Major gains for left parties
The results of the Greek elections, on 16 September, represent the biggest blow, for many years, against the domination of political life by the right wing New Democracy and social democratic, pro-capitalist PASOK party.
New Democracy barely managed to scrape through and win a majority of two MPs in parliament (gaining 152 out of 300 MPs). The party got less than 42% support from those who voted (abstention and blanks were around 29%). The ND also lost about 380,000 votes (representing 11.5% of its electoral support), compared to the 2004 elections.
The PASOK opposition got just over 38%, losing 10% of its electoral support since 2004 (i.e. 270,000 votes). This “achievement” comes after PASOK has been in opposition for the past 3 ½ years, during which the ND government viciously attacked the working class and the youth, was mired in huge scandals, and held responsible for the massive fires disaster, during July and August. Despite this favourable political situation, PASOK got the worst result since it came to power in 1981! All together, the ND and PASOK, the two main pro-capitalist parties lost 650,000 votes.
A shift to the left
At the same time as rejecting the pro-big business policies of ND and PASOK, hundreds of thousands of Greek workers and youth made an important shift to the left, by voting for the left parties, the CP (The Communist Party of Greece (KKE)) and the left alliance, SIRIZA. The growth in support of the left parties was much higher than expected and much higher than estimated by the polls. The CP got over 8% and SYRIZA over 5%. The CP won about 140,000 votes and increased its electoral support by about 32%. SIRIZA increased its support by about 120,000 votes (an impressive 48 %!)
In total, the CP and SIRIZA won about 260,000 votes and came close to 13.5%, compared to 9% in the elections of 2004. Along with other left parties (a number of far-left groups that stood), they got 14%. That is a total of about 1 million votes! This is the highest vote that these parties have won since 1990.
The growth of the left parties is even more impressive in the big cities and, particularly, in working class areas. For example, in inner-city Athens, the CP and SIRIZA got 20%, compared to 13.5% in 2004. In greater Athens, the two parties got over 21%, compared to 14% in 2004. In greater Piraeus, they got 21%, compared to 15%, in 2004.
In the main working class areas in cities like Egaleo, Peristeri, Tauros, Drapetsona, Petroupoli and Nikaia, and in wider Athens and Pireaus, the vote for left parties varied between 22–26%, in total. In these areas, the vote for ND was much lower than its national average, and did not exceed 35%.
ND — reactionary policies and hypocrisy
Despite the serious blow it received, the New Democracy speaks of a “great victory”. They say that the Greek people voted for their policies. But the ND received about 40 % support out of 70% of the electorate (26% abstained and 3% voted blank). This means the ND got endorsement from only 28% of Greek people. They only got back into government because the electoral law gives a bonus of 40 seats to the ‘first party’, so that it can form a government.
The ND claim their support dropped a little because they did not move fast enough with the ‘reforms’ needed by Greek society. They say this is the message people wanted to send them. In other words, the ND claims they lost support because the working class in Greece wanted the attacks against them to be more vicious and more determined! What is nauseating is that nobody in the mass media (apart from very few isolated exceptions) reply to these outrageous remarks. This would be too much to expect of them, of course!
The completely theatrical and hypocritical speeches made by ND officials and by Prime Minister Karamanlis, only show they are determined to go ahead with the same anti-working class policies they applied in the last years, i.e. attack working class rights and wages, attack the youth, attack pensions, attack public health and public education, give more profits to the rich, continue with the complete dislocation of Greek workers lives, producing “cheap” and insecure “jobs” (70% of new jobs created over the past few years are part-time and temporary, receiving a monthly wage of between € 300 and € 500, while unemployment still sits above 8%).
Why PASOK lost
PASOK is now in a major crisis. Its leader, G. Papandreou, was openly and offensively challenged, minutes after publicly accepting defeat. He was accused of being responsible for the electoral defeat. There is no question of G. Papandreou’s huge personal responsibilities. However, the deeper causes of PASOK’s defeat are not the personal characteristics of G. Papandreou but the lack of policies of this party, particularly of pro-working class policies.
In opposition, PASOK has never proposed anything concrete, and focused on one main slogan: “This government is not existent, Karamanlis as an absent prime minister”. For the working class, this kind of talk is empty and nonsensical. Indeed, for working people, Prime Minister Karamanlis was all too “present” and very “real”, as his policies were painfully felt by the working class, which was continuously attacked. PASOK never put up any real opposition against these attacks. G. Papandreou did not even give verbal opposition, not very recently. He never spoke in the name of the working class, or the youth, or even the peasants. The leader of PASOK only chose abstract formulations about the New Democracy government “causing damage to Greece” etc. Even on the question of creating private universities in Greece, which caused an important university students’ movement, from May 2006 to April 2007, Papandreou was openly in favour of the governing ND proposal, up to January 2007. Then he was forced to execute a full about turn, under the huge pressure of the students’ movement and the PASOK youth, who threatened with internal civil war in the opposition party.
