Greek local elections highlight the crisis

November 18, 2010

The struggle against austerity in Greece has continued in the wake of general strikes by Greek workers which rocked Europe earlier this year.

Strikes and protests against the cuts are an almost daily event--from railway workers who staged a four-day strike in November, to temporary government and municipal workers taking action against firings, to small-scale occupations of government buildings and campuses across the country. Under mounting pressure from below, the private-sector General Confederation of Greek Workers has called for a general strike on December 15, with the public sector union ADEDY saying it will join them.

It is in this context that local elections recently occurred in the country. Marked by low voter turnout, including a record 10 percent of ballots left blank, the media has attempted to portray the social democratic party PASOK--which is pushing cuts--as a "winner" in the elections. But the upcoming actions of Greek workers will point to a different conclusion.

Here, Internationalist Workers Left (DEA by its initials in Greek), analyzes the recent elections.

THE RESULTS of the first round of the elections is a resounding slap to both parties of power-- the leadership of the ruling social democratic party, PASOK, and the conservative New Democracy (ND). The message was delivered mainly through record-high abstention that renders all electoral standards uncertain and all political systems of popular control vulnerable.

At the same time, the question of how to interpret the message of abstention is as controversial as ever. The leaders of PASOK and ND were left with the hope that in future political contests they will have better success "fishing" from the vast reservoir of abstention, which in the municipality of Athens reached as high as 60 percent.

Also, the message was sent by the high percentage won by the whole spectrum of left-wing parties from the Communist Party (KKE) to ANTARSYA (a coalition of revolutionary organizations whose acronym means "rebellion"). The left's vote exceeded 20 percent nationally while, in the region of Attica, the left achieved over 32 percent of the vote.

Greek protesters clash with police in Athens
Greek protesters clash with police in Athens

However, the fragmentation of the left has obscured the mandate that the people gave to the left for action and resistance as they fight to overturn the austerity program being implemented by the troika of the Greek government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

PASOK, WHICH is mainly responsible for the austerity policy, received the main blow. Within one year, PASOK lost over a million votes, having already lost the advantage of its sweeping victory in the elections of 2009.

The government of Prime Minister George Papandreou therefore comes out of the elections much weaker politically. And now, in the aftermath of this political setback, the government will have to take additional anti-labor measures as demanded by Jean-Claude Junker, a European Union official. PASOK must support the draconian 2011 budget even as the party tries to keep a stable government in the first months of 2011--an effort that is taking PASOK leaders' breath away.

With this perspective, it's no coincidence that there is mounting pressure on Papandreou to take political initiative to "organize consensus" aiming for "a national salvation" government, with or without recourse to national elections. It's also no coincidence that, despite the critical situation of PASOK, there is news of dissent among government ministers.

The reason is unease over the party's tactics towards the elections, especially Papandreou's extraordinary address to the people just days before the vote. In that speech, Papandreou dramatized the importance of the election results for his "national salvation" effort in order to try and limit the big PASOK losses projected at the polls.

Yet in the camp of the opposition conservative ND party, there is no reason for celebration. ND lost more than half a million votes in relation to the 2009 national election result, in which it already had suffered a crashing defeat, and a new negative record for the party of the right. ND leader Antonis Samaras demagogically opposed the austerity policy even while supporting all the anti-labor measures directed by it. Yet that wasn't sufficient for the recovery of ND.

Further political problems are piling up for ND. Former ND Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who led the party to defeat in the 2009 elections, stated that the austerity policy is " a necessary evil." That was a warning shot for the current leadership of ND, underlining the point that, for a bourgeois party, demagogy is limited by the need to support the system.

Some of the best news out of the elections was the ebbing of the electoral strength of the extreme right-wing party LAOS. Despite its racist propaganda against immigrants (facilitated by the positions of both PASOK and ND) and the blatant support of the mass media, LAOS was limited to 4.5 percent nationally (behind even the divided and crisis-bound left wing coalition SYRIZA).

The LAOS candidate for regional governor in the Attica region around Athens was limited to a 6.66 percent--way below expectations. There was, though, a negative result of LAOS' loss of votes: In the municipal elections in Athens, the candidate of the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party received 5.26 percent (9,700 votes).

This is an open challenge and a clear reminder to the whole of the left on the priority and seriousness we must give to the struggle against racism.

