On January 25th Greece will vote in a general election. Syriza is likely to be the party voted to power. This poses a dilemma for the European capitalists as one part of their machine, bourgeois democracy, risks colliding with another, their programme of austerity, which has been visited upon the Greek people for the past five years. This is seen as a serious threat to the plans of the rulers of Europe to solve the economic crisis by an all-out attack on the living standards of the working class.
The fears of the bourgeoisie were expressed very clearly by the Financial Times, the main mouthpiece of the strategists of British capitalism of December 29 in an article entitled "Voters are the Eurozone's weakest link":
"The weak link... [was] the risk that voters would revolt against economic austerity and cast their ballots for ‘anti-system’ parties that reject the European consensus on how to keep the single currency together. If that consensus is broken the whole delicate house of cards of debt, bailouts and austerity begins to wobble. And that is what we are seeing in Greece now."
The title of this article was significant from two points of view. Firstly, it echoes Lenin’s well-known statement that capitalism breaks at its weakest link. At that time the weakest link of European capitalism was tsarist Russia. Today it is without doubt Greece. It is no accident that five years ago the crisis of the Euro began in Greece, and it is no accident that five years later the crisis of the Euro has resurfaced in Greece. For six years, Greece has been at the epicentre of an economic crisis that is threatening the foundations of Europe and that has all the potential to bring new waves of economic upset to America and the broader world economy. For this reason all eyes are now looking to Athens with growing concern.
The second element in the title of this article is the implied idea that the biggest risk to the Eurozone is that people will vote to reject austerity. The unspoken assumption is that democracy itself is to blame for the misfortunes of the Euro, that the people cannot be trusted to take what are known as “responsible economic decisions” and that this represents the real weak link in the whole situation.
In this unintentional phrase the real thinking of the strategists of Capital stand revealed in all their crudity. The smiling mask of democracy has slipped to reveal the ugly face of reaction that hides behind it.
At the beginning of 2014 European leaders were crowing about the so-called economic recovery. They published optimistic reports about a projected upturn in the European and world economy and even predicted a return of growth in Southern Europe, including Greece. In the eye of a storm the weather seems to be calm, but that is an optical illusion. By the end of the year all this optimism had vanished. Far from experiencing an economic recovery, the crisis in Europe has spread to Germany, the former power-house of the European economy.
Now the economists and Central Banks are worried about the effects of a collapse in the price of oil. By the time these concerns had reached the floor of the stock exchanges, it turned into something close to panic, as share prices registered steep falls from London to Tokyo. But why should a fall in oil prices cause a panic? Surely such a fall should encourage an economic revival by stimulating demand and productive investment?
Under different circumstances that might be the case. But in the context of a stagnant world economy, the falling price of oil and other commodities are an expression precisely of a lack of demand, or, more correctly, of chronic overproduction. The capitalists see no reason to invest in productive activity when there is no demand for the goods they produce. The booming stock markets of the last period were a reflection, not of productive investment but of a massive speculative orgy, which has now reached its limits.
The falling price of oil and other commodities is not seen as the basis for economic recovery but on the contrary, as a deflationary spiral that can drag Europe into a new and even deeper recession. With the prospect of further falls in prices, consumers will postpone making purchases, depressing demand still further.
This creates a climate of uncertainty in which it becomes impossible for the capitalists to calculate demand, leading to the postponement of plans for new investment and plant. Cause becomes effect and effect becomes cause. The result will be more factory closures, more unemployment and a further curtailment of demand in a vicious downward spiral.
The crisis is being further aggravated by political factors. In response to economic sanctions imposed by the Americans and Europeans over the Ukrainian crisis, Russia is imposing an embargo on food imports from the EU, US and some other Western countries, including Australia, Canada and Norway.
The closing of the Russian market (and a slowing down of the Chinese economy) has immediately led to a collapse in the price of milk, which has already driven large numbers of European farmers into bankruptcy. On the other hand, the fall of the rouble and the economic crisis in Russia has hit Western exports, further deepening the crisis of German industry.
