Greece: Still in the Eye of the Storm

From the outside, it can appear there’s a certain pause in the struggle in Greece. Is this true?

Since 2010 Greece has faced the brunt of the eurozone crisis, with living standards slashed in what amounts to a humanitarian crisis. Wage earners have lost 50% of their purchasing power since 2009. Unemployment is officially 28% and youth unemployment 61.4%. Half of all hospital beds are being closed down. But workers have not accepted this without a fight. There have been 31 general strikes since the start of the crisis and countless sectional strikes and local campaigns that have shaken the capitalist establishment. On 31 January, ANDROS PAYIATSOS, general secretary of Xekinima (CWI in Greece), spoke to SARAH WRACK about recent developments.

From the outside, it can appear there’s a certain pause in the struggle in Greece. Is this true?

There is a certain lull in the movement, compared to the titanic battles particularly of 2011, but there is no real quiet on the frontline. To start with, the solidarity movement is extremely extensive in Greece. It attempts to help people who have been destroyed by the crisis to survive in these conditions. This means supplying them with food and clothing, in general, but particularly in the winter.

There is also a big movement to stop the electricity company from cutting electricity to the homes of the poor who cannot afford to pay. And this is more or less a great success in the sense that, in the huge majority of cases, the electricity has not been cut off.

These solidarity movements were started by the parties and organisations of the left but, as is usually the case, the church and the establishment (for example, the big business-run mass media) have got involved. This is very hypocritical! They pretend to show that they’re doing something to help the population at the same time as they are applying the policies which are destroying the lives of the working class and also the middle layers.

What is important for us is that there are many local committees run by rank-and-file activists, people of the left, working-class people, people in the neighbourhoods, who are assisting each other. There is quite an extensive network of these committees.

Another development is the occupation of plants and running of plants by workers. One of the clearest examples is Bio.Me, a factory in the building industry in northern Greece. This is a small factory, which is being occupied and run by the workers who have changed the production — they’re now producing chemicals for house cleaning and soaps, etc, which are sold through the solidarity networks. The other big example is the ERT, which is the former official public broadcaster. The government shut it down in 2013 but it is still being broadcast through the internet and there are significant numbers of people who watch it.

The crucial importance of these two examples is that they are proof that workers can run industry by themselves, without the role either of capitalist owners or managers, because they do all this through a very democratic procedure. I’m quite confident that these examples will be used in the next period, particularly under the conditions of a left government, as an example for other workers to follow in their attempt to face the attacks by the ruling class.

The struggle of the people of Halkidiki, which is a mountainous area in northern Greece, against the start of heavy gold mining in the region, has been ongoing for two years. This is an important struggle in this period. The movement continues despite victimisation by the state of many workers and activists who have been prosecuted, taken to court, kept in prison, etc.

In recent months, there have been some massive mobilisations, like a huge concert in Thessaloniki, by some of the most well-known Greek musicians. There were about 40,000 people present. This was despite the attempt by the mass media to completely downplay it — they mentioned somewhere that there were only 3,000 people, which was so ridiculous because there were photos which came out showing the massive response.

Has Golden Dawn been able to continue after coming under attack from the government?

The state was forced to attack the neo-fascist Golden Dawn after the murder of left-wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas last September. So the majority of the top leadership is now in jail — but not everybody.

What we said from the very beginning was that, despite the fact that the state has been forced to attack Golden Dawn, they will never take the attack to the full extent and will not be able to destroy fascism, even if they wanted to. This is because they apply the policies which prepare the ground for neo-fascism to emerge and reproduce itself. So, even if they outlaw Golden Dawn, the conditions for fascism exist in Greece, so Golden Dawn will remain in one way or another — it may have to change its name, for example.

Unfortunately, this perspective has been confirmed by events. Golden Dawn continues to stand at around 10% in the polls, which is a bit lower than around nine months ago, when it was between 12% and 14%, but it’s still very high and it is the third party.

That’s why we say only the working-class movement and anti-fascist movement can put an end to fascism by building mass rank-and-file anti-fascist committees and by mass political campaigns against fascism. Also, through the creation of defence committees to be able to defend the movement against fascist attacks. There are anti-fascist committees all over the country. Probably the number is now approaching one hundred. I think this is one of the best developments in the recent period. They are taking continuous initiatives.

Also, there is a month of anti-fascist campaigning all over Greece, which starts on 21 March — the international day against racism — and ends on 21 April, which is the date when the military junta took power in 1967 and established a seven-year military dictatorship. That month is going to be packed with anti-fascist initiatives, demonstrations, concerts in every city, big and small, all over the country.

This is linked to a big campaign in the schools with the assistance of the teachers’ union, because the youth are crucial — first of all to arm them against the ideas of fascism but then also to mobilise them against fascism.

There is now the Anti-Fascist Coordination of Athens and Piraeus representing 29 different organisations and committees, and the Anti-Fascist Coordination of Thessaly in the centre of Greece. The anti-fascist coordination is a well-organised network of anti-fascist committees which try to do things together. Under the umbrella of this broad organisation all these initiatives are taking place. Xekinima is one the key organisations behind this movement.

What role does Syriza play?

The most probable development is that Syriza will be in government in the next period. Despite the attempts of the New Democracy and Pasok coalition government to say elections will not take place until 2016 (which is the normal time for elections), early elections are entirely possible at any time — it could be in the course of this year, in the next few months. The question is not so much if Syriza will be in government. The question is whether it will be a majority government, or a minority in alliance with other parties.

