Greece – The Quest for a Workers’ Party

Two months after the Greek State unleashed its biggest attack against organized labor, since the start of the global financial crisis, the political representatives of the domestic and international bourgeoisie, took the decision to move the celebration of Mayday to the 7th of May, in an effort to make it an extension of the Greek Orthodox Easter, thinking that such an action would defuse any attempt to give momentum back to the movement opposing the government. They were right. Despite the calls from the leaderships of the General Associations of Trade Unions (private and public sectors), few responded to the call, exhibiting on the one hand the political weakness of the Greek working class in this point of time, and on the other, the numbness the movement is experiencing in the aftermath of the big strike actions that had taken place in February and March.

At the time those actions took place had more the feeling of an exodus rather than a conscious and coordinated offence. It was a last gasp attempt to catch the enemy of guard and push the momentum forward. It was an exodus as tragic and dramatic on individual terms as those told by history, but less heroic and less inspirational for the rest of the organized working class and society as a whole. Within two weeks the State had mobilized every aspect of its machinery and had stroke it’s most ferocious attack yet to organized labour. Revoking a clause of the constitution empowering the State to bring both personnel and machinery under military control, the workers of the two unions that had led the offence, initially the underground workers and within days afterwards the seafarers workers, were faced with imprisonment and immediate dismissal had they chosen to continue with their strikes.

It was over. The State through parliament, through the constitution with the backing of the judicial system, the police and the army had put an end to the final attempt of organized labor to create any kind of momentum of resistance. The end result was a complete social paralysis, but also conclusions of historical proportions. On the one hand the limited nature of the economic struggle became an apparent reality, as organized labor felt the difference between the fight for individual economic gains related to a worker or an organized group of workers against an employer, and that in which the workers as a class face the political nature of an economic assault by another class. Becoming apparent that the political needs of the struggle surpasses by far the boundaries trade union action sets in and amongst the working class. Thus making of immense importance the need for the worker to elevate the struggle to another level pass that of trade union-economic activism.

To that need the general associations of Greek trade unions of both private and public workforces had been in a state of a paralysis from the start. Like abandoned children in a Dickens story they were left begging for any small concessions or any sort of restrain from the political establishment. The old alliance of the upper echelons of organized labor with the petty bourgeois leadership of PASOK had been brutally broken, not by the political will of any of the two sides. Not even by the will of the domestic bourgeoisie as none of those three elements had ever the power or even the inclination of changing this balance of social and political power. After all this was the ultimate nature of reformism. Balancing the class struggle, concealing it, framing its social and economic contradictions and injustices within the confines of bourgeois democracy, while underneath the surface capital was continuing its relentless consumption of the surplus society was producing. For capital when this alliance becomes unsustainable if it is to preserve its profits the choice is clear. An abrupt break must take place and leave the State to deal with any social outbreaks. Not from the point of view of individual greed from the part of the bourgeoisie alone, but from a class perspective relative to their sociopolitical culture and world vision. For the bourgeoisie its survival and continuation as a class is equal to the survival and continuation of civilization. And so international capital takes the responsibility to play the role the politically incapacitated domestic bourgeoisie, cannot on its own. Through this process it lends economic and political might which itself absorbs from other sections of the European and international proletariat. With this injection of power the domestic bourgeoisie can galvanize the State’s machinery to its cause.

Having been forced to abandon its ties to the working class, by breaking the alliance with union bureaucracies and forced to turn against the lower levels of its own class, the petty bourgeois leadership of PASOK now only representing a weakened political entity and the upper levels of the middle class has no choice but to align with international bourgeoisie and through them with the domestic political expression of international capital. Again not for the sake of its survival as a political force in Greek society simply for egotistic reasons but through the notion that its survival keeps the escalation of the class struggle at bay and belief of self-importance.

In this period of isolation the bureaucratic leaderships of the general associations of Greek trade unions act in the manner they are used to. They organize marches along with one or two-day general strikes in an attempt to show that they still are a force to be reckoned with. An uncoordinated and clownish show of strength, directed both towards the political establishment as well as the lower levels in the structure of organized labor. This time however not only they sit alone at the negotiations table but they march alone. It used be easy. With PASOK in power a small general strike would force the government to make some concessions for them to save face. In a period where New Democracy the traditional party of the bourgeois was in power, an escalation of the struggle would simply tilt the power back to PASOK through the safe political route of the electoral system.

An escalation of the struggle today however, even if such a thing was in their power to do so, would pose immediately the question of power in historic proportions since there is no safety net in which the momentum of such a movement can fall and safely diminish. Not only they cannot address the implications of such a question but because of the nature of their petty bourgeois position in society, they do not wish to engage such a political endeavor, thus secretly wishing for the restoration of the old status quo, returning them the key position in bourgeois society as the moderators and god fathers of organized labor.

Through this process of political and social liquidation a new party came to the foreground of bourgeois politics. SYRIZA from being a minor political collaboration of sectarian socialist groups and splits from the Greek communist party, became in a small period of time the stage in a which a new alliance took place. This time it was the lower levels of the middle class hit hard by the new economic conditions joining with sections of the working class organized and unorganized, in a new petty bourgeois alliance. The political cacophony that ensued from its walls represented the weakness and inability of this newly emerging petty bourgeois political entity, to consolidate into one cohesive political voice the different social elements operating and existing within. But what was clear from the start was its petty bourgeois orientation and character. Marx in his analysis of the Montagne party during the revolutionary period of 1848 in France wrote the following:

“Nor should one imagine that the democratic representatives are all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter in practice.”

