The following is a dispatch from Eric Ribellarsi of the Kasama Project, who is currently traveling in Greece. He has documented them on his blog, Winter Has Its End.
ATHENS, GREECE - I emerge from the Athens Metro to cheering crowds, with clusters of various left political trends in view. It is the mass pre-election rally of SYRIZA on June 14.
The crowd is very young, largely composed of a high school and college-aged demographic.
SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, is sharply opposed to the plans of the ruling classes – both in Greece and in Europe’s big powers. It has become a major challenger on society’s main political stage.
Their rise is a sign of extremely radical sentiments spreading among Greek people – some of them attracted to neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant extremism, but most moving left toward radical and revolutionary sentiments.
From the loudspeakers, various international delegations are being announced over a background of rock jazz fusion, electronic, and a remix of “Bella Ciao” (the famous Italian song of anti-fascist armed struggle).
I’m becoming quite a fan of the revolutionary music here in Greece. It’s sort of like ska, but actually good. One song that is particularly popular among the young communists is about “The Age of Revolution.”
Red Pole in the Crowd
Looking out over the crowds, I spot a sea ofaround fifteen thousand, mostly young, radicals waving red flags and SYRIZA flags – from afar they appear engaged in an intense sword fight. Attracted to their flags, I headed over to a group of young communists – some of them unaffiliated, most members of the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE).
I was glad to see that the young KOE members are proudly displaying their own specific KOE red flags. Doing this had been a point of controversy within the SYRIZA coalition. Some forces have not wanted to associate the coalition openly with the very revolutionary KOE, so that they even Photoshop the KOE symbols off of red flags in photos featuring SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
I spoke with Anastasia, a young woman, one of those militantly waving the red flag. She is a member of the KOE and she is shocked to meet a communist from the U.S.
I asked her what she thought would come after these elections on June 17, and what she thought the results would be. She replied that I was asking the wrong question,
“No matter what happens in these elections, from the Squares Movement to this point, the fact that it has come this far has proven to the people all over that a new way is possible.”
Soon, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA’s coalition, took to the stage, with a style remarkably similar to Chavez of Venezuela, even down to the announcement style and hand gestures.
There has been talk of Tsipras being a “man of the Chavez type” – meaning a charismatic strongman who can bend a country’s politics toward the left by unleashing the poor, upsetting traditional conservatism, appealing to nationalist populism, and (step by step) creating new alignments and assumptions in politics.
I am still not able to tell if this is true or if Tsipras intends to go even further than that (or not as far).
But it is clear that Tsipras has become the icon of a movement deeply hated by the world imperialist politicians and bankers, and that wants to throw their Troika out of Greece. [editorial note: the Troika means the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, and the European Central Bank, the three pillars of Greece’s domination.]
Tsipras comes from the Synaspismos party within SYRIZA. That is the largest party in SYRIZA, with further contending factions inside of it. Inside of Synaspismos, many people are in transition.
Synaspismos characterizes the section of SYRIZA that hopes it can tear up the austerity memorandum of the Troika, while staying in the Euro-zone. (And there is one faction inside of Synaspismos that also argues against the Euro-zone as well).
I suspect that, in reality, it is impossible to keep Greece inside the Euro-zone while simultaneously carrying out these things.
On June 16, I took note when a representative of Synaspismos said in the Synaspismos press conference that
“If they hold the knife up on our throats, of course we will not stay in the Euro-zone.”
In other words, if the Euro-zone refuses to allow SYRIZA to implement its program, and if the Euro-zone authorities continue to demand extreme austerity programs, that exit would be inevitable.
Different views on the future of SYRIZA
Roughly 25% of SYRIZA are people not affiliated with any party (ranging from revolutionary communists to refugees from Greece’s collapsed mainstream political parties).
And there is also an even larger movement around SYRIZA that came out of the Squares Movement and other places.
SYRIZA also contains a revolutionary communist faction, mainly characterized by the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), but also including other individuals and some small additional organizations.
Right now there is unity. At some future point, there may prove to be disunity as events and the people move.
