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Decoding the Battle of Syntagma Square as More Greek Austerity Bites

Infantile Disorder | 21.10.2011 17:48 | Analysis | Social Struggles | World

As yet more austerity measures pile on the agony for the Greek working class, a potentially revolutionary situation is developing. In this period, the real relationships of various political forces to the working class are ever more nakedly expressed. But still, they must be identified, if Greek workers are to go from being what Marx called a "class in itself" to a "class for itself", and organise society in their own interests. In this article, I will seek to explain the different battle lines and formations, as they were drawn yesterday.

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Greek 'Communists' defending representatives of international capital
Greek 'Communists' defending representatives of international capital

The past two days saw the biggest general strike and demonstrations yet against the Greek austerity measures, which continue to drive many into desperate poverty, destitution and even death. An estimated 500,000 took to the streets of Athens yesterday - which is the equivalent of 2.5 million in London. It was the largest show of Greek working class power since the fall of the military junta in 1974.

But so long as the profit system remains in place, true power remains in the hands of the ultra-wealthy international financiers. As the debt bubble reaches the point of bursting, there are divisions within this group. Some are more keen on bailing out the Greek state than others. In reality, the bailouts of the Greek state go straight to the banks invested in Greek government bonds, and these are far more French than German. Hence the reticence amongst sections of the German bourgeoisie for getting their chequebooks out once more. Other sections - represented by Chancellor Angel Merkel - believe that they must pay up, because a Greek default would end up with a 'contagion' that would ultimately affect German money too. And of course, the money would eventually be squeezed out of the German working class either way.

Despite the divisions, the combined will of the international financiers in represented by the so-called 'troika' - unelected European Commission bureaucrats, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. It is the troika which - because it pays the piper - also calls the tune in Greece, Portugal and Ireland, all of which have received bailout money since the initial financial collapse in 2008.

To a large extent, the politicians who meet in the Greek parliament are therefore the puppets of the troika, though they still try to maintain a facade of democracy by arguing a bit before they pass each round of austerity cuts. Yesterday, the formerly social democratic PASOK used their majority to force the new measures through, by a majority of thirteen, with one 'rebel' voting against. As Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament, no doubt echoing the warnings of troika representatives: "You have to approve the law, with all its clauses. This is not a game. If anybody thinks they can test how much wriggle-room we have, they’re mistaken."

Protecting the parliamentarians from the people they pretend to represent were fifteen thousand riot cops. But remarkably, supporters of the misnamed Communist Party of Greece formed their own battalion, protecting the police and the parliament from those they called "provocateurs" and even, bizarrely, "anarcho-fascists". They might as well have accused demonstrators of being meat-eating vegetarians, for all the sense that accusation made. While it is to be expected that the state employed some provocateurs, there can be no underestimating the fury with which impoverished Greeks view the PASOK government.

And yet - from the perspective of the trade union bureaucrats who form the base of that party - it makes a lot of sense. Though their website talks of the PASOK government enforcing the will of the "plutocracy" by "fire and sword", their worst fear is a working class movement that they cannot control, which organises on a rank and file basis, and will not accept sell-out after sell-out.

For the half a million members of the Greek working class facing the red line protecting the blue line protecting the parliament protecting the bankers, it must be increasingly clear that they were face to face with a class enemy. Late in the afternoon, groups of hooded and masked youths attacked those in red and blue with bricks and petrol bombs. Police responded - as had no doubt be planned well in advance - with unrestrained brutality.

Amongst all this, a fifty-three year old unemployed construction worker died of heart failure. Though he was in the Stalinist contingent, he clearly had nothing to gain from defending the police, and his death is a tragedy for which the Communist leadership and the forces behind them must bear full responsibility.

In the 'mainstream' of the demonstration, which was called by the PASOK-supporting GSEE and ADEDY union bureaucrats, there was growing anger at the posturing of union tops, and growing awareness of the need for international solidarity. WSWS quotes Nikos, a drugs prevention social worker, as declaring that "The workers want to fight, but the unions hold them back." He went on to say that "What is definitely important is that workers of all European countries work together and break with the old leaders. It is impossible to give capitalism a human face today. This is over. We need a society that is based on the needs of the people. If the workers are not able to give an answer to this, the right-wing forces could come to power and establish military rule again."

And indeed, the danger of military intervention in the Greek crisis looms large in the coming period. The Greek military is still very powerful, after reluctantly giving up political power not forty years ago. On 30th September, a breakaway from a wider military protest against attacks on their retirement arrangements stormed the Defence Ministry, shouting "down with the PASOK junta". If and when the army intervenes more forcefully, it will either be to force through troika diktats on behalf of PASOK, or in the event of a Greek default and withdrawal from the Euro, when no doubt 'patriotic' attacks on the working class would still be needed.

The whole of Greek society is now in turmoil. Aside from the events of the last two days, almost every day sees fresh strikes and occupations. In response, the PASOK government is mobilising the military to crush resistance by refuse workers. But perhaps in doing so, it is preparing its own demise, one way or another.

Most economists now talk of a Greek default - or at least a huge debt 'haircut' - being inevitable. When this happens, the shockwaves will be felt around the world. Sooner or later, the Greek situation is coming to a town near you, and when it does, the international working class will need to organise itself at a grassroots level, and face down the threat of brutal dictatorship.

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