While Greece is faced with one of the biggest crises in its history, Greek bourgeois historians and politicians are trying to re-write history with their main focus on events that took place before and after Nazi occupation. These years were marked by massive poverty, hunger and oppression that led to a great wave of militancy amongst the Greek workers, peasants and youth.
However, due to the mistakes of the leaders of the Communist Party and the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Revolutionary movement that defeated the Nazis was brutally crushed and resulted in the darkest years of Greek history - the Greek civil war. The crisis of 2008 and its aftermath have brought back to the surface the memory of these events to remind us about the importance of revolutionary leadership. It is important for Marxists today to understand these events and their relevance to today’s situation.
From Metaxa Dictatorship to Fascist Occupation
In 1941,Greece was a city of 8 million on an economic rebound after the world crash of 1929. Its Communist Party had 300,000 members with an industrial base. Since its formation in 1918, the Communist Party had more than doubled, with an industrial base of more than 60,000. In 1929, with the Metaxa dictatorship, a series of repressive anti-communist laws pushed the then formidable party underground just over a decade after its birth.
In 1941, the Nazis invaded and the Greek army fully capitulated serving as a repressive apparatus carrying out the will of the Nazi leadership. This period was one of total strangulation of the Greek working class, leaving masses dying in the streets of Athens.
The Greek ruling class split into two camps: that of pro-British imperialism and those who collaborated with the Nazi occupation. This period of power jockeying saw no end to spying, intrigues crossing and double-crossing.
In this way the three-headed monster of capitalist oppression was created: that of the occupied forces (Nazis), the foreign (British and American) and Greek capitalists. All were united against their common enemy: the communist and class struggle militants. They found it very easy to negotiate and work collectively - despite their differences - when it came to killing communists or putting them in jail.
The position of the Communists on the War
At the same time, the leadership of the CP that was created from members of the old committee after their years in exile and prison, were split in their opinions on how they should fight. Some believed there needed to be a co-operation with the Metaxa dictatorship to fight the Italians and later on jumped into a co-operation with the British against the Nazis. This was nothing more than a rehashing of the Stalinist Comintern’s strategy of “popular frontism,” that had ended in bloody defeat in China and in Spain the previous decade.
Those who rejected this policy believed that joining the British imperialist war was not of any concern to the people or the communists, so they should not participate. These members were called ‘Old Central Committee members’ and later branded as Trotskyists.
Lenin’s position on the nature of wars, expressed in his book Socialism and War opposes both of these views. As he explained:
"Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the anarchists. We differ from the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary."
He explained that the only progressive nationalist wars occurred during the genesis of capitalism, when private productive property and the nation state burst from the womb of feudalism, creating a more united coherent organization of the productive forces. Under the conditions of the 20th century, these same productive forces had become fetters on the development of society; the nation state had outlived its role and communists could support no war on the basis of nationalism, apart from national liberation wars of the colonies towards their colonisers.
Instead, drawing the metaphor of two robbers fighting, he advocated that the conflict should be used to smash both. He poured scorn over the reformists and so-called “socialists” who advocated chauvinistic nationalist unity with their own bourgeois governments under the pretence of a “national front” during the First World War; Lenin understood that the only war that can bring peace to the world working class is the class war.
The creation of the Security Battalions, the EAM and the ELAS
In 1941 and the following year, mass resistance movements against the occupation forces gave rise to the National Liberation Front (ELAS) and the Greek People’s Liberation Army (EAM), organs of the Communist Party’s executive and military respectively. The heroic struggle of these organisations, who rallied under the banner of the nationalisation of the railways, of finance capital and civil service, fought and secured “Liberated Greece” — mountain and village regions taken back from Nazi occupation. In their struggle, they were also able to stop Greek recruitment into the German army, and gain an increase in bread rations to Greeks living in the cities.
In 1943, the Greek bourgeois traitors staged a response, forming “Security Battalions” designed to support the Nazi occupation in Greece. Mainly comprised of Nazi sympathisers, extreme right wingers and elements from the centre-right, these groups aimed at smashing the Communists and the front they had created in the areas of Liberated Greece.
