Notes on Greece 6: The Challenge of the United Front

NOVEMBER 15, 2012: Note 6 of 6 – SYRIZA, as its name “Coalition of the Radical Left” implies, is an expression of the coalescence of anti-capitalist forces in Greece, a coalescence produced through the struggles of the first years of the 21st century as well as the resistance to austerity and crisis from 2007 on. It is not the only such expression. Earlier notes have also mentioned another such coalescence with a very similar name – ANTARSYA, “Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left”. The SYRIZA coalition has 12 components, ANTARSYA has nine.[1]

The deep crisis of Greek society, the collapse of support for the mainstream parties, and the sudden surge towards SYRIZA, have all combined to create an intense climate favouring unity against austerity. In the run-up to the June elections, without question the principal issue flowing from this, was the call from SYRIZA for an electoral united front with the KKE, a united front which was rejected out of hand by the KKE, leading to a steep drop in support for what had been the historic left party of the Greek working class.

But the much smaller electoral force, ANTARSYA, also rejected the call for an electoral united front. While this of course had nowhere near the impact of the actions of the KKE, in terms of the unfolding of the anti-austerity movement in the coming months and years, it deserves attention. If with the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that the refusal of the KKE to link arms with SYRIZA in June 2012 was a lost opportunity for the anti-austerity forces throughout Greece, then surely the same is true, on a smaller scale, for the similar stance taken by ANTARSYA.

The lost opportunity of June 2012 is, of course, yesterday’s issue. But today and tomorrow, the need for a united front approach will be posed, both electorally and on the streets. In future elections, there are certain to be new alignments. Between elections, in the coming months and years, there will be huge challenges confronting the social movements in Greece, as the austerity policies intensify. What is posed on a weekly and daily basis, is the daunting task of building unified resistance to attacks on wages, cuts in services and the disappearance of jobs. Here, a premium will be on activists and local organizers, and both ANTARSYA and SYRIZA have been important sources for these movement resources. What, then, has divided ANTARSYA from SYRIZA?

First, the contours of this division have been quite different from those characterizing the divide between the KKE and SYRIZA. For the KKE, deep-rooted inertia and sectarianism were the over-riding issues. For ANTARSYA, by contrast, the key issue was programmatic. ANTARSYA saw it as essential to make visible its program for combatting the crisis, a program that in crucial respects differs from that of SYRIZA. Here are some of the key issues on which ANTARSYA campaigned during the May 2012 election:

  • Immediate termination of the loan agreement, of any memoranda and the related measures;
  • Non-recognition of the debt, debt cancellation and suspension of payments;
  • Break with the system and decoupling from the euro and the EU;
  • Nationalization of the banks and corporations without compensation under workers’ control (ANTARSYA 2012b).

Contrast that with the points, outlined by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, during the attempt to form a coalition government after the May 2012 election.

  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that will impoverish Greeks further, such as cuts to pensions and salaries.
  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that undermine fundamental workers’ rights, such as the abolition of collective labor agreements.
  • The immediate abolition of a law granting MPs immunity from prosecution, reform of the electoral law and a general overhaul of the political system.
  • An investigation into Greek banks, and the immediate publication of the audit performed on the Greek banking sector by BlackRock.
  • The setting up of an international auditing committee to investigate the causes of Greece’s public deficit, with a moratorium on all debt servicing until the findings of the audit are published (ekathimerini.com 2012).

There are of course differences between the two programs. Unquestionably the most visible difference, and the one which has been the focus of much of the debate, has been ANTARSYA’s call for a break with the euro, a call which SYRIZA does not make. But this difference does not justify a divide. It is after all, not a difference of political principle, but rather one of political analysis. The key issue in determining an orientation to SYRIZA is the fact that SYRIZA has become the political expression for mass anger against austerity.

Prominent economist Costas Lapavitsas is widely known for advocating a “progressive exit” from the Eurozone, particularly for economically peripheral countries such as Greece (Lapavitsas et al. 2010, 369–371). He strongly believes SYRIZA is making a mistake in not advocating such a course of action. However, he did not see this as a reason to stand aside from its call for unity during the elections. “[T]he pressing issue at the moment is to free the country from the stranglehold of debt and austerity. As long as SYRIZA is prepared to take action to achieve these aims, and the Greek people wish to give it the benefit of the doubt on the euro, its role can be positive. At the very least, it offers a chance for Greece to avoid a disaster that might truly lead to the rise of fascism” (Lapavitsas 2012).

It is also the case, that there is nothing inherently radical about calling for a break from the Eurozone. Prominent SYRIZA spokesperson, Michalis Spourdalakis, argues forcefully that for the KKE at least, there is something “extremely conservative” about its call for a break from the euro. The KKE’s call, he argues, builds illusions that a solution to the deep crises in Greek society can be found in institutional change far away in Brussels, while the truth is, regardless of any institutional changes, the only hope for Greek society lies in the strengthening of the mass movements (Spourdalakis 2012b; see also Spourdalakis 2012a; Baltas 2012).

We also need to take seriously the opinion of the Greek people themselves. An overwhelming majority of the Greek population – in some polls as many as 80 per cent – favours retention of the euro (Giles, Spiegel, and Hope 2012). There are legitimate fears inside Greece that a break with the euro would massively worsen the already catastrophic situation in the country. Perhaps these fear are an expression of conservatism on the part of the Greek population. But perhaps they also reflect a common sense appreciation of a real truth – that in a globalized world, there can be no national solution to the crisis, that any solution has to be in concert with the rest of Europe. Almost 90 years ago, Leon Trotsky made just this point.