However, PASOK’s problem is that all possible leaders of the party are of the same political type as Papandreou. None of the possible candidates has any relationship to the working class –not even links to the hard years of party building in the 1970’s, not to mention the 1960’s. Youth who joined PASOK for a career now claim the party leadership. This is a reflection of the complete transformation of the character of PASOK over the past decades, to become an openly capitalist party.
There is no possibility of a serious turn to the left by PASOK. Of course, it may, and it will, use a few left phrases in the next period, irrespective of who is in the leadership, to try to attract back the votes that went to the left parties in the recent elections. But this will not signify any kind of serious turn to the left by PASOK.
LAOS — a far right party
One of the negative developments in these elections has been the increase in the electoral support of LAOS, a far right populist party. It rose from about 2.3% support, in 2004, to 3.8% and entered parliament. More worrying, perhaps, is that 3 out of its 10 MPs are quite openly semi-fascist.
However, it must be borne in mind that the additional votes LAOS received do not represent an increase or a strengthening of neo-fascist ideas in Greek society. This is not to underestimate the dangers that stem out of the electoral rise of LAOS. But the increase in LAOS’s support is fundamentally a protest vote.
LAOS is not a fascist party. It is a far-right, populist party, which uses slogans like, “Give the establishment a punch”. Its leader, Karatzaferis, proudly displays a Che Guevara poster on his office wall. The political programme of LAOS, in particular, was hidden from the electorate (they supported the handing over of forests to ‘private initiative’ but they were fortunate enough not to distribute this policy in writing before the recent devastation forest fires, and then the offending text was removed from LAOS websites and never published).
Many people angry with the governing New Democracy voted for LAOS, as a protest vote, in general, but also, in particular, to help LAOS to exceed the 3% limit to enter parliament and to produce a five-party parliament (one of the peculiarities of the Greek election law, is that it makes it is much more difficult for the ‘first’, winning, party to create a majority-government if there are five parties elected to parliament. This fact was widely discussed during the election campaign and became one of the main themes).
Therefore, not everybody who voted for LAOS must be considered as a reactionary fascist — although such wrong impressions are created in some left circles in Greece. However, the left parties have an obligation to use the presence of three semi-fascist MPs in parliament to expose the policies and the real character of the LAOS party.
The next step for the left
Many anti — New Democracy analysts and journalists try to argue that the election result is a reflection of the deep conservatism of Greek society. They justify this argument by stating that the electorate failed to kick out such a reactionary, rotten government because there must be ‘something wrong’ with society!
Reality, however, is entirely different. The fact that a big section of the Greek working class and youth voted in favour of the left parties, instead of PASOK, is an indication of political maturity. It is an indication that workers and the youth, on a large scale, realize that there are no fundamental differences between the two parties of the bourgeoisie. And, despite the fact they hate this New Democracy government, many workers and youth chose to vote for the left parties, rather than for the ‘credible PASOK opposition’, hoping this would make a difference. Workers wanted to give Left parties a chance, hoping this might bring light at the end of the tunnel.
In this sense, the electoral result is a reflection of the desire and determination to struggle by the most active and most developed layers of the working class. Fundamentally, of course, struggles will be determined by the continuation of the crisis of Greek capitalism. However, the election result, as a secondary factor, can help to encourage struggles.
Those sections of workers and youth which entered struggle during the last few years, under the instigation of the left, like students and the teachers, see the election result as a vindication, in a certain sense, of their struggle, despite the fact that specific struggles were lost (Particularly as the hated Minister of Education, who is also a prominent leader of New Democracy, failed to receive enough votes to get back into government).
There is also a generational factor in the view working people and youth have towards the poll results. The older generation, which experienced PASOK in government and who benefited from some of PASOK’s reforms, when PASOK still promised real reforms, was partially demoralised with the outcome of the 2007 elections. For the new generation, however, which sees New Democracy and PASOK as, more or less, one and the same, this is not the case.
But the extent to which the increase in the left vote can act to motivate class struggle depends on the policies of the leaderships of the left parties. And here, there is a major problem!
The policies of the leaderships of left parties will determine the extent to which they can utilise their present electoral and membership growth, to build mass left forces, or whether they go back to stagnation and stalemate. Support for the left parties is not something given once and for all by workers and youth. To a large degree, their support represents a protest vote. The left parties will be tested in the next period. The problem of leaderships is a very big question.