Two countries in one
EAM and ELAS controlled the mountain area across the top of the Peloponnese all the way to borders with Yugoslavia by 1943. The following year, they had secured most of the Peloponnese. the Germans were restricted to the cities, while anyone who wished to travel to those parts of the country controlled by the resistance - the liberated Greek lands - had to carry a passport and go through ‘borders’.
EAM and ELAS re-organized the economy, established people’s courts, protected refugees, set up a well-functioning education system and introduced several progressive social changes for women. In March 1944, they set up local autonomies and had national elections where men and women over 17 years old were eligible to vote. Their main aim was to establish a new system for solving the socio-political problems of the country that were no longer dictated from the top but by the workers and peasants.
The element of localisation was still very present. Decisions made from the central authorities of EAM were not properly communicated or established in the different areas where EAM was in power. The information coming from the cities rarely reached the mountains and the villages under the forces of the resistance, almost as if they were two separate countries. The degree of local decision making was shown in how little control the CP leadership had in these places later on.
Radicalisation on the ground and conservatism on the top
Even the most conservative layers of the country became radicalised and inspired by EAM due to the great hunger and misery they experienced under the German occupation and the war. People had also started doubting the pre-war political situation in Greece, its legitimacy and its perspectives.
The youth were trying to convince the wider public of a need for a new political system, where no corrupt elements would have a place. Most of the youth were on the side of the Left at that time. The cruelty of the occupation gave them a degree of courage and honesty that people outside Greece found difficult to comprehend.
There was a great confusion of ideas at the time. People from the Right would call for socialism; talking about a system where the monarchy and socialism could co-exist. Everyone had equated the term socialism with social justice, but rarely would anyone pin down and really explain what they meant by the use of the word. EAM was a mix of social democrats who were afraid of ‘sacrificing democracy in the name of socialism’, as they would explain, as well as communists. The communists were split in two blocs. One would say that socialism would come after national liberation, whereas the other bloc was more keen to build relationships with the British.
The CP leadership was acting in a schizophrenic manner, on the one hand being ultra-left and sectarian and on the other calling for National Unity. They were powerless when it came to influence EAM and ELAS and were already doubting their activities, even being afraid of what these were capable of doing. When the Comintern was dissolved, Stalin advised the Greek communists to co-operate with the British.
The birth and strength of EAM and ELAS, the weakness of the leadership
Even amidst all this confusion, people still had the feeling that the CP and EAM were theirs, that they were close to them and were speaking the same language. The seeds of this popular movement of EAM were to be found in the towns and villages of the rural parts of Greece. Before the war, the problem of land reform had not been addressed; the villages were isolated without welfare; the nearest hospitals and courts were very far away with no roads connecting them. In 1935 there was a sprouting of local authorities such as people’s courts to deal with small conflicts and disagreements that individual villages were faced with, since the people were tired of having to walk for miles to the bigger cities for a court case.
In 1936, the dictatorship of Metaxa put an end to all these initiatives. In 1941 when there was a vacuum of political leadership and authority, the memory of this collective cooperation they had had naturally returned in these areas.
In a region of different villages in the Central parts of Greece, a movement of peasants became popular in 1936 with its leader coming closer to the Communist Party and eventually becoming a member. The Metaxa dictatorship was hated by the peasants, especially due to a law that it passed restricting the rights of shepherds to take their sheep to graze outside their farms. Although they were not communists and didn’t know of the CP, they grew closer to this movement out of necessity and frustration with the unpopular Metaxa dictatorship.
In 1941, Beikos, the young communist who was leading that movement, was helping other communities tackle their lack of food and supplies. As soon as the CP told him and his comrades to spread the message about EAM, the people from these localities welcomed the idea and many of them joined the forces. In 1943, Beikos and his comrades were the force promoting the growth of EAM in Central Greece.
Another famous figure among the partisans was Aris Velouchiotis, one of the greatest, most inspiring comrades involved in EAM who to this day still sends shivers down the backs of communists and sympathisers of the left in Greece. His radicalism inspired several people in the rural areas and terrified the Greek State as well as the leadership of the Communist Party. During the occupation years he helped several communities set up their own local authorities - always run democratically by the people.
As soon as these communities developed they realised the need for reforms that went beyond the small problems of the village. The question of land reform was still pressing and they had to take action against the laws restricting agricultural life that had been imposed by Metaxa and were still being applied.
