The results of the recent municipal and regional elections in Greece clearly outline the current social and political crisis in the country. The main feature that stands out is the rejection of both the PASOK government and the New Democracy, the right-wing conservative opposition. This was expressed by a high level of abstentions and also by the increase in the votes for various Left forces, especially in the largest municipalities of Greece. In particular, the growth of the KKE [Communist Party] reveals a shift to the left within the Greek electorate.
The large level of abstention
Abstentions reached unprecedented levels, especially in the largest cities. In Athens, 57.74% of the electorate abstained, in Piraeus 57.38%, in Salonika 46.62% and in Patras 39.81%. This level of abstention is in reality a confused political protest on the part of hundreds of thousands of people, who are facing with a deep capitalist crisis and who have lost faith in the ability of the current institutions of bourgeois parliamentarianism to offer any improvement in their lives.
Abstention is not an expression of a once and for all fixed conscious standpoint. It is rather a symptom of the current transitional phase in the psychology of the masses, characterised by a basic political anger, frustration and scepticism. It is the reaction to the shock suffered by the masses as a result of the violent eruption of the crisis, and the realisation that right now there is no viable, immediate solution to their problems.
The government, on the other hand, has claimed that abstention was in reality the expression of tolerance towards its policies. But this is entirely false. The reason for the abstention was rage and indignation against the government, not tolerance of its policies! And this was clear in every discussion held with voters who chose to abstain.
Moreover, the leaders of the traditional left-wing parties [KKE and Synaspismos] should not accuse the voters who abstained of being “political immature” as they did in the past elections, but rather contemplate on their own deficiencies. For, if the traditional left had advocated a united, clear class programme for socialism, those confused masses would have chosen them over abstention.
Defeat of the government and its future
The PASOK government, quite arrogantly, claimed to be satisfied with the fact that the majority of its supporters had preferred to abstain rather than to vote for another party. However, the figures show that the loss of supporters, compared to the last general elections, a mere one year ago, is big.
In the Attica region (the biggest prefecture in Greece, including Athens and its suburbs and Piraeus), the PASOK lost 400,000 votes, more than the half of its support last year. In the municipality of Athens, it lost 60,000 votes and in Piraeus almost 50% of its voters. In Salonika and Patras, it lost one third of its voters. Nationally, the PASOK lost 1.1 million votes.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister, G. Papandreou threatened to hold early national elections if the government lost the municipal ones. However, he ate his words after the results of the recent local elections, claiming that there are not going to be early elections. This was no bluff, as some people claim. It was a decisive means of pressurising the voters, and terrorising them, in order to maintain as much support as possible. However, the deep recession and the fast approaching bankruptcy, as many capitalist commentators are saying, from the point of view of the ruling class, demand a government with a wider consensus among the electorate, which means early elections in order to form a coalition government. Had the rate of abstention been lower and had the PASOK lost the position of first place in the Attica region, the possibility of early elections would have been greater.
Despite the postponement of early elections, the results still amount to the same thing: this has been a big defeat for the PASOK, which means an important weakening of the government, considering the harsh measures which it has to apply in the next months. The results have also unsettled the bourgeois press about the future of the government. “Kathimerini”, the main bourgeois paper, is only giving Papandreou a few more months, while at the same time expressing concern about instability, because of the government’s weakness. Moreover, other bourgeois media fear for “the government’s loss of support and the strengthening of the Left”.
In reality, this government has a limited lifespan. Under the pressure of the inability to repay the debt and the reaction of the masses, against the new, harsh measures it is preparing, early elections and coalition governments are not that far off.
ND and LAOS: a confirmation of their weakness
ND, the right wing opposition party, also suffered a heavy defeat. Its demagogic objections to the government and the IMF didn’t produce any significant results. On the contrary, the main bourgeois party lost 550,000 votes in comparison to the previous elections. In Attica as a whole and in Piraeus in particular, it lost more than half of its support, while in the municipalities of Athens, Salonika and Patras it lost more than one third.
These results confirm that the ND has not recovered since last year’s debacle. Although its rhetoric changed to a more populist one (in comparison to the neo-liberalism, used by the Karamanlis government), its support is waning, which shows that even sections of the petty bourgeoisie do not support it anymore.
Despite the crisis and the losses suffered by ND, LAOS, the far-right party has proved its total impotence. Although its national results have not been published yet (because, in many places, it supported candidates of ND), there has not been any indication that it achieved its goal, i.e. to win at least the percentage of 5.63%, the result it had in the last elections. In Attica, it lost almost 56,000 votes, almost half of its previous support, despite the fact that the capitalist crisis was favourable for its racist rhetoric.
