the greek elections, ‘workers’ governments’ and the radical left

Conrad Russell replies to Barry Biddulph’s previous article

The premise of the article (‘is syriza a workers’ government in waiting?’) is whether or not SYRIZA – the coalition of the radical left, who won 27% of the vote in the Greek elections on the 17th of May – can form a ‘worker’s government’ at some point in the future. The first question which needs asking is; who is saying it can? The answer, alluded to in the article, is; ‘Worker’s Power is saying it can’. Given that this tiny British ‘post-trotskyist’ organisation has no section in Greece, and therefore no direct involvement in the movement there, this raises another question; who cares? The article falls into the trap of rehearsing old arguments (and animosities) within the British ‘Left’, rather than offering any concrete analysis of the social forces engaged in the struggle in Greece, or the actual arguments being put forward on the Greek Left.

It is notable that more time is spent discussing the declarations of the Comintern in 1922 and the Chilean coup d’etat of 1973, than the Greek situation. There is very little explanation or analysis of who SYRIZA actually are, or what their programme is. SYRIZA is, as it’s Greek name suggests, a ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’ – with, at its core, the successors to the Greek ‘Eurocommunist’ Communist Party of Greece (Interior), who confusingly, are themselves now called the ‘Coalition’ (Synaspismos). However, SYRIZA also embraces an enormous variety of Trotskyist, Maoist, Eco-Socialist and left-Reformist forces. The dominant current within SYRIZA could probably be situated, in a European context, close to the French Front de Gauche (with whom they have friendly relations) and various parties of the ‘Nordic Left’ such as the Danish Socialist People’s party.

Their programme, which the article (very) briefly alludes to, is for a renegotiation of the debt, and for pegging future debt repayments to growth, so no debt would be repaid until GDP rises substantially. There is also a strong emphasis on developing non-state parallel economic networks – outside the money economy- as SYRIZA has long-standing ties to the anti-globalisation movement and the European Social Forum, so its programme reflects this heritage. There is also a commitment to staying within the Euro, showing SYRIZA’s Eurocommunist heritage. There is therefore no claim, by SYRIZA, or anyone else with any serious weight within the organised workers or left in Greece, that its programme has anything whatsoever to do with establishing a worker’s government. Thus, it seems strange to build an analysis of the meaning of SYRIZA’s election result – the highest ever score for a left party in a Greek election – around the question of whether it could establish such a government. Unless, of course, the real point of the article is to take a swipe at Worker’s Power whilst they are undergoing another of their periodic splits.

No-one can seriously disagree that SYRIZA’s programme in itself represents a ‘Plan B’ of Keynesian investment and redistribution within Capitalism. In fact the programme was predicated on the hope that social forces and Social Democratic governments elsewhere in Europe (France, Denmark) will revive the ‘social chapter’ of European integration … a hope which appears to have been dashed by Francois Hollande’s explicit rejection of any alternative to the austerity memorandum on Greek TV three days before the election. So the article’s author is formally absolutely correct in insisting that SYRIZA’s programme is reformist, in fact none less than Paul Mason of the BBC has qualified their programme as ‘left Social Democracy’.

The fact remains that the European and world Bourgeoisie is scared stiff of SYRIZA.

Hence the torrent of veiled and open threats, scare stories about contingency plans for a Greek exit from the Euro, and Theresa May the Home Secretary reassuring us that the UK borders will be closed if Greeks start fleeing after a SYRIZA victory. So if a SYRIZA victory offered nothing at all to Greek Workers, why is the bourgeoisie so scared of them? The ultra-Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) argue that SYRIZA is simply a replacement for the left-populist ‘Socialist’ PASOK, who slumped to 10% of the vote on 6th May … part of a bourgeois plan to remodel the two party electoral circus (PASOK and conservative New Democracy) who governed Greece as a duopoly from the end of Fascism in 1974 to the present crisis. If this was so, why has every bourgeois politician, government and media outlet in Europe been doing everything they can to keep SYRIZA out of power?

The question is whether the real issue in the here and now is whether SYRIZA offers a ‘worker’s government’ – it doesn’t, if I haven’t been clear enough already – or whether it nonetheless, within the limitations of its reformist programme, represents a challenge to the dominant neo-liberal model which is currently unacceptable to the world bourgeoisie. Here I would part company with the article’s dismissive rhetoric, and argue that it does.

Why? Because SYRIZA’s programme rejects the premise that austerity and privatisation are inevitable consequences of the ‘crisis’. This may be modest, but we are not in 1922, or in 1973. Under the current neo-liberal hegemony, even the suggestion of a reformist ‘Social State’ is a radical one, which pushes beyond the narrow limits the world’s masters have set to what is possible. SYRIZA also provides a focus for an anti-austerity movement in Greece which is demoralised and divided, and has been failed by both the passivity of the KKE, (which simply re-iterates the need for revolution and waits for workers to follow it) and the street-fighting fetishism of the anarchist groups. And beyond the organised left, it has given a coherent expression to the rejection by the overwhelming majority of Greeks of the austerity memorandum – which in effect makes Greece an EU ‘neo-colony’ – in a way no-one else, either on the left, or on the populist right, has been able to do.

To conclude, the final paragraph of the article conflates, I would argue, two separate things; ‘supporting the reformists in government (only) insofar as they conduct a real struggle against the bourgeoisie’ and the ‘illusion of a worker’s government’. Again, the latter – a ‘worker’s’ government – seems only a concern for Worker’s Power. Let’s leave them to their private grief as they suffer (yet another) split. But why does critical support for SYRIZA whilst they collide head on with the dominant neo-liberal faction of the world bourgeoisie after (theoretically) winning an election have anything to do with illusions in a ‘worker’s government’? It doesn’t. And such critical support is what communists should indeed give SYRIZA.