Beikos realised that there had to be a line decided upon by EAM on these matters. In 1942 he met in secret with some other members of the CP to decide upon the question of People’s Justice and People’s Courts. They decided to not deal with the question of land reform, since, as they said, this would drive away the more wealthy members that they had, which included several landowners(!). That was basically the line promoted by the leadership of the CP who criticised ELAS for being ultra-left.
In 1943, the central authorities of EAM in Central Greece called on the local communities of the area to adopt the new reforms in relation to the People’s Courts and restructuring the town councils. In 1944 that was the situation in most, if not all, of the areas of Liberated Greece.
An embryonic Soviet State!
The People’s Courts were meeting weekly, were open to the public and were very efficient. They were using the common language, whereas lawyers of the official courts at the time were speaking in old-style formal Greek that the peasants could not understand. The juries were elected by the people of the community.
There were no written laws, the people were called to decide on the basis of their own honest opinions, while a lot of cases were not taken to the court if EAM felt there was a ‘general feeling’ in the community that they were not such an important issue to be dealt with.
One of the court cases recorded has to do with ELAS criticising some men of a village that were not present when there was a call to help with transporting arms from one village to the other. Usually when the ELAS fighters arrived they would set off a siren to call for help from the people in the community to carry the arms to the next village. Usually only women would show up because men found it demeaning. Many men were prosecuted for that and were taken to court.
Members of the people’s committee were elected by all men and women that were 17 years old and older.
In the cities, the years 1941-42 were marked by big general strikes and demonstrations where hundreds of people were killed by the police and the Germans. People would still come out onto the streets even after experiencing all this violence and they would keep marching heroically forward as people around them were shot dead!
ELAS in numbers, relative to the size of the population, was a much bigger army even than the Red Army in 1917. The CP had half a million members and 75-90% of the population supported EAM. However, the leadership of the CP did not want to take the fight as far as EAM and ELAS were taking it. They wanted a national liberation war within the confines of capitalism rather than a soviet workers’ state. That explains why they worked towards undermining the power of the People’s Courts and People’s Self-governments.
The bureaucracy of the USSR, and its political line, was directly influencing a party as young as the Communist Party at the time. The line of Popular Fronts was also adopted by the CP in Greece as it had done in Spain a few years earlier. Popular Fronts were made up of bourgeois and liberal imperialist elements working with the CP in a common fight against the Nazis. That was explained as being in line with the theory of revolution by stages that the Stalinist bureaucracy upheld at the time.
Lenin’s position on Popular Fronts and Class Collaborationism
This analysis of the world situation and the tactics that stem from it was in complete contradiction with the analysis that the Communist International developed in its 4th congress, while Lenin was still alive and the bureaucracy hadn't yet completely taken over.
In the ‘Theses on Comintern Tactics’ produced for the 4th congress of the Comintern in 1922 we read the following:
“Capitalism to its very end will be at the mercy of cyclical fluctuations. Only the seizure of power by the proletariat and a world socialist revolution can save humanity from permanent catastrophe, caused by the existence of the modern capitalist system. What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes. The collapse of capitalism is inevitable.”
The Theses explained how the crisis of capitalism had forced the bourgeois to take back all the gains of the working class. They explained how the leaders of Social Democracy and the Trade Unions were lagging far behind the objective situation, thinking that they could still negotiate with the employers in times of such deep crisis.
“The desperate capitalist class has gone beyond its bureaucratic means of power and has now relied on fascists elements to do the job for them. The aim is to attack the radicalised working class and destroy any possibility of a revolution.
“One of the most important tasks of the Communist Parties is to organise resistance to international fascism. They must be at the head of the working class in the fight against the fascist gangs, must be extremely active in setting up united fronts on the question and must make use of illegal methods of organisation.”
By seeing war as it is, as a continuation of politics and as a symptom of the crisis of capitalism fighting for its survival, the communists needed to recognise that the idea of the Popular Front, i.e co-operating with the national bourgeoisie against a foreign enemy is a mistaken tactic. They explained that by creating the Popular Fronts they were not dealing with the real root of the problem which is capitalism, but actually strengthened it. It is an illusion to think that uniting with the capitalist class will solve the problems that actually lead to war because these problems are the result of the decline and the contradictions of capitalism; its role as a break to development. Communists should thus use the war to show that it is a symptom of decline and to fight for a new world order, to fight for socialism.
