We want Syriza to win


Dave Packer replies to Manos SKOUFOGLOU and ‘Greece: The Pendulum’.

Manos SKOUFOGLOU, a supporter of Antarsya, in his article, ‘Greece: The Pendulum’ (3 June 2012) provides us with an interesting and useful analysis of the relation of class forces in Greece today, the conflicts, divisions and shifting consciousness within the different contending classes. However, its political substance is to justify why Antarsya should not join an electoral pact with Syriza, or even give critical support to Syriza forming a left government, a position with which we profoundly disagree. What the working class and its allies are confronted with today in Greece is either a ND-led government, or even an undemocratic, imposed ‘technocratic’ administration that would lead to a greater assault on the working class, or an anti austerity Syriza-led government which would be an inspiration and stimulus to the Greek working class and the workers movement across Europe. Skoufoglou and Antarsya’s avoidance of this choice in the election is isolationist, ultra-left and sectarian.

We can agree with Manos Skoufoglou that:

“the result of the May 6th election is one more trembling in a political seismic sequence. It reveals and it expands the deep rupture which has opened a real revolutionary potential – not sometime in the future, but in this period . . . But if we really believe that revolution is still today a real possibility, first of all we must take the risk to accentuate social and political contradictions.”

For Skoufoglou and Antarsya that means posing only half of the solution: “immediately back on the streets for what we already know (strikes, occupations etc) but also for political demonstrations – against class collaboration governments, for an immediate rejection of the memorandum and cancellation of the public debt or under the banner of any other political demand needed. This should be our role before the election as well as after it, not fishing for votes.” However, it is not a question of fishing for votes but rather a question of building for a workers government and workers’ power. But rather than offering a strategy for workers’ power, Skoufoglou proposes mass rank and file action and some key transitional demands both of which are absolutely essential, but insufficient. There is no credible governmental solution offered. He writes, “Antarsya can’t adopt the slogan ‘for a government of the left’”. In other words he simply dismisses support for Syriza, which he describes as reformist – this smacks of British SWP-type syndicalism.

After discussing some of the political limitations of Syriza’s programme and some ambiguous statements by Tsipras, such as, “to do whatever possible so that the country remains in the Euro zone” (however a central slogan remains, ‘no sacrifice for the euro’), and some apparent backtracking on issues such as limiting nationalisation to “public control” of the banks, or that Syriza is now setting aside the issue of class unity among immigrant and Greek workers so as not to frighten voters, (certainly of concern if true) Skoufoglou concludes they are designed to accommodate to potential governmental allies to its right in PASOK and the Democratic Left. But what is noteworthy is the way Syriza has withstood the bourgeois onslaught without bending.

For a workers’ government

He argues that the backtracking therefore “restricts the progressive potential of a government headed by Syriza,” so that Antarsya can’t adopt the slogan ‘for a government of the left’. He then writes that although they are “not indifferent about such a perspective (of a left government). Of course it’s not up to us (OKDE and ANTARSYA) whether such a government emerges or not. What is up to us is, in case it actually emerges, to pull the pendulum of class struggle to the left, supporting progressive measures, opposing reactionary ones and promoting further workers’ demands.”

Skoufoglou argues that what is necessary is not votes but mass action and the united front. He writes that, “Antarsya is now big and visible enough to propose a genuine united front of the working class. Genuine, which means with its original political sense, neither like an electoral conglomeration or an attachment to reformism, nor like a coincidental de facto meeting in the struggles. We need to propose a clear, explicit, brief and public agreement for common action, which should include left parties (CPG/KKE, SYRIZA), extra-parliamentary communist organizations, anarchist groups, collectives, trade unions etc. We don’t need and we can’t have a common programme, but we can agree on 5 or 6 points: common self-defence against neo-nazis and common antifascist action, common organization of strikes, occupation and autogestion/workers’ control of closing enterprises, common participation in assemblies or committees in workplaces and neighbourhoods, common campaign for international solidarity. Such a proposal is what we urgently need, not a virtually governmental programmatic consensus, which is rather unfeasible and thus just propagandistic, and moreover not necessarily relevant to the united front.”

