Spectacular stakes in the Greek elections

Alan Thornett considers the situation.

It looks increasingly likely that Syriza could produce a spectacular result on Sunday – even more spectacular than on May 6 – and win enough support to form a government. This is by no means guaranteed but it is looking a real possibility.

Since the PASOK vote has collapsed, Syriza has to beat the right-wing New Democracy (ND) and become the single biggest party. It would then receive the 50 top-up Deputies (under the Greek electoral system) and could seek to form a Government. If successful this would be a political earthquake – a historic development not only in Greece but right across Europe.

The choices in the election can hardly be more stark in what is clearly the most significant class confrontation in Europe since the Portuguese revolution of 1975. The main choice is between a ND-led austerity government of the right and a Syriza-led anti-austerity government of the left – a workers government in Marxist parlance. And this when ND is moving further to the right under pressure from the fascist Golden Dawn party.

The other possibility (which is a real danger) is a second inconclusive result. This could open the door to some kind of ‘technocratic’ administration – which would not be technocratic but a neo-liberal administration imposed by the EU elites and acting on their behalf.

So the situation could hardly be clearer. Either a ‘technocratic’ administration or a ND-led government would result in even more brutal attacks on the working class whilst a Syriza-led government would reject austerity and be an inspiration to the left and the workers movement across Europe.

Under such conditions you would think that unity behind Syriza would be a monumental no-brainer – but as we have seen it does not work that way on the Greek left.
Other sections of the left, the Stalinist KKE and the smaller Antarsya, still (scandalously) continue to refuse to support Syriza. They prefer instead to spend their time either denouncing it for its alleged inadequacies or pointing to the mistakes and capitulations they predict it will make if it takes office.

This is a dangerous game and an object lesion in the role of ultra-left sectarianism when real opportunities open up for the workers movement. It means we could see an anti-austerity government either denied office or opposed once in office by other sections of the left!

The KKE is the most virulent in this. They have rejected all appeals for the unity of the left out of hand both with regard to the elections on May 6 and now those on June 17. They denounce Syriza as social democratic and social democracy as the biggest enemy. They refuse to support a Syriza government because they say it will not immediately smash capitalism. They argue that if Syriza were to form a government without smashing the capitalist state they would be effectively a coalition with the Greek bourgeoisie even if no bourgeois politicians were involved. They claim (falsely) that it wants to stay in the Euro at all costs when the most important thing is to exit from it.

Whilst there are ambiguities in Syriza’s position on the Euro and the EU itself, they are dealing with a sharply contradictory situation amongst Greek voters. Whilst a big majority are against austerity they are also in favour of staying within the Eurozone – which are incompatible positions. Therefore whilst Syriza does not call for exit from the Euro (they even on occasions say that that they would like to stay in) they also present as a central slogan ‘no sacrifice for the Euro’ – which is incompatible with membership of the Eurozone. They go on to advance a series of demands, which are equally incompatible with it. The effect of this stance is to put the ball in the court of the EU elites. If they want Greece outside of the Eurozone they have to expel it.
In any case, the Euro, as a currency, despite its class character and the role it has played in the EU crisis itself, would be the wrong battleground on which to fight. The struggle will be won or lost on the question of austerity not the currency! The crucial thing is that Syriza prepares itself and its supporters for the consequences of its stance on the Euro.

Whilst the Antarsya coalition is less sectarian than the KKE, and does not share its politics, it also rejects left unity and defends an isolationist stance. In fact from an electoral point of view this could be more damaging than the stance of the KKE since even if the KKE vote declines further, as is likely, it will still meet the 3% threshold and its votes will translate into KKE deputies. Antarsya on the other hand, which has no chance of reaching the 3% threshold, will be throwing its votes away to no effect at all.

Consequently if the difference between a rightwing and a leftwing government is Antarsya’s votes, which could have gone to Syriza, it will have a lot to answer for.
Shamefully Antarsya’s stance is fully supported by the SWP at the international level. It means that the SWP has no governmental slogan at a time when a government of radical left parties is a real possibility. Alex Callinicos argues (bafflingly) that the most important struggles will come after the election – by which time a right-wing government might have been elected!