The tactic of the United Front on the other hand, means the Communists promote a common front of all the workers’ parties on the left, including the Social Democrats, and is a way of exposing the rottenness of the leadership of the old workers’ organisations, of exposing, for example, the limitations of reformism that the Social Democrats strongly support. By offering unity in action, while defending the need to overthrow capitalism, this approach aids the radicalisation of the working class and gives them the experience and the tools they need to fight for a radical change. It unites the workers in a determined fight against their own governments and against the capitalist system once and for all.
The role of British imperialism in the game of betrayals!
The truth is that the Soviet bureaucracy was not interested in Greece. They were trying to defend their own interests in the map of the World powers at the time and the British needed Greece under their own influence. The line of the Popular Front, combined with the theory of stages and the call for bourgeois democracy to be established in Greece, was a tactic of defeat of the CP leadership.
The British were very much aware of the influence that ELAS and EAM had among the population. They were afraid that after the war was won, Greece would come under the influence of EAM and ELAS and the imperialists would lose control of one of the most geopolitically important countries in Europe. Keeping Greece under their sphere of influence meant that they had a passage to Asia, the Suez canal and Egypt. The fear of socialism being established also led them to understand that needed to work with EAM and ELAS in order to hold them back from successful revolution.
As soon as they realised that this was no easy task, especially when it came to the ranks of EAM and ELAS, they set up, with the help of the Greek bourgeoisie, another liberation front to try to take some influence away from EAM and ELAS. This was called the EDES and was a right-wing liberation front. Additionally, since the British were trying to install the old king as a means of influencing the country, EDES gradually became a royalist liberation front. Evidence shows that this group was co-ordinating with some of the German troops as well, making deals about which region each of them would have control over.
The Communist Party’s tactic of defeat
The leadership of the CP was following the theory of two stages by which was meant first fight the war against the fascists and liberate Greece and then fight for social change. That meant that they would hinder any serious radical developments within EAM and ELAS by either not sending rebel forces to places where they were needed or by criticising the initiatives of their best fighters such as Aris Velouchiotis, depicting them as ultra-left. Their approach was that it was necessary to collaborate with the British and with all the so called ‘liberal’ bourgeois elements.
In July 1943, the CP leadership signed a treaty subordinating ELAS to the British military forces. The British put ELAS under the collective discipline of the ‘National Resistance forces’ namely EDES and also EKKA which was another British collaborationist group on the right. What effectively happened with this agreement was that the powerful ELAS was subordinated to these two small liberation groups who were trying to gain power in Greece.
People thought that this Alliance flowed from the traditions of the partisans in the mountains and were happy to welcome it. However, as soon as it became the official political arm of the National Resistance forces, they swept away all elements of People’s Self-government. Once again, a law was proposed according to which the only people who could become politicians or judges had to have a University degree. Although, the CP leadership managed to suspend that law, they did not abolish it.
At the same time when elections in the mountains were held by EAM and ELAS, the leadership of the CP and the National Resistance forces were on their way to Lebanon to negotiate with the British installed government of George Papandreou.
In May 1944, there was the Lebanon Conference which marked an important change in the tactics of the CP leadership. The Conference developed into a public trial against EAM and ELAS where they were accused of being terrorists, etc. The conference resulted in an agreement for a government of national unity which consisted of 24 ministers, 6 of them from EAM. Thus, the most powerful, most important and the only existing political force in Greece was given only one quarter of the seats.
The political line of the CP and its subordination to the British imperialist and the Greek bourgeois government flowed from the world political situation and the position that Churchill and Stalin had agreed in relation to Greece. At the Yalta Conference, where Churchill and Stalin divided Europe between them, Stalin had traded Greece for Romania, so he could not allow the CP to take power in Greece. The reality was that EAM and ELAS never received any advice or help from the Stalinist bureaucracy but were left to their own fate. The Soviet representatives personally advised the CP to retreat at the Lebanon Conference and give in to the interests of the bourgeois and the British.
On 26th of September 1944, the next stage of betrayal of the movement materialised. That was the Caserta agreement, whereby ELAS was to be subordinated to the government of national unity and any attempts of the local structures of EAM and ELAS to maintain or fight for power would be stifled..
