Revolutionary ferment in Greece – a taste of what is to come for the whole of Europe

The events that have unfolded over the past month in Greece have revealed the immense revolutionary potential that had accumulated below the surface of society. The anger of the youth can only be explained by the severe crisis of capitalism afflicting the country, a reflection of the international economic crisis. And the conditions that exist in Greece are the same that exist across the whole of Europe.

After this article was written two events occurred that indicate the dangers in the situation. First, a police vehicle was shot at in December. The shot apparently came from inside a university ground. Then in January a police officer was seriously injured by a gunshot, apparently from the same or similar gun to the one used in December.

This can indicate two possibilities. The first is that terrorist tendencies may be developing among a small minority of students. Greece has in fact a tradition of so-called "left-wing terrorism". If this were the case it would indicate to what degree the level of frustration among a layer of the youth has reached. But we would also have to ask ourselves who is responsible for such a development?

Ultra-leftism and terrorism emerge as a consequence of the opportunism of the labour leaders. When the state is shooting at unarmed students, killing one and beating up and arresting many others, what do the leaders of the PASOK and other traditional left parties do? The PASOK actually called on the students to end their occupations. The leader of the Communist Party, KKE, has had talks with Karamanlis, the hated ND Prime Minister, and is not even prepared to call for the fall of the government. The Synaspismos leaders have taken a more sympathetic approach, but in reality they have tail-ended the movement and offered no real leadership.

In these conditions one can understand why some elements can become frustrated and decide to take "direct action" and from there move in the direction of terrorist methods. However, although one can understand why this can happen, the duty of the Marxists is to explain that such actions do not move the movement forward. On the contrary, they are counterproductive and  such actions play right into the hands of the conservative ND government that has been trying to criminalize the movement ever since it started. Rather than strengthening and widening the movement, such actions will only help the government to divide the movement and eventually defeat it.

Individual terrorist acts are not the method of the working class and the student movement as a whole. The methods of the workers are strikes, general strikes, mass rallies, factory occupations.

The other possibility is that the shooting has been carried out by police agents provocateurs. Throughout the recent movement a lot of evidence has been produced that indicated such agents were operating among the students. It would not at all be surprising if at some later date it emerges that some of those throwing Molotov cocktails at shops, kiosks, parked cars, were in fact agents provocateurs. We have seen such methods used by the state many times in the past. That is because the bourgeois state understands that such methods are useful as a means of dividing and isolating the movement.

The only real answer to all this is that the leaders of the mass workers' parties should adopt a revolutionary position, building a united front of the left parties on a genuine socialist programme, mobilising the mass of workers and students for a radical transformation of society. As these leaders are not presently prepared to adopt such a position then it has to be fought for within the ranks of the mass parties. If a strong Marxist tendency is built in time it can cut across any ultra-left or terrorist tendencies and direct the youth towards the methods of class struggle. That is the big task ahead.


On Saturday night, December 20, the offices of Tiresias, a credit agency in central Athens was burnt out during clashes between police and anarchists. The next morning I was in a taxi and the driver explained that they had attacked a "debt collector's" offices and his comment was that "they didn't manage to burn the whole building, which would have at least saved the rest of us from those sharks". The next day as I was in another taxi on my way to the airport, the driver on seeing graffiti that read "rise up" commented that that was an appropriate slogan.

Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)

If we were to believe the media one would imagine that everyone in Greece bar the few involved in the clashes with the police are against the violence that we have witnessed in the country in the recent period. Undoubtedly, the overwhelming majority of the working population would not get involved in such acts and most people would not condone the burning of small shops, kiosks and cars parked on the roads. These actions only serve to alienate the majority of the population. They also play right into the hands of the government who can use these acts of destruction to criminalise the whole movement.

However, people do distinguish between the wanton uncalled for violence and destruction and the violence of ordinary young students who have been enraged by the police brutality. People have not forgotten that all this was provoked by the police shooting and killing an innocent young school student.

It is also true that when the targets of the anarchists are banks or "debt collector" offices there is a certain sympathy among the wider population. In fact this is confirmed by an opinion poll carried out in mid-December which revealed that about half of the Greek population considered the recent outbreak of violence to be a "popular uprising".