I had an interesting conversation with a young member of the Internationalist Worker’s Left (DEA), who tells me that there are revolutionary and reformist poles in SYRIZA. He says in a way that I found rather simplistic that the Trotskyists and Maoists in SYRIZA compose the revolutionary pole, and that the Eurocommunists are the reformist pole, and that in the struggle between these two, SYRIZA is quickly moving to the left.
I also spoke to a supporter of Kokkino (Red), another small organization inside of SYRIZA. He tell me that his organization is trying to solve problems between revolutionaries and reformists by demanding that Kokkino and other organizations receive more seats on the leadership of SYRIZA, and that SYRIZA then merge into a single unified party.
Later, I asked a young KOE supporter what he thought of this solution. He tells me that this is a structural attempt to solve what are actually deeper line problems.
In his view, the way to “transform SYRIZA” is through bringing new generations of radicals into SYRIZA, and at the same time “leading through line.” In other words, he wants KOE to develop a program that wins out because of its correctness and ability to lead, not the numbers of seats. And according to him, the scene inside SYRIZA are quite dynamic and fluid, and cannot be understood in such a static and structural way.
Riot police today, death squads tomorrow?
As Tsipras spoke, there were a few points of his speech that stood out to me:
The speech started at a familiar place, denouncing the Memorandum of austerity measures forced on Greece by Troika, and by the PASOK and New Democracy (the traditional and now discredited parties of the old conservative Greek politics, who are now hated as notorious partisan supporters of bank-enforced macro-austerity — that very austerity that Greek people are determined to reject.
|Tsipras speaking. photo credit: Eric Ribellarsi|
And he went on:
“The countdown for the end of the austerity memoranda has started. The scared and surrendered leaders of the memorandum parties have understood that their biggest and truest fear is the wrath and judgment of the people.”
But then Tsipras turned to a few points I found particularly interesting: A great deal of Tsipras’ speech dealt with the hated MAT (riot police) of Greece. The MAT are notorious now for being the section of the police where 50% voted for the Golden Dawn, Greece’s Nazi party. (There was considerable support for the Nazis among police generally, but it was among the MAT that this support reached 50%.)
Tsipras’ condemned these state forces for the beating of protesters, and their defense of “foreign entrepreneurs” (a controversial point I will come back to). But I suspect there is a much more serious outrage that Tsipras’ is not speaking about openly:
This section of the police, the MAT, would be the central and necessary instrument (i.e. death squad, killing arm, and enforcer) for any attempt at something like a coup d’etat in Greece. These are the fascists that could actually carry that out.
Today, in Greece, the ruling classes are almost certainly worrying over how to “stuff the genie back in the bag” – and one of their problems is that they don’t have ready visible means at their disposal for repression, except for the police, which are riddled with organized neo-Nazis of the Golden Dawn, and who also oppose the European Union from the right.
Historically, when capitalist ruling classes needed to enforce massive changes on unwilling and revolutionary sections of the people – they often grabbed for fascist means. They sometimes cultivated and empowered extreme parties like the German Nazis or the Italian fascists. In Greece, Turkey and other countries, the ruling classes sometimes fell back on military coups – relying on their Army to impose “order.”
In Greece, the external Troika forces are having trouble finding a section of the state that can enforce their demands in a reliable way. Right now, their most reliable frontline thugs and potential coup-makers are these Nazis of the Golden Dawn — who are visibly being groomed and promoted for still-unknown future roles.
Seeing all this, Tsipras (on behalf of SYRIZA) is focusing popular attention and the SYRIZA program on destroying the most Nazi parts of the police.
Tsipras’ proposal is to immediately disarm those forces, and to over time, dissolve the entire MAT. He would fire their leadership, “redraft the distribution of resources” (meaning cut all funding to political police), and over time, move them to “vacant police departments” where these fascists will be forced to accept “constitutional loyalty programs” or be fired.
It is worth looking critically at the way in which Tsipras seems to assume that he can rely on other sections of the existing Greek state to enforce or allow such de-Nazification to happen – meaning: Tsipras’ plan basically assumes the Army high command will obey future elected governments, no matter how left.
