The KKE and the Greek revolution

Millions of workers and youth around the world have been observing carefully the current events in Greece. 24- and 48-hour general strikes, mass demonstrations, the sieges of parliament during the austerity votes are all looked upon with enormous sympathy and the role of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in these events is evident to everybody.

Massive, militant blocs in the demonstrations and actions such as the draping of the Parthenon with a huge banner inviting the peoples of Europe to revolt have raised great admiration among important layers of the Left. However, although it is clear that the KKE is one of the main actors in the pre-revolutionary situation that exists in Greece, can we regard it as a model for our own struggles? This article attempts to analyse, although briefly, the political line and the programme of the Greek Communists.

The historical roots of the KKE and its links to Stalinism

The origins of the KKE can be traced back to the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (SEKE) founded in 1918. Under the influence of the October Revolution SEKE joined the Third International taking the name SEKE-Communist (SEKE-K) and adopting a Marxist revolutionary programme. Only in 1924 would it adopt the name KKE.

In the process of Stalinisation of the party in the 1920s a Left opposition emerged around Pantelis Pouliopoulos, who had been the first secretary of the party, but in 1927 the Stalinist leadership expelled this tendency. The fact remains that this Left opposition controlled the proletarian stronghold of the party, the organisation in Piraeus. Pantelis Pouliopoulos, apart from being the first secretary of the party, was the most able Greek Marxist theoretician and a supporter of Trotsky.

Metaxas later took power in Greece through a coup in 1936. He then proceeded to outlaw the Communist Party, persecuting and killing its activists, and established a Fascist dictatorship according to the Mussolini model.

In 1941, during the Second World War, the KKE promoted the National Liberation Front (EAM). Following the directions of Stalin and the political line of Popular Frontism, EAM did not include only proletarian or left-wing organisations, but also bourgeois radicals and monarchists who had suddenly turned democrats. Just as Palmiro Togliatti in Italy had imposed on the Italian Communist Party and its activists a front of the workers' with bourgeois parties such as the Christian Democracy and the monarchists, in the same way the KKE leadership tied the organisation to a democratic perspective of “national liberation”, renouncing the taking of power in accordance with Stalin’s directives.

EAM created a strong liberation army called ELAS, the People's National Liberation Army, building a force of 20,000 units. After the end of the Nazi occupation of Greece – October 1944 – the KKE, via EAM-ELAS, had the power all over Greece. In 1944, ELAS controlled the best part of Greek territory, in the cities and the countryside, but its programme did not include agrarian reform nor the socialisation of the means of production, in spite of the massive presence and influence of the Communists in the Front.

After the insurrection of December 1944, the KKE could have taken power but the leaders kept the main forces of ELAS outside Athens and the insurrection was defeated by the British armed forces together with Greek reactionary military forces. Under Stalin’s guidance the KKE leadership handed power back to a bourgeois government led by George Papandreou, which also saw the participation of three KKE representatives in secondary ministries.

Soldiers fighting in December 1944. Photo: December44Soldiers fighting in December 1944. Photo: December44In 1945 EAM subscribed to the disarmament of its own army in favour of a “peaceful transition to democracy”. In fact, the Stalin-Churchill pact established that Greece was to belong to the Western bloc. This meant giving up on any sort of revolutionary development for that country. The Greek revolution was defeated and the subsequent civil war put an end to the KKE's ability to play a hegemonic role within the working class, particularly as a consequence of its defeat and the Diaspora of its leaders and activists abroad. During the Colonels’ Regime from 1967 to 1974, the KKE suffered a split between the supporters of so-called “Euro-Communism” (whose main representative internationally was the Italian Communist Party of Enrico Berlinguer) and those who swore allegiance to Moscow.

Only after the fall of the Colonels was the KKE legalised again. In the 1980s negotiations started for the formation of an electoral alliance for the national elections of 1989 between the two wings of the former KKE, the pro-Moscow Stalinists and the “Euro-Communist” of the KKE-Interior, and other minor groups. This alliance was to become known as the Synaspismos [Coalition]. However, it did not last long.

In fact, this alliance, still strongly under the influence of Stalinist ideas, in 1990 supported the right-wing conservative bourgeois party Nea Dimokratia [New Democracy] in a coalition government, in order to prevent the Social Democrats of the PASOK from forming a government. It was thanks to this ultra-left policy – which was based on the idea of “Social-Fascism” developed by the Comintern in 1928 – that led the Greek Communists to openly break with other workers' parties denouncing them as the “twin brothers of Fascism” and the main enemies of the working class. This ultra-left policy of the KKE led to a sharp fall in its membership and a loss of almost half its votes from 10% to 6% in the following elections. After the collapse and breakup of the USSR in 1991 the “hard-liners” and the “Euro-Communists” parted ways for good. The latter faction appropriated the name Synaspismos for their new party, while the pro-Soviet wing reclaimed the name KKE which they still use today.