Another comment I heard went along the following lines: "they have burnt every bank except mine; I wish they would burn mine as I owe it so much!" This mood reflects the real feelings of ordinary working people in Greece, who are feeling the full effects of the present economic crisis. In particular the youth are feeling the brunt of this situation.

We have already reported on what happened on Monday, December 8, when thousands of school students all over Greece vented their anger for the killing of the young Alexandros Grigoropoulos at the hands of a police officer. With nothing but stones, rocks and fruit they pinned down the heavily armed police in their stations. The students did not cover their faces, revealing no fear whatsoever of the police. In fact, on the demonstrations that have taken place in these weeks the greatest anger is shown by the very young, the school students.

What we are witnessing in Greece is a generalised revolt of the youth, with revolutionary connotations. The youth are challenging the very authority of the state and all its institutions. Few of them will have read Engels or Lenin on the state, but they are learning from direct experience what the bourgeois state stands for, the defence of private property and the oppression of the working masses. This is causing serious concern to the bourgeois who have very little idea of how to deal with such a situation.

Economic background

To understand why all this is happening it is worth delving somewhat into the economic situation that has evolved in Greece over the recent period. Greece has actually been through a 13-year period of relatively high growth. Under the previous PASOK government of Simitis in the period 1996-2004, the economy grew by a yearly average of around 4%. This has now started to slow down, standing presently at 2.5%, but all the indications are that in the coming period it will slow further and the economy could even be tipped into recession, as the figures for industrial production would indicate.

Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)

However, although Greece has been through a decade of growth, to most workers it did not feel like a boom, but more like a recession. In this period workers have seen a constant attack on all their previously won benefits. Debt reached unprecedented levels, as the boom was fed by credit and not real wage increases. At the same time there has been a process of casualisation of labour, with many temporary and badly paid jobs being created. Laws have been introduced increasing the number of temporary jobs and contract labour.

Unemployment levels have been high throughout this period. In 1999-2000, official unemployment stood at 11.8%. Now according to the official figures, this has come down to 7.9%, still high compared to many countries. However, the official figures do not give the full picture, with much underemployment being present in the system. They also do not list how many of these jobs are temporary and low-paid.

Throughout this period wages have not kept up with the growing cost of living. The main private sector trade union confederation, the GSEE, publishes annual figures on wage levels and these reveal that for the past 15 years real wages have been losing purchasing power. In the public sector, for example, since the early 1990s real wages have fallen by around 30%, and the situation in the private sector is much worse. Now three million people live below the poverty line, with the Greek workers being among the poorest of the 27 EU countries.

This underlines the point that the recent boom was at the expense of the working class. Economic growth brought no real benefit to the workers. On the contrary, it brought new problems, such as growing debt. This explains why for some time now Greek workers have expressed no optimism whatsoever for the future. A recent poll revealed that Greeks are the most pessimistic people in the European Union, with 70% expressing the view that their country is going in the wrong direction (14% up on one year earlier). A huge 92% of the population expect the economic situation to worsen over the coming year.

In this situation the youth are being hit particularly hard. Official youth unemployment stands at 24%, but the real figure for the 18-25 year old group is more like 50%. Because of this situation at least a quarter of those below the age of 25 live below the poverty line.

In the recent period the only hope of getting a job for many youth was to study hard and try and get the best exam results possible. Tens of thousands of school students are forced to take private lessons in the evening after normal school hours, doing three hours a day, five days a week, at the cost of hundreds of euros per month. The hope is that with such intensive study they will get the marks they need to get to university, where the pressure continues. And yet, once they get through this gruelling process many of them still do not find jobs, and those that do end up in temporary, low paid jobs. To describe these youth the term "the 700 euro generation" has been invented, referring to the low wages they receive! It is such a situation that explains the pent up anger that has recently exploded on the streets of Greece.

For some time the poorer layer of the population has been suffering, but now the crisis is also having an effect on the middle layers of society, that layer that in normal times provides a social base for capitalism. One layer that is being hit particularly hard are the peasants. In 1980 19% of the active population was made up of the peasantry. This has now been whittled down to 10.6%. From a purely economic point of view the reduction of the population dedicated to the production of food is "progressive", but the way it is happening in Greece does not provide for greater stability. The level of employment in industry is the same as it was in the 1990s, which means that the economy is not growing sufficiently to absorb this extra labour force coming into the cities from the countryside, so the rural population leaving the land merely adds to the number of Greek poor.