The Economist, December 13th, concluded: "... the longer-term threat to the single currency has, if anything, increased. The eurozone seems to be trapped in a cycle of slow growth, high unemployment and dangerously low inflation."
All this drives a horse and carriage through the plans of the EU leaders. They were aiming at a rate of inflation of 2% in the hope that this would eat away at the huge debts on government balance sheets. The spectre of deflation makes the ability to pay off debts for governments much more difficult. This affects Greece more than any other country.
For the last six years the people of Greece have suffered a dramatic fall in their living standards. The leaders of Europe inflicted upon the people of Greece the harshest of punishments for its alleged profligacy. The Troika imposed a cruel policy of cuts and austerity, which was supposed to be a bitter but necessary medicine to cure Greece’s huge mountain of debt. As a direct result of this policy, Greece has suffered a severe economic recession, accompanied by mass unemployment and a collapse in living standards unequalled by anything seen since the end of the Second World War.
What has occurred in this period? Unemployment has soared to over 26% (from a pre-crisis level of only 7%). But the official figure does not reveal the true seriousness of the situation, especially of the youth, when half of all those under 25 years of age are without work. Moreover, many of those who are formally employed are not receiving wages, or are being paid only after long delays.
The policies of austerity have wrecked the Greek economy. Public spending has been slashed and pensions have fallen by 25%. Greece has lost a fifth of its economic output. According to the most positive estimates, the standard of living fell by 25% compared to the years before the crisis. The more negative (and more realistic) scenario is that the standard of living of the Greeks has fallen by 50% compared to the most favourable years the country had experienced since it joined the eurozone.
Before the crisis the living standards in Athens were not that much different to those in London. Now there are schools without books, hospitals without drugs, chemist shops without medicines and formerly prosperous people rummaging in the dustbins for scraps of food. Poverty has surged from 23% before the crash to 40.5% now and key services such as health have been decimated by cuts, at the very time when ever more people need them. A report in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet concluded that what was happening in Greece amounted to a “public health tragedy”.
Years of savage cuts have done irreparable harm to the very fabric of economic life. A barter economy has sprung up, as people try to work around a broken financial system. Many people have withdrawn all their savings from the banks, partly because they no longer trust the banking system, but mainly because they have to use up their savings in order to live. But what happens when the savings are all gone?
There is a general feeling of helplessness. Many people have fled to the countryside to find food or else emigrated abroad, while others have found an even more tragic way out. The suicide rate has risen to such an extent that the newspapers no longer bother to report any but the most dramatic cases.
But beneath the surface a feeling of rage exists: there is fury against the rich, against the bankers and capitalists who pay no taxes while demanding that everybody else make sacrifices “to save Greece”, against Brussels and Berlin who play the role of Dracula sucking the lifeblood of the Greek people, and against the politicians who led Greece towards the abyss of bankruptcy while filling their pockets with millions of public money, which has now found a home in secret bank accounts in Switzerland and London.
What has been solved?
But what have all these sacrifices solved? In Greece the state debt has not been reduced, but on the contrary, it has ballooned. In 2010 the debt stood at 125% of GDP. Today it is 175%. This is in part because of the huge sums paid by Greece in interest payments. In part it is because Greek GDP has collapsed by 25% as a result of austerity. So all the pain and suffering that have been inflicted on the Greek people for the last six years have all been for nothing.
The so-called "recovery" of 2014, which included Greece running a primary budget surplus (i.e. a surplus when debt repayments is taken out of the equation), pales into insignificance when considered in light of the collapse of the productive forces as a result of austerity. Youth unemployment is more than 60%. Less than half of those eligible are in work, according to the overall employment figures. Half a decade later the situation for capitalism is far worse in Greece and Europe.
Of the total money of the so-called Greek bailout (227 billion), only 5% was used by the government to pay for its ordinary budget (pensions, wages, etc) while the bulk of it was used to pay back the creditors, Greek and foreign banks and international financial institutions. Four years after the troika intervened these are the only ones to have benefited from it.