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THE CONDITIONS of crisis and collapse of the influence of both parties of power, meant that the local and regional elections presented a great political opportunity for the left. But as the record-level abstention shows, this did not happen. The left has failed to give the popular discontent its political color--to consolidate it into political power.

The fragmentation of the left is an obvious reason for this failure. These divisions are over the political line that should be taken by the left, and the responsibilities for the resulting electoral failures certainly are not shared equally.

The KKE is among the winners of the elections. Under the conditions of high abstention, its organizational stability proved valuable. Although its number of votes increased only slightly (in the region of Attica, it went from 200,192 in 2009 to 224,137, while nationally its total went up by 70,000 votes) it's overall percentage of the vote was pushed to 14.16 percent in Athens and an estimated 10.7 percent nationally.

Coupled with the problems of SYRIZA, this result puts the CP in a position with certain political dynamic. This, in turn, creates increased obligations for the CP leaders to take political initiatives to organize the broader popular resistance--obligations that are in contradiction to its current choice of organizing separately from the rest of the left.

For its part, the leadership of SYNASPISMOS (the reformist party within the SYRIZA coalition) comes out of the elections exposed. SYNASPISMOS leaders chose an alliance with a politically unclear social democratic group "semi-disengaged" from PASOK--a group that, on one hand, condemns austerity policies, but on the other does not differentiate from the whole social democratic strategy.

That strategy failed. The 6 percent that SYNASPISMOS received in the region of Attica didn't achieve a breakthrough over the numbers of the votes for the SYRIZA coalition in the past. Moreover, the total vote is way off the numbers that would indicate a certain "coming together" with a real current of social democracy. And it is far from the "candidacy for victory" in the Attica region that tempted the generals of SYNASPISMOS.

Essentially, the leadership of SYNASPISMOS tossed aside the SYRIZA coalition and even its own party for a great " alliance" that proved to be an empty shirt. Unfortunately for the leaders of SYNASPISMOS, the political problems are much more serious than the electoral ones. The party leaders' turn to an alliance with some social-democrats on the edge of PASOK, as well as their pursuit of an ecology/green current, are in violation of the decisions of the last congresses of SYNASPISMOS. At that congress, members voted to turn the party left and to strengthen SYRIZA.

In the coming weeks, the unity of SYNASPISMOS itself also will be decided. The left current of the party, (a recognized fraction of SYNASPISMOS that received 30 percent support in the last party congress) must decide if it's willing to follow the majority of the SYNASPISMOS leadership in this rightward jump on the air.

MEANWHILE, THE left wing of SYRIZA took part in the elections for governor of Attica by supporting the candidacy of Alekos Alavanos, the previous chairman of SYNASPISMOS and SYRIZA, who ran on the ballot of the Front of Solidarity and Overthrow.

Alavanos got 2.16 percent of the vote in Attica. It was a relatively new venture, with a limited organizational base and limited resources, and was unable to break through the exclusions by the corporate mass media and get in contact with a broader audience.

A few of the leaders of SYNASPISMOS blame the Front and Alavanos for an "extreme" (ultra-leftist) electoral campaign. We consider that to be exactly our contribution and our most important gain. We did succeed, for a brief period of time, in making a basic mass appeal on a radical political basis. We did so from the point of view that to face the crisis, we have no reason to shy away from "extreme" slogans and tactics.

Also successful was the campaign of the front of the revolutionary Left, ANTARSYA, which was reinforced by the crisis in SYRIZA. In the region of Attica, ANTARSYA received 2.2. percent, or about 32,100 votes, and nationally got about 1.7 percent of the vote. In comparison, in last regional elections the ballot, the Socialist Workers Party (SEK in Greek) and Greens received 20,000 votes each, and another Maoist candidate (KKE M-L), who did not take part this year, received another 20,000. SEK is now part of ANTARSYA.

The success of ANTARSYA is not so much electoral, but political: ANTARSYA, owing to the percentage of votes it has received, has the potential and also the obligation to assume political initiatives.

The opinion of DEA remains the same: What is needed is the greatest possible unity in action for the left, an alignment on the tactics for escalating the class struggle and the development and consolidation of a program of transitional demands that will point to the socialist alternative--the solution to the barbarism of the crisis.

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