Greek local elections confirm sharp class polarisation to the left and the right

The first round in the local elections, held last Sunday, May 18, reveal a significant growth of parties to the left of SYRIZA, in particular the KKE, but also a shift to the right within the right-wing camp, with Golden Dawn picking up votes. What we have is a sharpening of the class polarisation within Greek society, a harbinger of renewed class conflict in the coming period. Here we provide an analysis by a Greek Marxist of the results of the first round.

Last Sunday’s municipal and regional election results reflect the main tendencies taking place within Greek society. The voting patterns also reflect the balance of political power between the bourgeoisie and the working class. By comparing the recent elections with the 2012 parliamentary elections, we can draw some conclusions.

1) There has been a clear tendency to punish the parties in the coalition government, New Democracy (ND) and Pasok, although this has, to a certain degree, been expressed in support for so-called “alternatives” within the bourgeois camp.

The electorate rejected the government-endorsed candidates in most of the most important municipalities and prefectures. In the prefecture of Attica (centred around Athens) where over one third of the electorate lives (2,750,708 registered voters), ND’s preferred candidate, Mr G Koumoutsakos, only managed to win around 14.2%, a dramatic fall from the 26.38% he mustered in June 2012. All was not lost, however, for the bourgeoisie with the success of G. Sgouros - a supposedly independent candidate but with considerable support from government ministers, big business, and the media s – who managed to get through to the second round with 22.12%.

In the Athens municipality, the ND candidate, A. Spiliotopoulos, managed to win 16.72%, a dramatic drop on the part of ND from the June 2012 results (30.92%). Again, the darling of big business and media interests, and a government favourite, the pseudo-independent G. Kamminis, made it through to the second round since he managed to win 21.06%. This was more or less reflected in the Thessaloniki municipality where the ND candidate, S. Kalafatis, received 26.20% of the vote, again, a drop from the 32.42% achieved back in June 2012. G. Boutaris, a pro-government ‘independent’ entrepreneur and current Prefecture Mayor, won with 36.03%.

The situation in Piraeus and Patras (an important city port in the Peloponnese) is a little different. Both official ND candidates appear to have failed to win first place. B. Mihaloliakos in Piraeus came second (with 31.31%), to the ‘independent’ Berlusconi-like formation of G. Moralis and Marinakis (entrepreneur and owner of the Olympiakos football club), but even so this was a rise in ND’s share of the vote from the 27.5% June 2012. In Patras, Christopoulos, the semi-independent right-winger came second with 23.94%, although this still represents a gain for ND given that its June 2012 result was 22.88%.

A further example of the losses of ND, albeit in the context of victories for ‘unofficial’ right-wingers, is that of the Central Macedonia Prefecture where G. Ioannides only managed to get 28.63% as opposed to the 32.79% that went to A. Tzitzikostas.

Despite limited losses, these elections represent a regrouping of bourgeois forces in a new form. This is thanks to the bourgeois use of highly promoted, but supposedly ‘independent’ candidates, and, most significantly, due to the failure of the Left to capitalise on the public mood against the parties in government. Therefore, given the current situation (i.e. the first round results, and the state of the leadership of the Left), what we will see on Sunday, 25 May – the second round  – will be the candidates of the bourgeois camp standing as ‘favourites’ in 11 out of 13 prefectures, while SYRIZA is likely to lead in only two prefectures (namely, Attica and the Ionian Islands), while in terms of the largest municipalities, Patras may be won by the Left.

2) There is a noticeable shift towards SYRIZA albeit with only modest gains in votes and lacking the dynamism to develop further, as was witnessed in the June 2012 elections. The shift to the right on the part of the leadership is responsible for this.

The Left is leading in the Attica Prefecture and is also through to the second round in the Athens Municipality. Objectively, these are successes for SYRIZA. However, compared to the June 2012 elections and the fact that the SYRIZA leadership, quite naturally, had insisted that the results in these two seats have a thoroughly political character, the outcome for the Left has been way below expectations given the circumstances.

The Athens Municipality and the Attica Prefecture are the most important urban and proletarian centres of the country. It is in these two that the SYRIZA leadership is determining its policy and tactics, but the result has weakened rather than strengthened SYRIZA.  In Athens G. Sakelarides’s ‘Open City’ (SYRIZA) won 20% (44,620 votes) compared to 26.96% (77,460 votes) it won in June 2012. In the Attica Prefecture, R. Dourou’s ‘Force of Life’ (SYRIZA) only achieved 23.8% (390.000 votes) whereas it had previously  achieved 30.6% (563,963 votes) in the June 2012 elections!

The results for SYRIZA were even worse in the other prefectures and in the largest cities where the elections are most significant. SYRIZA does not appear to be strengthened anywhere, with losses across the country compared to June 2012. In Piraeus it went from 27.79% (June 2012) to 17.09 % (28,535 to 14,250 votes). In Thessaloniki it went from 24.51% to 10.57% (from 39,232 to 14,020 votes). In Patras it went from 32.17% to 15.41% (from 58,316 to 13,821 votes). Finally, in the prefectures - the right-wing Voudouris candidature being a case in point - instead of garnering a wider electoral share, SYRIZA humiliatingly received 15.9%, a significant drop from the 22% it won in the June 2012 elections.

