Sep 23 2007

Elections in Greece: Positive Results for the Left

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 15RCN @ 8:52 pm

YK analyses the Greek election results and addresses the
prospects and tasks for socialists

That the Greek parliament would be significantly different, as a result of the 16th September elections, was more or less common knowledge in Greece. There had been three and a half years of extreme government incompetence and quite shocking scandals. These included the telephone surveillance case(1), and the abduction of Pakistani men by British agents(2), both having serious implications on national sovereignty; as well as increasing incidents of police brutality, especially during the student protests against the proposed educational reform. All this ensured that support for the conservative government of Nea Demokratia (ND, New Democracy), would retreat significantly from the 45.36% of the vote tallied in 2004 and the strong absolute majority of 165 out 300 parliamentary seats this guaranteed. Moreover, the fact that the whole of the rather short campaigning period took place under the shadow, or better, under the eerie glare of a large part of the country being ravaged by wild fires, which were anything but accidental, made certain that there would be a significant protest vote gained by the far left and, to a lesser extent, the far right.

This happened more or less as expected, with ND suffering a loss of 3.52% and 13 seats, which significantly decreased their parliamentary power, leaving them with a very slight majority of only 152 seats. Meanwhile, the combined far left vote increased by 4.04% to 13.19%. KKE (the Communist Party) gathered an impressive 8.15% (+2.26) of the vote returning 22 MPs (+10), while SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left), with 5.04% (+1.78) returned 14 MPs (+8). In large cities, the gains made by the left were significantly higher, with, for example, KKE reaching 14.55% in the V’ Peiraios district and SYRIZA 9.27% in A’ Athinon. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the far right LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) entered Parliament for the first time, tallying 3.80% (+1.61) and winning 10 seats.

What was more surprising is the serious setback suffered by PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement, the Greek equivalent of the Labour Party). Support for the SPD-style Social Democrats retreated below the level of the 2004 election to 38.10 % (102 MPs, -2.45%), the lowest in more than 20 years(3).

The emerging picture is that of a clear shift of popular support away from the two large bourgeois parties towards radical smaller forces. Whether this is just an isolated protest vote, or the beginning of a more long term trend pointing to an intensification of class struggle, remains to be seen. What is certain however is that Greek society has become far more receptive to more radical politics. This means that an increasing amount of space will be opening up for the far left to organise in the near future. Before going into what the immediate tasks of the Greek left are, it would be useful to provide some background on the parties currently in Parliament, which it would be fair to say, will be the prime forces shaping Greek politics in the next four years (unless of course a revolution happens, workers’ councils spontaneously spring up and the dictatorship of the proletariat is established, but I wouldn’t be getting my hopes up for that).

The Parties

Nea Demokratia

Nea Demokratia was founded by Konstadinos Karamanlis, the first post-dictatorship Prime Minister of Greece. It is the traditional party of Greek capital and its satellite strata. Unlike most centre-right parties, it is not a group of right wing liberals, but on the contrary, includes a variety of rightists from David Cameron-like modern fluffy conservatives, to intensely ideological, ultra religious xenophobic cavemen like the former Minister of Public Order. He used to refer to riot police as the praetorian guard of the country. The party is currently led by Kostas Karamanlis, the founder’s nephew, who seems to have been placed at the helm more for his name than his political skills.

Right after emerging victorious, Karamanlis restructured the government, removing extremely unpopular ministers, like the aforementioned Public Order brute from their posts (in fact, the Public Order ministry was abolished), in an obvious effort to rebuild the party’s citizen friendly image. However, this does not in any way mean that there will be any large scale retreat from the aggressive neo-liberal policies ND has been pursuing against the exploited working people of Greek society with the tacit support of PASOK. Nevertheless, its significantly weakened position in Parliament is bound to make the party far more responsive to social movement pressure.

PASOK

Above, I described PASOK as SPD-style socialdemocrats. The reason I did so is that, like the SPD, PASOK has been on an increasingly right wing trajectory without however having been transformed (yet) into a fully fledged neo-Thatcherite party like New Labour. The similarities however, end here. Unlike both Labour and SPD, PASOK did not arise organically out of the struggle of the working class, it did not emerge as the political wing of the trade union movement and was definitely never a radical socialist political force.

