Greece: Neither ‘honourable compromise’ nor ‘accidental rupture’ – the only way forward is a Socialist policy – part four

We here publish the fourth part of Stamatis Karagiannopoulos's article on the situation in Greece. The series was originally published in Greek on the website of the Communist Tendency of Syriza at the end of April this year.

The invention of the term “honourable compromise”

In their attempt to justify abandoning their pre-election commitments under the pretext of seeking a compromise with the creditors, the government and leadership of Syriza have invented the term “honourable compromise”.

According to this theory, in the election of the 25th of January, the mandate given to Syriza by the Greek people was not for a complete break with the so called “partners” but rather for an “honourable compromise” with them. But if the millions of Greeks who voted Syriza were to be asked what slogans they remember from the election campaign no one would recall the term ‘honourable compromise’ but most would definitely remember the following slogans: ‘kick out the troika’, ‘abolition of the Memoranda’, ‘fight austerity’!

As we have already explained, the leadership based themselves on a false premise: that the the political programme that all these slogans represented could be realised through negotiations and therefore a compromise.  The mandate given by the masses voting Syriza on the 25th of January was to implement its programme, first and foremost, and not the means by which they intended to achieve that. The leadership pretends that it does not understand this, and suggests that the people voted for the means and not for the ends. In this way, they turn the people’s mandate on its head.

It is easy for one to understand why the leadership turns towards political trickery. If they were to admit that the mandate was for the realisation of their political programme and not for the means by which they promised to do so, they would have to accept the need to abandon these means immediately. They would have to accept, therefore, that austerity and the Memoranda cannot be abolished through negotiations and the consent of the “partners”, but only by taking unilateral, radical measures. That would mean openly admitting the failure of the central political line of the party.

To what extent is there a possibility for an “honourable compromise”? Given the attitude of the creditors, there can be no compromise between them and the interests of the working class and the poorest layers of society. The only “compromise” that can be achieved with the creditors is incompatible with the election promises and it would mean the continuation of austerity and the signing of new Memoranda. This would be far from an “honourable”. It would be a deeply dishonourable compromise, one for which the masses did not vote.

Unlike the voters that brought Syriza to power, the Greek bourgeoisie have reasons to continuously call for such an “honorable compromise”. These past few days, all privately owned mass media are constantly asking the government - and the prime minister himself - to move towards this so-called “honourable compromise” as soon as possible. Nothing could convince us more about the “honour” of this compromise than seeing who defends it most strongly.

No negotiation? No compromise?

In an attempt to discredit our criticisms of the negotiation, the apologists of the leadership present our Tendency as rejecting negotiations and compromises just for the sake of rejecting them. This is obviously just a caricature of our position.

The communists have never been on principle against negotiations and compromises. The struggle against oppression of the working masses from the creditors is a class struggle and in the history of class struggle, all kinds of compromises often become necessary. The most painful compromises in the class struggle are the ones that come as a result of defeats in great battles. These compromises are a reflection of the balance of forces at a given moment and a recognition of this by the losing side. These compromises are inevitable in order to keep some forces intact and combatant.

In struggle, the worst compromises are the ones that serve as to substitute a battle - a battle that if conducted with the right strategy and tactics could have resulted in victory. These are the compromises that communists oppose on principle. The compromises that crush the fighting spirit of the exploited, shake their confidence in their own strength and push the masses towards passivity.

This type of pernicious compromise is this so-called “honourable compromise” with the creditors pursued by the government. This compromise is attempted without even a minor battle that involved the mobilisation of the masses. It is attempted after no actual negotiation and it seems it will consist of the abandoning of the election programme and making peace with the creditors, the ruling class and its policies.

Are there any negotiations and compromises that could be accepted by the communists today? Our answer is certainly yes. But provided that you first have given the battle involving the masses themselves, who are the ones that will be most affected, and using a plan for victory discussed and decided upon by the masses. When this battle has been held and is complete, then there may come a time of possible negotiations and compromises that will reflect the new balance of power that has emerged after the battle.

Instead of compromising without a fight, which would reflect the defeats and the negative balance of forces of previous years, instead of a humiliating compromise, the communists propose the organization of a real battle. Its main weapon being a class, internationalist and socialist policy mobilising the labour movement in Greece and Europe. We have an unwavering confidence in the fighting capabilities of the working class and are convinced that this battle would be won. Any negotiations and the compromises that might follow would not constitute compromises of subjugation and humiliation, but would mean temporary ceasefires on the basis of a new favourable balance of forces, with institutions that would no longer have any power over the country itself.