The class roots of the KKE and the electoral results

In the last 2-3 years, however, as a consequence of the increasing polarisation between the classes in Greek society due to the attacks of big business, the KKE has started to recover from its past poor electoral results and, in the most recent period, it has experienced a significant growth in the opinion polls. In 2004 it won 5.89%, in 2007 8.15%, and, with a slight decrease, 7.54% in 2009, establishing a core of half a million votes particularly among the most proletarian urban areas. For instance, in 2007 in the second constituency of Athens, a highly-concentrated working-class neighbourhood, the KKE won 12.5%, its best result since 1974, i.e. the end of the dictatorship, as well as in the Piraeus, the docklands area of Athens, where it won 14.5%. Among the 25 to 34 year olds it won about 11% and had significant support among the private-sector workers and the unemployed.

The KKE has developed over the years a whole series of front organisations that facilitate a mass intervention in the trade unions such as PAME (the Communist fraction inside the GSEE, the private sector general workers’ union), in the peasants' movement with PASY, among the small shopkeepers and the self-employed workers with PASEVE, among the women with OGE and in the students' movement with MAS (Militant Students' Front). The Communist Youth (KNE) is the largest youth organisation in Greece. On May 15th, 2010, for instance, the national demonstration of the party attracted around 30,000 participants.

The methods of the KKE

According to the latest opinion polls, it seems that a combination of all the parties of the “traditional Left”, i.e. those with roots in the old KKE, (the KKE, Synaspismos and Democratic Left) could get over 40% and could thus become the first electoral force in the country, with an absolute collapse of the PASOK estimated at 8%.

The Democratic Left would capture many of the voters abandoning from PASOK, mainly thanks to the fact that it has kept out of government coalitions... so far. The Synaspismos would also gain some consensus, in spite of its less radical language compared to that of the KKE, because it is not imbued with the sectarian methods of the KKE leaders. And the KKE would certainly receive support also thanks to the general objective situation, to its oppositional stance and partly because of the radical ideas it expresses. However, the sectarian methods that characterises it would not allow it to reach its full potential.

In fact, the Greek Communist Party still suffers from the influence of its old links to Stalinism combined with sectarianism, whose only effect is to divide the Greek working class and to demoralise its youth and trade union cadres.

On the one hand, the party has a very rigid internal regime, keen on expelling critics, a result of the Stalinist degeneration in the 1920s. A blatant example was that of some trade union leaders, very popular in the teachers' union, who were expelled simply for expressing doubts about the party’s tactics. This stifles any serious, open and frank debate among the membership and in the long term is bound to frustrate a layer of activists. However, at the same time it can prepare explosions within the party.

On the other hand, the sectarianism that permeates the party only serves to isolate it and its various fronts from all the mass movements in the country, from those connected with the killing of the student Alexis to the recent general strikes. PAME, for example, has the tradition of calling rallies and strikes separate from the rest of the GSEE, although it is a GSEE fraction. The KKE itself adopted a sectarian line during the students' protests on December 2008, after the assassination of Alexis, separating its own youth wing from the remaining mass of the students involved in a bitter struggle against the government, which was nothing else than the anticipation of what we are currently seeing in Greece.

KKE May demonstration. Photo: mediActivistaKKE May demonstration. Photo: mediActivistaThe KKE regards itself as the party of the proletarian vanguard. However, it systematically acts in a manner that separates the vanguard from the mass of the Greek proletariat, virtually preventing millions of young people and workers from getting to know the ideas of the Communists, and, even worse, preventing its activists from fighting shoulder to shoulder with other workers and youth.

Behind the idea of safeguarding an alleged ideological purity of the party there really is the fear that the rank and file could connect with the genuine needs of the class and particularly with the idea of unity among all the forces to the left of the PASOK.

In his book Left-wing Communism, an infantile disorder, Lenin strongly argues against the idea of an artificial separation between the proletarian vanguard and the bulk of the workers, branding it as a crime with devastating consequences on the outcome of the struggle and on the influence of the Communist on the masses. It is not just a question of the physical division of the workers in separate rallies; it means giving up in practice the struggle for hegemony within the working class as a whole and within its mass organisations. A strong Communist fraction in the trade unions at this stage should be in a position of attracting the best working-class cadres away from the influence of the reformists, winning them over to the revolutionary cause through consistent work side by side with these workers and activists, rather than isolating one's own members from the rest.