The party, or movement as they style themselves, was founded, following the collapse of the Colonels’ Dictatorship in late 1974, by Andreas Papandreou, son of the prominent classical liberal politician Georgios Papandreou. From the very beginning, the social basis of PASOK lay in the radical wings of the petty and national bourgeoisie. Its early policy platform was clearly populist left nationalist, and in that manner, they share a lot with the SNP, although Greece’s independent status makes it difficult to draw further parallels. However, like the SNP, precisely because PASOK lacks a deep, organic working class basis, it has been able to engage in a series of political u-turns, like dropping withdrawal from both NATO and EU as a policy immediately upon winning the 1981 elections. For this same reason however, it is also far easier for the working class sections that do support PASOK to abandon it.

The current leader of the movement is Giorgos Papandreou, son of the founder, who acceded to the presidency shortly before the 2004 elections. He became leader in an effort to rebuild party popularity after 8 years of neo-liberal modernisation, under Costas Simitis, had severely eroded its support basis. Despite employing populist rhetoric and conjuring his father’s ghost on every opportunity, Papandreou has failed to stop PASOK’s bleeding of support to the left. After defeat in the latest elections had become evident, he announced that he would be seeking re-election as president. However, shortly after that, Evagelos Venizelos, who while popular within PASOK, is considered to be on the conservative wing of the party, also announced his candidacy. Elections are to be held sometime in November.

LAOS

LAOS is a strange case. While it would be fair to say that it is a far right wing party, its perception by many as fascist is rather mistaken. LAOS was founded by former ND member and MP, Giorgos Karatzaferis, following his expulsion in 2000. Since then, LAOS has engaged in a number of extremely haphazard political maneuvers, adopting policies in what seems to be an entirely random manner. Its contradictions are evident on a daily basis, with prominent members promoting books that supposedly debunk the “myth” that there was any homosexuality in ancient Greece, while Karatzaferis himself has stated that homophobia must be fought and voted in favour of the European Parliament resolution on homophobia in Europe. Furthermore, while LAOS maintains that there are too many immigrants in Greece, Karatzaferis has often rejected nationalism as an idea, describing himself as a patriot and an enemy of globalization instead. Further, while members of LAOS have often made anti-semitic comments, Karatzaferis has signed the EU motion on anti-semitism(4) while official party literature denounces marginalisation on any grounds and makes it clear that LAOS respects all nations and religions. If anything, LAOS has only diluted the far right in Greece, pulling it towards a more moderate direction.

There is definitely a difference between what LAOS as a party puts forward, and what its members actually believe. LAOS includes former members of extreme right organizations that have often been involved in violent attacks against immigrants and left activists.

However, the percentage of the electorate that was attracted to LAOS is almost certainly not made up of potential fascists and virulent nationalists, but by less conscious exploited strata, as well as disgruntled ND voters. Its electoral campaigning was a classical example of patriotic populism, attacking globalisation, irresponsible bankers, foreign interests etc. while also criticising the government on its handling of national matters like the FYROM(5) name question.

KKE

Communist Party

Communist Party

The Communist Party is the oldest party in Greece, founded in 1918. It has a very rich history of both outstanding heroism and shameful class treachery. Unlike most European CPs, it did not turn to reformism and social-democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. Instead, the hardliners who marginally dominated the Central Committee purged the party of “revisionist”, or “renewing”, depending on which side you are on, elements which formed a large part of the apparatus. The expelled members went on to form Synaspismos or Syn. Then, KKE also suffered a split in its youth wing, with the majority of the membership leaving to form another party, which has now become completely marginal.

Despite these major setbacks, KKE managed to rebuild itself and its youth, becoming the largest far left political force, with more than 10,000 members. Its success is largely based on its insistence on explicitly class based politics, its focus on staunch opposition to all imperialist projects, both NATO and EU inspired as well as its diligent participation in all workers’ struggles.