We – the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA, side-by-side with the SYRIZA rank and file - had warned against this choice of candidate which led to this drop in support for SYRIZA. To blame the multiplicity of independent formations is only applicable to small towns and local areas. However, even where this was the case, we generally did not see independent groups forming as breakaways from the local SYRIZA forces. The overwhelming majority of the so-called ‘independent’ candidates have been from the bourgeois camp with policy packages that do not diverge much from those of the ruling parties. This was in fact a situation that should have been favourable for the Left. Thus the failure of SYRIZA to build on its June 2012 electoral gains is a political and not a technical question. It is an issue of dissatisfaction with the shift to the right of the leadership which has disappointed many people.

This turn is reflected in the candidature of social-democrats such as Voudouris (former Pasok MP who had voted in favour of the memoranda) and of other careerists. We can also see it in the announcement by Dragasakis [a SYRIZA MP] that there may be a referendum – in other words, an evasion of political responsibility on the part of SYRIZA – on the Greek external debt and the outrageous statements by Stathakis [a SYRIZA MP and member of the team responsible for drafting the party's economic policy] in favour of backtracking on the manifesto commitment to reinstate the minimum wage to that of 2009. Lastly, the unacceptable and objectively damaging statement by our comrade president (Alexis Tsipras) that SYRIZA would be prepared to cooperate with ND and Pasok were these to change leaderships!

3) The growth in support for Golden Dawn (GD) and its continuing appeal as a protest vote among politically backward and brutalised petty bourgeois and lumpen elements, along with the suffering poorer layers of society.

GD received a remarkable boost in the Athens Municipality to 16.12% (7.81% in June 2012) and 34,940 votes (22,450 in June 2012). In the Attica Prefecture it received 11.2% (i.e. 178,111 votes, an increase on the 144,378 votes it received in June 2012). Wherever GD has losses – such as in Piraeus where there was a 3% drop – this was due to those votes flowing towards other reactionary elements such as the Moralis-Marinakis formation, while in Thessaloniki, the GD share of the vote grew by 2%.

The fact that GD participated in the elections with its own candidates in nine municipalities and ten prefectures shows its weakness in building a strong fascist movement with roots in society. That said, its electoral performance indicate that it has grown and this reflects a noticeable increase in its appeal and of the reactionary tendencies in society. However, this growth of the far right remains less than the growth of support for the Left.

The increased support for GD, despite revelations about their fascist and criminal nature, may act as a warning of the potentially violent character that a bonapartist regime in Greece could take. However, GD support is not firmly rooted in society, as was the case with Germany during the interwar period. And such a regime could only take power following the failure of the Left to bring about the necessary revolutionary social and political changes, thus severing the umbilical cord between the fascists and the petty bourgeoisie who are being crushed under the crisis. In other words, the labour movement and the Left must not fail to go beyond mere rhetoric about unemployment and over-taxation, and to actually demand and impose revolutionary policies.

4) A noticeable shift to the left of SYRIZA as expressed through the clear rise of the KKE (Greek Communist Party) and a proportional rise of ANTARSYA.

In the Attica Prefecture, the KKE, despite its alienating sectarianism, managed to increase its share significantly from 4.5% in June 2012 to 10.67% (that is from 110,047 to 171,908 votes). It is clear that the KKE is capable of capturing votes that had previously gone to SYRIZA. This was most apparent in Patras where the KKE led with 25.6% as opposed to 5.18% in June 2012 (24,880 votes vis-à-vis 5,617) while SYRIZA came third! The outcome of the recent elections was a marked improvement for the KKE over its 2012 performance, and the KKE is now on track to recover the share of the vote it received before SYRIZA arrived on the scene. For instance, in Athens the KKE went up by 2.7% (from 4.73 to 7.41%), in Piraeus up by 2.2% (from 4.40 to 6.69%), and in Thessaloniki it went up by 3% (from 3.82 to 6.22%).

These percentages reflect an increase in social support for some of the correct political conclusions – albeit tinged with sectarianism – that the KKE came to in its most recent party conference. That is the need for an anti-capitalist, not simply an anti-memoranda, stance, the need for socialism and for the working class to take political power. The SYRIZA leadership, which appears to have rejected these positions as irrelevant or inopportune, must now surely feel anything but vindicated given that these revolutionary positions seem to appeal to the working masses. The Patras example in particular illustrates this. In Patras the KKE-supported formation ended up outperforming SYRIZA. The KKE formation took a clear anti-capitalist, communist line from the outset, while SYRIZA stuck to its usual language that was low on class content. The example of Patras holds valuable lessons regarding the necessity of a communist orientation for SYRIZA’s policies.

Lastly, there were impressive gains also for ANTARSYA that indicate that sections of the working class and of the youth are turning towards a Left, anti-capitalist, position. In the Attica Prefecture it received 2.09% i.e., 33,805 votes which is a fourfold increase since June 2012 (7,385 votes)!