The Greek High Command: Reliable for whom?
Since the Greek army carried out a vicious fascist military rule from 1967 to 1974, many people naturally ask what the Army role (and political complexion) has been in the recent crisis.
We have heard that SYRIZA’s newspaper are openly distributed and SYRIZA events are openly held within the Army. However, when discussing armies of course, we must differentiate between the command and the rank-and-file.
The fact that SYRIZA’s literature is distributed among the masses of soldiers should not lead to any assumption that the High Command is unreliable to the Greek ruling class or Europe’s bankers.
During Chile’s famous fascist coup of 197, for example, the three armed forces were different and the top Admiral of the Navy was opposed to any coup. So even a split in the High Command, such as in Chile, doesn’t mean that a military coup is not possible.
Radical rupture or a better deal
One thing that struck me throughout the rally, was that young comrades of KOE were chanting
“Down with the European capitalists! Down with capitalism!”
And Tsipras on multiple occasions alluded to “foreign entrepreneurs,” denounced Merkel, and argued that Greece was not currently a democracy.
These statements are not quite the same – but they (both, separately) are controversial within SYRIZA where significant forces have historically thought of the European Union as a positive development (and even seen this new imperialist/capitalist formation as a positive force in the world).
What kind of a country is Greece? Imperialist? Dominated? Capitalist?
The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) believes that Greece is what they call “a micro-imperialist nation.”
Meanwhile forces from Synaspismos (the party Tsipras comes out of) believe that Greece is “a capitalist country,” whose oppression can be traced back (directly) to the capitalist class of Greece.
By contrast, the KOE says Greece is “peripheral first-world capitalist country of a dependent kind.”
In other words, in the KOE’s view, Greece developed into a capitalist country, and became dependent on and subordinated to external imperialist powers.
KKE and Synaspismos believe the main enemy of revolution is the “Greek capitalists.” For KKE, their demand for exiting the Euro-zone is basically an opposition to the conservative “neo-liberal” policies of the European Union — but does not reflect an understanding that Greece is externally oppressed (and dominated by) these larger European powers.
The KOE also think that Greek capitalists and capitalism within Greece need to be overthrown.
But there is an analytical debate that parallels a number of political differences: Over whether it is possible to have a revolution that pulls Greece out of a position of subordination, and over how much capitalism itself and the Greek capitalists need to be the central focus of politics right now.
In sections of Synaspimos, revolution is deemed not necessary, and instead they believe left politics in the EU can transform its character. It is also a controversy of whether the revolution will go through stages, and whether there is an element of defending Greece as a dominated country.
Conservative forces inside Synaspismos cringe and complain when KOE raise slogans such as “Down with the European capitalists.” And they cringe even more now that in the last four months, Tsipras has suddenly started adopting similar rhetoric (though he has explicitly not adopted the core of KOE’s program on the reactionary nature of the Euro-zone itself, the need for revolution, etc.).
In short: There is a major debate going on within Greek left politics: What kind of radical change is possible, and what oppressive forces should be the main target of the people’s struggle? Is it possible to build a broad popular coalition that targets the European-bankers and austerity, and use that as a transitional phase toward a new socialist society? Or must radical forces inscribe ‘anti-capitalism” on their banners, even if that risks marginalizing them within the huge upsurge that is going on?
The KOE communists argue that the key dividing line is whether Greece will repudiate the hated Memoranda of austerity or not. And the whole of SYRIZA is on the correct, brave, and daring side of that.
The European ruling classes are declaring that the old social contracts are over (the ones that were the basis of social democracy and the welfare states and the expectations of the people), and so in the conflict that emerges, people upholding the promises of the past are found confronting the ruling classes of the present. Where they go, and how they function, and what they dare is unwritten. They are not pegged by their political lineage, or even by the words they speak now, and it is very wooden and ahistorical to simply analyze everyone, all these forces in Greece, by either political lineage or their textual statements in the moment.
Greece, and now all of Europe have entered a profound crisis that may bring the whole thing down. Standing in a crowd like this one, the different poles are stark. And we have a great deal to learn from revolutionary forces in the center of this mix.