The movement of the working class has in fact also had an impact on what normally would be "conservative" layers. We recently saw the protest of the shopkeepers in October over tax increases. There have also been protests of the journalists, doctors and lawyers over pensions. This process is leading to a whittling away of the social base of the New Democracy (ND) and helps to explain the general swing to the left throughout Greek society.

Signs of coming recession

Many traditional sectors of Greek industry are in crisis. This is particularly the case with textiles, where many factories have closed over the past ten years. This is enhanced by the shifting of investment to the surrounding Balkan countries. The collapse of Stalinism in the former Eastern bloc countries opened up the possibility of exploiting very cheap labour for the Greek capitalists, who play the role of minor imperialist power in the region. This has involved the closing of factories in Greece and their removal to countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia and Albania. This has helped to further reduce wage levels for the Greek working class as a whole.

Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)

As we have already seen, one important element in the recent growth of the Greek economy was the credit boom. Added to this was public spending ‑ such as on the Athens Olympics just over four years ago ‑ and EU funding. This has started to dry up and now the Greek economy stands naked for all to see in its real state.

The crisis affecting the whole of Europe has a direct bearing on the Greek economy. Two thirds of the country's exports go to the European Union, and falling demand in the EU is leading to a severe crisis in Greece. In this context we have seen a sharp fall on the Greek stock market, combined with a flight of capital as the rich seek safer havens for their money.

The latest figures for industrial production indicate that the recession is starting. In the third quarter of 2008 it fell by 1.1% and in the month of August alone it fell 3% year on year. Consumer spending has also contracted sharply. In October alone there was a fall of 25% in purchases in the supermarkets. This situation is preparing the ground for massive sackings, with about 100,000 jobs expected to go in early 2009.

Debt is thus not only affecting consumers, but also the state and the Greek corporations. The public debt is the equivalent of 93.8% of GDP, but if one adds up the total of Public, Corporate and Private Debt the figure stands at 200% of overall Greek GDP. This is leading some serious bourgeois economists and even the government itself to raise the possibility of Greece defaulting on payments, i.e. Greece could go the way of Iceland! The public debt is so high that Greece actually pays levels of interest that are about twice what are paid in Germany.

Faced with this situation, the Greek government has had to come up with a similar rescue plan to what we have seen in many other countries. Greek banks were faced with the danger of collapse and the government stepped in with a 28 billion euro bailout, which was made up of 9 billion in cash and the rest in a series of government guarantees for the banks. This is a huge amount for the Greek state, and proportionally much bigger than bailouts in other countries. It is half of the government's annual income or, to make it more concrete, it is the equivalent to four years' spending on education or five years on healthcare.

The bailout, however, instead of calming the nerves of the bourgeoisie, has led to further conflict. The "healthy" banks started complaining as they did not receive any help and saw the bailout as "unfair". What they really meant was that the opportunity had presented itself for them to buy out the failed banks, but the government cash stopped this. Then came the turn of the industrialists, who are also facing crisis and are beginning to demand the government bail them out as well!

The fact that the government is prepared to cough up so much cash for the bankers adds to the explosive social situation we have in Greece. The Greek banks have had the highest profits of any banking system in Europe in the recent period. In 2007 alone they saw their profits grow by 235%. Now that the crisis they themselves have provoked is upon us they are seen by the wider population as beggars going cap in hand to the government for a bailout. This has provoked an anti-capitalist mood within society and has had a big impact on consciousness.

All this comes on top of a whole series of scandals involving government ministers, state officials, the Church, etc. Since Karamanlis's new Democracy came back to power in 2004 there have in fact been 65 major scandals. This explains the widespread mood of hatred for the bourgeoisie and the ND government, which is leading to a sharp turn to the left in society.

The economy is in crisis, the government has lost all authority, they have attempted to use repression to hold down the movement, and now they face a mighty upsurge of the youth that is simply a harbinger of an even bigger movement of the working class.

Growing working class and youth militancy

The symptoms of the present explosive situation could already be seen in the last few years with a series of youth protests and strikes. There was a big movement of the students in 2006 and 2007. The ND government was attempting to introduce changes to the Constitution that would have allowed for the setting up of private universities. The students gained a partial victory in that they successfully blocked that attempt, but the government simply bided its time and later presented a new draft law to get the same proposals through. This was an experience that surely led many students to understanding that one off protests are not enough. What is required is a movement that sweeps the whole of the ruling class away.

