Enough Defeats! Workers Need a Program for Victory!
The following article is translated from O Bolsevikos (No. 7, December 2022), published by our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece.
The imperialists, along with the Greek ruling class, have ransacked the country. Ever greater imperialist enslavement is paid for with the blood of working people: privatization of ports and shipyards, factory closures; attacks on unions, on health care, on education and on union rights. Inflation is increasing the cost of basic goods and electricity. One crisis follows another: the crisis which began more than ten years ago; Germany’s overturn of the result of the 2015 referendum on European Union (EU) austerity; Syriza’s sellout to the EU and the banks; the government’s disastrous policies in the pandemic and in the Ukraine war; the current crisis. The masses have been impoverished, the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie ruined. Their immediate needs on every question collide with the basic pillar of the capitalist system: private ownership of the means of production.
Struggle now is urgently needed to meet the needs of working people and to link that with the fight to liberate the country from imperialist subjugation and establish a workers government. The workers must take power into their hands, sweep away all the useless parasites and run the country from top to bottom. With the working class in charge and the profit motive cut out, the scourges of price gouging, unemployment and expensive housing can all be rapidly eliminated.
But why is it that—in a country where socialism is part of the everyday vocabulary of the whole left, where there is a mass Communist Party (KKE) and a proletariat that has fought like no other in Europe—not only has there not been a seizure of power but living conditions have gotten worse? This brings us to the nub of the problem. There is a gigantic gulf between what the toilers need and the political solutions provided by the leadership of the KKE, as well as of the trade unions and the left.
What Is To Be Done?
We need low-cost heating, free quality health care and education for all, jobs, decent pensions and wages. We just had a “general” strike on November 9. The strike showed two things: workers want to fight, and the strike did not end in victory. Why? Workers deserve an answer. Trade-union organizations GSEE, ADEDY and PAME called workers out on strike with important demands to benefit the lives of the working masses. What were some of those basic demands and what were the tasks posed for the proletariat? Was it in fact a general strike?
The KKE calls for “rent subsidy for workers’-people’s households, students and small businesses, broadening the criteria for inclusion and an increase in the subsidy,” “no worker’s or people’s home without electricity, water or telephone,” “collective agreements and wage increases based on the increase in inflation” and “stable jobs with rights; no to unpaid overtime” (Panergatiki No. 15, September 2022). We agree. But what did the KKE/PAME leaders do to prepare the general strike to win those demands? The workers’ basic necessities cannot be won with routine trade-union methods, a symbolic 24-hour strike that was essentially a parade and then back to work. Greece provides an example of how numerous strikes have brought only minimal results.
What is needed is an offensive by the entire working class against the bosses in the form of a real general strike, i.e., a political strike, an organized struggle with the aim of forcing the enemy to retreat. That would be guaranteed to wrest the most concessions for working people right now as the crisis hits. When the working class shuts down factories, transport, ports, etc., it paralyzes not only production but also the government, posing the question of who is in charge in the workplace and the country: the workers or the bosses. A general strike draws in all sectors in the country and mobilizes the oppressed layers of the petty bourgeoisie along with the majority of the proletariat, actively counterposing them to the bourgeoisie and its state.
But although the need is great and conditions are ripe, no general offensive is being organized. Why? Because it’s a question of revolutionary program and leadership. A revolutionary program is a precondition even for the struggle for reforms. But the KKE’s program is as much an obstacle to that struggle as it is to the realization of a workers revolution. It is reformist on fundamental questions—on the state, on emancipation from imperialist enslavement, on common struggle of Greek and Turkish workers, etc. It is urgently necessary to replace the workers’ existing leadership with leaders whose program for the immediate betterment of the masses’ living conditions is an integral part of a broader strategy to bring the working class to power.