Antarsya refuses to support Syriza because, they say, because its platform is not a full revolutionary programme. Charlie Kimber, the SWP’s national secretary, takes this further (even more bafflingly) by arguing that in Greece today Antarsya are the Bolsheviks and Syriza are the Mensheviks!

This is despite the fact – as has been said elsewhere in this debate – that Syriza refused to join a bourgeois coalition after the May 6 elections whereas the Mensheviks joined a platform with the liberal bourgeois Cadet party even before the election had taken place. Far from having a policy which resembles the Bolsheviks the Antarsya (and the KKE) appear to stand aside with their arms folded waiting to say ‘I told you so’ if Syriza goes belly up. The narratives of betrayal are already being rehearsed.

Such an approach is wrong on all counts. The burning issue at the moment is not whether Syriza will make mistakes if it is elected – it seems inconceivable that it will not – but whether it will be elected at all! Moreover if Antarsya, or other sections of the Greek left, want to ensure that Syriza stands firm then standing on the side lines and predicting disaster is certainly not the best way of going about it! Functioning inside Syriza, or standing in solidarity with it would be a far more effective approach.

In any case to argue that Syriza should be putting forward a full revolutionary programme before the conditions exists for this makes no sense. It is the road to marginalisation.

What is needed today is a radical anti-austerity programme which corresponds to the current stage of the struggle – and the basis for this already exists in Syriza’s manifesto for June 17. The key pledges advanced in it are the following: repudiate the austerity package, reverse the cuts, and freeze the debt – alongside much more of course. A more extensive programme is something that can and must be developed as the struggle advances, not counterposed to the needs of the current stage.

What exists is Greece today (before the election) is not a pre-revolutionary situation, though it has some elements of it. There is a naked class confrontation but as yet no elements of alternative power. In fact some of the Greek employers are already by-passing their own political representation and issuing direct threats to their workforce as to the consequences fir their jobs if they vote for Syriza.

A pre-revolutionary situation, however, could quickly emerge if Syriza is elected and implements its programme. Emergency measures would have to be taken to defend the new government. Crucial measures would involve, nationalising the banks, imposing capital controls, taxing the rich, cancelling internally held public debt, freezing the assets of the wealthy to stop them being moved out of country. The task at the present time is to prepare for such a situation not to indulge in leftist posturing.

Of course there are dangers that Syriza might collapse under the pressures which will be heaped upon it. It would be in uncharted waters and there can be no guarantee of success. There is however a guarantee of failure – that is to leave Syriza isolated (or worse) in the face of the onslaught.

Until now, however, Syriza has resisted the pressures heaped upon it remarkably well. In fact it has not only stood firm but has been radicalising to the left since the May 6 election. It has remained fully committed to its anti-austerity pledges. It refused to contemplate a coalition with any of the bourgeois parties and it has made no concessions on austerity. It has resisted pressures, both to join a national unity government and to moderate its program. It also has a very radical (and radicalising) working class base which would be very hostile to any back-sliding.

Moreover Syriza’s leaders appear to be acutely aware of the scale of the task ahead. It has been holding popular assemblies in city squares across Greece to extend its support and prepare for the battles ahead. It is transforming itself from a coalition into a political party not simply in order to meet the electoral laws and get the bonus deputies but also to organise more effectively and prepare for government.

Alexis Tsipras has also talked about the need to unite with other radical parties across Europe. He clearly feels that a Syriza government would not be able to survive if it won the election, implemented its programme, and nothing else happened across Europe. Such a situation, however, is unlikely, even unthinkable.

In fact the EU is already facing economic Armageddon. We have just seen Spain given a 100bn Euro bailout to no effect at all. Italy is next. A Syriza victory followed by the repudiation of the austerity package would rock the EU to its foundations. Contagion would spread across the content potentially radicalising the left and create new political situations in a number of countries, particularly on the periphery. This could well be the situation under which a Syriza government would fight its battles and break its isolation. It could open up a radically new situation and a confrontation between workers and capital unseen in many years in Western Europe.