At the same time there have been huge mobilisations of the working class. The ND government can pride itself at having provoked the biggest number of general strikes since the fall of the Colonels' Junta in 1974. There have in fact been 10 general strikes since 2004, three or four of which were very big.

This growing militancy has not translated into any significant increase in activity of the trade unions at rank and file level yet. This is because the unions are still dominated by the right-wing reformists who stifle any genuine expression of worker militancy.

The Greek trade unions are traditionally divided internally along party lines, with each major party having its own organised faction, the main one being PASKE, linked to the PASOK. The KKE faction is called PAME, while the ND also has its faction within the GSEE, known as DAKE. The present balance of forces within the GSEE at the moment is roughly the following: PASKE 40%, DAKE 28%, PAME 21%, with the Synaspismos faction having around 6-7% (mainly in the public sector).

This balance of forces does not necessarily reflect the real situation today. It is the balance as it had evolved in the past. Now there is a turn to the left taking place within the trade unions, which as yet has not been expressed in any significant change in this balance. The real mood among the activists is actually one of lack of confidence in the present leadership.

This leadership is seen as one that has used its position to calm the movement down rather than build it up. In this sense, we can see how they have abused the use of the general strike. Historically a general strike would "pose the question of power" as Trotsky would have put it. But when you have had ten general strikes in four years without achieving anything fundamental it actually undermines the impact of the general strike. Instead of being a means of building a stronger movement it assumes the role of "safety valve" to let off some steam and then get everyone back to work.

Having said this, it is also true to say that the Greek workers respond well to the trade unions leaders' calls for general strikes and there is also a high level of strikes in general, involving many different sectors. Every month we have seen at least one important strike of one sector or other. In 2007 we saw the struggle over pensions, then we saw the struggle of the workers of the electricity supply industry against privatisation, and then the same with the postal workers. We have had a three-week municipal workers' strike and others such as the telecom workers' and the dockworkers' strikes.

Most of these struggles failed to stop the privatisations, with only some secondary victories. This has led workers to ask what the strikes were about if there are no victories. The flipside to this is that the workers see the huge profits the bosses have made in the recent period and now these same bosses are asking the workers to make further sacrifices. This is enraging the Greek workers who want to fight and not sit back while the bosses ride roughshod over them.

All this shows that in spite of their leaders the Greek working class has no alternative but to fight. This sooner or later will provoke a reaction among the ranks of the Greek trade unions, who will begin a struggle to push their own organisations to the left and adopt a more militant stance, more in line with the real mood of the Greek working class and youth.

The accident waiting to happen

In such a situation no one could have predicted the tragic killing of the young Alexandros. But it was the "accident waiting to happen" that has unleashed the huge pressure that had been piling up below the surface. It was not so long ago that one could hear some of the older generation of activists complaining about the "lack of interest" in politics of the younger generation. It was common to hear people speaking about Greek school students being so involved in after school cramming that they did not have time for political meetings. Now it is precisely this layer which is leading the way.

Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)

This situation is terrifying the Greek bourgeoisie. The leader of the reactionary right-wing LAOS party has raised the spectre of a new May 1968 in Greece. But as he says, France had De Gaulle to deal with the situation, "all we have is Karamanlis".

It is not by chance that they look to De Gaulle. Bonapartist tendencies are clearly present within an important layer of the Greek ruling class. A serious bourgeois analyst, Kyrtzos, the editor of the daily free newspaper, the Metro, in a recent article raised the need to involve the army. It was also revealed that when the conflicts erupted after the killing of the young student, some of Karamanlis's ministers raised the idea of declaring a state of emergency and calling in the army. In the end the Prime Minister clarified the fact that this option was "excluded". The reason for this is very clear. To raise the prospect of using the army brings back memories of the hated 1967-74 Colonels' regime. Rather than pacifying the situation such a move could even provoke open civil war in Greece.

This explains why Kyrtzos avoided any reference in his TV speech to the 1967 Colonels' coup. His words were, "We must think of the role of the army in restoring order in the past. We need a new 1908 with the army if the politicians can't solve the problem." He was referring to the role of the army in 1908 at the time when the official history books claim modern Greece was formed, under the figure of Eleftherios Venizelos. The figure of Venizelos is used in this context to present the army as having played a "progressive role" in helping to modernise the country.