Crisis of the Samaras government
In December Greek Prime Minister, Samaras, leader of the governing New Democracy, surprised the world by announcing the election of a new Greek President. He had no need to do this, since the previous President still had two months to go. Moreover, it was a risky move, since failure to get his candidate for President elected with the 180/300 seats required by the Greek parliament would immediately trigger fresh elections.
Under normal circumstances the election of a Greek President (mainly a ceremonial figure with few powers) would have passed almost unnoticed. But these were not normal circumstances and the announcement was met with something resembling panic. There were sharp falls on the Athens Stock Exchange, followed by a fall in share prices in other European Stock Markets.
The motivation of Samaras is a matter of speculation. Did he intend this as a manoeuvre to galvanise support for his candidate by frightening the deputies with the prospect of a snap election in which most of them would lose their seats? Or was this a way of getting out of the hot seat before he was obliged to carry out a new and even more vicious package of cuts?
Prior to this he had attempted to convince the EU to relax its pressure sufficiently for Greece to resume borrowing money in world markets. But Brussels was obdurate: not only was his request refused but he was ordered to implement further cuts, including cuts in pensions, before Greece could receive the next instalment of cash from Brussels.
It certainly appears that Samaras tried to get a majority by a combination of bribes and threats. One deputy claimed that he had been offered three million Euros if he voted the right way. Being a man of principle, however, he only sells himself at a very high price and three million was simply not enough. In the end Samaras failed to obtain the requisite number of votes and therefore announced new elections for 25 January.
This news immediately provoked a new panic on the Athens stock exchange, which fell 5% in one day. Interest on 10-year bonds rose to 9.5%, the highest in 2014. These are indications of the nervousness with which capitalism looks upon events in Greece. It has little faith in the Greek people voting "correctly".
Workers turn against the establishment
Since 2008, without exception, governments in Europe have implemented regimes of austerity. This has been the case for the social democratic as much as the outright bourgeois parties. The Social Democrats have followed the logic of reformism, of patching up a diseased system. But under conditions of deep capitalist crisis, there is no basis for reformism in the present period. The bourgeoisie is implacably opposed to reforms they “cannot afford”. In fact, they are hell-bent on destroying the reforms that have been won by the working class in the past.
Everywhere it is the same story. Under pressure from the banks and big business, the reformists have bent the knee to the market and carried out the bidding of their masters. The reformist leaders have fallen on their swords in defence of capitalism. As a result, the parties of the Left that have accepted responsibility for carrying out cuts have been punished by the electorate. They do the dirty work of the bourgeoisie, and the latter, having used and discredited them, discards them like dirty dishrags. That is precisely the role of the Social Democracy: to demoralise the masses and prepare the way for a swing to the right. We saw this in Spain and Italy and now we see the same thing in France.
This is no less the case for the leaders of the trade unions, who have been summoned to defend the system. To one degree or another, the workers have reacted with huge shows of strength which have been displayed throughout Europe in the previous period in demonstrations, strikes and general strikes. In normal periods such a huge show of strength was often enough to make a government back down. However, this is no longer the case.
The situation is so acute today, however, that one day general strikes and demonstrations cannot achieve the desired result. The Greek workers have launched over thirty general strikes over the last five years without making the government abandon or even modify its policy of cuts. In the given situation the only correct slogan would be an all-out general strike to bring down the government. But this would directly pose the question of power, and this is a prospect that terrifies the reformist trade union leaders.
Without the collaboration of the trade union leaders, capitalism would be finished. In reality, they have been using the tactic of an endless series of one-day strikes and demonstrations as a safety valve, which allows the workers to blow off steam and channels their anger into safe paths. The one-day strikes are not built upon to prepare for more serious action and thus become transformed into meaningless rituals that the government can safely ignore.
The absence of a leadership worthy of the name has created a mood of scepticism and tiredness among the workers. They see no reason to sacrifice a day’s pay for actions that lead nowhere. This is particularly true of workers in the private sector who face losing their jobs if they strike. Predictably, participation has fallen as workers inevitably become disillusioned with such actions.