Leaving aside whether or not Antarsya has the weight to build the kind of united fronts being discussed, we can certainly agree with the necessity of building the movement around these five or six points, although not necessarily as a block. The main problem here is not these demands but that mobilising the movement in mass campaigns is in practice counterposed to the task of fighting for a workers’ government, or even conjuncturally a left government.

Syriza has a radical left, anti capitalist programme, but we agree this is not enough to ensure it will form a workers’ government, that would lay the ground for socialist revolution. We make a distinction between such a government and a left government that makes compromises with reformism and becomes a reformist bourgeois government. However history has not pre-determined the outcome of a Syriza victory at the polls. We should be vigilant, but revolutionaries should support such a government and push it as far as it will go, calling on it to implement its programme, as Trotsky did in relation to the De Mann Plan. We should call for a Syriza led government of the left and demand it implements it programme. We should back this up by building the broadest possible movement behind the kind of 5 or 6 points outlined by Skoufoglou. In this way Antarsya would be at the centre of the political struggle that will likely ensue after the elections, rather than find itself cut off from it and preaching from the side.

When Skoufoglou argues that we urgently need mass action, “not a virtually governmental programmatic consensus, which is rather unfeasible and thus just propagandistic, and moreover not necessarily relevant to the united front”, he misses the point: the crucial element of a revolutionary programme is a political solution to the capitalist crisis. It must involve the working class forming a government, a workers’ government that if it is to survive, must increasingly base itself on the mass organisations and the new forms of power thrown up in the struggle. The abject failure of Antarsya to pose a concrete governmental slogan in this near pre-revolutionary conjuncture (except as an abstract, propagandistic slogan of a workers’ government – what government – when?), is a retreat into a form of syndicalism, which offers struggle, which is necessary, but no concrete political solutions now, in the actual political struggle that is taking place.

Balance of class forces

We can agree that Syriza is not a revolutionary Marxist organisation with a clear revolutionary socialist programme. It is a broad left alliance, originating among diverse left forces, which has evolved leftwards and is now committed to radical anti-capitalist solutions to the Greek crisis. They are partial solutions that do not challenge the continued existence of capitalism, but whose implementation in government would profoundly challenge the logic of capitalism in this juncture and create a pre-revolutionary crisis in Greece. The possible victory of Syriza in the elections would be a massive advance for the Greek working class, which all socialists should support, but with vigilance, demanding that Syriza carries out its programme with no compromises.

An electoral victory for Syriza is not just “propagandistic”, merely votes not struggle, irrelevant to the united front, as Skoufoglou suggests, it would change the balance of class forces in favour of the working class, stimulate the mass movement, which is why the Greek and international bourgeoisie is doing everything to stop a Syriza victory.

Skoufoglou’s real position in relation to governments is made clear when he writes, “because of course we know that things don’t actually change by voting’ – this is crass syndicalism.

During the inevitable intense class confrontations that would ensue after a Syriza victory the tasks of revolutionaries will be to continue to build the mass movement, fight for clarity and the necessary strategy and programme to take the struggle forward – eventually to a revolutionary outcome favorable to the working class. Yes, there is always a danger that a left Syriza government will betray its own programme, vigilance will be necessary, but together with the working class we may have to go through the experience in order to rise to the tasks posed by the crisis – there are never any guarantees.

For more on all this, see our Resolution on Greece, which begins to outline such a programme. See also our pamphlet on the capitalist crisis, which discusses generally the issue of the role of a ‘workers’ government’ – written before the outbreak of the current Greek crisis.

  1. First on the question ‘in or out of the Euro’ the left in Greece should not argue for for a withdrawal. We are in favour of a united socialist states of Europe but that’s not on the cards for now. Therefore the question is: do we prefer a united capitalist Europe or a divided one? The answer to that is easy.