On the downside, KKE is extremely bureaucratic, leaving little, if any room for initiative to its grass roots activists. It is extremely sectarian, refusing to cooperate with other left wing groups and parties despite the fact that it could use its political muscle to become the driving force behind left regroupment in Greece. However, it does show some signs that it could be moving towards a healthier political path, with its official rejection of stage theory some time ago being the prime example. Unfortunately, the very strict model of democratic centralism the party adheres to makes it extremely difficult to discern its internal political developments.

SYRIZA

Coalition of the Radical Left

Coalition of the Radical Left

The Coalition of the Radical Left, is, as its name implies, not an actual party but an electoral coalition. It is quite peculiar however in that it is not composed of groups of roughly equal political weight, but is instead dominated by one party, Syn, around which a few marginal organisations have grouped. These are: the Communist Organisation of Greece (Maoist), International Workers’ Left (a split from the Greek SWP), Red (a split from the latter), Movement for the United Action of the Left, Active Citizens, Ecological Intervention, Renewing Ecological Communist Left, Popular Unions of Bipartisan Left Groups, and the Democratic Social Movement.

Apart from the latter, it would be fair to say that no one, other than left wing activists, has ever heard of these groups. It is thus very unlikely that anyone, apart from their members, intended to vote SYRIZA in order to support them. It would be safe therefore to regard the growth of support for SYRIZA as a coalition, as a growth of support of Syn as a party. In fact, Synaspismos is Greek for coalition, suggesting that many of SYRIZA’s voters are not aware of the distinction between the party and the coalition. Thus, the politics of Syn form the core of all SYRIZA policies, even if the smaller groups maintain some influence on their content.

Syn itself was formed in the early 90s after the aforementioned expulsions from the Communist Party. The expelled members joined up with the Euro-communists that had split from the party in the late 60s. As is the case with most Euro-communist and reformed CP formations, Syn’s social basis was far less proletarian in composition, with the party being strongest amongst the more privileged strata of the working class as well as the radicalised elements of the middle classes. Naturally then, Syn conducts its politics with little, if any reference to class as the fundamental cleavage in society, while socialism is rarely mentioned as the party’s ultimate political goal, with abstract references to a “more just society” being made instead. This movementist, RESPECT-like approach is entirely in line with Syn’s leadership plan to construct a broad, left of PASOK alliance, as opposed to an explicitly socialist political force. In the context of a society that is obviously receptive to open class politics as is shown by the growth of KKE, this is nothing short of reactionary.

In its defense, Syn has a far healthier internal political structure/culture than that of the KKE, which, allowing the formation of platforms, is fairly similar to that of the SSP. However, the ideological cohesion of Syn is far weaker than the SSP’s even before the split. The SSP suffered from including socialists with very contradictory ideas of how socialists should conduct their struggle, but the idea of socialism as a society that is a complete negation of capitalism was never disputed. Syn on the other hand includes in its ranks anyone from orthodox Marxists to radical social-democrats. This is a rather insoluble contradiction that has often led to embarrassing incidents of Syn members from different factions opposing each other on TV panels.

Prospects and Tasks

While both the retreat of the main bourgeois parties, and the growth of the radical left were substantial, it is important to remember that they were not nearly as great as you would expect after the scale of the destruction wrought by the summer fires. It is important however to realise that, if the left does not remain persistent in its resolute opposition to neo-liberal offensives, as well as organise effective resistance against them, this breakthrough might very well be for naught. While a collapse of the scale of the SSP vote is extremely unlikely, simply for reasons of historic loyalty to KKE by a sizeable portion of the left, a retreat to the levels of 2004 would still be very disappointing.

In the immediate future, there will be a number of issues that will require swift action to be taken by both KKE and Syn-SYRIZA. First, the attitude of the government towards the communities destroyed by the fires will surely cause much disillusionment and aid will most definitely be insufficient, inefficient and tokenistic. Further, it is certain that a large part of the burned areas will be given to land developers to build on. In fact, this has already started in some areas. There will definitely be significant local opposition to this and it is imperative for both left organizations to be visibly present. Unfortunately, given the rural nature of said areas and their long conservative tradition, it is unlikely that a strong left current will be established there. It is however important that the left is present, if only to help raise its national profile, as the destruction of the Peloponnese is regarded as a serious matter by the whole of Greek society.

