency mean today for the workers and other popular strata? It will mean the impoverishment of the people, the rapid deterioration of living standards. Who will benefit from this? Again, as today with the euro, it will benefit sections of the bourgeoisie, for example, those who have taken care to transfer their deposits abroad, or those which believe that the rates of profitability will recover through the return to a national currency.
“Therefore, it is a false dilemma. They are using the dilemma of the euro or the drachma to exculpate the capitalist development path. The capitalist development path, either with the euro or with the drachma, leads to crises, unemployment, poverty for the many, wealth and privileges for the few.”
Unfortunately these correct conclusions are accompanied by a position of standing aloof from the mass movements of the recent period. For example they also say that, “What is very important to understand is that the vague anti-memoranda slogans which were dominant in these demonstrations in the squares, it is quite a stretch to characterize this phenomenon as being a ‘movement,’ concealed the fact that the memoranda are a part of the EU’s and capital’s strategy.” And added that, “The ‘squares’ were an activity that was backed and promoted by the bourgeois mass media against and in opposition to the organized class-oriented trade union movement.”
That explains why the KKE leadership adopted a sectarian stance during the referendum, calling on people to abstain. It has systematically refused the idea of a United Front with SYRIZA in the past. If it had applied Lenin’s idea of the United Front it would have appealed to the SYRIZA leaders for unity against the austerity demanded by the Troika. It would have supported every positive step of the SYRIZA leaders, and would have called on those leaders not to turn to bourgeois parties such as ANEL to form a government. But at every retreat it would have made clear its opposition. In the referendum they should have called for a No vote. Because they did not, they suffered a temporary setback. Many KKE voters took part in the referendum voting No.
However, now it is abundantly clear that the SYRIZA leaders did not want to act on the No. In fact, it has become known that the SYRIZA leaders were hoping either for a very small victory or even to lose in the referendum, which would have legitimised their compromise with the Troika. The SYRIZA leaders miscalculated, and the result was they were exposed in the eyes of a significant layer of the working class, and this has now benefitted to a small degree the KKE leaders. They can now say “we were right” and can point the finger at Tsipras’s betrayal.
On this basis, the KKE is set to pick up some votes, winning back some of those who used to vote KKE but voted SYRIZA in January in the hope of achieving a Left government, and also a layer of disillusioned SYRIZA supporters. A small layer of SYRIZA activists have turned to the KKE on this basis.
Both the KKE and Popular Unity stand at around 5-6% each, and possibly more, in the opinion polls. There is also Antarsya, the small coalition of left groups which may be able to muster around 1%. If these forces stood on a joint platform they would have the potential to win 12-13% and possibly more. This would be an important force to the left of SYRIZA and could gain enormously on the basis of an experience of a coalition government carrying out the Memorandum.
Unfortunately, the sickness of sectarianism stops this from coming into being. The KKE treats Lafazanis as simply a Tsipras mark II, and Antarsya has split over the question of adhering to the Popular Unity.
The experience of the recent period, in spite of all the confusion and disorientation among the masses which flows from the compromise and retreat of the SYRIZA leaders, is also changing the social mood in Greek society. None of the problems that led to the mass movements of the recent years and the election of SYRIZA have been solved. In fact things are getting worse and the masses can feel that more pain is to come.
All this is preparing new waves of revolutionary upsurge and the serious bourgeois can see this. They are commenting in the decline of Tsipras’s authority and influence. De facto, Tsipras has played the role brake on the mass movement, but in applying that brake he has partially exposed himself and there are growing layers drawing conclusions from this.
This explains the comments of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, this summer. He expressed concern about the political consequences of the recent agreement with the Greek government. He said, "When impatience becomes not an individual but a social experience of feeling, this is the introduction for revolutions.” As is very often the case, serious bourgeois come to the same conclusions, albeit from a different class point of view, as Marxists. For them, recognition of the danger of revolution means preparing to avoid it. For the Marxists it means preparing to intervene in order to help lead such revolutions to a victorious outcome for the workers and youth.
Wide layers of the Greek working class and youth are losing confidence in the future of capitalism. They are open to new ideas and are seeking real alternatives. This is preparing the ground for further political radicalisation in the coming period, which means another experience of a government – whatever its make-up – that carries out more draconian austerity on top of what the masses have already had to suffer, will lead to greater polarisation within society. The workers and youth will seek more radical political solutions on the left, which means that both Popular Unity and the KKE will be strengthened and at the same time the far-right will also gain. This is a recipe for intensified class struggle on a much higher level than we have seen so far.