Left parties and leadership
Dspite the desires, hopes, and determination to struggle of about 1 million left voters, despite the objective opportunities offered, there can be no confidence that the present leaders of the left parties will be able to use this advantageous situation.
There can be no real hope that the leadership of the CP (Communist Party of Greece (KKE)),
which is Stalinist to the core, can change. Not only do they have as their model the ex-Stalinist Soviet Union, with its one-party dictatorship and its ‘infallible’ leaders, but even within CP ranks anyone suspected of disagreement with the leadership can find themselves expelled. The CP leaders reject any kind of collaboration (for example, ‘united front’ initiatives) with any other left party because they consider (and openly accuse!) every other left organization as being “traitors”. They refuse to conduct united front-type action amongst the working class, even when workers are on strike. During industrial disputes, the CP organises separate rallies and separate marches under their party banner. They consciously promote splits in trade unions and the union federation. These are criminal policies against the interests of the working class and there can be no illusions that the present CP leaders will change this approach.
However, the rank and file of the Communist Party of Greece is a different matter. They may be carried away, to a certain extent, by their electoral victory, and show ‘party patriotism’, but it is clear from many indications in the last period, there is questioning, doubts, and a certain search for an alternative inside the ranks of the CP, particularly amongst the party’s youth. Developments like last year’s university student movement, in which the CP leadership attempted to play a strike-breaking role, but also the big rise in the electoral support of the left alliance, SYRIZA, which established it as a growing party of the left in Greece, and which has an open, friendly and collaborative attitude to other left organisations, are bound to create doubts in the minds of the rank and file members of the CP.
The problems with SYRIZA are different but equally serious. It is not only that SYRIZA refuses to call and fight for the overthrow of the capitalist system but it is also the fact that there is an open right wing inside SYRIZA’s ranks, which wants to enter a national government, together with PASOK — (albeit a PASOK which is a ‘little bit to the left’ of the present PASOK).
SYRIZA is an alliance, made up of ‘Synaspismos’ (a reformist party of the left), from ‘Eurocommunist’ origins, and other left groups, some originating from PASOK, and others belonging to the far left.
However, there is a significant left wing inside SYRIZA, which asks what kind of programme is required to take the left forward, and to re-establish socialist ideas and a socialist vision. Under the pressure of this left current, Synaspismos went ahead and collaborated with organizations which belong to the far left, and thus established, SYRIZA, albeit against open attacks and attempts to sabotage the initiative by the right wing of the party.
During the election campaign, which barely lasted 15 days, Xekinima (CWI in Greece) campaigned for a vote to the left parties, proposing SYRIZA got first preference. The election outcome vindicates this position. The left vote, in general, rose by nearly 40%, and SYRIZA, in particular, by nearly 50%.
Xekinima has no confidence in the leaderships of either SYRIZA or the CP, but it has a lot of confidence in the rank and file of these parties, as well as in thousands of working class activists, and youth who remain outside the left parties, as they are uninspired by their policies, but who are searching for a way forward.
Xekinima, above all, has confidence in the power of the movement of the working class and the youth, which under conditions of struggle can push the parties of the left further to the left, despite the leaderships. This can provide the background for a search by many workers and youth for genuine socialist and Marxist ideas.
Xekinima will continue the struggle for the further strengthening of the left in Greek society, not as an abstract slogan, but by explaining the factors which can make this possible. For the left parties to be able to have a decisive effect on the Greek political scene, and on the lives of Greek workers and youth, they need daily involvement in the problems of the working class, they need a united approach to the struggles of the working class, and they need to have a programme that calls for the end of the capitalist system and for a socialist society, based on workers’ democracy. In other words, they need a bold, socialist programme.
Such a genuine socialist programme may not get much response from the majority of the current leaderships of the left parties, but it can find huge support amongst the working class, both outside and inside the present left parties, particularly given the radical traditions of the Greek working class. Above all, socialist ideas will find support amongst the new generation, which is suffering under the impasse of capitalism, and which is looking for a way out, searching for radical ideas.
Xekinima supporters struggle along with these layers in society, and is confident that, based on them, a “new left” can arise, in the service of the working class and of the socialist transformation of society. The development of a new left will motivate fresh layers, and will also have a decisive impact on the rank and file of the current left parties. The road along which a new, mass-based, genuine socialist left will be built — what precise form it takes, and when it will develop — cannot be predetermined with accuracy in advance. But one thing is certain: sooner or later, such a strong socialist opposition will come into existence because the profit driven system offers only one way out of the crisis it creates: to fight for the overthrow of capitalism, which requires parties of the working class to lead the struggle to the end.