All this is an attempt to prettify the army and to take people back to a period of so-called Greek nation-building. But it is a weak attempt to cover up what they are really thinking of: the use of the army to quell the present movement. For now they have had to shelve this idea, but the fact that important figures within the Greek bourgeoisie have considered the possibility of using the army should be a serious warning to the Greek workers and youth as to what can happen in the future unless Greek capitalism is removed once and for all.

The reason why they cannot use the army at this moment in time is that the Greek working class has not been defeated. It is in fact radicalising and moving to the left. To unleash the army against the workers in such a situation rather than solving the problem for the bourgeoisie, would exacerbate it.

That explains why the leader of the SEV, the Greek Industrialists' Union, in explaining that "Karamanlis has lost control" sees the solution as a grand coalition of the PASOK and the ND. This reveals that the bourgeois understand that in a moment of acute crisis what they require is the leadership of the main party of the Greek workers in government. This way they can get the PASOK leaders to talk to the workers and youth and ask them to accept "sacrifices for the good of the nation."

The present ND government under Karamanlis is very weak and unstable. It has also lost the confidence of the bourgeoisie, but the problem is that the Greek bourgeoisie has no clear alternative solution. For now they are giving Karamanlis some time, possibly weeks, at the most a few months. As this government is powerless to calm the situation and has lost all authority within society, sooner rather than later the Greek bosses will be forced to move to get rid of Karamanlis and change the government.

This is provoking internal divisions within the ND. Traditionally the party has always had two wings, a populist, demagogic wing and a "neo-liberal" wing. The older Constantine Mitsotakis was the historical leader of this faction, while Constantine Karamanlis, the uncle of the present Prime Minister, was the leader of the populist faction. This division has always been present within the party, but in the recent period it had receded somewhat. Now it is coming back as the party comes under the pressure of the present situation. If Karamanlis is now removed it will provoke an open fight within the party, as there are several aspiring candidates for the position of party leader. The party could even split, such are the pressures it is coming under.

These conflicts within the ND reflect open divisions within the Greek ruling class, a class that lacks confidence and seems only to be able to think in the short term, contenting itself with the use of police brutality to quell the movement. They are in a real dilemma as they present themselves to this powerful youth movement divided and with no stable government.

Pessimism of bourgeoisie

In fact the whole situation is provoking a sentiment of deep pessimism within the bourgeoisie. An interesting article appeared in the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini on December 22, under the headline "Europe's choice". It doesn't make very comforting reading for the bourgeoisie of Europe. In it we read the following:

"Today, in the turmoil of Athens, Europe sees the nightmare that will be its future if its politicians and intellectuals do not design a better future. We're no longer talking about whether the Irish will ratify the Lisbon Treaty or whether the British will join the single currency. The question is whether member-states' societies will explode.

"Despite the fact that in most other EU countries the institutions that will be dealing with the social results of the recession are more developed than in Greece, the roots of the strife are common and only the time of the eruption in each country will differ.

"In Greece, institutions have been mortally damaged in people's eyes by their chronic incompetence and by a general climate of corruption and political expediency. Other countries may take a while to reach this level of contempt for authority, but as the economic crisis drags on and misery spreads, then even the most developed societies will struggle to deal with their citizens' needs. Then, in those countries things might be even worse than in Greece. (...)

"When the economy worsens, we will see the youths' rebellion spreading to workers, the unemployed, the migrants. Until then, it is more likely that we will see a more generalized uprising in another country rather than in Greece. What undermines and jeopardizes Europe is that many young people believe their future will be worse than the present, whereas their elders worry about their jobs, their pensions, their health and medical benefits. We are sliding into a recession at a time when all our economic models and the global financial system are discredited."

Other commentators have clearly indicated that what is happening in Greece is the result of conditions that exist throughout Europe and they have even indicated which countries are next in line for such turmoil, pointing to Spain and Italy in particular. In reality any country in Europe could explode in a similar fashion.

When the leader of the LAOS party in Greece raised the spectre of a May 1968 in Greece he was wrong. It will not be a Greek May 1968, but an all-European May 1968. This is the real prospect facing the whole of the European bourgeoisie.