Syriza in government would represent a fundamental change in the balance of class forces in Greece, against the establishment and the troika and in favour of the working class. This can play a big role in the ability of the movement to make a comeback because there have been many defeats. There is a feeling of weakness in the movement and also demoralisation in large sections which fought a lot but have not been able to stop the policies of the government.

There will be many demands on a Syriza government to satisfy the needs of the working class. Of course, the question is whether the Syriza leadership will be ready to respond and provide solutions. The only way this can be done is by moving in a socialist direction, through the application of socialist policies, an open clash with big capitalist interests, multinational interests, the ruling class, etc. But there is a battle inside Syriza, and outside, because the leadership in Syriza is not willing to move in that direction.

The truth is that there are very contradictory feelings towards Syriza. It will have mass support in the election, because there is no other hope for the working-class masses — it’s the only way they feel they can put a brake on what is taking place on the political front. But it’s very important to note that, in these conditions of crisis and social catastrophe, about 50% of the electorate are still not ready to take a position on who to vote for. About one third say they will abstain and another 10–20% say: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do in the elections’.

You may say there is no precedent for such an abstention rate or indecisiveness. And it sounds incredible in these conditions. But this is a result of the fact that people want to see a major political change but they don’t have faith that the leadership of Syriza will be able to provide solutions to the crisis. And this is particularly the case with the activists — the more developed layers in the movement are very suspicious of the Syriza leadership because they see that it’s moving to the right as it comes closer to the prospect of being in government.

How does Xekinima fit in to all of this?

There are many campaigns which Xekinima takes part in. Too many, I might say. We have quite a significant presence in the gold mines campaigns in northern Greece and in the anti-fascist committees, many of which are under our influence or after our initiatives. We play a key role in the anti-fascist coordination in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaly.

At the same time, there are many workers’ struggles we participate in, like now in the health sector and public transport workers in Athens who are under a new attack. We are also preparing for the coming elections in May — the European and local elections, including standing our comrades in the local elections.

We are also attempting to find a solution to the fundamental problem facing the working class: the lack of a ‘subjective factor’ — the lack of a party of the working class ready to take the fight to the end, against the power of the bourgeoisie and for the ‘power of the people’, a socialist society in which working-class people will decide. Xekinima plays a decisive role in the ‘Initiative of the One Thousand’ which is trying to bring together different forces of the left, to unite, or fight together around a common programme — a programme of transition from today’s capitalist barbarism to a future socialist society.

On 25 January a conference took place, attempting to bring together different groups and currents from different sectors of the left. It was a very important meeting. Thirteen different organisations or tendencies were represented in what has had no precedent up until now. All the left oppositional tendencies inside Syriza were represented, oppositional groups from Antarsya (the anti-capitalist alliance) were also there, expelled comrades from the KKE (Communist Party) and a number of organisations of the revolutionary left that do not belong to any of the three main left formations, and also many independent activists.

Two things were impressive. Firstly, the extent of the agreement between all these groups and tendencies on the basic political demands necessary for the period we’re passing through. Secondly, the comradely, friendly atmosphere in which the discussion took place — at a time when there is war taking place inside all the main formations of the left. One may describe it as a first ‘acquaintance’ meeting. We will continue with future meetings.

What in your opinion should be the key demands of the working-class movement today?

One of the basic pillars of the programme Xekinima puts forward is to repudiate the debt. It’s absolutely impossible to have any sort of solution if the Greek people have to pay this massive debt. The debt now stands, despite all the severe policies applied (or, actually, because of them) at 174% of GDP. This is non-serviceable, it’s just impossible. So the debt has to be repudiated. This means all the Memoranda should be ditched. And this in turn means war with the troika, which controls liquidity — the supply of the currency (euro).

Thus a whole series of measures have to be taken to drag the country out of the abyss. The banks have to be nationalised, the commanding heights of the economy have to be nationalised. Nationalisation has to be under workers’ control and management to get rid of all the corruption and scandals which are shaking Greek society and have always characterised the ruling elite. And then apply a plan, based on the nationalised sectors of the economy, to provide massive public investment, to create jobs, to put the economy back on a growth course.

This inevitably brings the Greek working class into a head-on collision with the EU and the leaders of the eurozone. This has to be understood as an unavoidable effect of the attempt to provide anti-austerity, pro-working-class policies in Greece. Unfortunately, this is not understood by the leadership of Syriza.

This clash has to be taken to its logical conclusion. Greek workers should appeal to European workers for support and common struggles, to raise the aim of European unity in the service of the workers — in other words, for a socialist federation of Europe. But at the same time, to be prepared to break away from the eurozone, to go to a national currency. On a capitalist basis, this could mean a deepening of the crisis but, on the basis of socialist policies, workers have nothing to fear from a change in the currency.

To Greek workers in general but particularly to Xekinima, international developments are of crucial importance. We understand that in many ways the Greek movement is in the forefront of struggles. But we watch with extreme interest what’s happening in the rest of Europe, particularly in Southern Europe, where Greek workers feel that the rise of the movements will provide major assistance to the struggles of the Greek workers. But also internationally, like the developments in the United States, or in South Africa, which give an indication that the process for the building of true socialist parties and socialist movements internationally is under way, though at the initial stage. This is very important because it is the only way to see a light out of this black tunnel which Greek society is in at this stage.

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