is syriza a workers’ government in waiting?

By Barry Biddulph

The elections in Greece have solved nothing. They have only provided a brief respite from intractable economic problems. The free food queues grow longer, as living standards collapse, the generalised political and economic crisis goes on. Larry Elliot, the economics editor of the Guardian, puts forward the view of many economic observers in Greece that the new Government is unlikely to remain in power.(1) A Guardian editorial agrees that a defeat for SYRIZA might yet prove to be a victory.(2) A view echoed in the Financial Times editorial.(3) The new government coalition will be weak. Democratic Left and PASOK will support Antonia Samaras and the New Democracy government, but not participate fully in the administration. In his victory speech, Samaras pledged to honour financial commitments to the Troika of capitalist economic powers. The New Government will have to implement a further 12 billion cuts by July 2012 . This will prove deeply unpopular with the Greek working class. So SYRIZA is a government in waiting, but can it become a Workers’ Government?

Workers Power explain what a workers government would mean. It would mean calling on SYRIZA to form a workers government to arm the workers; restore wages, pensions and union rights; tax the rich; renounce capitalist debts; crush the Fascists and establish workers’ control of production.(4) The inspiration for this position is an uncritical acceptance of the Thesis on Comintern Tactics, adopted in 1922, by the Communist International. ‘In certain circumstances communists must declare themselves ready to form a workers government with non communist workers parties and workers organisations’.(5) In the opinion of the CI the ‘entire state apparatus must pass into the hands of a workers government’, this would be the logic of the electoral struggle for a parliamentary majority. But how can a government based on the capitalist state represent the historic interests of the working class? This is the illusion that led to the tragic defeat in Chile in 1973, that it would be possible to build a socialist order out of the resources of the bourgeois state. We should remember the political context of the tactics of 1922. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had returned to Kautsky’s view of the state, which Lenin held as late as 1916. Social Democrats should use the state against the capitalists. It was about capturing state power not destroying the state. In Russia in 1922, the Bolsheviks used the state rather than root the revolution in workers’ power from below.

In fact, SYRIZA has not provided any evidence that its is likely to be a party which would break with the capitalist state. Its perspectives are very much based on the parliament and the state. In his speech conceding defeat, Alex Tsipras reassured public opinion that SYRIZA would be responsible as well as bold. He conformed to parliamentary values and procedures by stating that he had congratulated Samaras on his parliamentary majority. No doubt hoping that Samaras would reciprocate and play the parliamentary game at a later date. Alex Tsipras has also emphasised that the role of SYRIZA inside and outside parliament would be to negotiate for the benefit of the country.(6) SYRIZA did not stand for cancelling the debt, but a moratorium for a debt audit to identify illegitimate debt, which implies acceptance of some of the debt. But who pays later? The working class. Suspending payments and modifying the bailout is not a rejection of capitalist austerity; but an alternative capitalist plan B, for slower cuts and a Keynesian investment plan. Syriza does call for a reform of the EU economic policies, from austerity towards investment. Gradual piecemeal reform of the capitalist state would only trap SYRIZA in the Allende Workers Government dilemma of not moving too far in an anti-capitalist direction for fear of a counter attack from the key elements of the capitalist state, including the army and police, which will come anyway as support ebbs away from the reformist government, due to failure to make decisive inroads into capitalist power.

The Communist International’s workers’ government slogan is hedged by ambiguous political rhetoric about only supporting the reformists in government, in so far as they conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie. This might be a fig leaf to cover opportunism, but it is hopeless for developing the grass roots organisations – cordons, soviets, assemblies, workers committtees, councils of action for workers self emancipation. In Chile the programme of Cordon Cerrillos, in an industrial district, this kind of inadequate caution, supporting Allende in so far as he articulated the struggles and mobilisations of the working class, rendered the workers alternative to the Bourgeois state impotent.(7) What would they do when Allende, the reformist head of Popular Unity, a coalition government of workers parties, articulated the mobilisation of the state against the revolutionaries and the revolution. Too little, too late, because of the illusion that the dynamic of the struggle would or could eventually find expression in a workers government from within the bourgeois state. To call on Syriza to accept the programme of socialism or communism from below and make a revolution, given its parliamentary focus and reformist leadership, is to give the programme magical properties. Exposing reformist leaders is not enough, since by the time they are discredited the counter revolution will have crushed the critics. What is decisive is to practically develop and lead the mass struggle from below against the state.


1 Larry Elliot, The Guardian, June 19, 2012

2 The Guardian, Editorial, June 18, 2012

3 The Finacial Times, Editorial, June 19, 2012

4 Workers Power, ‘What Is a Workers State?’, June 16, 2012

5 ‘Theses on Comintern Tactics

6 Michael Stott and Dina Kyrakidou, ‘Greek rage to force bailout changes

7 Ian Roxborough, Phil O’brien and Jackie Roddick, Chile: The State and Revolution (London: Macmillan, 1977), p.171

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