Revolutionary ferment

The past 20 years in Greece have in fact been a build up to a May 1968 type situation. There have been five major student movements, in 1987, 1990-91, 1998, 2003 and the recent protests of 2006 and 2007. Today's movement, however, is very different in that the mass of students have turned their anger directly against the bourgeois state. We have already described the recent attacks by school students against police stations all over the country. This reveals that for the students it isn't this or that police officer that is seen as the enemy but the whole police force and the state that it defends.

What is most significant is the total lack of fear on the part of the students. We have seen students prepared to make any sacrifice that is required in order to defeat the forces of the state. This is a symptom of revolutionary ferment. It is not just another protest as some would like us to believe. Overall, 600 schools and 160 faculties have been occupied. Day after day there have been rallies and demonstrations. On December 18 there was a 40,000-strong rally in Athens which brought together students, teachers and the unemployed and further rallies and demonstrations have already been planned for the New Year.

In this situation the mayor of Athens attempted to use the "Christmas spirit" to appeal to the students to put an end to their movement and to the fighting. In Syntagma Square, scene of some of the worst violence, loudspeakers filled the air with Christmas carols. The Christmas tree in the centre of the square was burned during the clashes with the police. A new one was put up in its place, but the tree has required "police protection" with a ring of armed police officers standing around it. So much for the "Christmas spirit"!

The role of the Left leaders

In all this, what is the role of the various left parties and their youth wings? Traditionally the official student movement in Athens had been under the hegemony of the KNE, the Greek Young Communists. Now new student co-coordinating committees have been thrown up and because of the bureaucratic methods adopted by the KNE leaders in the past they are being completely by-passed. Two new co-ordinating committees have been formed, the Co-ordination of the Occupied Schools and the "Alexandros Grigoropoulos" Athens Schools Co-ordinating Committee, the latter being the biggest. Thus the KNE leadership has lost control over the movement, a price they pay for their inability to offer any concrete perspective and way forward to the movement.

Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)

The student movement has gained widespread support among the working class. The December 10 general strike took on the character of an anti-police protest. Unfortunately the GSEE leaders, mainly aligned with the PASOK leadership, have no plans for developing the movement and are therefore leaving the students to battle it out alone. In spite of this behaviour of the trade union leaders, pressure is building up from within the ranks of both the GSEE and ADEDY union confederations to call another general strike.

Panagopoulos, the president of PASKE is resisting the call for another general strike. The New Democracy faction within the GSEE, DAKE, is lining up behind the PASKE leaders, adding its voice to opposition to any further strike action. This means that although the pressure from below for a new general strike is very big, the leadership is trying to hold this back. They pose no concrete demands or programme. Thus there is a strong spontaneous element in the whole situation.

In this context a minority of anarchists and ultra-lefts are being left to set the tone. This reflects the crisis of the official reformist parties and their lack of authority among the youth at this movement.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE)

The KKE (Greek Communist Party) leaders have the potential to play an important role in all this. Instead, what do they do? They refuse to even recognise there is a movement! They say it is merely a "mood of protest" of a petit bourgeois nature. Thus they abdicate leadership.

Some years ago the Greek Communist Party split, and out of that split emerged the Synaspismos party. This party has promoted an electoral front, inviting other left groups to join in, leading to the formation of SYRIZA. The leaders of the Synaspismos have been leaning on the youth movement almost uncritically. This has provoked severe criticism from the KKE leaders, who attempt to portray themselves as a party that respects law and order. Thus the two parties that are seen as belonging to the Communist traditions of Greece are openly divided on how to approach the present youth revolt.

That also explains why the KKE leaders are attempting to isolate their own ranks from the wider movement. How do they do this? Instead of trying to build wider fronts involving the whole of the left and all the trade unions, they prefer to call closed rallies of the KKE. When there are trade union demonstrations, their faction within the GSEE, the PAME, organises separate gatherings and marches separately from the rest of the Greek labour movement.

This behaviour can be explained by the fact that the KKE leaders have no real concrete proposals to make to the movement. For example, they do not even call for the fall of the ND government! When everyone else on the left is aiming for an end to this government, the KKE leaders pose the question as to who would replace the government. As the only alternative would involve the PASOK they say that that would make no difference, and therefore the masses must wait until the KKE is strengthened and then some kind of "Popular Front" can be built.

