Notes on Greece 3: the KKE

NOVEMBER 6, 2012: Note 3 of 6 – Throughout the entire modern period in Greece, the principal party to the left of PASOK has been the KKE. There is a real loyalty to the KKE among many in the Greek working class, and this loyalty has legitimate political roots. Party members faced severe repression during the years of the dictatorship between 1967 and 1974. Before the dictatorship, its cadre were forged in the terrible years of World War II and the civil war which followed it. This very small country, between 1940 and 1949, saw some 650,000 people lose their lives in war, resistance to fascism, and civil war (Hitchens 1983, 177). The KKE was at the centre of anti-fascist resistance. This has not been forgotten, and explains in part the intense loyalty towards the KKE displayed by thousands of Greek workers.

After the civil war, tens of thousands of KKE members were forced into exile. The communist movement then developed in two sharply different ways, shaped by being either outside or inside Greece itself. The leadership of the party was centred in exile – many in countries of the former Soviet bloc (Russia and Russian-occupied Eastern Europe) – and developed a peculiar kind of deep Stalinism, so deep it was to survive the collapse of that bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “In 1995, the KKE … suddenly rediscovered that Stalin was allegedly one of the greatest Marxist thinkers and began doing absurd things … like glorifying the 1930s purges” (Karadjis 2012).

Inside the country however, there was a quite different political evolution. The Communist Party of Greece of the Interior was formed in 1968, in opposition to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. The label ‘Interior’ “carried an important symbolic charge insofar as it implied that the KKE, often mockingly referred to as KKE Exoterikou (KKE Exterior) … was not really an independent party but a Soviet puppet” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 667–668). An uneasy history ensued, culminating in 1991 in a final split between on the one hand what is now the current KKE (essentially a continuation of KKE Exterior) and SYNASPISMÓS (essentially a continuation of KKE Interior) (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 676).

To see the relationship between this history and current developments is not straightforward, and frequently, old images from the past are not helpful. Typically, the KKE is seen as being a more orthodox group, and SYNASPISMÓS (and the KKE Interior which preceded it) as being more heterodox, from 1968 on part of the Eurocommunist current. Kalyvas and Marantzidis call the post 1991 KKE “hard-line” and the post 1991 SYNASPISMÓS “reformist” (2002, 676). Alex Callinicos says that SYNASPISMÓS “originates in the more accommodating and pro-European wing of the Greek communist movement” (Callinicos 2012a).

These labels, however, are of little use in charting the evolution of either the KKE or SYRIZA. Examine first the KKE. Terms like “orthodox” and “hard-line” usually imply more radical and left-wing. But the hard Stalinism of the KKE, outlined above, has served to disguise, behind left-sounding rhetoric, a deep political inertia and an adaptation to quite traditional nationalist politics.

The latter point is revealed openly in its publicly-accessible program, where the party on the one hand says it is rooted in “scientific socialism” but on the other that it is “a profoundly patriotic party” (KKE 2012). For the left in other member states of NATO and the European Union, the term “patriotic” is usually a label claimed by the right and not the left. This nationalism is based on its “view of Greece as a colony of Western imperialism rather than a mini-imperialist power in its own right” (Karadjis 2012).

The former – the deep political inertia – is revealed in its response to the electoral crisis of 2012. SYRIZA put out a call for a left government, calling on the anti-austerity parties to campaign together in the June elections. ANTARSYA, the other anti-capitalist coalition, had received 75,000 votes in the May election, and its cooperation with the SYRIZA list would have been important. Much more crucially, however, would have been winning the cooperation of the KKE with its half-million voters, and much bigger party apparatus (Davanellos 2012a). The issue of a government of the left poses its own issues, which very much require separate treatment at a later date. One in-depth analysis, deploying the older concept of a “workers’ government” was developed by Britain’s Richard Seymour (2012). John Riddell (2012) has helped to re-introduce this concept into the contemporary discussion. However, the point of an electoral united front is not measured solely by the prospect of office, but by the way in which an electoral united front could lead to an increase in confidence, determination and unity for the bitter struggles on the ground that are inevitable in the coming years.

Given the depth of the crisis, the collapse of PASOK, the emergence of an open fascist threat and the sudden rise in support for SYRIZA, it would seem elementary that the call for an electoral united front between the two big formations on the left, the KKE and SYRIZA, would be met with enthusiasm. In the May election, the Greek “masses handed their votes to SYRIZA, and secondarily to the KKE, with the mandate for them to take power, reject the memorandum, reject austerity [and] restore their livelihoods”. However, this prospect of a united front against the crisis foundered on the rocks of the “spectacular sectarianism of the KKE, which … point blank refused to join a united front with SYRIZA. More than that – criminally – the KKE … refused to even talk about it … [T]he KKE claims it will not work with SYRIZA who it denounces as social democrats who will inevitably sell out” (Karadjis 2012).

The KKE leadership might have refused to link arms with SYRIZA, but many supporters of the KKE went a different direction. Tens of thousands of workers abandoned the KKE and voted for SYRIZA in June 2012. The KKE ended up paying a very steep price for its sectarian position, losing half of its electoral base, and receiving the fewest votes it has ever received in a modern Greek election.

So clearly, one image from the past is not useful. It is not useful to see the KKE as being “extremely left”. The KKE is better seen as being extremely sectarian, a sectarianism shaped in its peculiar embrace of hard Stalinism, political baggage leading to a terrible, conservative inertia in the face of the most profound crisis in Greece since the Second World War.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval

Next in the series

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.


Callinicos, Alex. 2012. “The Politics of the Rising European Left.” Socialist Worker (London), May 19, 2303 edition.

Davanellos, Antonis. 2012. “A New Stage of the Resistance in Greece.”, May 23.

Hitchens, Christopher. 1983. “Eleni.” Grand Street 2 (4): 173–181.

Kalyvas, Stathus N., and Niko Marantzidis. 2002. “Greek Communism, 1968-2001.” East European Politics & Societies 16 (3): 665–690.

Karadjis, Michael. 2012. “Greece: SYRIZA, the Communist Party and the Desperate Need for a United Front.” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal (May 16).

KKE. 2012. “Programme of KKE”. Document. Communist Party of Greece.

Riddell, John. 2012. “What Would Lenin’s Comintern Have Made of SYRIZA?” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, September 3.

Seymour, Richard. 2012. “The Challenge of SYRIZA.” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal (July 12).

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