Second, after having restructured itself, the government of Karamanlis will surely embark on an offensive of modernising reforms that will be directed against the working class. The one that is bound to have the highest profile, at least in the immediate future, is the proposed revision of the constitution to amend article 16, guaranteeing the public and universal character of education in the country. The student movement that shook Greece last year, although bound to be significantly demobilised and weakened after a whole summer of catch up classes and exam periods, will surely reconstitute itself once again. The movement suffered from the lack of a correct political orientation, being led by corrupt elements of the student union and professor bureaucracy. They saw the framework-law reforms – which has since been passed – as an attack against their privileges (which they were). However, there is little doubt as to the need to fight against the proposed constitutional revision, which would almost certainly destroy what little quality public education in Greece still has. The student movement therefore will offer a good chance for the left to build and organise.

Finally, the succession struggle in PASOK will inevitably cause much upheaval within the working masses that still support them. If the populist Papandreou was unable to stop PASOK’s bleeding of support despite his overtures to the left, then Venizelos, the likely winner of the contest, who is a far more thoroughly bourgeois politician will only increase the rate of decline. It is thus more likely that PASOK will soon start to fight ND on its own ground. Bizarrely, this might actually work for them, as ND will most likely move to the right on token issues as pressure from LAOS increases and since the difference between PASOK and ND is almost entirely tokenistic, it is not improbable that the more centre oriented ND support base will move towards PASOK.

In any case, a huge space will be opened to the left of PASOK that the left should move to occupy. In this respect, the president of Syn and SYRIZA, Alekos Alavanos is entirely correct in remarking that radical social democracy should be approached by anti capitalist forces(6). However, the Syn leadership is wrong in trying to achieve this by means of finding common ground, when it clearly has the political weight to pull the left of PASOK elements towards an anti-capitalist direction, meaningfully different to the dead end of anti-neoliberalism. Any alliance of Syn with the radical social democracy, on their grounds, will only strengthen its internal social democratic factions and increase pressure for entering a coalition government with PASOK, a possibility which has never been rejected in principle by the Syn leadership.

Greek fires bring profits to land developers

Greek fires bring profits to land developers

Conclusion: The problem of left bipolarity and the KKE or Syn dilemma

As long as this division within the radical left persists, any resistance against the increasing aggressiveness of the bourgeoisie will be severely fettered by sectarianism, while any hope of it turning into an actual working class offensive will remain just that, a hope. While it is true that responsibility for kicking off the project of meaningful left unity lies with KKE as both the larger and the more radical force of the two (but unfortunately, the most sectarian), Syn-SYRIZA should be criticised on the basis that it does not engage in any action that might make the KKE Central Committee more open towards the prospect of rapprochement.

Specifically, Syn’s complete lack of principled opposition to the European Union’s directives (in fact, the nature of its opposition amounts to critical support), must be abandoned in favour of a more clear cut rejection of the whole project like its position on NATO. Further, the radical wing of Syn should try to pull the party towards a more class oriented approach to politics, away from its current new left movementism, which is a sure recipe for dilution of principles. It is Syn that must provide the initiative for left regroupment on a radical socialist basis, even in the form of an electoral pact, as any such unity move is unlikely to come from KKE.

This situation creates an almost insoluble dilemma for non aligned Greek leftists. Electorally, one has to choose between a mass party with explicit class, socialist politics which is however totally bureaucratic and sectarian, and a smaller loose coalition of vaguely radical left forces without a clear political orientation which could in the future possibly enter a bourgeois coalition. There is no easy solution to this problem and one’s choice is based as much on personal convictions and feelings as on objective political analysis. We can only hope that the self-activity of the working masses will at some point force their vanguard groups to get their act together.

(Endnotes)

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