Greece day 3: The huge battle ahead

Because of a moratorium on any political activity the day before the election, yesterday was very quiet. Athens seemed to empty out somewhat as people went home to vote. However, the relative silence was punctured by sustained cheers and horn beeping when Greece beat Russia and progressed into the quarter finals of Euro 2012.

I want to use this blog to give some impressions of the other side of the struggle against the Troika and the memorandum – the massive social and workers’ struggles, and to explore the consequences of some of the possible outcomes from the election.

Since the introduction of the first memorandum of austerity, Greece has been convulsed by massive social struggles. In the past two years, it has seen 17 general strikes. It also saw the development of the ‘Squares’ movement, in parallel to the development of the indignados movement in Spain, but which had a greater connection and impact on the workers’ struggle. It is these movements that laid the basis for the smashing of the Troika parties electorally in last month’s election and for the meteoric rise of Syriza. At the rallies I have attended, Syriza speakers have explicitly connected themselves to these movements as representatives of them.

There are some struggles ongoing now, including the strike led by the KKE (Greek Communist Party) in the steel works in Athens, which I previously visited and wrote about on my previous trip to Greece. It has now been ongoing for around 200 days. In recent days, a court ruled that the strike was illegal. Scandalously, a prominent Syriza representative declared that although the strike was heroic, the law was the law and the strike should now end. That is not the Syriza position, however.

The movement to boycott the payment of tolls on the road ebbed as a result of the sanctions the state was able to implement. The boycott of the household tax continues however, although the levels of non-payment are significantly lower than the 50% we have in Ireland, because the bill was linked to the electricity bill and they threatened to cut off electricity from those who didn’t pay. This was defeated in the courts and now the government plans to shift collection to Revenue, a possibility for the property tax in Ireland that has been mooted by the government.

Right now, although there are some isolated struggles, things are relatively quiet on that front. Exhaustion flowed from the repeated general strikes and with the number of working poor, the choice to strike and lose another day’s pay in the absence of a strategy to win, is not an easy one to make. The attention and hopes of activists and workers have therefore very much focused on today’s elections.

However, make no mistake that post-election is likely to see an upsurge of extra-parliamentary struggle. The lessons of the general strikes and the inspiring ‘Squares’ movement, which gave a glimpse of the power of people to self-organise, will not have been lost.

If Syriza wins and a left government is formed that refuses to implement austerity, an intense battle will be waged by the capitalist class here together with the capitalist classes across Europe to bring it down. The possibility of a military coup is present in such a situation.

In order to push the struggle forward, ensure that austerity is not implemented and that socialist policies are implemented, massive movement from below will be necessary. New general strikes against any threat of the right coming to power may be needed. In addition, the organisation of the ‘Squares’ movement will have to be repeated on a higher level to give a basis for independent organisation of working people to push the struggle forward.

Concretely, the sister party of the Socialist Party in Greece, Xekinima, has called for the urgent forming of local assemblies in the workplaces, universities, neighbourhoods and community organisations, together with a national assembly of rank and file delegates from all of these sectors together with delegates from the left parties and trade unions. One of the many relevant lessons from the Allende government experience in Chile in the 1970s is that socialism cannot be ‘granted’ by a parliamentary majority, it needs the struggle and organisation of the working class to take power out of the hands of the capitalist class and into the hands of democratic assemblies and councils.
In the event of a right victory, such struggle in the streets and workplaces against austerity will be just as needed and will probably be more widely understood, although there may be a level of demoralisation. It should be noted that the reports of the private polls in the last day now consistently put New Democracy a few points ahead of Syriza, so a ND victory is a real possibility.

However, even in the event that they do win and can cobble together a right government, the problems for Greek capitalism are far from over. They will be unable to implement the level of austerity demanded by Merkel and co and despite their promises of stability, I believe Greece will be forced out of the euro. Such a government would be inherently very weak and would face a strong left and workers’ opposition in the parliament and on the streets.

In such a situation, the task for the left would be to organise to resist the imposition of yet more austerity and to prepare to bring the government down with struggle from below. That would also provide an opportunity for Syriza to turn itself into a party with full rights for tendencies within it but allowing individual members to join. A very significant debate within Syriza and the left would probably ensue about a programme for power.

The third possibility from the elections is an inability once more for any party to form a government. This prospect has the markets and world leaders particularly worried according to the Financial Times. If the bailout parties and possibly Democratic Left (a right split from the biggest group in Syriza) have enough MPs to form a government, presumably massive pressure will be exerted on them to do so by European leaders, together with perhaps some minor concessions on the memorandum so that they pretend to have changed something. If neither left nor right can form a government, pressure may come on Syriza again to join a ‘national government’, something which it has already rejected and must continue to be. Either way, Greek people must prepare for a new round of struggle.

Polls are open today (Sunday) from 7am to 7pm local time. Exit polls will be released shortly afterwards, around 7.30pm, which should give an accurate picture of the results. I will be tweeting (@paulmurphymep) as they come in and will write a blog tomorrow giving an initial assessment of the results and the attitude of the left here to them.