For the National Liberation of Greece
In a country raped by the imperialists, no fight to improve the masses’ living conditions is possible without a program to link that struggle to the fight against imperialist subjugation. The KKE’s program is an obstacle to that perspective since, for them, it is opportunist to recognize the fact that Greece is not imperialist but a country subjugated by imperialism. Accordingly, the struggle for national emancipation—which has to be at the center of the revolutionary program—is also opportunism, because it lets the local bourgeoisie off the hook. The KKE writes:
The KKE creates a false dilemma, counterposing the struggle against imperialist subjugation to the struggle to overthrow the national bourgeoisie. The revolutionary struggle to break the imperialist yoke does not weaken but rather strengthens the political differentiation of classes. The local bourgeoisie has a solid rear guard behind it in imperialism, which will always help it with money and arms against the workers. Everything the oppressed and exploited masses do to stand on their feet inevitably pushes the national bourgeoisie into an open bloc with the imperialists. To fight against imperialism, one must necessarily fight against the national bourgeoisie.
The KKE believes that the struggle against imperialist subjugation leads to conciliating the Greek bourgeoisie. This is indeed a danger in the absence of a revolutionary program against imperialism. That is what happened in the 1940s when the Stalinists formed a popular front in the name of fighting fascism, collaborating with the Greek bourgeoisie as well as with the “progressive” imperialists (British and American). (See “Greece 1940s: A Revolution Betrayed,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 64, Summer 2014.) Indeed, the program of class conciliation must be rejected, but the way to do that is not by refusing to fight against imperialist enslavement.
The KKE says that the struggle against the imperialists “shifts the class dividing line from inside the country to outside (to the ‘managers,’ to the IMF, to the Germans, etc.).” In other words…if the workers fight in the first place mainly against the IMF and the German bourgeoisie, that is opportunism. With this reasoning and the argument that “capitalism in Greece is in its imperialist stage of development, in an intermediate position in the international imperialist system,” they deny that the whole country is nationally oppressed by the imperialists. They disappear the dominant role of foreign finance capital in Greece as a subjugated country. Their argument rejects the struggle for national and class liberation. Let’s see how the struggle for basic needs is tied to the struggle against imperialism. The KKE calls for “canceling the debt of worker’s-people’s households and for professionals,” “abolition of the property tax on worker’s-people’s households” and “abolition of debts to banks and the tax office” (Panergatiki No. 15, September 2022).
We agree. But how will that happen and who will do it? A workers or a bourgeois government? The KKE doesn’t tell us, so we’ll answer for them. Can the debts be canceled without the expropriation of the banks by the proletariat? No. In order to cancel the debts we must violate the interests of the imperialists, the banks and the local ruling class, who have burdened the masses with an enormous national debt. It is the task of revolutionaries to fight to cancel the debts and expropriate the banks. Abolish business and banking secrecy—open the books! Banks in the hands of the workers will have no interest in paying the debt by means of which the imperialists have sucked the blood of the Greek people. Does that mean we need to take power? Yes. Only a revolutionary workers government fighting against all the oppressors can apply this program. However, this can only be realized by a revolutionary party which puts national and class emancipation at the center of its program.
The KKE also calls:
No objection. But how do we get from where we are today to using all the modern possibilities to satisfy working people’s needs so that these become “social property,” and how will the people be “at the helm of power”? That remains a mystery. Here we have two banks of a river but with no bridge to link them. The KKE walks on the path of social democracy, dividing its program into a minimum program limited to reforms in the framework of capitalism, as in the strike, and a maximum program of “scientific, centralized planning…with the toilers, the people, at the helm of power” relegated to a foggy, indeterminate future.
But why is there no bridge? The KKE is incapable of building a bridge between the necessary struggle now and the struggle for revolution because its program is opposed to the fight for national liberation. The KKE’s program leads to capitulation as much to the imperialists as to the national bourgeoisie, as was shown in 2015. It is important to draw the lessons of 2015 so that workers understand that the KKE’s mistakes were not simply theoretical but have terrible consequences in real life. Class-conscious workers must understand that the KKE’s program cannot be reformed and that the working class needs a new leadership.