Having been foiled on the trade union front by the leadership, the workers are now looking to the political front for a way out. This process is not an isolated phenomenon, but Greece is the country where this has gone furthest. Throughout Europe anti-establishment parties are emerging as an expression of the disgust felt by the masses at the role played by the leaders of the traditional labour organisations.
Parties like Syriza and PODEMOS in Spain, the SNP in Scotland, the Five-Star movement in Italy, are all in different ways a reflection of the seething anger and discontent that exists in society. They are like the froth on the crest of a massive wave of popular discontent.
All the opinion polls indicate that Syriza will likely emerge as the party of government on January 25. This presents the European ruling class with a dilemma. In the April and May successive elections of 2012, Syriza narrowly missed out on power on a programme cancelling the Greek debt. At that time all the forces of old Europe conspired to prevent a Syriza victory, mobilizing every means at their disposal to frighten the people of Greece with the idea that repudiating the debt would mean ejection from the EU, leading to chaos.
The blackmail worked and Samaras was duly elected. But the masses learn from experience. Today the Greek people have been through three years of the school of the Troika and EU-imposed austerity, the consequences of which we have already pointed out. The swing to Syriza has therefore assumed even greater proportions than before. This is despite the rightward drift of its leaders, who have been doing their best to prove to the bourgeoisie that they are moderate and reasonable people. Since 2012, the leadership of Syriza under Alexis Tsipras has shifted away from the idea of complete repudiation of the debt towards a "renegotiation".
But the people in Brussels and Berlin are not very impressed with words. The Greek and European ruling class are once again issuing dire warnings of the disaster that will befall the Greek people if they vote for Syriza. On December 15 the EU's top economic official, Pierre Muscovici, during a visit to Athens, warned: “The idea of contemplating not reimbursing debt is, in my view, suicidal, with a risk of default. It’s not against Syriza. It’s for the reality.” The Economist adds its voice to the baleful chorus: "Investors seem to be betting that the people of Italy, Spain and France will peek at the chaos in Athens, shudder—and stick to the austerity that Germany’s Angela Merkel has prescribed for them." And so on and so forth.
Syriza's programme contains a reversal of the cuts to wages and public spending, the scrapping of asset sales and a partial repudiation of the debt. It has attacked the oligarchs, the diaplekomenoi (the "entangled ones") or davatzides ("pimps").
George Stathakis, Syriza's shadow development minister, told the Financial Times that Syriza would end the practice of governments handing out free television licences to political friends. A US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks admits that: "Greece's private media outlets are owned by a small group of people who have made or inherited fortunes... and who are related by blood, marriage or adultery to political or government officials and/or other media and business magnates."
Syriza talks of the 1bn euros that could be raised by the "Lagarde list", which details 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts flagged up by the leader of the IMF but which has not been acted upon by the Greek government. A struggle against corruption and nepotism is undoubtedly necessary. But it cannot succeed unless it is linked to the expropriation of big business interests, beginning with the banks.
Tsipras wants Greece to remain in the Eurozone but at the same time he wishes to end the spending cuts, tax increases and structural reforms imposed by the EU and International Monetary Fund as the price of a second bailout. But the two aims are incompatible. If Merkel was not prepared to help Samaras, it is hard to see why she should help a Syriza government. This fundamental contradiction is not sustainable. The moment of truth is approaching when the leaders of Syriza will have to decide.
What will Syriza do?
Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, promised to tear up what he has rightly described as the barbarous demands of the EU and IMF. That is what has made him popular and will surely guarantee the victory of Syriza. But promises are like a banker’s cheque: sooner or later they must be turned into hard cash. The working class and the Greek people will expect these promises to be carried out.
But elementary mechanics tells us that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The new government will face implacable pressure from the Troika not to yield to the demands of the masses but to continue with the programme of cuts and austerity. Tsipras may be hoping that Greece’s creditors are bluffing, that, whatever they may say in public, the EU and IMF could not afford an uncontrolled default in Greece.