    It is hard to see the weight of Syriza in the new parliament but what seems to be about to happen is that they wish to form a coalition with other forces to their right. Ignoring the rhetoric it seems likely they will be pulled to the right and so Antarsya, by staying independent and focusing on the battle on the streets is likely to be better able to resist the pull to the right. The stakes are very high and if Syriza demoralise their supporters by selling them out that will simply open the way to a neo-fascist/military government who will have to crush the left.

    Worried by his comment on the lag between the street protests and the elections: it is often the case that the decline in mass activity is reflected in ‘illusions’ in parliamentary activity.

  2. I am left puzzeled by the conclusion to your article, Comrade Packer. On the one hand you lay out the case for a common front of the left around the programmatic proposals of SYRIZA. But on the other, when dealing with the 5 or 6 points of ANTARSYA, you conterpose these points to the political program of struggle which forms the basis of SYRIZA’s proposals.

    The main contradiction here is not between the far left and the far right, which is the starting point for ANTARSYA’s ultralefts. The main political struggle for the Greek and the European woring clases is the struggle between the European imperialist bourgeoisie’s attempt to drive down the standards of the European working classes, under the rubric of austerity, and the resistance to those plans. Which is why the program of Syriza to tear up the Memorandum, to declare a moratorium on the debt, to socialize the banks, etc., represents the terrain upon which the political battles will be fought.
    Of course, the struggle against the fascists will take place, and will be lead by all the forces of the far left committed to it. That is not the argument.
    The debate/discussion with ANTARSYA and its spokespeople is not about the need to build a united front and to engage in mass action. The discussion with these comrades is about their narrow interpretation of what constitutes a united front, and how and around what the building of mass actions must take place.
    The abstract sloganeering which passes for analysis by these comrades must be challenged by dealing with real events on the ground.
    For example, after the last election, SYRIZA came to Antarsya and asked them for support to form a left government. ANTARSYA’s response was that they weren’t interested, but would supply critical support if needed.
    So SYRIZA got a promise of support without having to give up a thing, electorally neutralizing ANTARSYA in the process.
    What should they have done? Well, how about this scenario:

    “Good, you want our support? We will give it to you on the following conditions:

    1. You are reorganizing SYRIZA as a mass workers party. We want to be part of it, as a recognized current (like all the other currents in SYRIZA. We will have our own press and put forward our ideas to the workers and the party members.

    2. We want (pick a number) number of seats in the list for the next Parliment, so that we can put forward the proposals and arguments to the whole of the Greek people. We do not want any cabinet posts.

    3. We will give you our votes for all those proposals which are contained in the 40 point program as laid out. We insist that the following 5 points become the priority of the left government; a) the immediate cancellation of the memorandum, b) the immediate cancelation and abrogation of all the anti-worker measures which were agreed to by PASOK-ND, c) the reversal of all measures which lowered the social standards of life, in health, education and at the social service level, d) the nationalization of the banks under social and workers control- we will go with you to the Bank Workers to explain to them why we want them to stop the flight of capital after we win the election, and e) finally, we want the military budget be cut in half and the process to withdraw from NATO and to close the American bases to start.

    If the comrades of ANTARSYA can’t swallow being apart of SYRIZA, if they fear that some stain of reformism will sully their spotless banners, then they could propose the same thing through a Front of the Left. The point here is that they have options, organizationally, to position the revolutionary left to intervene with a political weight to match their street weight, so to speak.

    Unfortunately, they have fallen into the trap framed by the right of SYN which has consistently painted the two left scenario: the political left (themselves) and the protest left (the forces to their left).

    Politics is about being political. The sectarian ultra-lefts, who think that propaganda of the deed and a few slogans makes a revolutionary, just haven’t got it yet. Hopefully, some will as they are obviously, with a few hoary old Irish exceptions, young and inexperienced.

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