In this context the stakes for the left internationally could hardly be higher.


  1. ?”Other sections of the left, the Stalinist KKE and the smaller Antarsya, still (scandalously) continue to refuse to support Syriza. They prefer instead to spend their time either denouncing it for its alleged inadequacies or pointing to the mistakes and capitulations they predict it will make if it takes office.” The equation of the KKE and Antarsya is in my view simply sectarianism (although this stance is qualified in the article).This is also the only place where I have seen the claim made that Antarsya’s votes could deny Syriza a place in government (the general claim is about how Antarsya are simply isolating themselves etc). I also find the idea that the role of the revolutionary left should be to support the government in office (the argument that they should vote for them I find unexceptional) very odd (I also believe that all this talk of a ‘workers government’ etc is an example of transposing trotskyist formulations onto a reality unaware that it is the object of such interesting speculations. Recently there was a big demonstration against fascism. Syrizia refused to support it on the basis that there might be a provocation shortly before the election. Many of its members attended including some of the revolutionary groups in it, but the demo itself was not organised by Syriza. Amongst those who organised and called the demo were the revolutinaries in Antarsya. I think this pattern is likely to be repeated in the wider class battles which will occur after Sunday. I see no reason at all to imagine that the class struggle will suddenly stop or that it should be the job of socialists to side with the government at all times after Sunday. At the same time, as with the demo, many in Syriza (and far more likely to vote Syriza) will join in the class struggle and will join in the battle with the fascists. The job of the left will be to pressure the leadership of Syriza to join them. I see no evidence that the revolutionary left is isolating itself, and, I also find the idea that should Syriza only manage to come second (and therebye not manage to scrape into government on the basis of a corrupt electoral system) this would be a huge defeat slightly bonkers. I think the revolutionary left is a perpetual opposition this side of socialism. I think thats what they should be. I think they work with government socialists in the streets and in the workplaces. But we are not government socialists ourselves. That I think ought to be the perspective of revolutionary socialists whether in the IST, in the fourth international or any other formation. If that is ultraleft I am an ultraleft.

  2. Whilst it is true that the KKE is sectarian when it comes to left unity Antarsya is not. The complaint is really that they stand their own candidates and haven’t join Syrizia. This is an ultimatist approach. There is a need for left unity in action against the fascists, and in the class struggle. Antarsya members fight for this all the time.

    • Yes John, you and your position are ultraleft. ANTARSYA is isolating itself politically, as the results of the election Sunday will show. In fact, you are playing exactly into the trap the right of SYN has set for you where they deliberately and consistently protray themselves as the politicans,and the activists of ANATARSYA as the “activists of the street, kissing cousins of ‘the hooded ones’ (as the KKE likes to say).

      You should read and understand the position put forward by Richard Seymour in which the election of SYRIZA is seen as raising the issue of the workers’ governemnt. The workers of Greece want a government which defends their interests, and which will halt the waves of misery inflicted upon their families and their class. That is their political class consciousness. As Trotskyists, the strategy of all revolutionary forces, we have argued for decades, is to bridge the gap between the objective conditions (a capitalism in its death throes) and the immaturity of the proletarian vanguard (the mass of radicalizing workers, which in this case have broken with the reformism and social liberalism of PASOK). The fight for a workers’ government, in this case raised by the election of SYRIZA, is THE Transitional demand which bridges the gap between the two. Ask Lenin. Ask Trotsky. Read, for your own sake, the report to the Fourth Congress of the Third International. Read, for your own sake, “Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder”. “Communists do not stand apart from the proletarian movement as a whole…” says Marx and Engels.
      Read at http://www.socialistworker.org, the report of the International Workers Left, an IST group which is part of SYRIZA, and which lays out the inner dynamics of SYRIZA in an article on the history of SYRIZA.

      While I disagree with Comrade Thornetts’s refusal to stress the pre-revolutionary character of the conjuncture, the overall thrust of this article is correct for the most part. It fails however to mention the growing solidarity actions which will take place in Spain and Portugal this Saturday in a day of struggle against austerity, against the Troika, and in soldiarity with the Greek people. As one of our Central American companeras has written recently: ” The people of Greece must dance not alone”.