Since last year’s national elections, the sum of the votes of the two bourgeois parties (ND and LAOS) has steadily been decreasing: in the municipality of Athens alone, it has gone down by more than 50,000 votes.
These figures demonstrate that in reality, there isn’t room for the formation of a new mass bourgeois party. D. Bakoyanni, a former ND minister, has attempted to form a new bourgeois party, but this will be in competition with the other two that already exist, especially during a period when the influence of the bourgeois is decreasing, and thus, it cannot play a significant role.
One of the most important elements of these recent elections was the increase of the KKE’s influence. Nationally, the Communist Party increased its percentage of votes to 10.5%, 3% more than in the last elections. Moreover, it was the only traditional party whose votes increased by 70,000 since 2009. Without a doubt, this has created a new hope and proves that the working masses are looking to the Left for a solution to the dead end of capitalism.
The question is: why in particular, was it the KKE that increased its influence? The KKE leadership attributes this to those policies of the party that are actually wrong and damaging to the movement. But, this is not the reason for their success. By voting the KKE candidates, thousands of workers and youth were not doing so to reward the party for its sectarian policies in the workers’ movement, nor its anti-Marxist and anti-communist, constant attempt to defend Stalinism. Their motive was clearly a class one. By voting for the KKE, they expressed a class protest against capitalism itself. Of course, this is the case for SYRIZA also, the electoral front formed by Synaspismos, the other left party. But the working class sees SYRIZA nowadays torn by petty disputes over everything but politics. On the contrary and despite the damaging sectarian politics of the KKE, it still has an image as an organised and strong party. Thus, thousands of workers thought that the message they wished to send to bourgeoisie would be stronger through the KKE.
This increase of the KKE votes must not be interpreted as an expression of reward for the party’s sectarian policies. On the contrary, it is those precise policies that are the main obstacles that prevent the party from achieving further increase of its influence. And this is also shown by the pattern of voting in the elections: in the biggest cities, where the majority of the working class lives, the increase of the KKE vote was anaemic. In the Attica region, the party won 3,000 votes more than in 2009, while in the municipality of Athens and Salonika it lost a hundred votes.
If the KKE adopted a genuine Marxist programme, dissociated itself from Stalinism and its destructive policies and took up Lenin’s policy of a United Front of the workers’ movement, its influence would increase much faster, by winning the masses over to socialism.
The results of SYRIZA reveal stagnation and loss of support: nationally, its percentage is 4.5%, but its absolute number of votes has decreased significantly.
In the Attica region, SYRIZA supported two candidates, but neither of them managed a satisfactory result for the Left. Different organisations that make up the SYRIZA front supported different candidates and this created an image of dissolution of the front. Moreover, these candidates were “imposed” on the rank and file, as no previous discussion about the programme was held, and there was no serious attempt to find a solution that could unite the front. The result was rather a predictable one: during this period of intense capitalist attack on the workers, when class unity is a burning necessity, the rank and file of SYRIZA was frustrated. This image of dissolution, which was not based on a clear (if any at all) political issue, discredited SYRIZA in the eyes of the workers nationally.
The sum of votes which the two candidates won was down by 15.000, compared to last year’s elections. This failure to reach their own goals cannot be attributed to the fact that in Attica there was another candidate, supported by the former right wing of Synaspismos (the main party that constitutes SYRIZA), which left the party at last June’s party congress.
The first candidate, A. Mitropoulos, was the choice of the Synaspismos leadership, who they considered as a person who could become a centre of attraction, because of his social-democratic past, for the rank and file of the PASOK. However, because of the artificial and hurried way in which this “alliance” was forged, the left-wing of the rank and file of the PASOK either preferred to vote for other candidates like G. Dimaras (an independent candidate and former PASOK MP, who was recently expelled from the party) or to abstain.
The bonds between the SYRIZA and the PASOK rank and file, who oppose their party’s bourgeois policies, must be forged in the workers’ movement, in the trade unions, in a context of discussion and common action against the capitalist attacks. Unfortunately, this was hardly the case at all. In reality, it was a caricature of an alliance: an unconditional alliance of the leadership of Synaspismos with a group of high-ranking PASOK cadres, who did not have any significant influence on their own rank and file.
The other candidate, A. Alavanos, is the former Secretary of Synaspismos and was supported by some small groups inside SYRIZA. He received 30,000 votes (2%), which was a kind of punishment for his stubborn attempt to impose himself as the leader of the Left in these elections.