It is true that a catastrophic default, followed inevitably by the exit of Greece from the Eurozone (and possibly also from the EU), would pose a serious danger. The crisis could spread quickly to the eurozone periphery. The future of the single currency itself would be put in jeopardy. Would Angela Merkel really take the risk of a Greek exit that could be the start of a chain reaction that might lead to the break-up of the eurozone?
Clearly, this would not be Merkel’s preferred choice. But the German Chancellor must also take into consideration other factors, such as the growth of anti-EU feeling in Germany and the growing hostility there to more bailouts. It would be foolish to bet that her attitude towards a Syriza government would be more charitable than it was to that of Samaras. Quite the opposite will be the case.
This does not necessarily mean that a Syriza victory will lead to an immediate clash with Brussels and Berlin. The strategists of Capital are crafty people and they have had long experience in taming unruly left-wing governments. Moreover, some economists are already arguing that Germany has been demanding too much too soon of Europe’s weaker peripheral economies. There may therefore be some room for manoeuvre – but it is strictly limited.
The leaders of Syriza would like nothing better than to reach a deal with Merkel – if that were humanly possible. Not for nothing has Tsipras been striving to present a more moderate and reasonable image. For a time (it is impossible to say how long) Syriza can expect the masses to extend credit to the new government. The leaders will argue that they need time “to sort out the mess that the previous government left us”. This argument will resonate with many people who fervently wish to trust the new government and will be willing to wait – just a little – for their hopes to be fulfilled.
Suppose that Merkel makes some concessions. These will undoubtedly be of a secondary sort, mainly for cosmetic purposes to fool the masses. But on returning to Athens Tsipras will say: “look, we have bargained with the Germans and they have given us so-and-so.” Many people will breathe a sigh of relief because the alternative was too frightening to contemplate. In this was the government can gain some time – but for how long?
It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine that the leaders of the EU will allow it to put aside its commitments to fiscal austerity (that is cuts) and “reform” (that is, counter-reform). There are clear indications that rest of the EU has run out of patience with Greece. The Troika’s dealings with Athens are characterised by a complete absence of trust. The feeling is, of course, mutual. This must lead sooner or later to an open conflict. It is foolish to imagine that this can be avoided by smooth talk, smiles and diplomatic manoeuvres.
In the end Merkel and Co. will place a pistol on the negotiating table and say: “Now choose!” If Tsipras does not do as he is told, they will cut the lifeline that sustains whatever life is left in the Greek economy and Greece will find itself outside the Eurozone. Some economists have argued that it would be good for Greece to leave the Euro. The devaluation that would follow a return to the drachma would restore competitiveness. That is also the position of Lafazanis on the left wing of Syriza and other parts of the Greek Left. But this is a serious delusion.
A return to the drachma would be quickly followed by a sharp fall in the value of a currency which nobody will want to hold. The collapse of the drachma would cause chaos that would bring unimaginable pain to the Greek people. It would result in a fall in living standards far more serious than what has been experienced before. What they call a “disorderly default” would end in the implosion of the country’s banking system, throttling its access to international credit. It would resemble the crisis that sunk the German economy in 1923.
On a capitalist basis, all roads lead to ruin. For Greece, there is no future inside or outside the Euro unless a complete break is made with capitalism. To leave the Euro would mean death by hanging, but to remain within it would mean death by a thousand cuts.
A Syriza that comes to power but goes back on its promises and makes no significant changes to Greece's debt repayments will be thrown into crisis. A Syriza that demands serious restructuring of the debt risks being ejected from the Eurozone, reneging on another of Syriza's promises. It is this contradiction that exposes the utopian-reformist nature of Syriza's programme.
"...even if Syriza takes power, it is possible that the party will moderate its demands once it looks into the abyss of debt default. There is nothing like empty Treasury coffers to concentrate the mind." (Financial Times December 30, Voters are the Eurozone's weakest link.)