  3. In addition, and I ment to add this to the post preceeding, it is unfair to single out the SWP for this ultra-left secterianism. The majority of the leadership of OKDE-Spartakos, the Greek section of the Fourth International, takes the same position, and engages in the same pseudo-revolutionary posturing and sloganeering as does the SWP. Perhaps you left the OKDE-Spartakos out of your remarks for purposes of diplomacy, but it really is time to lay a little stick about the head and especially the ears of comrades like Andreas Kloke, one of the architects of ANTARSYA’s stupid strategic choices.

    These comrades had a range of options to both keep their political independence and fight for a united political front with SYRIZA for a worker’s anti-austerity government. They not only chose a secterian choice, but it appears from their offical statements that they brand those in the FI who disagree with their strategic and tactical choices “as tailing reformism”.

  4. Alan, it is not just the capitalist state that needs to be tackled but the troika representing the alliance between the two main parties of ‘capitalist stability’, Pasok and ND and the global and EU institutions of finance capital.
    That is why the KKE refuses to surrender its principled opposition to the terms imposed by these institutions and accepted by Pasok and ND and which carry with them the integration of greece into the EU and its membership of the eurozone.
    Syriza is reinforcing the illusion that continued membership of the Eurozone is compatible with a rejections of the memorandum.
    That these illusions are still widespread in the Greek electorate, including the working class, rather demonstrates that the shift of voters from Pasok to Syriza does not imply a wholesale rejection of reformist illusions but rather signifies their persistence.
    Your parody of the position of the KKE reflects the reporting of the bourgeois media and serves only to weaken your argument and traduces both the long experience of the Greek communists and the of their electorate ­ which is most concentrated in the core of the working class.
    The best way to understand what the Greek communists are trying to do is to read what they say.

  5. “The best way to understand what the Greek communists are trying to do is to read what they say.”

    I’m sorry, but I think that, as materialists: “The best way to understand what the Greek communists are trying to do is to look at their (and stalinism’s) history and practice.”

    • Right Nick, looks about just half as many as turned out at the last central rally. Kind of signalling what is going to happen to the vote total for the comrades of the KKE on Sunday. You might want to keep a close weather eye on Pireus A and B, Thessalonika B, not to even mention Athens B. I kind of have a feeling after this is all over, Alexa and some of her collegues on the PC will be looking for a new job. The young folk, particularly in PAME where they have to work with the SYRIZA and ANTARSYA members on the job, are not too happy about all this mystical “Peoples Power” stuff, especially since Alexa doesn’t seem to have a clue (to the young folks anyway) how to get from here to there.
      So how does 4.7% of the vote sound? Just about right, I’d say.

  6. The Thornett/ SR majority/ Fourth International majority line is strongly critiqued in a series of articles posted on the blog/ website of the Fourth International Revolutionary Marxists. Have a look at articles at http://4thinternational.blogspot.co.uk/
    These articles support the Antarsya line, and the line/ analysis of OKDE-Spartakos, the Greek section of the Fourth International in building a revolutionary pole to the left of Syriza, in particular in the streets/ occupations/ squares, and maintaining an identity and programme distinct from what we view as a left reformist and accommodationist set of policies by Syriza. We give critical support to Syriza but see the need stand and act separately, as revolutionaries, distinct from Syriza.

  7. I have seen no evidence that Antarsya are *isolating* themselves. On the contrary. As stated, just over the weekened they helped lead many Syriza members onto the street in anti-fascist demos which the leaders of Syriza did not support. But I do not want to go over the points I have already made. On the question of playing into the hands of the right in Syriza: it does seem to me that this is precisely what sections of the left who take your position are doing: effectively repeating their arguments about ultra-leftism and sectarianism. I have familiarised myself with Richard’s arguments and I think they are dead wrong. I found the account of the comrades in DNA interesting but unconvincing.