The Security Battalions, the traitors of the country, surrendered to the British and were then used to fight against ELAS. Aris Velouchiotis reacted to this decision of the CP leadership, calling on the people to start fighting the British. He called on the other ‘captains’, ELAS officers, to “prepare for a strike against the British”. He was left politically isolated like many other of the best fighters of ELAS.
The CP leadership hands over their victory to the bourgeoisie
By October 1944, when the German troops left the country, most of Greek territory had already been liberated. EAM was taxing the rich and using the money to buy food and supplies for the poor and were arresting the Nazi spies and Metaxa agents.
EAM had the power in its hands. There was no need to fight any longer, but the CP leadership thought otherwise. They were calling for EAM to stop acting as if they were a government, since, as they said, “there is only one government of Greece”, the National Unity government.
There were mass demonstrations after the Germans left, calling for people’s power, while much smaller counter-demonstrations were organised by the bourgeois. When the two met in Athens, there was hostility and everyone could feel the class differences between the two camps.
The British were preparing for a fight with EAM and ELAS, in their understanding that the only way of consolidating their power was to get rid of them. Churchill was calling for the British not to let Greece fall under the influence of “terrible trotskyism”. His plan was to disarm EAM and come into direct conflict with them.
The December events, Dekemvriana
On 2nd of December, the Papandreou government banned a demonstration held in protest against the disarming of EAM. This forced the CP MPs to resign from the government. The next day, there were huge protests and a general strike in Athens. That is how the Battle of Athens began. The British started shooting and killing the demonstrators with machine guns. The next day, on 4th of December the Greek right-wing traitors join the British in an open fight against EAM and ELAS.The CP leadership decided to send their best troops to places outside Athens, leaving Athens with only 20,000 stand-by soldiers. They called fon ELAS and the communists not fire at the British but only their Greek allies.
There were 1650 flights over 10 days that transported British troops, as well as arms, from Italy to Greece. Over 40,000 Greek civilians were killed during this battle.
By January 1945, EAM and ELAS were forced to leave Athens defeated, while the British justified their actions by saying that the CP had attempted to carry out a coup. In February, the Treaty of Varkiza was signed, whereby the CP leadership agreed to surrender the weapons of the ELAS forces. Although there was an agreement that was supposed to guarantee that both sides of the Battle for Athens would not face prosecuted for their fighting, EAM was attacked after the disarmament was carried out and purges against communists started once more.
At the same time as the December events were unfolding, the Stalinist bureaucracy set up OPLA, an armed force whose task was to persecute and kill members of the Fourth International or any anti-Stalinist left-wingers. The Treaty of Varkiza provoked a big reaction among the main partisan forces in the mountains, including Aris Velouchiotis who did not surrender his arms. Rizospastis, the newspaper of the CP, later published a main article under the headline ‘The CP openly condemns Aris Velouchiotis’. Later on when Aris was killed by the purging forces, the same newspaper announced it as “the death of a traitor”.
From the signing of the Treaty of Varkiza until March 1946, there were 1300 murdered, 6,600 injured, 31,600 tortured, 600 attempts of murder, 300 rapes, 18,800 imprisonments and 85,000 prosecutions.
The mistakes of the Greek Trotskyists
It is important to mention at this point the role that Greek Trotskyists played - or rather the mistakes they made - during this period of turbulence for which they were criticised by the European Secretariat of the Fourth International. Their attitude towards the war has left a big stain on the history of Trotskyism within the Greek Left which is hard to wash away even today.
The three Trotskyist groups that represented the Fourth International acted in a sectarian manner and decided not to take part in the historical process and radicalisation that was unravelling in front of their very own eyes. As the European Secretariat noted:
“The two organisations (Workers’ Front led by Stina and Workers' Struggle led by Pouliopoulos) did not comprehend the relationship between the movement of the masses - which was primarily a result of the objective conditions that were created in Greece during the Metaxa dictatorship, the war and the occupation - and the movement’s leadership being Stalinist, nationalist, petit bourgeois, bureaucratic and reactionary, and did not achieve to distinguish and recognise the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist character which, in the last analysis, was flowing through this movement, as well as its revolutionary potential.”