Similarly in SYRIZA one would find elements from different parts of Greek economic life and social stature. From the taxi driver, to the skilled worker. From the shopkeeper to the union leader and from the immigrant worker to the school teacher and university professor. From the start regardless of its superficial radicalism, the program of SYRIZA was always confined to the material needs of the petty bourgeois. Its aim has always been the restoration of reformism and re-balancing of the social powers currently in motion, always through the democratic means available by the bourgeois State. In this they are no different to the upper level of the petty bourgeois represented politically by PASOK and its small political brother DIMAR. Where they differ is the orientation of their political notion rather than its aim. Meaning that being of the same class they both believe in the restoration of the political prominence of reformism not only for the realization of their material needs but through that once again the saving of society from the danger of escalation of the class struggle. Thus they both portray themselves nationally and internationally as the voice of reason and stabilizers of bourgeois democracy.

Yet the events that unfolded following the strike action of the underground workers and seafarers illustrated in the clearest ways the weak nature of this petty bourgeois alliance. The workers stood alone to the wrath of the State and their political representatives stood aside, exposing their true nature. For the leadership of this newly found petty bourgeois alliance, the events were tragic in that it was a clear example of the danger the current government puts Greek society from adopting a position that exposes undoubtedly the existence of a class war. For them the issue is not the fact that class war indeed exists, but that it has become exposed, by the current administrators of the Greek State. The material interests of workers as individuals to that of their class as a whole differ profoundly in that the former can be addressed temporarily by petty bourgeois reformism, whereas the latter, its freedom from capital, cannot. On the contrary, there is no difference between the material interests of the petty bourgeois as individual to that of the petty bourgeoisie as a class, since both are expressed by the placement of reformism in the heart of the bourgeois State.

In that sense the leadership of SYRIZA is no different to the leadership of PASOK as they both believe in their self-importance as the political element that keeps Greek society away from the further exposure and subsequently eruption of class struggle. Thus what has taken place in relation to the current weakening of PASOK and the emergence of SYRIZA and DIMARis a split in petty bourgeois terms and not in working class terms. As a large part of the middle class feeling hard done by the crisis has moved closer to the working class in an effort to rally the workers behind its own banners with the promise of some concessions, another section of the middle class, more attached to the State and the establishment, has aligned with the bourgeoisie strongly believing that at some point they will be generously rewarded for their loyalty. Yet the depth of the current crisis and the assault of capital will push forward with accelerating speed the further liquidation of the political scenery. Soon the leaderships of PASOK and DIMAR will start feeling uncertain about the forthcoming of this reward, realizing they are up to win less and loose more. They will clumsily try to disassociate themselves at any opportune moment and try to reemerge as the only possible proposition of petty bourgeois reformism. This process has already begun and ironically the finishing touches will be given firstly by the Union bureaucracies who long for the old relationship and lastly by SYRIZA itself.

The present alliance is weak. Its leadership finds itself unable to stand on its own two feet, as it can no longer muster any further support from bellow. And so it starts altering its program shedding its initial radicalism as it becomes obvious that such a program cannot be delivered in the present context of bourgeois democracy. In its effort to find somewhere to lean on, the leadership moves ever closer to their big brothers in PASOK, and while bureaucratically they may never become united, they have nevertheless initiated the process of transferring over the political allegiance of the working class back to a greater petty bourgeois alliance in the shape of a politically refurbished PASOK. En route to this, socialist sectarians will abandon SYRIZA and the project for a new workers party in Greece, proclaiming the leadership to being traitors of the class struggle and the scheme as a failure, not before however, their adventurism, has spent great amounts of the little energy the movement has, and disoriented politically active workers further.

Inasmuch, for the socialist sectarians the quest for a workers’ party continues its journey in time. Its completion seems as elusive as it was for the crusaders the finding of the Holy Grail. The reason that particular quote from Marx was chosen for this article is that it bares one of the earliest observations, made from a class perspective, in relation to the emergence of A social democratic party. From their beginnings, workers parties were always in their essence petty bourgeois alliances. At times, and in different nations, petty bourgeois ideology was represented by the dominance of the middle class, and at other times by the aristocracy of the working class and union bureaucracies. The unconditional support of those parties for the workers’ struggle has always been conditional to the struggle being conformed to the needs of bourgeois democracy in the first place, and to be submissive to the rule of the party and thus injecting in the consciousness of the worker the notion of bureaucratic hegemony.

The historic task that the Greek working class faces today is not the establishment of a workers’ party in the sense that socialist sectarians are posing the issue, since such a development is beyond the historic material reality of the class struggle. On the other hand the development of a workers’ party in the sense of a petty bourgeois alliance is a natural historical development. Marxists need to realize this historic truth in order to be able expose to the working class the reality of adventurism behind any quest of a “true” workers’ party. The presence of the working class in such an alliance is inevitable on the one hand as the working class is born with a reformist consciousness, but at the same time, crucial, in becoming politically organized and educated. Within that process nevertheless the workers must be reminded that the revolutionary future of the class struggle depends on the ability of the working class to ultimately break from such an alliance not bureaucratically, but organically. Thus, the historic task of the working class is to build the revolutionary institutions that will allow it at a decisive point of the class struggle to break from reformism, divorce itself from bourgeois democracy making possible at the same time the revolutionary confrontation with the bourgeois State and subsequently, the State’s final abolition.

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