The Lessons of 2015
In 2015, after years of brutal austerity when the proletariat was fighting tooth and nail, the country reached a turning point. To divert the anger and struggles of the masses into safer channels, Syriza, then the ruling party, tried to deceive workers that it could champion the struggle against imperialist subjugation. Indeed, there were many illusions that Syriza would get a better deal with the EU and that it would fight against the imperialists.
In 2015 Syriza held a referendum on EU-dictated austerity, hoping for a “yes” vote. That would have been the best outcome for Syriza and the EU, handing them a mandate to devastate the proletariat. For revolutionaries, opposition to imperialism is not simply a question of tactics but a question of principle. Our task was to expose the fact that Syriza was incapable of leading a fight against the imperialists and to show the masses that only a proletarian leadership can bring about their emancipation. The only revolutionary position on the referendum was “no,” with no support to the government. The KKE leadership criminally refused to take a position against the imperialists and called on workers to spoil their ballots, thus aiding the “yes” vote. The victory of the “no” vote was a loud and clear message that the imperialist parasites could go to hell, and it came about despite and against the KKE, which weakened the struggle against imperialism.
The referendum result showed that the masses were determined to fight. In the face of the result and massive protests, Syriza prime minister Alexis Tsipras turned white. His imperialist bosses said: “You have won, but Greece has lost.” The masses had been deceived before the referendum. But following the “no” vote, its overturning by Germany and Syriza’s sellout, the government was weakened and exposed. What was posed was an open confrontation with the imperialists and the local bourgeoisie.
The role of revolutionaries was to provide a revolutionary pole to transform the rage of the masses into a revolutionary situation. The working class had to be organized to fight. We said “ENOUGH!” and organized a campaign with precisely that perspective. We directed agitation toward unions and left organizations and fought to build workers action committees linking the struggle against imperialist subjugation with the overthrow of all the oppressors and the formation of a workers government. We did our duty while the KKE and the left literally went on holiday. They criminally refused to take up our call and to set the masses in struggle, bringing about an enormous defeat for the workers. The KKE leadership, with its dominant role in the workers movement, has the greatest responsibility. It clearly did not want to lead the workers in a struggle against the euro and the EU when it was posed concretely, thus rescuing the local capitalists at the same time.
To justify its position, the KKE claims to this day that voting down the austerity package drawn up by the Troika (IMF, EU and European Central Bank) was equivalent to an indirect vote for Syriza’s own austerity package and, by extension, support for its government. This position sounds orthodox in that it apparently opposes both the bourgeoisie and the imperialists. However, the Stalinists fall into ultraleftism. This arises from the KKE’s position that Greece is an imperialist country and leads to a betrayal of the struggle for national liberation. The KKE’s position that the fight against imperialist subjugation is counterposed to the fight against the national bourgeoisie leads inevitably, as shown in 2015, to capitulation to both the imperialists and the bourgeoisie. Break with the treacherous leadership of the KKE! For the reforging of the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution!
For Common Class Struggle of Turkish and Greek Workers!
It is important for the working class to understand that in every serious struggle it undertakes, the capitalists will attempt to divert such struggle by whipping up chauvinism against Turkey. For workers to be able to fight for their interests, it is essential to combat chauvinism with a program that will unite Greek and Turkish working people.
The war in Ukraine has exacerbated tensions between the Greek and Turkish bourgeoisies, who fight over who will get a bigger slice of the pie, from natural gas to competing claims on the islands. Constant threats from both sides are daily news. The goals of both bourgeoisies are reactionary. Using national unity, they set workers against each other in order to advance their own interests. For the working class of each country, it is criminal to take the side of one of the two capitalist classes.