Delegation, secret diplomacy and ‘institutions’

The major problem is, as explained in detail, the logic of negotiation itself as a substitute for the necessary battle. However, the harmful nature of the policy of the leadership of Syriza is revealed in the method by which the government is carrying out the negotiations.

The negotiation is a process of attempting to solve the fundamental problems of the masses by delegating them to a group of politicians and technocrats. In the early stages of the negotiations, the government refused to negotiate on its election campaign commitments and thereby maintained a generally dignified and combative attitude. As a result, the masses showed their willingness to actively support its efforts with demonstrations in all major cities of the country as well as abroad. The government and the leadership, however, showed by their attitude that the masses did not have any independent role to play in their “militant” negotiation.

They did not try to strengthen and spread the movement, but with the agreement of 20th of February they send the frustrated protesters home.  They refused to respond to the protests’ basic message, which was to not retreat an inch to the demands of the creditors. The fiery speeches of the leadership in party proceedings against the “logic of delegation” is still echoing in the ears of members of Syriza. The same people, once coming to government, insisted that an exception should be made for themselves.

The most provocative of all the elements of the “negotiation” is the practice of secret diplomacy. Nobody learns what is being discussed; neither among the so-called technical groups, nor the purely political meetings. One extreme example of this was the case of the most recent meeting of the prime minister with Merkel, after which, Alexis Tsipras said that as for the contents of this discussion, they are both bound by “confidentiality”!

When genuine representatives of the working people bargain with the class enemies over the fate of the people they represent, their primary duty is to inform the working class at every step, to take their opinion into account and to make the minutes of previous meetings and talks available to them. The party should have a leading role in this process. It needs to discuss regularly and intervene to correct mistakes, to set the limits of the negotiations and “red lines”.

The Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Trotsky, was the most revolutionary party in history. It is an excellent model. During the peace negotiations with Germany at the end of World War I, the party and the soviets were regularly informed and updated and discussed the tactics of the negotiation. Even within the party, in the context of this discussion, different factions formed around whether to sign or not to sign the agreement.

“Of course”, the apologists of the leadership team will say, "Syriza is also informed," and by that they mean the Political Secretariat. But even this minimal level of a party body involvement in the negotiations, clearly only consists of a posteriori update on the situation without any substantial input into the negotiation itself.

Finally, there is an important political issue arising on how to approach these barbarian extortionist creditors and their claims. The spirit that the leadership of Syriza and the government approach the question, although it is not a decisive factor, strengthen their legitimacy. The obsession to rename the Troika “the institutions”, the public flattery of "Doctor" Schaeuble’s work on “the European idea” and the praise of Mrs Merkel’s supposed “tolerance” and “sincere intentions” to reach an agreement create confusion among working people. At the same time it accustoms them with the servile and hypocritical spirit of bourgeois diplomacy.

The ruling class: its stance towards Syriza and its ‘affection’ for the prime minister

“Who is able to stop them [the ‘drachma lobby’]? But Mr. Tsipras, of course, with the political capital he possesses. That however requires strong nerves and guts. And, most importantly, it requires that he sets aside his experiences, ideological constructs, and decades’ worth of comradely bonds. In other words, he ought to put his oath of office above his oath at the Kesariani memorial [NB., this refers to Tsipras’s visit to the WWII and Greek resistance partisans’ memorial in Kesariani, Athens, soon after his electoral victory]. These are profound personal dilemmas that involve the future of the entire people” (Alexis Papahelas, Kathimerini, 26 April 2015).

Despite all the nonsense talk about a conspiracy over a premeditated “left interval”, the Greek bourgeoisie certainly did not wish to see Syriza rise to power at such a crucial phase of the crisis of Greek capitalism. The right turn of the party leadership and its systematic assurances to stick to bourgeois legality had already before the elections convinced the Greek bourgeoisie that Syriza was more likely to come to power to manage rather than challenge bourgeois power. However, the Greek bourgeois had serious misgivings about Syriza.

The most serious misgiving was the effect that the election of a Left government would have on the consciousness of the workers, a positive change of mood following five years of defeats and ever increasing misery. Such a change in mood could potentially express itself in pressure on the party leadership to go further than it wanted to do. It might take radical measures that could jeopardise the gains of the Greek bourgeoisie under the memoranda and the relations between the Greek bourgeois state and its creditors.