7 thoughts on “the greek elections, ‘workers’ governments’ and the radical left

  1. Very well said, Conrad. My thoughts 99%.

    My main caveat is that the “Euro-Bolivarianism” that a hypothetical Syriza could bring to the scene, will no dobt clash frontally with the EU-IMF direction (as you admit) and spiral uncontrollably into either (1) a growingly revolutionary scenario in which Syriza would have to delve into more and more radical anti-Capitalist measures just in order to keep the country going (no options within the Capitalist system for Greece anymore, let’s be realistic) or (2) a Bela Kun moment: a rather powerless red government that fails to “save the nation” and is defeated and replaced by a defeatist right-wing government, maybe after a foreign military intervention or two (Turkey, NATO… you know).

    Scenario number 1 is desirable from a revolutionary viewpoint and from the viepoint of Greek popular and national interests as well. It is also desirable from the viewpoint of general European interests.


  2. The European and world bourgeois are not scared of SYRIZA. What concerns them is the revolutionary potential of the situation in Greece. The European Bourgeois have scared Syriza into modifying their political stance on Austerity. That’s the point of painting SYRIZA red. Left reformism in and out of government can be very useful sometimes to channel discontent into safe waters.

    If they are elected with a parliamentary majority as left reformists Or form a coalition with other reformists, this would raise the issue of reformists claiming to represent the workers and with some trying to push them to the left on the basis that such a government would be step towards socialism within the capitalist state. In other words some kind of workers government.

    I gave the example of workers power because they put forward the most extreme version of critical support for a reformist government. The political significance of Workers power is beside the point. Non of us represent very much. So a little humility is called for. Workers Power are very critical, unlike Conrad who seems to regard a reformist programme as a good thing in itself or a lesser evil to Neo Liberalism.This is as he admits is politically modest.

    Given the actions of the Greek workers and the extent of the capitalist economic crisis, it is pessimistic view or rather a left reformist view of plan B as an alternative. Apart from sneering at the phrase workers government conrad sneers at street fighting. But Syriza has left workers defence against neo fascists attacks to others. This kind of defensive action outside the state and parliament and indeed legality, will be vital if the workers are to develop their grass roots struggle.


  3. It is indeed wonderful to see such large numbers vote for such a radical group. It’s a reflection of the hardship the people are facing & that international socialism is more popular than national socialism. Many Greeks are opening calling for revolution. The point is to point out that Syriza are not offering revolution but to reform the capitalist system. It that had come first in the election it would have been a disaster. They would, because of the circumstances, failed to improve the situation for the people & there would have been the prospect of a right-wing backlash, even military coup. Revolution is not coming first in elections & trying to reform capitalism, it is the building of direct democracy through workers’ councils & assemblies.


  4. The revolution can’t be too far ahead of the masses: that’s ultra-leftism and utopism. I do not have clear that SYRIZA is offering to reform the Capitalist System because I am almost certain that they know that their stand, no matter how soft, will clash with the Capitalist System as it is today: debt default, nationalizations… meh, that’s not really different from Lenin’s NEP.

    However they are bound to reach further once they begin that way because of the unavoidable reaction of the System, which will push Greece against the ropes all they can at the slightest sign of disobedience.

    I would think that communist revolutionaries would be clear-sighted enough to realize that even social-democracy is today utopic. Even more utopic maybe than true socialism, at least in the Greek case. However you have to rally the Greek masses around a program they can understand and back, not around maximalisms.

    We have to admit that the time of benevolent manageable Capitalism is over, so demanding it, what we do is to describe the imposibility of Social Democracy or equivalent systems today. Most people, even in Greece, still hope that such thing would be possible and they have yet to face reality.

    Social-democrats today practice ultra-liberal policies, not different at all from those of conservatives and liberals themselves. Demanding social-democracy (not implementing it), demanding that Capitalism delivers (as it used to, as people still wants to) we highlight the contradictions and can more easily walk the path of revolution.

    However I agree that we should be careful of not appearing too much as if we would believe in SD, just that we demand it as a rally point.

    Remember that all successful revolutions have been done with rather simple and rather moderate programs, like “peace now” or “land and freedom”. But when even moderate programs are too radical, it is when Revolution becomes almost unavoidable.


  5. peace now during an imperialist war,land to the tiller when there is a landlord class,workers liberation when the factories are owed by capitalists are not moderate demands but revolutionary demands. syriza leaders seek reform via the state because it is their conviction this is possible. Chile in 1973 shows otherwise.


  6. You can if you like continue this discussion with the London representative of Syriza who is speaking at the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) event in London next Saturday (14th) –

    Having got the advert out the way, I sympathise with Conrad’s argument on giving critical support to Syriza (certainly in the last elections). They did represent a challenge to the austerity policies of the EU collective bourgeoisie. Had they come to power, they would however have been a government of crisis.

    The great contradiction of their programme was that they wanted an end to the austerity measures, while staying in the EU/euro – an impossible promise. Some concessions might have been made, but only if the EU leaders had feared a revolution in Greece, but ending austerity was never an option.

    Barry’s mistake is that he rejects putting demands on such a government, yet how else would revolutionaries argue what needs to be done? Demands on government should have a dual purpose: they need to make sense to the workers and middle strata who have illusions in Syriza, so they join together with us to force the government to act. But at the same time we should be able to build a movement around them to begin to carry them out, despite the government.

    But as I said maybe this is the discussion we should be having with Syriza itself.


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