5) Increased despair and political confusion among the petty bourgeois and the youth and a persistent scepticism and dismay towards all parties

There was despair and confusion reflected in the increased number of votes for GD. This was similarly evidenced by the success of certain bourgeois-demagogic candidates such as G. Moralis in Piraeus (33.28%) or A. Beos – currently under investigation for football club related scandals – who took the lead in Volos (38.29%).

This scepticism and disappointment towards party politics was also expressed in the high levels of abstention - 61.46% participated in the recent elections and 62.49% in June 2012. In that sense, abstention as a political ‘stance’ could more appropriately be considered as amounting to a mass ‘party’ within Greek society. This political stance of hundreds of thousands of people, who have no motivation to turn up to vote, cannot but reflect a rejection of the artificiality of bourgeois democracy. It may also reflect the early stages of a search for some other – more radical – political and social system which only the Left parties, through a bold defence and popularisation of a revolutionary socialist programme could offer.

6) The increased polarisation between the classes

The recent results make it fairly easy to deduce certain conclusions about the actual balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the labour movement. The Attica Prefecture, has within it one third of the Greek electorate and contains the urban centres that have acted as barometers of the political mood in Greek society. In that respect, were we to add up the votes of the Left (SYRIZA, KKE, and ANTARSYA) and place hafl of the diminishing share of DIMAR (Democratic Left, previously part of the pro-memoranda coalition government) within the left and half within the bourgeois camp , we see a 60:40 balance in favour of the bourgeois camp among those who went out to vote, whereas this had been 55:45 at the time of the June 2012 elections. This is why the bourgeois commentators have recently been so gleeful.

In any event, what this reflects is the increased polarisation within society, and a clear tendency within both camps for the most ‘extreme’ elements (e.g., GD in the bourgeois camp, and KKE in the proletarian camp) to be strengthened while the moderates on either side are weakened. The rejection of the Social Democratic choices of the SYRIZA leadership, the near extinction of DIMAR, and the drop in support for ND and Pasok, all points to a sharpening of class polarisation and brutal class conflict in the near future. Neither the parties and leaders of the bourgeois camp, nor the process of social-democratisation in the SYRIZA leadership, can offer a politically, economically, and socially stable outcome for the bourgeoisie. In this context the political responsibilities of SYRIZA and the KKE are of critical importance. Should there be within the next few years no revolutionary socialist way out presented to the working masses, the subsequent disappointment and passivity of the working class would favour the bourgeoisie who are likely to impose more reactionary forms of government, including the likely participation of the (currently under investigation) fascists of GD.

The entire Left must be united and determined in next Sunday’s electoral battle!

Defeatism is the last thing we need, given the forthcoming second round of the municipal and prefectural elections on Sunday, 25 May 2014 and the European elections. An exit poll recently commissioned by VIMA, a bourgeois paper, indicated that SYRIZA is likely to be in a clear lead with 27.4% of the vote vis-à-vis ND (22.7%). The same poll indicates that GD is likely to attract 8.7% of the vote while ‘Potami’ (‘River’, a new formation in the bourgeois camp) is likely to attract 8.1%, KKE 6.4%, ‘Elia’ (‘Olive Tree’, a Pasok formation) 6.2%, ‘Independent Greeks’, 4%, and DIMAR 1.4%. This is a very likely outcome upon which SYRIZA and the Left could build on. To do that it would be necessary for the Left to properly identify the tendencies that have been expressed in last Sunday’s elections, to recognise the mistakes of the leadership, and to promote a class based and united position in the forthcoming elections.

There is sufficient time to achieve this so long as we talk and act in a class-based manner, decisively, revolutionary, and united. In our view, this would require the following:

  • That the SYRIZA leadership openly acknowledge and denounce the social-democratic political line and shift towards the ‘centre’, and to bring radical, left, and anti-capitalist positions to the fore. They must highlight the class character of the forthcoming elections and present it to the electorate as: ‘either with the Left and with SYRIZA or with the bourgeois parties’;
  • The SYRIZA and KKE (alongside with ANTARSYA) leaderships to publicly commit to mutual support in those municipalities and prefectures in which a Left formation is up against a bourgeois formation during the second round. On this basis, it would be necessary to organise joint political meetings of the Left in those municipalities with a very clear message of class unity and mobilisation. Such a move would demoralise the bourgeois formations and candidates. The SYRIZA leadership has taken steps in this direction. It is for the KKE leadership to follow suit. Failing to do so would be a dereliction of its class duty.

Even if the above were to take place to some limited extent, next Sunday’s (25/5) outcome could potentially be very different from that of last Sunday (18/5). It could amount to a decisive step towards the collapse of the pro-memoranda government. This would open the way for a Left socialist SYRIZA-KKE coalition. The 35% total share of the vote accruing to the Left that the VIMA exit poll indicates in relation to the European elections point towards the very real possibility of a Left coalition government that could uproot and reverse the Memoranda and overthrow capitalism opening the way towards similar developments across Europe.

The comrades of the ‘Communist Tendency of Syriza’ shall be at the electoral battle next Sunday, on the front line, fighting to realise this revolutionary solution to the question of political power which, for us, is not some abstract prospect but a pressing necessity that is entirely realistic and possible at the present time.

(Monday, 19 May 2014)