The imperialists turn one country against the other in order to ensure their dominance in the region. Greece and Turkey are both brutally oppressed by the imperialists, against whom the workers have a common interest in fighting. The only way for workers to satisfy their needs for cheap gas, electricity, etc. is to seize natural resources from the claws of the oppressors through class unity against both the imperialists and their own bourgeoisies. The revolutionary unity of Turkish and Greek workers would be an enormous blow against imperialist domination in the region and would also advance the struggle for revolution in the imperialist centers. This can only happen with a program for proletarian power.
The greatest obstacle to this perspective is the KKE, which imbues the proletariat with anti-Turkish chauvinism, chaining it to the national bourgeoisie and deceiving it as to who its real enemy is. The KKE writes that national unity is a trap and that the workers and the bourgeoisie have opposing interests. Indeed! But let’s look at what the KKE’s real position is. For many years they have moaned that successive Greek governments have accepted the framework of “co-dominance” (joint control) with Turkey and that:
Expansion of territorial waters and exploitation of energy sources by the Greek capitalists at the expense of Turkey is against the interests of the working class. The KKE openly upholds the aims of the Greek bourgeoisie against Turkey regarding exploitation of natural resources in the Aegean and the southeast Mediterranean. In its efforts to further advance the interests of the Greek capitalists, it criticizes various governments for not sufficiently defending Greece’s territorial and sovereign rights against Turkey. All of its left rhetoric against national unity is exposed as a lie and is used to cover its support to the ruling class. The only ones who are going to exploit the hydrocarbons are the imperialists, against both countries. In addition, the KKE’s defense of the international law of the sea—a law of the imperialists—is criminal. It means defending the imperialist status quo in the region.
The KKE rails against New Democracy [ND, current ruling party]:
The KKE talks about “unacceptable claims of the Turkish bourgeoisie.” What about the claims of the Greek bourgeoisie? Are these not unacceptable? We Trotskyists have a straight answer: they are reactionary. In addition, the KKE’s opposition to NATO/EU is based on the imperialists supporting the aims of the Turkish bourgeoisie, i.e., they’re not on the side of Greece! While it’s true that the imperialists threaten the national sovereignty of Greece, the KKE’s opposition to NATO/EU is not based on the fact that they rape the country but rather that they weaken the Greek bourgeoisie’s position against Turkey. And of course the Stalinists refuse to recognize that Turkey’s national sovereignty is also sacrificed under imperialism.
The KKE uses the masses’ powerful anti-imperialist sentiment, their yearning for peace and a better life, and exploits their just hatred of the humiliation imposed by the imperialists for decades—all in order to divert their anger toward Turkey. The KKE’s appeals that the imperialists represent a threat to sovereignty, its calls to close NATO bases and for Greece to exit NATO are used as a working-class cover for its cowardly call on the Greek bourgeoisie to adopt the KKE’s program as a better defense of Greek capitalism against Turkey, outside of the imperialist NATO/EU alliances. The KKE pushes an alternative policy for the Greek capitalists that would better serve their interests.
The KKE divides the proletariat of both countries and thus impedes the struggle against imperialism. The workers of both countries need a leadership that instills class unity: Greek workers will not be emancipated if they do not fight the oppression of their class brothers in Turkey and vice versa. Down with the EU and NATO! Greece/Turkey out of NATO! Close all imperialist bases in Greece, Turkey and the Balkans! Out of the EU/euro! For the Soviet United States of Europe, united on a voluntary basis!
State and Revolution: Leninism vs. Stalinism
For the workers to win substantive reforms, they will need to confront the capitalist state. The ruling class will give nothing to the toilers unless it fears that it’s in danger of losing everything. In a general strike the bourgeoisie and its state will strike back, mobilizing strikebreakers, police, fascists, even the army. The workers must be able to defend themselves. The KKE is an obstacle to that because its program is based on collaboration with the state; it administers the bourgeois state in the city of Patra and supports the police. In a Rizospastis article headlined, “The Police Should Support the KKE, Which Is Their Most Valuable Supporter in Their Struggle” (16-17 March 2019), they boast that a cop said:
We cannot imagine Lenin mobilizing the working class in defense of the cops’ “just” demands. Supporting their “struggle” means supporting better salaries, better weaponry for more effective repression of the workers movement. The KKE deceives the people with the lie that the cops are part of the workers movement and that they should fight together against capitalism. They present the police—who are the core of the state along with the army and the courts—not as the instrument of oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie but as a force which can be used in the interests of the toilers against the “anti-people policy.” This is the very definition of class collaboration! “Our slogan must be: arming of the proletariat to defeat, expropriate and disarm the bourgeoisie” (Lenin, “The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution,” September 1916 [emphasis ours]).