The elections results proved that there is a simpler and clearer way to help the working class and the youth: put forward and defend a programme against unemployment and all those other capitalist plagues and take the initiative in working for the unity of the Left. This is the road the leadership of SYRIZA should have chosen.
Thus, we see how the results of SYRIZA were disappointing, especially in the large cities. In the municipality of Athens, its candidate received about 11,000 votes, half of the votes received in the previous elections. In Salonika, the results were even lower. Those disappointing results serve to underline the mistakes of the leadership of Synaspismos and SYRIZA. They demonstrate the need for a united SYRIZA, where the rank-and-file will determine its policies, which will have strong roots in the working class and a programme which can persuade the masses of the need to overthrow capitalism and fight for socialism.
The successes of the “independent” candidates
The high level of votes recorded by the "independent" candidates was also a remarkable feature of the election results. It is worth noting that 121 of the 221 candidates who led the second round, i.e. 58.3% of the total, were not party nominated. Also worth noting is the percentage of the "independent" G. Dimaras in Attica with 15.9% and G. Amyras in the City of Athens with 7.37%.
The success of "independent" candidates reflects the confused political trend of hundreds of thousands of voters who want to break with the two main parties that dominate Greek politics [PASOK and ND], but at the same time do not trust the policy of the “traditional Left” [KKE and Synaspismos].
In the Municipality of Athens, the remarkable result of G. Amyras seems to have come from a disgruntled section of PASOK supporters and also from a layer of New Democracy voters, a petit bourgeois strata, that has not been politicised through the experience of participating in mass organisations and collective class action, thus having as their only link with politics the bourgeois media, and which is receptive to the non-political and non-class based language of the television programmes that are supposedly neutral, and that promote "glamorous" people.
The case of G. Dimaras in the region of Attica is different, however, despite his acceptance by the bourgeois media. He has a long political history in the PASOK and DIKKI [or Dimokratiko Koinoniko Kinima , the Democratic Social Movement, which was founded in 1995 by Dimitris Tsovolas and several ex-members of the PASOK]. The relatively high vote for this "independent" candidate, who put forward an anaemic and obscure opposition to the government, is to some extent an indication of the beginnings of the development of strong currents to left within the ranks of the PASOK supporters.
Growth of ANTARSYA
ANTARSYA is the “Anticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow” which is a coalition of several small extra-parliamentary left groups, which was set up in 2009. The overall shift to the Left within the electorate was also expressed in the percentages won by ANTARSYA. In the Region of Attica ANTARSYA won 22,000 more votes than in the national elections of 2009, surpassing even the formation of Alekos Alavanos with 2.29%. In the Municipality of Athens from 0.55% they went up to 2.84%; in the Municipality of Piraeus from 0.45 to 2.41%; in the Municipality of Salonika from 0.42% to 1.71% and in the Municipality of Patras from 0.52% to 4.48%.
The remarkable rise of ANTARSYA is a symptom of the growing revolutionary mood, mainly among the youth. Unfortunately, the political and sectarian tactics of the unions and "parties" that make up ANTARSYA wastes this mood by building a so-called experimental "revolutionary party" on the margins of the mass organisations of the working class and leads to a political dead end.
Success of "Chrysi Augi" in Athens
It is necessary to underline the results of the neo-Nazi organisation "Chrysi Augi” (Golden Dawn) in the Municipality of Athens, where they won 5.26% and 10,000 votes and as a result, for the first time elected a councillor. However, it should be noted that at national level, the influence of this organisation remains marginal, since it only dared to stand independently in two cities and two regions throughout the country (Peloponnese and Western Greece). Even in Salonika, the main base of the far right in recent years, they received only 1%, and about 1000 votes. In the Peloponnese region they won 1.45% and in Western Greece they 1.88%.
This relatively high score of "Chrysi Augi" in Athens was centred on the most deprived neighbourhoods in the centre of the city: Attica Square and Victoria where they won 14.72% and Saint Panteleimon Square where they won 12.27%. These results reflect xenophobic and racist attitudes that have been nurtured as a result of the economic crisis, with the generous support of the state, turning the petit- bourgeois and lumpen elements of the cities against the thousands of immigrants and refugees living in squalid conditions in neighbourhoods of the centre of Athens.
The bourgeoisie, using the bourgeois state apparatus, is seeking to divert the attention of the workers and petit bourgeoisie who have been ruined by massive impoverishment that awaits them – away from those who are really to blame, i.e. the bourgeoisie itself. They are trying to direct the anger of these layers against the immigrants who have come to Greece in an attempt to escape the brutality prevailing in their own countries. With this aim in mind the "Chrysi Augi" grouping is acting in coordination with the Police and is being used as a "battering ram" against immigrants in order to fire up the petit bourgeois and lumpen layers with nationalist and racist venom and also to tray and infect the most backward sections of the working class.