This explains why they play down the movement, describing it as a movement of the petit bourgeois. This is their alibi for not participating in the movement and using all their powers to split it. They divert all attention to the next general election, rather than trying to build up a movement now to bring down the ND government.

Two days after the killing of the young student, Karamanlis invited all political leaders to talks. This was an attempt to show that the government was not isolated. And incredibly the leader of the KKE, Papariga, went to the Prime Minister's house for talks. After the encounter, on leaving the house, Papariga issued a statement along the lines that Syriza was collaborating with the anarchists. Her behaviour has not gone down well with the youth. She has refused dialogue with other leaders of the left, but she is prepared to talk to Karamanlis!

This lack of perspective and programme is pushing the KKE leadership to close the party ranks within a kind of Stalinist ghetto. The party is now in a pre-congress period, its next congress being in February 2009. The party leaders are trying to revive Stalinism, with all its trappings including support for the Moscow Trials, as the official party position. As they are incapable of offering a genuine Marxist approach, they try to hide behind the image of Stalin.

The position of the leaders is that "those who attack Stalin attack socialism." But this is provoking internal criticisms, as a section of the party attempts to resist this retrogressive line. One leader, a KKE parliamentary candidate in the last elections, has produced an opposition statement and this has opened up a discussion inside the party. Over the past year opposition has also developed among the Communist Youth (KNE) student front, which has also led to many expulsions, among them some well known leading figures of the KNE.

This growing internal opposition is not surprising. As the youth erupt in such a powerful way all over the country and direct their protest against the ND government, the KNE leaders are seen as applying a de facto pro-government position as they refuse to call for the fall of the government.

Thus, instead of opening up to the movement, the leaders of the KKE and KNE have become even more sectarian and they try and give orders to the masses. They intervene in the movement accusing anyone who doesn't accept the policy of the party as "anti-communist." They have increased their attacks on SYRIZA, hoping against hope that this will have an advantageous effect for them.

The problem is that the ranks of the KKE and KNE live in the wider world and are in touch with the movement and they instinctively seek unity with SYRIZA. Such a situation is opening up divisions within the KKE. Letters expressing opposition to the sectarian tactics of the KKE leadership have been regularly appearing on the website of the party, which would indicate that the opposition is bigger than the leaders would like to admit. This is preparing the ground for a crisis within the party as the line of the leadership comes more and more into conflict with the needs of the rank and file. If the KKE in its forthcoming congress rejects Stalinism and adopts genuine Marxists ideas it would be able to play a key role in the movement. If on the other hand it goes down the blind alley of unadulterated Stalinism it will enter a period of crisis and internal convulsions. The only direction the ranks can move in in such a situation is towards the ideas of genuine Marxism.

Pressures on Synaspismos/SYRIZA

Meanwhile the leadership of SYRIZA, as we have seen, is trying to gain some political capital out of the movement, supporting it and describing it as a "youth uprising". However, while they do this they provide no perspective and in the eyes of the workers and youth seem incapable of separating themselves from the anarchists.

Police at a demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)
Police at a demonstration in Athens on December 18, 2008 (Photo by solidnet_photos on flickr)

This is creating a paradoxical situation within the Synaspismos, the main component and promoter of SYRIZA. The left wing of Synaspismos is adopting left slogans and methods. For example, the Synaspismos Youth have taken up the slogans of the anarchists. But the right wing of Synaspismos has openly condemned the "violence" of the movement. This is not by chance, as the right wing is hoping to form a government with the PASOK.

Such a possibility is not ruled out and Synaspismos could find themselves in a government with the PASOK. Such a government would be on a reformist basis and the leaders of SYRIZA would be called on to play the role of left cover for the PASOK leaders. This would inevitably create tensions within the ranks of SYRIZA. The Synaspismos youth wing has been growing and the party has also been growing in the trade unions, in part due to the sectarianism of the KKE, and this new layer does not look kindly on the idea of covering for the PASOK leaders. Therefore a PASOK-SYRIZA government would lead to an internal crisis in Synaspismos at some point.

Meanwhile the PASOK leaders are not offering anything to the workers and youth, declaring officially that they do not support this movement. They have actually called on the school students not to occupy the schools. On this both the left and right of PASOK agree. This position of the leadership of the PASOK is clearly in direction contradiction with the mood and aspirations of the workers who will vote for it at the next general election.

Where now?