It has been reported in Der Spiegel magazine in Germany that Chancellor Merkel is preparing for a Greek exit if Syriza comes to power and makes what she considers to be “unacceptable demands”:
"The finance ministry said it did not comment on ‘speculative reports’. It referred to a statement from Mr Schäuble, published shortly after the election was called in Greece, in which he said there was no alternative to Greek efforts to overhaul the economy, which were ‘bearing fruit’. ‘If Greece chooses a different path, it will become difficult,’ added Mr Schäuble, saying elections did not change the fact that Athens had to stand by its agreements." (Financial Times, January 4)
It is true that a section of the bourgeois have realised that the harsh medicine dictated by Berlin has not worked and are counterproductive. But most of these commentators are from countries that do not have to pay the bills. When Mario Draghi made the famous promise that the EU would use all the means at its disposal to defend the Euro, he was blissfully aware that in order to honour this promise he would not have to put his hand in his own pocket. As a good Italian patriot, he was, of course, thinking of the Germans. But the latter have their own ideas on how to defend the Euro.
The German bourgeoisie has never been excessively fond of handing out money to poor neighbours. With the German economy in crisis, its enthusiasm for Draghi’s ideas, never very warm, has turned stone cold. Political and economic necessities condition one another. On pain of political extinction, Frau Merkel must appear strong towards the Greeks or else continue to lose ground to the rising anti-Europe right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD). If the choice is between getting re-elected and keeping a Syriza-led Greece inside the EU, her choice is not hard to predict.
Even if the terms of Greek debt relief were acceptable to the Troika, they will not be acceptable for the precedent they will set. After all, Greece only represents 2% of the European economy. But with the people of Italy, Spain and Portugal in similar positions, it is a precedent that the EU bosses cannot afford to set.
"There are also external reasons for Germany to be very wary of giving ground to Syriza. A debt write-off for Greece may be affordable – but it would clearly open the door for similar demands from Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and even France. It is very easy to see how a train-wreck could happen in the eurozone." (Financial Times, December 30)
Why do the bourgeois hate Tsipras?
The bourgeois fear Tsipras whom they call a communist and a dangerous radical. In vain he tries to convince them that he is neither. What the bourgeoisie fears most are the class forces that stand behind Tsipras. The announcement of a Left victory will undoubtedly arouse feelings of hope in millions of people and not only in Greece. The prospect of a defeat of the defenders of austerity and cuts fills workers all over Europe with hope. A victory for Syriza would have a big impact in Spain, where the rise of Podemos is threatening the increasingly weak and unpopular government of president Rajoy. It is not by chance that both Rajoy and Podemos general secretary Pablo Iglesias are getting directly involved in the Greek election.
In Greece itself, the downfall of the hated Samaras government will have a similar effect to the downfall of the Monarchy in Spain in 1931 or the victory of the Spanish Popular front government in 1936. Spurred on by electoral success, the workers will go onto the offensive. They will fight to reverse the cuts and recover all that they have lost in the dark years of austerity. They will put pressure on the government to carry out its programme.
The choice before a Syriza-led government is very simple: will the destinies of the Greek people be determined by a handful of bureaucrats and bankers in Brussels and the handful of wealthy Greek ship-owners and magnates who are allied with them? Or will the government act decisively to put an end to the dictatorship of the bankers and capitalists and stand up for the millions who elected them?
In recent years through hard experience the people of Greece have learned to be sceptical towards politicians and their promises. This scepticism was well-founded. They will be watching the new government with a mixture of hope and anxiety. Will Syriza do as they promised? Or will they behave like Pasok? That is the question.
Many amongst Syriza’s ranks have been rightly angered at some of the decisions in the choice of candidates for the party, which include a number of former Pasok deputies and even one from the right-wing Independent Greeks. They see this as further proof of the right-wing turn of the leadership.
Trotsky once wrote that under certain conditions reformist leaders can be pushed further than they intend. Any attempt to sabotage the government with a flight of capital (which has already begun) must be answered with expropriation. In combating the power of the bankers and capitalists Syriza cannot rely on the formal powers of parliament, which will be revealed as an empty shadow, but only on the power of the working class. On that basis a real example would be set for the workers of Italy, Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe to end the capitalist nightmare.