In the context of such a method of the party leaders, the most likely outcome is that they will refuse any electoral alliance on the basis of the fight against capitalism. In a February 11, 2011 article by the Foreign Department of the Central Committee of the  KKE, we read the following:

“The rejection of the blind alley of the so-called 'unity of the Left' implies for the KKE the preservation of an alliance policy that matches the interests of the working class, the toiling strata and the needs of the class struggle. We focus our attention on the socio-political alliance, based on common action, common interests, a common line of struggle of the working class, the urban self-employed workers and the peasants. An alliance that will enter into a conflict with the monopolies and imperialism and fight also for another path of development for our country, namely, people's power and people's economy in which the means of production will be socialised, with central planning of the economy and workers' control”.

This basically means that the only possible unity they envisage is under the banner of the KKE. It is a sectarian tactic that only amounts to an entrenchment behind revolutionary phraseology without taking into account the real strength of the Communists in society, the genuine feelings of the masses and the prospects for a possible revolutionary solution in Greece.

Let us be clear on this. We have repeatedly denounced the left-reformist line of Synaspismos with their utopia of reforming the European Union and the European Central Bank. The point, however, is that the inconsistencies and utopianism of these demands have to be demonstrated in practice to the working class and not just be pointed to and labelled as reformist, waiting for the masses to understand overnight the demands of the revolutionaries on the basis of mere political argument, or by simply branding the other parties every day as opportunists in the party press. If the masses had already realised the differences between the Communists of the KKE and the Synaspismos they would not be supporting the latter and would move towards the KKE.

However, it is KKE itself that states, a few lines below in the same article quoted above, that unity has to be achieved... under its banner:

“Instead of an alliance with opportunist and social-democratic parties in the name of 'unity of the Left', which has done much damage to the Communist movement, today the main task for the CP is the liberation of the working class and the popular forces from the influence of the bourgeois parties, both social-democrats and liberals. On this basis, the preconditions for the formation of a social alliance in Greece will be created, through the mobilisation around a common action front of the Militant Front of All Workers (PAME), the Peasants' Movement (PASY), the Self-employed Workers' and Small Shopkeepers' Movement against Monopolies (PASEVE), the Greek Women's Federation (OGE) and the Militant Students' Front (MAS). This common action will set the pace of the formation of a full socio-political alliance of anti-imperialist and anti-monopolist forces. Only this work can create connections between the working class and the popular masses.”

So we see that they say yes to unity... but only through their own front organisations! And on February 5, in its newspapers the party announced that: “The people must strengthen and ally with the KKE – this is the perspective that can bring hope!” How and why this is to be achieved we are not told!

The programme of the KKE

What programme does the KKE leadership present to the workers? The Communist Party raises as its central demands: exit from the European Union, rejection of the debt repayments and people's power.

First of all, it has to be stated that the slogan of “people's power” is less clear than the concept of “workers' power”, because it does not explain at all which role the Greek working class is supposed to play in the process of taking power and transforming society. This is not an academic criticism; on the contrary we feel the need to clarify the role of the workers in this process. In our opinion, they have to play a leading and hegemonic role on the students, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the peasants. Only the working class can lead this process; not for romantic reasons, but because of the role it plays in capitalist production and its ability to come together around a revolutionary programme. How can we achieve this? The KKE leaders do not explain.

In November 2011, commenting on the proposed referendum called by the government, the KKE produced an official statement in which it said that the referendum had to be opposed on the basis of a struggle with the following aims:

“The end of sacrifices for the crisis and for the sake of the profits of the plutocracy. The resignation of the government and the parties who sacrifice the people to save capitalism and the European Union. Respect for the rights of the workers and the people. The working class and the people must own the wealth they produce, with people's power, the withdrawal from the European Union and the cancelling of the debt.”

What is not explained, however, is if the exit from the EU would only imply a mere return to the Drachma. If this were the case, it would automatically bring back the policies of devaluation of the Drachma to allow for an increase in liquidity, which would not only imply inflationary policies immediately eroding the wages of the workers and their purchasing power, it would surely also provoke a protectionist wave from the EU against Greek commodities, a scenario worse than the one seen in Italy in the 1990s, when the only possibility for the Italian state in a context of crisis was precisely the devaluation of the Lira with the consequence of galloping inflation.

The leaders of the KKE, moreover, do not explain on which concrete programme they are calling on the masses to fight. Repeating the truths of Communism and people's power does not help to mobilise millions of people, but only the vanguard who nevertheless do not receive adequate tools with which to connect to the vast masses of the exploited.