The fear of the leaderships of these organisations to intervene in a movement led by a Stalinist bureaucracy left them with a confused analysis. In their own understanding, EAM consisted of nationalist petit bourgeois elements. Therefore all they could do was to wash their hands clean and defend the need for an international revolution in an abstract manner. By not participating and taking a decisive role in the vanguard of the movement, they left the movement helpless under the influence of the poisonous Stalinist bureaucracy and the attacks of British Imperialism.
Lessons for the Greek Left today
The bloody battle of Athens in 1944 was just the beginning of decades of purges, exiles and assassinations. The true liberators of Greece from the Nazis - the Communists - had to pay for the price of a weak leadership for generations to come. The Greek Left is a result of those dark years. Young militants who are now fighting against austerity remember the stories from their grandparents who were exiled and sent to prison over and over again.
Not only the Left, but also the Right is the product of those dark years. The right wing, including the so-called centre-right, consists of those families of traitors and Nazi collaborators. Although this was covered up during the years of economic stability, Greek society has been divided ever since the years of the Civil War.
This historical division has become more and more evident since the beginning of the 2008 crisis. The radicalisation that came as a result of years of austerity led to the electoral victory of SYRIZA, a party that comes from the Eurocommunist fraction of the old Communist Party and that is now promising to put an end to the humanitarian crisis.
There are many lessons to be drawn from the experience of the defeat of the Communists in the 1940s, if examined objectively. The most important lesson to be taken on board by the Greek Left is that the ruling classes have a much higher level of class consciousness than the leaderships of the Left organisations. They would co-operate with the devil himself if he would help them maintain the status quo.
The leaderships of the Left in the 1940s were very similar to the ones of today. Instead of seeing the crisis as it is, i.e. as part of the death agony of capitalism, they prefer to use other terminology such as ‘Neoliberalism’, ‘Europatriotism’, ‘Evil Germany’ and so on. Varoufakis has gone even further than this in saying that the Left is not ready to come into conflict with capitalism so the only role it can play is that of saving capitalism from its crisis. Once again, the analysis is used in order to justify the insecurity and unwillingness to fight on the part of the leadership.
As the crisis has deepened, the EU leaders, or so-called “partners”, have been pushing the Greek government for more and more austerity. SYRIZA finds itself in a very uncomfortable position: should they meet the demands of the EU “partners” or should they stick to their programme which led them to government in the first place? When faced with this dilemma, members of SYRIZA - whether in the leadership or not - as well as other organisations of the Left, fall into the trap of the EU’s rhetoric by which a policy can either reinforce the EU or completely reject it. The whole of the Greek Left is primarily trying to answer the question of “EU or no EU” without understanding the real question: Socialism or Capitalism (read Barbarism). Almost identical mistakes were made by the CP in the years during and after the Second World War. The leadership was too occupied trying to figure out with which wing of the capitalist class they should collaborate,instead of realising the strength of their own rank and file that was in a militant mood and ready to fight for a socialist alternative.
Once again, the ideas and analysis of the leadership are lagging far behind the radicalisation of the masses. Alexis Tsipras seems to see this when he says in an interview given to Der Spiegel, "If we were to hold a referendum tomorrow with the question, ‘Do you want your dignity or a continuation of this unworthy policy?’ then everyone would choose dignity regardless of difficulties that would accompany that decision.” People are fed up with the conditions they are forced to live under and don’t find the question of EU or no EU relevant anymore. If one has no food, security or future for oneself and one’s family they can very quickly become revolutionary.
While the ruling classes are struggling to maintain their popularity and control over the radicalised masses - in Greece and worldwide - the reformist leaderships of the Left are trying to reach compromises with capitalism. And why? Because, as Varoufakis explains, “it is the Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, to stabilise capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis.” He goes on to explain that we’re compelled to make broad coalitions, even with the right wing, to fight the humanitarian crisis.
Echoing the class collaborationist tactics adopted by the CP in the 1940s, SYRIZA is trying to make alliances at home and abroad with the bourgeoisie, believing that there is no alternative. In the understanding of Mr Varoufakis, socialism will only come once capitalism has become stable again. Therefore the Left should coordinate with the capitalist class to save the very same system which has been exploiting Greek workers and youth for decades. However, he fails to understand two main points. Firstly, if capitalism was to work, there would be no need for socialism. Secondly, this crisis is destined to drag out over many years and even decades - a whole century even, as some bourgeois economists have been predicting. How much longer will the Greek masses suffer under the pretence that “it’s better to be in the EU than out of it”?