    It really doesn’t seem to be the case that anyone in Greece believes that an Antarsya vote would prevent a Syriza victory. It will be the job of the left to pressurise syriza as they’re doing now after the election. And I think the pattern will continue. I happen to think Antarsya are far better placed to do this then those inside Syriza (partly here in terms of revolutionaries I think there just is an, understandable, tendency to become obsessed with internal manoeuvres and politics when in a larger formation, again, normal pressures, a question I will come back to). Its also true that the left outside Syriza has a larger base in the movements and in the trade unions (this is very hard to grasp in countries where the field to the left of mainstream reformists is a desert: its just not the case in Greece). The KKE in particular is a formidable force. Its sectarianism is a real problem but it will be the job of the far left in Antarsya to relate to their base and pull them into struggles. Again, for very obvious reasons, I think they are far better placed to do this then the left inside of Syriza. Its also , to me, just wierd the way people are behaving as if Syriza coming second (ie beating the official reformists of both right and left) would be some kind of terrible defeat. It is to me a genuinely odd perspective. Remember the level of struggle is rising all the time. The left is growing all the time. The crisis is coming (all the time).

    Finally I’d emphasis (for the sake of the Trots here). Normal rules apply. Do not adjust your televison set. In office socialists move to the right. There is no parliamentry road to socialism. You do need organisations of revolutionaries in the workplaces and in the streets. There are no shortcuts. All boring points. But still true. In my view the historical discussion of ‘workers governments’ was confused and in practice bought disaster. Pretty much the same was true of the revival of the concept in the 1970s. And it does seem to me to be true again today.

    Its also, just as an aside, worth remembering the enthusiasms many of us had about the refounded communist party in Italy. There is many a slip between cup and lip. I’ll leave it there.

  8. “but it really is time to lay a little stick about the head and especially the ears of comrades like Andreas Kloke”

    Ah the geniuses of the British left discuss beating the Greek comrades around the heads with sticks. You really couldn’t make it up.

  9. You know, I just wish that the British left were somehow in Greece. The only reason we’re smaller and less successful is that the people here are rubbish. If only we could transplant the British fourth International, a few of our best bloggers, and a number of extremely talented small organisations, to Greece CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW WELL THEY WOULD BE DOING? I think its time we got tough with the Greek left. (I am increasingly reminded of Dan Logan arriving in Spain in Sexy Beast when I look at these discussions).

    NB the above is satire.

    • John says: No one in Greece “believes that an Antarsya vote would prevent a Syriza victory”. Well apart from the question of how anyone can know that no one in Greece thinks something, the more substantive question is what basis John agrees with this. He doesn’t seem to argue that Antarsya can get more than 3% – so they wont have deputies elected. Given the fact that the mathematics are very tight this could be crucial in the outcome on Sunday. It may not be – but the possibility cant be excluded.
      Further he says the job of “the left” is to pressure Syriza to the left both before and after the election… But what basis is there for saying that this is most effectively done from outside? These are just assertions, Im afraid.
      In response to one of Bob Lyons earlier comments not only are there solidarity actions in Spain and Portugal but at the weekend but also in London on July 17.You can download the leaflet at http://www.greecesolidarity.org/?p=299

    • Sorry johng, but “to lay a little stick about” is a colloqual expression meaning to do something to grab someones attention. It is a reference as well to a British political TV series from the 1990’s called “A House of Cards” and its principal character Francis Urqhart, an MP plotting to become PM. One of his other saysings-“I couldn’t possible say that, though you could”- was alluded to in Richard Seymour’s article cited above.
      Didn’t realize English wasn’t your first language. My apologies.

  10. Bob. There are two organisations in Greece with links to the FI, OKDE and Kokkino. OKDE is the official section and, as you say, is in Antarsya. Kokkino, which is a sympathising organisation (known in the FI as a permanent observer), is in Syriza. You might be right that it would have been better if I had mentioned this in my post. My point was, however, not so much that the Greek SWP has a seriously wrong position but that the SWP internationally has supported it. The FI on the other hand has made a stand for a government of the anti-austerity left parties despite the views of its official section.