Moreover, the Greek bourgeoisie was aware that it would take time for the Syriza leadership’s turn to the right to reach the point of reconciling itself with the only viable programme of managing rotten Greek capitalism, namely, extreme austerity. And in the face of merciless pressure from the creditors, time is a luxury the bourgeois could ill afford.

The events in the aftermath of the government’s swearing in confirmed the bourgeoisie’s fears. During the government’s first three weeks in office, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and became an obstacle to the leadership’s course towards “realism”. The squares and streets suddenly emptied as a result of the government’s first astounding retreat with the 20 February creditor agreement. This led to an increasing dissatisfaction with the leadership within the ranks of the party, which delayed the implementation of the agreement, bringing the Greek bourgeoisie to the brink of a “mental breakdown”.

We should note that the bourgeois parties are unable to intervene in a meaningful way in this game. There is no confidence in them and they are in a deep and prolonged crisis. The only meaningful role they can play at this stage will be to lend the Syriza government its votes for an agreement with the European “partners” to counteract votes against it from Syriza’s own MPs.

So, at present, the bourgeoisie is pinning all its hopes on the Syriza leadership, particularly on the prime minister and president of the party, to reach an agreement that does not jeopardise the position of Greek Capitalism within the Eurozone. The bourgeoisie understands that only through making use of Syriza’s prestige would it be possible to get the much desired agreement with the creditors through parliament. This agreement would inevitably contain new austerity measures and thus erode Syriza’s image as a party of the people and pave the way for the transformation of the current government coalition to a “national unity government”.

It is far from accidental that after February 20, bourgeois media outlets have been swamped with personal appeals to Alexis Tsipras (such as the one we cited above from the “reputable” chief editor of Kathimerini) to “take the negotiations into his own hands” and “get rid of the left wing of the party”. Clearly, the Greek bourgeoisie is trying to direct the president politically. It wants to get itself out of the mess it has gotten into with its creditors, extract revenge for its defeat in the elections and at the same time discredit Syriza, which has proven dangerous for the stability of the greek capitalism.

The manner in which the president of the party responds to the Greek bourgeoisie’s “friendly attack” gives much cause for concern amongst the workers and the militant rank and file of Syriza. Tsipras’ public speech after the February 20 agreement amounted to him passing his “responsibility test” in the eyes of the Greek bourgeoisie. By publicly defending the February 20 agreement, Tsipras took “ownership” of and defended the unacceptable agreement. He attempted through sophistry to argue that the content of the agreement was somehow compatible with Syriza’s programme, but it obviously wasn’t.

Shortly after that through confidential personal meetings and telephone calls with Merkel, Tsipras continued to cultivate his image as a responsible leader who opposed the excesses of his subordinates and had no qualms about rearranging his negotiations team. He thus made himself appear even more moderate than the bourgeois social democrat, Varoufakis. Finally, Tsipras recently appeared on a televised interview with the journalist and publisher, Nikos Hatzinikolaou, where he attempted to distance himself from his left credentials with his – more than usually – patriotic, “national” language, a language that one would expect to hear from a bourgeois politician.

The prime minister – and the entire leadership – must understand before it is too late that to align themselves with the Greek ruling class and their ‘honourable compromise’ would have disastrous consequences for the Left and for the working class. It would split Syriza before it destroys it. It would cause waves of disappointment and disaffection amongst the workers and youth, and would prepare the ground for the future rise of an openly reactionary government.

The prime minister must remember that the exact same words about “taking ownership of the situation” were told to his predecessors. The very same people were urging his predecessors on when they brought measures to parliament that cause misery for the people and benefit the creditors and capital. If he responds positively to such appeals from the bourgeois, he will not enjoy the sort of future that his bourgeois flatterers are suggesting to him. He will not be remembered as a “respected and honoured national leader” but rather he would have the destiny of a tool that has been used and there is no longer any use for – a lemon that has been squeezed of all its juice and is summarily discarded.

The working class, the poor people and the government

The removal of the hated coalition memoranda government of Samaras-Venizelos and the election of a new government with Syriza – albeit in coalition with ANEL - created a mood of relief amongst the working class and poor after years of defeat and misery. This sense of relief turned into enthusiasm during the first weeks after the new government took office, as the government was showing determination in the face of the blackmail from the creditors.