For Marxists it is clear that reforms cannot be won in collaboration with the police. Cops, security guards, prison guards out of the unions, the workers movement and the KKE! As Lenin said, “They Have Forgotten the Main Thing” (May 1917):
The KKE also runs the state in Patra! And it does so in the only way it can be done: applying the state’s repressive apparatus on a local level, using it against the workers. Just like Syriza, ND and other mayors, the KKE mayor organizes the municipal police, hires and fires municipal employees, devises urban planning at the behest of capitalist investors, etc. Let’s also not forget that they imposed the lockdowns, suppressing and locking up thousands at home, implementing remote work, burdening women with an additional load at home, etc. Patra’s KKE mayor Peletidis plays an even more pernicious role than mayors from bourgeois parties, sowing illusions that under a “communist” mayor the state can be reformed and can act to benefit the workers. Not only will everything stay as it is—private property, bourgeois democracy and the accompanying misery and high cost of living—but running the capitalist state even on a local level means defending all of this.
In regard to the November 9 strike, Peletidis said, “Together with the people we will not sacrifice our future; we will fight together, we will struggle, we will overthrow them” (“Decisive Message of Escalation in 9 November Strike,” 902.gr, 18 October 2022). How will that come to pass when the KKE itself constitutes a part of the capitalist state? The KKE has its feet on two boats. On the one hand it mobilizes the workers; on the other it runs Patra, doing the dirty work of the central power. The fact that the KKE runs Patra demonstrates its program for “people’s power” in practice. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
The KKE can answer us that Peletidis enacts measures for the working people and the poor in Patra. While we are for whatever improves workers’ lives, this is still in the realm of “social policy”: not only does it not call the capitalist system into question but, on the contrary, it reinforces the idea that we can have a more humane capitalism. Lenin denounced the petty-bourgeois opportunism of “municipal socialism,” saying that “if the bourgeoisie allows, tolerates ‘municipal socialism,’ it is because the latter does not touch the foundations of its rule…the important sources of its wealth,” and that “they forget that so long as the bourgeoisie rules as a class it cannot allow any encroachments…upon the real foundations of its rule” (“The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907,” December 1907). In opposition to the KKE’s hoax that the state can be reformed, the working people must be conscious that they cannot take over the existing state apparatus and wield it in their interests. It is necessary to smash the capitalist state and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the fundamental dividing line between reform and revolution.
The KKE’s reformist program is at the heart of why general strikes are carried out in the form of parades. The lesson is that even the struggle for reforms has to be part of a revolutionary program with the goal of a workers government under a revolutionary leadership.
We need a real general strike which will fight for:
Decent homes for all through expropriation of the church’s property and the luxury homes of the ruling class! Take back the homes stolen by the banks!
Division of existing work among all available hands with no loss in pay! Decent wages and pensions for all pegged to the cost of living!
Expropriation of the strategic branches of the economy without compensation: ports, shipyards, rail, transport, maritime industry, the electricity supplier DEI!
Common struggle of Greek, Turkish, German and other workers against the EU/NATO imperialists!
For industrialization of the country to create additional jobs!
For a free, quality health care system for all!
For workers’ control of food distribution and prices!
Cancel the debt! Down with the EU and the euro!
For the national liberation of Greece through socialist revolution!
Fight with us to forge a party that Lenin and Trotsky would be proud of.