The KKE in fact does not develop a transitional programme that could place the Greek working class in the condition of understanding the immense contradiction between its needs and the interests of the banks and big business and at the same time indicate the road to the overthrow of the capitalist system. The party propaganda is focused on a “maximum programme” which is disconnected from the real living conditions of the Greek people and on calling at any and every opportunity for people's power.

The point, however, is: how are we supposed to obtain this power, how can we keep it and what should we do after we have conquered it? People's power has to be sought where it expresses itself, not in the abstract fantasies of the leadership. For instance, the people's assembly of Syntagma Square was labelled by the KKE as petty-bourgeois and not perfectly aligned with the party's ideas. The KKE members were forbidden by the party from taking part in the assembly, thus ruling out the possibility that the people of Athens could listen to the point of view of the Communists.

The political position of the present KKE leadership is made up of two elements: 1) a revolutionary phraseology that talks openly of socialism and people's power and 2) this is combined with a consistent inability to systematically pursue these goals. That is to say, it is a typical “centrist” position.

Centrism, in Marxist vocabulary, is a political tendency that is characterised by vacillation between reformism and revolution, depending on the different class pressures of any given moment and which can continuously move rightward or leftward, and which is incapable of maintaining a clear and coherent revolutionary perspective.

The history of the labour movement has seen several times the formation of such tendencies in revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situations. An example is Italy in the “Biennio Rosso” [Two Red Years] of 1918-20), when the Socialist Party was dominated by the “Maximalist” tendency of Serrati and Lazzari, who spoke openly of socialism, revolution, of overthrowing capitalism and achieving worker's power but at the same time were organically incapable of taking these demands to their ultimate consequences. Thus, in practice, they abdicated their role of leadership in both the movement of factory occupations in September 1920 and the attempt by the workers to take power in Italy, before the Fascist coup of Mussolini.

The united front: for the unity of the Left on the basis of a revolutionary programme!

The present situation in Greece is dramatic, to say the least. The ruling class is increasingly losing support among the population and social polarisation is sharpening ever more, with a strong shift to the left. To the left of the Pasok, according to the polls the KKE and Synaspismos would get about 12% each, while the Democratic Left would win more than 18%, taking advantage more than the others of the collapse of the Pasok. If there were a front of these parties it could become the first electoral force in the country.

Unfortunately, all three parties hide behind their own excuses. Synaspismos made an appeal in favour of the unity of the Left, which nevertheless it did not follow up on. The KKE masquerades behind ideological purity, fearing the effect that such a front could have on the masses. For this front would not just be applied in elections, but also to social and industrial actions. It would unleash energies exceeding the mere sum of the individual parties that would make it up and would galvanise the masses, strengthening their confidence in the possibility of changing their current condition.

Lenin himself, in fact, pointed out in “Left-Wing Communism” that a revolutionary crisis could also spring from a parliamentary crisis, including the case of a government based on workers' parties comprising Communists and Socialists. It is necessary to make every possible effort to attain unity of action on concrete demands aimed at defending the general interests of the Greek working class and youth.

However, to achieve this it is not enough to simply denounce the betrayal by the reformists or appeal to the Synaspismos workers to quit their organisation and join the KKE: we need a programme of partial and transitional demands and a plan of mobilisation, and it is on this terrain that we must challenge the reformist leaders. On the basis of demands such as an all-out general strike to oust the government, to increase wages, to cancel the debt, to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy, it would be possible to reach an agreement among the different left-wing parties. There have been plenty of 1- or 2-day strikes in Greece. They served the aim of giving the working class an opportunity to reveal its strength, close ranks and stretch its muscles for the decisive clash with the ruling class. However, such strikes are not enough anymore. Calling further strikes could even lead to the opposite result if the practical problems faced by the working class are not solved. Thus, the slogan of yet another 24- or 48-hour general strike could lose all meaning.

An all-out general strike until the fall of the government would instead pose immediately the question of power, moving from the purely economic and trade union front to the political and would pose the question bluntly: who rules this society? The KKE fraction [PAME] within the GSEE and ADEDY, the Greek public and private sector trade union confederations, should systematically challenge the reformists on the calling of such a strike. The people's power referred to by the KKE could rise out of people's assemblies in every city through the election of an All-Greece National Committee made of elected deputies, accountable and recallable at all times. Such a National Committee would have the task of directing and co-ordinating strikes and protest actions all across Greece. This would represent a mighty rallying cry for the workers of other European countries, starting with the Portuguese, Spanish and Italian workers who could go down the same path. The solution to the problems of the Greek revolution cannot be found within the national borders of the country, as the KKE seems to believe, but only by fighting for the United Socialist States of Europe.