However, February 20 was a turning point. The signing of the Eurogroup agreement led the squares that had up until that point been swamped by government supporters to become empty. It led the workers and the poorer layers of society to become concerned as to the extent that the creditors’ blackmail could be tolerated. The generalised enthusiasm soon turned into passive support. In that context the labour movement entered a phase of anticipation. Strikes were at the lower than at any point in the last five years, despite the fact that nothing has materially improved in terms of the living standards and employment. This is far from abnormal; workers are willing to give the government a chance to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion, according to its pledges.

The latest polls suggest that Syriza – and the government – has lost a significant share of the considerable public support it enjoyed earlier. To explain this, we see that there is a movement in two directions: a section of pensioners and public sector employees depend for their survival on the public purse, which is almost empty, and they are becoming anxious about the delay in finding a compromise; another section of workers in the private sector, the unemployed, the over-taxed and over-indebted petty bourgeoisie, worry that there might be a repetition of the previous government’s submissive stance with regard to the memoranda, and are also concerned that the government lacks political will and a plan for a clash with the creditors.

The working class and the poorer layers of society would have mobilised with enthusiasm and self-sacrifice for the implementation of a plan for a break with the creditors and the Greek bourgeoisie on socialist lines, if the party leadership and the government had one. On the basis of the patient explanation of the benefits of a democratically planned economy it is possible that a large part of the most backward petty bourgeois layers, and the layers of pensioners and public sector employees would be persuaded about the necessity for a socialist revolution.

Unfortunately, however, no such plan has been put forward by the leadership, and so any break with the creditors that may be on the horizon would only be unplanned and with unforeseeable consequences. Since the government remains trapped within the dilemma posed by the blackmailing lenders and appears willing to go from compromise to compromise, Syriza’s popular support is doomed to dissipate. The masses will turn their backs to the government if there is no tangible improvement to their living conditions. The labour movement will inevitably start fighting back with demands for the immediate implementation of the election programme. However, a section of the workers and of the petty bourgeoisie – exhausted by further misery and with their morale crushed – could potentially sink in deep passivity or even take a reactionary turn.

The situation and the prospects of Syriza

From the 2011 movement of the squares onwards Syriza became the main political representative of the masses and the working class. In order to deal with the united front of bourgeois pro-memoranda parties, the working masses turned towards the only party that articulated an alternative proposal for a left anti-memoranda government. The Syriza leadership demonstrated its willingness to fill the political void that was left the complete bourgeois degeneration of the PASOK leadership and the sectarianism of the KKE leadership.

However, already from the early stages of Syriza meteoric rise in 2012, the leadership demonstrated that they lacked any desire to create a mass and militant party of activists for the working class and the youth. They had no desire to create a party capable of accelerating the fall of the pro-memoranda coalition and actively and critically support a left anti-memoranda government. On the contrary, the leadership used the party only as an electoral machine and as training ground for the future administrators of the bourgeois state. The best of the new party members had a healthy disgust for the poison of careerism and bureaucratic routine and quickly became disappointed and began to leave the party. Thus, Syriza failed to develop deep organisational roots amongst its best layers, despite the considerable support it received from the working masses.

The degeneration peaked at when the local government elections absorbed hundreds of party officers from across Greece into the state administration. These activists entirely abandoned whatever ‘activist’ duties and interests they previously might have had.

The rise of Syriza to power sped up this process of degeneration. The leadership, entirely absorbed in the duties of bourgeois governance, abandoned the party whilst it reduced its democratic procedures to the bare minimum out of fear of the criticism from the rank and file.

The Central Committee – the supreme party body between the party congresses – has become an entirely cosmetic body that is not called for any meaningful debate or to reach binding decisions, but to confirm the existing balance of forces within the party, and to let off steam with regard to the dissatisfaction felt with the government’s policy, by engaging in discussions that have no real impact on decisions.

That said, even in light of the above, Syriza remains a mass party that reflects internally both the processes that take place in the consciousness of the working masses and the increasing pressures from the bourgeois camp. Every step that the government takes towards capitulating to the blackmail of the creditors reflects itself automatically in the party itself with changing balance of forces between the party’s tendencies. This process already begun at the Central Committee meeting immediately after the February 20 agreement when the leadership found itself the more isolated than ever and was subjected to a torrent of criticisms even from within the leadership's own majority block.

At the Central Committee meeting before the elections, the Communist Tendency had defended the need to convene an extraordinary party congress to decide the government programme. If such a congress was necessary before the elections, now - three months later - it is ever more crucial for the very survival of the party. It will also ensure that the working masses are not betrayed. An immediate extraordinary party congress constitutes the only solution to prevent a bitter defeat of historical proportions for the working class and the Left.