Despite huge working class anger at cuts, the Left parties fail to make real poll gains
Interview with Andreas Payiatsos, Xekinima (CWI Greece), Athens
Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister claims that district election results earlier this week show that the Greek people support his policies. What is in your response to this?
Mr Papandreou should pass in history as the greatest liar ever elected to the position of Greek prime minister. In these recent elections, his ruling party, PASOK, lost 1.1 million votes, compared to the 3 million votes that PASOK received only 12 months ago, in last year’s general elections (from 3,012,000 votes to 1,950,000). If this is a victory, then what is a crushing defeat?
Have also in mind that this result is the outcome of on outright blackmail by the prime minister. In the run-up to the elections he repeatedly threatened that if the results of the local elections were not positive for the government, he would call for general elections before the end of this year. This was an indication of his real worry, not to say panic, of a possible catastrophe for the ruling partly — an attempt to rally those that voted PASOK in last year’s elections.
Did the opposition parties gain from PASOK’s decline in support?
New Democracy (ND), the main opposition, bourgeois party, also lost massively. It fell from 2,095,000 votes to 1,750,000 — i.e. it lost 550,000 votes. The funny thing is that both ND and PASOK talk of victory!
In absolute numbers, the two parties of the ruling class, PASOK and ND together, got 3,700,000 votes, in an electoral constituency of 9,750,000 voters, i.e. they got a total of 37.9%. This is the lowest percentage registered since PASOK and ND were established as mass parties in the late 1970’s.
The collapse of their vote is a very positive phenomenon. The problem is that the parties of the Left did not grow and did not provide a way out for the desperate and angry Greek masses. The forces of the Left remained fundamentally stagnant.
Does this include all the parties of the Left?
It affects the Left in general, but in different ways. SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) for example, received 4.5% of the vote, around the same as at the general election in October, last year, but in reality had an absolute drop in votes — 73,000 in total. The crisis inside SYRIZA is deep and will continue.
The Communist Party (KKE), won 75,000 votes but this represents a very small increase in its forces; less than 1% of the electoral body and an increase of about 13% in relation to what it got in last year’s elections. This, under different conditions, could be perhaps considered as progress. But given the scale of the crisis which is shaking Greek society to its roots, given the massive attack against the living standards and rights of the Greek workers, this is “nothing”.
The only left force which grew is the Anti-capitalist Alliance. This attracted the main bulk of the protest vote left over, particularly from disappointed SYRIZA voters. It grew from 25,000 votes in 2009 to 95,000 votes — an increase of nearly 400%.
This percentage, which is around 2% of the national vote, can be used, theoretically, to bring about major changes in the Greek Left, and the Greek working class movement, but the condition for this is that the groups involved in the Anti-capitalist Alliance (about 10 groups, most of them of Maoist orientation, and also including the sections of the USFI and the IST in Greece) take a serious approach to the working class issues and avoid the sectarianism and political arrogance that generally characterizes them. We cannot be very optimistic over this perspective.
Is ‘abstention’ the real winner of the elections?
This is indeed the case. Abstention reached staggering levels, particularly in the main city centers. The general abstention rate was 40% but in Athens, for example, it reached 57% of the vote and in Piraeus 55%! This is “unheard of” — not only because of the high politicization of Greek society but also because voting in Greece is compulsory by law!
Extremely high, also, were ‘blank’ and ‘white’ votes — in the district of Attica, for example, that includes Athens and Pireas, blank and white votes reached 9%!
If you take this into consideration, the common candidate of New Democracy and LAOS ( a populist far right party) in Athens received 13.8% of the votes of people eligible to cast and the “successful” PASOK candidate received 11.2%! In Pireas, PASOK came first, with 12.4% of the electoral body and the ND second, with 9.7%.
SYRIZA is in crisis — how was that manifested in the elections?
First, of all there was a drop in the absolute number of votes in the midst of the most catastrophic crisis faced by the Greek working class — and when the Left should offer the way out and thus see its forces grow and multiply. Second, SYRIZA stood divided in a number of cities and districts. For example, in Attica, there were two candidates — one, a member of PASOK, Mitropoulos, supported by SYN (Synaspismos — the major party in the alliance) alone and the other represented by Alavanos (the previous president of SYN) and supported by the Maoist KOE and the ‘state-capitalist’ DEA [a pro-“Trotskyist” grouping that split from the Greek section of the IST — British SWP]. The majority of the members of the Central Secretariat of Syriza, about 10, including two of the SYRIZA MPs, distanced themselves from both warring factions, by trying to develop a ‘third pole’ inside SYRIZA, based on principles and not sectarian ambitions, and on a programme to the left of the existing Syriza programme. The CWI in Greece, Xekinima, played an energetic part in this effort.
Both Alavanos and Mitropoulos did extremely badly in the elections. The former receiving only 2.2% and the latter 6,.2%. This is a defeat for both sides, though of course the low results for SYRIZA represent a set-back, in general, and this has negative effects on the development of the movement.
What are the prospects for the working class movement?
Before we go to this we need to mention that one of the most important results of the elections is the rise of the neo-fascist Chrysi Avgi (‘Golden Dawn’). They got about 10,000 votes and over 5% in Athens, and in some neighbourhoods between 15 and 20 %. They did not stand nationally, but only in four areas — this is an indication of their weakness on a national basis but in the areas they stood they got a very high vote. Part of it, of course, is protest vote, but the situation is dangerous. This group is not a far right populist organization but an openly pro-Nazi one, using knives and iron bars in their daily “political” activities and campaigns. It is about time the mass parties of the Left woke up to the danger that neo-fascism represents, particularly in conditions of severe economic and social crisis.
As regards the working class movement, as we have mentioned in previous articles on the CWI website the central leadership of the Greek trade union movement has decided to wind up the movement against the Pasok governments deep austerity cuts. In these conditions, this amounts to open betrayal — thus the president of the Greek trade union federation, the General Confederation of Unions (GSEE), is becoming a hated figure in the movement. However, even he has been forced, under the pressure from below, to call for another general strike on the 15 December. Of course, it is called to let off steam and the leadership will, in effect, undermine the general strike. They do not want it to be a success, so that they can then claim that workers are not willing to fight.
In the meantime, of course, struggles continue. There are numerous struggles endlessly by workers in various companies which sack workers or close down workplaces. We in the CWI in Greece, in Xekinima, are involved in a number of such struggles, like the struggle against the mass sackings by Aldi, the multinational supermarket chain based in Germany.
The public sector continuous to be in turmoil, as the government seems to be encouraged by the Con-Dem government butchers in Britain to massacre jobs.
Around this time, the most important processes are centred in the universitie, where there is a lot of fervent developing, not only among students but also among university teachers. Xekinima has produced thousands of leaflets for a mass campaign in the universities, calling for strikes and occupations, for the building of an all-education front and for linking the movement of the youth to the general movement of the working class, to get rid of this government and their policies.