Although the appearance of these neo-Nazis in Athens has not yet been replicated in the rest of Greece, it is certainly a warning sign for the labour movement and youth, and principally for the Left. Ultimately, only the determined struggle of the Left on the basis of a plan to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist planned economy will finally solve the problems of the working masses and thus completely isolate the racist extreme right and neo-Nazis.
The rise of “Chrysi Augi” on the extreme right along with the strengthening of the Communist Party and ANTARSYA on the left is a characteristic expression of class polarisation that develops during a severe crisis, a class polarisation which will be accentuated in the next period with the working class and the youth trying to find a solution in the traditional mass workers' organisations, trade unions and in the “traditional Left”, especially since the leadership of PASOK is implementing the toughest anti-working class policies in recent decades.
Left Unity: the most vital political task
The most important political conclusion from the results of these elections is the enormous political potential for a united Left. If SYRIZA, the Communist Party, other broader forces of the Left and the left PASOK members and cadres who are opposed to the government were to join forces in the elections, then the results would be completely different. The motivation for the workers and the youth to exercise their right to vote would be very powerful, and abstentionism would not be the main feature of the elections and the government would have no excuse for staying in power and continuing with its anti-labour policies.
Such a United Left could have won a large number of municipalities in Greece, and also several regions. Hope in times of deep capitalist crisis would make its appearance again in the psychology of the working class and youth. It could strengthen the confidence of the workers, as they would have, for the first time in many years, the feeling that they had been presented with a viable political solution.
The election results speak for themselves. If we had a broad left coalition in the Region of Athens – even excluding the dynamics that it would set in motion and the significant reduction in the level of abstentions that this would imply - the left would start from a base of 25.19% (the sum of SYRIZA, KKE and ANTARSYA) and thus go through to the second round. In the Municipality of Athens also it would have been at 22.3%, in the Municipality of Piraeus 25.06%, in the Municipality of Salonika at 14.45%, and in the Patras Municipality it would start from a massive 42.3%.
Any thinking person on the Left can see the magnitude of the opportunities lost, and how the labour movement and youth in their struggles against the offensive of capitalism could have been strengthened if the Left had managed to take from the hands of the government the largest region of Greece, the municipalities of Piraeus and Patras, and gather significant double-digit figures in Athens and Salonika. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Left refuse to see what their basic tasks are. The prime responsibility for this rests on the shoulders of the sectarian leadership of the Communist Party, which is the biggest obstacle against unity of the Left.
There is no other major obstacle today to the unity of the Left other than the very attitude of the leaders of the Left itself. The different policies and programmes of the components of the Left is not an obstacle in and of itself, as an agreement on a mutually acceptable set of key policies would be sufficient - demands that would attempt to solve the most pressing problems of the working class such as poverty, unemployment and the rising cost of living and to make the capitalists pay for this. This would have to be based on thoroughly democratic dialogue within the alliance.
We must emphasise that in order to have substance and effect, the unity of the Left should not be occasional, for electoral purposes only. Instead we need to build daily in the movement of the working class and youth, in the trade unions, schools and neighbourhoods, so that the electoral agreement is a reflection and culmination of joint class action on the most basic demands of the workers.
The failure of the two separate factions of SYRIZA in the region of Athens to muster significant support, the painful consequences of abstention of the left voters that was the result of fragmentation of the Left parties, and the realisation of the huge potential for unity of the Left in the great political battles, must lead to the creation of a strong current in the base of the traditional Left parties that will push the leaders to finally take to the road of unity.
It is incumbent on the SYNASPISMOS and SYRIZA leaders, together with the Communist Party, linking up with the left wing in the PASOK that will inevitably develop in the immediate future, to unite and to show to all those who are disappointed and who feel betrayed by the leadership of the PASOK that there is a way out of this crisis. That alternative must be based on uniting all the struggles around the idea of a socialist solution, a left government that would nationalise the banks and the commanding heights of the economy. This is the only way.
Website of Greek Marxists: Μαρξιστική Φωνή (Greece)
In the second round of the recent municipal and regional elections in Greecethe level of abstention was even higher than in the first. In Athens 67% of the electorate did not turn out! There was also a significant vote of the workers against the right-wing candidates. For the first time in 28 years the New Democracy mayoral candidates failed to win in Athens and Salonika, where they were replaced by two PASOK candidates, Yannis Boutaris in Salonika and Giorgos Kaminis in Athens.