So how will the situation evolve in the coming period? There is a big possibility that the present government can fall in the coming weeks and months. The statements of the official bosses' union, the SEV, clearly indicate they have no confidence in this government. Their problem, as we have seen, is that they do not have a clear alternative to put in its place.

Opinion polls reveal that in any forthcoming election the combined vote of the KKE, SYRIZA and PASOK would be between 60% and 65%. This is a clear turn to the left within Greek society. The problem for the bourgeoisie is that the PASOK on its own would not get a majority. It is expected to get around 38.5%, which would give it only 142 seats in the 300 seat parliament. They would much prefer the leaders of the PASOK on their own of course, but the electorate may not oblige them in their wishes.

The other option is a PASOK-SYRIZA government, but the bourgeois would rather avoid this as they see such a government as one of paralysis, where there would be constant compromises to appease the left around SYRIZA. What the bourgeois require is a "strong government" that can take on the workers and youth. Achieving such a government is another matter.

The problem lies in the leadership of the various left parties. The PASOK leaders are talking of a "new social contract" to face up to the economic crisis. George Papandreu is promising more bailouts, more government money to help the bosses. He combines this with some demagogic left phraseology. For example, at the beginning of December he was saying that the "bosses must pay". Unfortunately his only actual concrete proposals are in the form of economic aid for the bosses and nothing for the workers.

The latest opinion polls indicate that the PASOK (at 38.5%) is leading the ND by 5 percentage points. This shows that a layer of the working class is turning to the PASOK on the electoral front as a means of removing the ND from government. SYRIZA stands at 12% in the opinion polls, while the KKE is at around 8%. In the previous elections the KKE scored 8.3% and SYRIZA 5.4%. Earlier in 2008 SYRIZA was scoring around 18% in the opinion polls, but as its leaders have been clearly indicating they would like to form some kind of alliance with the PASOK on what is fundamentally a programme that differs little from the of the PASOK they have lost some of the support they had gathered. This has led to SYRIZA in the recent period being seen more and more like a slightly more left version of PASOK. In these circumstances one can understand why some workers would rather vote for the PASOK than a smaller force like SYRIZA. The only way SYRIZA can make serious gains in this situation would be by developing a genuinely alternative socialist programme to that of the PASOK.

Meanwhile the bosses are preparing to ditch Karamanlis in an attempt to "clean up" the image of ND. They want to present an "acceptable face" of the party in order to put together a PASOK-ND government. Papandreu has recently issued statements rejecting such a perspective, something Simitis of the more openly right wing of the party disagrees with. In the present environment the workers who vote for the PASOK do not do so in order to see the hated ND back in government! What the leaders of the PASOK will do after the elections is another question. There is some speculation that Papandreu is being forced to take a firm stance on this question by the present radical mood permeating society, but that after the next elections he may move in the direction of accepting a grand coalition.

It seems more and more likely that early elections could be called in the spring and what is very clear is that the PASOK will gain, and to its left both SYRIZA and the KKE will also gain. Thus the left parties will be posed with the task of tackling the serious crisis afflicting Greek society. The leaders of the PASOK see only solutions that meet the needs of the bosses. To their left the leaders of SYRIZA and the KKE offer no real alternative. And yet there is a massive swing to the left taking place in Greek society. It would be difficult to find a more glaring contradiction between the will to struggle of the workers and youth and the lack of fighting spirit of their leaders.

What this means is that the workers and youth of Greece will have to go through the painful experience of seeing these leaders govern in one way or another and from that experience they will begin to draw conclusions that under capitalism there are no solutions and that what is required is the removal of the very system that has provoked this crisis. That is what the Greek Marxists are patiently explaining within the movement.

They fight the sectarianism of the KKE leaders and call on them to form a united front with SYRIZA. A KKE-SYRIZA united front would start from a base of 20% electoral support. In the recent period SYRIZA revealed that it has big potential in society and thus a KKE-SYRIZA front could even become the major political force on the left. If the two parties stood together on a genuine socialist programme, from a position of strength they could appeal to the workers who vote for the PASOK, and who are in the PASOK, to reject the policies of Papandreu and build unity of the left on a genuinely fighting militant programme. This is the genuine application of Lenin's idea of the United Front tactic. But this must be struggled for within the ranks of both the KKE and SYRIZA and it is the only way.

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