The mistakes of the CP leadership in the events leading up to the Civil war were characterised by similar short-sightedness. They also adhered to the idea that the class struggle was secondary and the real important question was fighting the war or establishing a “healthy bourgeois state” before transforming it - somehow - into socialism. However, all these - war, corruption, the rise of fascism and the undemocratic policies of the EU - are only symptoms of a capitalist system in decline.
The Eurogroup meeting on 24th of April saw the two sides coming closer on the matters of privatisations, whereas they still disagreed over the issue of reforming the labour law and over the proposed lay-offs. They have not understood that unless they have power over the economy, they cannot promise any reforms on any other front, such as education, housing, pensions, etc. The “Europeans” - i.e. finance capital - have adopted a hard line towards Greece because they are aware of the fact that the Greek government still expects to get their aid. Unless they take over the economy, they will continue to vacillate from one policy to another, according to the whims of the European creditors. As Dijsselbloem pointed out in the press conference after the meeting, “a lot of time has been wasted over the last 2 months […] finding an agreement is first and foremost in Greece’s interest” . This ultimately shows where the power lies at the moment, on the side of the creditors and they won’t stop until they see Greece bowing before their unreasonable demands.
The SYRIZA leadership analyses the crisis as if it were an isolated event - almost cut off from the historical thread of capitalist development and its inevitable decline - and are looking for “new formulas”. Although it is true that we cannot draw absolute parallels with historical events, we can still learn the necessary lessons from them. The ruling class does not have an interest in solving the humanitarian crisis in Greece in the same way that they were not interested in liberating it from the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Ultimately, they only launched military attacks against the German troops because of the threat that German militarism posed to their own imperialist interests of the region. The only force in society that can fight against the barbaric situation that Greece finds itself in is the working class, the factory workers, office workers, healthcare workers, the doctors, the teachers, the students, the transport workers and so on. They have shown their willingness to fight together for a fairer system repeatedly throughout history. The leadership of SYRIZA should be inspiring these radicalised layers of society and trying to involve them in the implementation of a socialist programme.
Such a transformation would ensure that the economy is run by the people and for the people and not by a handful of capitalists, technocrats and bankers. Nationalisation of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control is the only way of stopping the flight of capital and paving the way for an economy that is run in the interest of working people rather than profit. This must go hand in hand with expropriations of the richest families and big businesses in Greece who have been strong defenders of foreign intervention for decades - whether through the Nazi occupation, the dictatorship supported by American imperialism in the 1970s or the iron fist of Merkel.
The Greek Finance Minister and many others within the SYRIZA leadership have good intentions and would sincerely like to solve the humanitarian crisis in Greece. Unfortunately, they are lacking confidence in the masses as well as in themselves. The fact that they prefer to rely on creditors’ and investors’ money rather than stand for a nationalised planned economy will keep the Greek government shackled until they are completely discredited in the eyes of their own rank and file.
The way that the Greek left-wing government deals with the European capitalists and whether the process results in a deepening of the crisis or not will have an effect on the rest of the European South followed later by the rest of the EU member states. The turmoil that exists in European society at the moment will seek an expression either through SYRIZA, Podemos and other such parties or through existing formations. However, unless these parties adopt a revolutionary programme for the socialist transformation of society, they will eventually end up in the dustbin of history alongside the system they are trying to “save”. Greece has been ripe for revolution for a long time now. It was ripe during the revolutionary movements that took place with the birth of the Communist Party and the later defeat of the Nazis. Revolutionary conditions have matured once again. The only thing that is required now is a confident leadership with a revolutionary socialist programme with roots within the working class.
History will not show mercy and will not wait for SYRIZA as it attempts to solve the crisis within the confines of capitalism. Another historical movement with revolutionary potential can be once again crashed as happened in the 1940s. The SYRIZA leadership needs to make the decision: will they try to cure a system that is in irreparable decay or will they fight for a better future for Greece and Europe as a whole?