The European continent in the present state of development of its productive forces is an economic unit – not a shut-in unit, of course, but one possessing profound internal ties – as was proved in the terrible catastrophe of the world war … Europe is not a geographical term; Europe is an economic term, something incomparably more concrete especially in the present post-war conditions – than the world market. Just as federation was long ago recognized as essential for the Balkan peninsula, so now the time has arrived for stating definitely and clearly that federation is essential for Balkanized Europe (Trotsky 1972, 342–343).

This is an important discussion, something to be developed in more detail at a later time. The central point of these notes has been to emphasize another issue, the challenge in Greece, and a challenge shared by social movements in every other country, that of finding our way to united fronts against austerity. This is not a new story. John Riddell (2011) has very helpfully reminded us that this was precisely the dominant issue facing the social movements 90 years ago, where debates about how to form united fronts were dominated progressive political debate.

In very difficult circumstances, the social movements in Greece have taken steps towards such a united front. Both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA – coalitions of very diverse forces – represent organizational expressions of the desire for unity. The same sentiment for unity was revealed sharply when the base of first PASOK and then the KKE moved en masse towards SYRIZA during the two elections of 2012. We have seen the case for unity in elections made electorally by the gesture towards the KKE and ANTARSYA by SYRIZA, and for unity in action by Panos Petrou of SYRIZA who indicated that it was SYRIZA, “together with forces from ANTARSYA” who gave “important organizational and political support” to the movement of the squares in 2011 (Petrou 2012). The call for unity in action also comes from ANTARSYA, which in its election material issued an appeal to “all of the collectives and movements struggling for the past two years against the terror of the memoranda, the Troika, and the euro-junta to communicate in solidarity and to cooperate before, during and after the elections. This appeal is directed to all forces that have bled in the strikes and clashes, that have filled the squares with life, that want to strengthen the rebellion of the labour movement” (ANTARSYA 2012b).

In the coming months and years, we will undoubtedly learn important lessons from our friends in Greece, about how to turn these sentiments for united action into reality.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval
Notes on Greece 3: The KKE

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA
Notes on Greece 5: Greece, France, and the limits of the Concept ‘Left Reformism’

© 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.

End Notes

[1] For SYRIZA, in the order presented on its web site, these components are Renewing Communist and Ecological Left (AKOA), Anti-capitalist Political Group (APO), Internationalist Workers’ Left (DEA), Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI), Active Citizens (Energoi Polites), Movement for the Unity in Action of the Left (KEDA), Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), Red (Kokkino), Eco-socialists of Greece, Rosa – Radical Left Group, The Radicals (Rizopastes), and Synaspismós (SYN). For ANTARSYA, again in the order presented on its web site, these components are Left Recomposition (ARAN), Left Anti-capitalist Group (ARAS), Revolutionary Communist Movement of Greece (EKKE), Communist Renewal, New Left Current (NAR), Youth Communist Liberation (NKA), Alternative Ecologists, OKDE-Spartakos, and Socialist Workers Party (SEK). (SYRIZA 2012; ANTARSYA 2012a)


References


ANTARSYA. 2012a. “Organizations Involved in ANTARSYA.”

———. 2012b. “Statement on the Parliamentary Elections to Be Held on May 6 in Greece.” International Viewpoint 447 (April).

Baltas, Aristides. 2012. “The Rise of Syriza: An Interview.” In The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013, ed. Leo Panitch, Greg Albo, and Vivek Chibber, 120–136. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press.

ekathimerini.com. 2012. “Tsipras Lays Out Five Points of Coalition Talks.” Kathimerini, May 8.

Giles, Chris, Peter Spiegel, and Kerin Hope. 2012. “Eurozone: If Greece Goes …” Financial Times, May 14, sec. News.

Lapavitsas, Costas. 2012. “Why Europe Needs Greece: Syriza’s Success Starts the First Major Battle Against Austerity. The Continent Should Will Them to Win.” The Guardian, May 12, sec. News.

Lapavitsas, Costas, Annina Kaltenbrunner, Duncan Lindo, J. Michell, Juan Pablo Painceira, Eugenia Pires, Jeff Powell, Alexis Stenfors, and Nuno Teles. 2010. “Eurozone Crisis: Beggar Thyself and Thy Neighbour.” Journal of Balkan & Near Eastern Studies 12 (4) (December): 321–373.

Petrou, Panos. 2012. “The Making of SYRIZA.” SocialistWorker.org, June 11.

Riddell, John. 2011. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Spourdalakis, Michalis. 2012a. “Left Strategy in the Greek Cauldron: Explaining Syriza’s Success.” In The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013, ed. Leo Panitch, Greg Albo, and Vivek Chibber, 98–119. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press.

———. 2012b. “Left Strategy in the Greek Cauldron: Explaining Syriza’s Success”. Panel: The Crisis of the Eurozone and the European Socialist Parties presented at the Weighs Like a Nightmare. Ninth Annual Historical Materialism Conference 2012, November 11, London, U.K.

SYRIZA. 2012. “Components SYRIZA.”

Trotsky, Leon. 1972. “Is the Time Ripe for the Slogan: ‘The United States of Europe’? (A Discussion Article).” In The First Five Years of the Communist International, trans. John G. Wright, 2:341–346. New York: Monad Press.

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