  11. While “Golden Dawn” are an ongoing threat, they’re not the main issue in Greece right now.
    They certainly aren’t able to act as a serious “anti-Labour militia“.
    Nor is there any imminent prospect of a military coup.
    Military rule to impose the policies of the EU leadership would discredit the institution permanently.
    The EU has other, more subtle tricks up its sleeves.

    Compare this to Germany in October 1923;
    The Nazis, in league with the Black Reichswehr, tried to seize control of Munich.
    Saxony and Thuringia were run by SPD-KPD workers governments with a 50,000 strong workers militia at their command. A general strike was being discussed and they were being readied to seize power.
    General Meuller issued his ultimatum that Saxony abide by the Constitution, or the troops would go in.
    This was arguably a missed revolutionary situation. Although over 80 years later, not everyone on the left agrees!

    Clearly the situation in Greece right now is very different;
    In the event that New Democracy wins on June 17th, we could expect to see a new wave of workers struggles against EU austerity, but the question of forming a workers government would be postponed .

    If Syriza is elected, and/or a left coalition is formed, there willl be a protracted period of political crisis.
    The IMF and EU leaders would like this to be directed against Syriza, so that it can be rapidly ejected from power and replaced by a pro-Austerity government.
    This period would at least give Syriza time to launch a Europe-wide campaign against these policies.

    Expelling Greece from the Eurozone, just to enforce its rules, is a very dangerous game to be playing. Not only does it create a precedent for competitive devaluation, which undermines the Euro, it will also could lead to a period of hyperinflation that would evaporate away Greece’s debts to international bond-holders- hardly what they really want!

    Unfortunately this wouldn’t benefit the Greek working class, which would continue to be impoverished.
    So Syriza would have to adopt drastic measures , food rationing, taking over housing, taxing the rich nationalising the banks and their real assets and stopping all privatisation of the public sector.
    The working class movement would need to make sure that Syriza implements its full programme.
    In such a situation, there would be every likelihood of a rapid movement to the left.

  12. It matters that I’ve only ever heard this argument about Antarsya undermining the Syriza vote in these discussions. They are not the arguments I’ve heard coming from Syriza folk.

  13. With respect one of the problems I have with the unquestionably exciting perspective laid out by prianikoff is that it seems to substitute speculative leaps for any perspective based on a detailed reading of the balance of class forces, the composition of existing parties. What (the relatively small) forces of the far left can most effectively do in the situation is therefore left rather unclear and we are left relying on little more then a set of questionable historical parallels. Its not QUIET as bad as one of blogdoms resident sparts who was eagerly asking (to deafening silence) whether or not syriza branches resembled embryonic soviets, but I do think there is a danger that the workers government slogan can come to play a similarly brain befuddling role in relationship to this discussion.

  14. This article in the current issue of Socialist Worker is quite remarkable. Its title is “A left election victory can help workers fight the bosses”. It doesn’t actually say what a left victory will look like. It refers to the fact that Syriza is ahead in some opinion polls but does not call for a vote for the one party with a real chance of forming a workers’ government. It goes on to optimistically suggest that wasting a vote on Antarsya will in some unexplained way boost the left.


  15. Well the idea is that the far left are an important component of the class struggle in Greece. They relate to the most militant sections of activists on the ground whilst of course Tsipras relates to the nation. Both the militant minority on the ground and the larger shift to the left at the national level are important. Antarsya includes splits from the KKE as well as other sections of the revolutionary left who want to build up the consiously anti-capitalist element in the movement. To stand down in the elections (in a country where, because of the existence of a large left of social democracy left which has always stood independently there is no tradition of the British slogan vote blah with no illusions etc) would simply be an announcement of dissolution. This might be all very unBritish but then Greece isn’t Britain (I’m increasingly baffled by the enormous difficulties involved for some in grasping this). I doubt very much that the situation causes any bafflement in Greece and have yet to hear any evidence from anyone that it does (aside from general right wing mockery of the medusa headed left etc: twas ever thus). In any case on Sunday the elections will be over. Not much else will be.

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