Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Political Upheaval Looms Large in Greece

The Greek class war is being fought ever more openly
There is no doubt that Greece is on the verge of a dramatic political change, following years of banker-dictated austerity measures which have slashed living standards for all but the super-rich. But there is much doubt about exactly what will happen next. Are Greek workers about to storm heaven, or will they be crushed under fascist jackboots? I think there seem to be four main possibilities.

Nine days ago, Athens and other cities burned as vast multitudes of Greeks made their raging anger at the latest brutal austerity vote explicitly clear. In return for a further bailout of Greek banks - and therefore the banks of other nations which are owed money by the Greek finance houses - the parliament acceded to the demands of the so-called 'Troika', which includes the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. 'Technocrat' Prime Minister Lucas Papademos - the former banker who the Troika manoeuvred into power last autumn - was unsurprisingly keen to see his masters' bidding done. So were the parties of the coalition government - the nominally centre-left Social Democrats, centre-right New Democracy and the neo-fascist Popular Orthodox Rally. But there was dissent within the ranks of each - with many MPs doubtless looking to their future careers or even future safety on the streets. As a result, forty-three MPs were expelled from their parties.

All three coalition parties have seen their poll ratings plummet to almost nothing, and are unlikely to gain enough seats at the forthcoming elections to command any mandate. So whatever happens, Greece will find itself in a very new political situation. So this is where my four possibilities come in. Either:

1) Some combination of the fake left parties takes power
The coalition parties are currently polling at a combined 37%, with New Democracy leading due to the anti-austerity stance they held until then Social Democratic Prime Minister Papandreou called their bluff prior to his own removal. But the supposedly 'extreme left' parties - each of which mouth the phrases of revolutionary change and on paper oppose austerity - have a combined 47%. So if the elections were to be held tomorrow, there would be an 'extreme left' landslide.

All these 'extreme left' parties are deceiving the Greek working class when they pretend to represent their interests. Instead, they represent different layers of the very trade union bureaucracy which has conspired to manage worker rebellion so far. At the moment, they are torn between making a popular appeal against austerity, and satisfying the powers behind the throne - the bankers' Troika and the powerful Greek military. To preserve their own class privileges, these actors could only consider offering the Democratic Left, the Communist Party, the Coalition of the Radical Left and the Greens any political office if they accept 'the need' for the continued impoverishment of the masses. 

President Papoulias may play a pivotal role in the coming period
or 2) The Troika cancels the parliamentary elections
Of course, Greece is officially a sovereign nation, and can hold elections whenever it chooses. The history of recent months and years shows this is far from the reality. The bankers' palace coup that brought Papademos to power shows that 'the cradle of democracy' no longer has any claim to being a representative democracy, and the financial parasites of Europe and the USA will only allow an election if they feel it will be in their interests. Already - two months ahead of the polls - a spokesman for the German finance ministry is demanding "reliability beyond any election date." [emphasis added] In this scenario, the military would have to side with the Troika to enforce further agonising austerity attacks on the working class. 

or 3) The military cancels the elections and withdraws from the Euro
Greece had a military dictatorship in the not too distant past, and over the last few months the military have been flexing their muscles. A rare TV appearance by President Karolos Papoulias - during which he was flanked by military brass - poured scorn on the German, Dutch and Finnish governments. This display was partly a chauvinist diversion, but it also speaks of the direction in which sections of the Greek elites are moving - towards a policy of isolationalist self-sufficiency. With a Greek default looking possible next month, the military may be thinking of plotting such a move. But the economy would collapse even faster under this scenario than under the current debt spiral, and inflation would sky-rocket, making workers' pay packets nearly worthless.

Kilkis hospital is now under working class control
or 4) The working class seizes economic and political power for itself
As attacks on the working class have escalated since 2008, so too has the resistance. The trade union tops have largely managed to stifle it so far, but it seems the point of no return has come, and people are collectively deciding that enough is enough. Two weeks ago I blogged about a worker takeover of a hospital in Kilkis, and this week has brought news of longtime unpaid journalists starting their own newspaper - reporting from a working class perspective. These initiatives should be welcomed by all those who have the interests of Greek workers at heart, but this type of direct action needs to be expanded to the commanding heights of the entire Greek economy, and Greek workers need to set up their own organs of political representation - in opposition to the union fat cats, the government, the military and the bankers. If they are to achieve this, they will need practical solidarity from the international working class, as it too comes increasingly into direct struggle with their respective oppressors.
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