The only way to reverse cuts to wages and public spending, to put the unemployed back in work, is to seize real economic power. That begins by taking on the davatzides, the Oligarchs, not by taxing them or curbing them, but by expropriating them, along with the big monopolies and corporations of the Greek economy. The only way to resist the pressures of the bourgeois and the Troika and halt the outflow of capital would be to expropriate the banks and big companies under democratic workers’ control and management, appealing to the workers to occupy the factories and come out onto the streets to support the government and disarm the reaction.
Such a bold measure would evoke massive support, not only in Greece but all over Europe. Everywhere the masses are alienated from their rulers. They are looking for a bold lead that never comes. A real socialist government in Greece would be a source of inspiration for millions of people who despair of the present situation. It would have a far greater resonance than even the Russian Revolution in 1917.
But, of course, this is not the only scenario. If a Syriza government surrenders to the pressure of the bankers and capitalist and disappoints the people, the mood of the public can swing equally sharply in the opposite direction. The government would find itself ground between two stones. In that case, it would soon enter into crisis and begin to disintegrate as its electoral base melted away. Under these conditions there would be a sharp polarization to the left and the right, probably reflected in increased support for the KKE on the Left and growth for the right-wing that would include Golden Dawn (most likely under a new name).
“Voters are the Eurozone's weakest link”
A Syriza in power that does not fulfil the hopes that the people have invested in it, will not last in power very long. What would then be the perspective? The next election would bring to power an even more right-wing government, possibly with the participation of Golden Dawn. But that would also be impotent to solve the problems of Greek capitalism. It would open up a new period of political and social instability with an even greater wave of strikes, general strikes and even insurrections.
Parliamentary democracy is a luxury that can flourish only when the bourgeoisie has sufficient resources to keep the masses in check by means of concessions and reforms. But the deep crisis of the economic system is daily undermining the material basis of parliamentary democracy. One by one the parties that it leaned on have been shattered: Pasok has collapsed and New Democracy is preparing to follow it.
In "The State and Revolution", Lenin wrote:
"In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favourable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. Owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation, the modern wage slaves are so crushed by want and poverty that ‘they cannot be bothered with democracy’, ‘cannot be bothered with politics’; in the ordinary, peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life."
Since the Second World War the long period of capitalist upswing accompanied by the development of industry and the working class has meant that the idea of democracy has sunk so deep into the consciousness of the masses as to acquire the character of a prejudice. That is particularly true in Europe. However, today we no longer live in what used to be considered "ordinary, peaceful" times, least of all in Greece.
The problem for the European bourgeoisie is that the correlation of class forces does not allow them to move immediately in the direction of reaction as it did before the Second World War, and as the Greek bourgeois did in 1967. The rise of Golden Dawn was without doubt a warning. But the bourgeoisie was obliged to take measures to rein in the mad dogs for fear that their violent provocations would detonate an equal and opposite reaction from the Greek working class, which has not forgotten the rule of the Junta.
The Greek bourgeois cannot eliminate democracy without a struggle, which could end in open civil war. They do not want to go down that road – not because they are sentimental pacifists, but because they would not be sure of victory. That is why they were obliged to take some kind of action against the Golden Dawn. At present the main leaders of Golden Dawn are following the election campaign from behind bars. But in the next period that can change.
Let us remind ourselves that democracy has already been suspended once in Greece since the crisis. Following the resignation of Prime Minister Papandreou of PASOK in November 2011, parliamentary democracy was de facto suspended for six months. A "technocratic" government, a peculiar mix of EU-imperialist governance combined with a mild form of Bonapartism, was installed by the Troika under the leadership of Papademos with the aim of imposing the austerity demanded by Greece's bailout.
However, it will not be possible for the Greek ruling class to install an openly Bonapartist or fascist regime in the short or medium term. But if the working class does not take power, sooner or later the bourgeoisie will say: “The situation is intolerable: too many strikes, too many demonstrations; too much chaos. We need Order. We demand Order” .
Ultimately the choice before Greece, as before the whole of Europe and the World is: Socialism or barbarism. It is time to choose.
London, 16 January, 2015