World Politics

Report from Greece

Report from Greece
Andreas Kloke

The general strike and the siege of Parliament in Athens

A few days before June 15 it was announced that  the government had postponed the vote on the "Midterm Program" (the Memorandum No. 2) until June 28. The protesters decided, therefore, to  perform a "dress rehearsal" on June 15 at Syntagma Square, calling for a first attempt to seal off the Parliament.

Early in the morning protesters began to assemble at the three points around the Greek Parliament 
that had been agreed in advance: tens of thousands of them at Syntagma Square, a few hundreds at the "Evangelismos" metro station, and a larger number along the streets close to the "Panathinaikos Stadium." But a large portion of the 12,000 police officers deployed for the day were also mobilized there, to keep the entrance to parliament open from this direction. Although the number of protesters increased steadily 
throughout the morning, in this area the police started making arrests quite early. Due to the massive police presence, the goal that had been set­sealing off the parliament from all sides­could not be realized. As a result of the general strike, demonstrators from three separate political union departments started marching from other locations in the city: the Aris-Field, the National Museum, and Omonia Square. The first contingent was that of the associations of GSEE (General Federation of the Greek Workers) / ADEDY 
(Trade Union Federation of the Civil Servants), the second one that of the rank and file organizations of the radical left within the unions which distinguish themselves from the PASOK bureaucracy, and the third, as usual, that of PAME (Pan-Hellenic Workers’ Front), a formation controlled by KKE (Communist Party of Greece). All three contingents were quitelarge, which was a bit of a surprise since this was the first time in years that the GSEE / ADEDY had been able to mobilize significant numbers. The marches headed for Syntagma Square, the PAME contingent, however, took up a position some distance away and, as always, separate from all the other demonstrators.

In this way Syntagma Square and the streets around it filled with more than one hundred 
thousand people. In all other major cities massive protest marches and actions also took place. It was, perhaps, the largest, but in any case the most important day of protest in recent years. As a report by the Eleftherotypia notes, after 11 o’clock "currents of anger flooded the center of Athens." The actions proceeded completely peacefully on the part of the protesters until about one o’clock. But then, 
according to the same report, "the riot police (MAT), in wonderful collaboration with a few hundred troublemakers, managed to dissolve the largest part of the protest at Syntagma Square for the time being­by violent clashes, riots, and the indiscriminate use of tear gas." It is secondary whether the violent incidents were initiated by entirely misguided black bloc members or by paid police agents. The result is the same in either case. The police had found their pretext for gassing Syntagma Square and driving the protesters away, step by step. The first contingent which disintegrated and disappeared from the scene when the initial explosive sounds were heard, was that of PAME.

The police tactics, however, were not limited only to intimidation and selective­often brutal and indiscriminate­arrests and detentions, which totalled 40 during the day. It was actually impossible to breathe in the area without gas masks. Over the years, tens of thousands of people have been prevented from taking part in demonstrations using such methods. Thus it seemed, as usual, that the tactics of the 
government and police were successful. The evacuation of Syntagma Square appeared to be 
achieved simultaneously when the tents of the permanent occupiers were destroyed. But this time 
things turned out differently. After the first smoke had cleared later in the afternoon the protesters returned by the tens of thousands, cleared the square of the chemical cartridges and the scattered wreckage, and celebrating the recapture with a spontaneously organized concert attended by many famous musicians. Overall, the resistance movement had achieved a symbolic, but psychologically important, victory. Thus it 
became clear that the dispute goes to the next round, until the "Midterm Program" will be voted on June28.

A head of government temporarily confused

June 15 was not a good day for the government or for supporters and advocates of the Memorandum 
policy. The day before, one deputy left the PASOK faction in protest against what the government was doing. The majority of the ruling party now begins to shrink dangerously. Moreover, life has become uncomfortable for the parliamentarians because none of them can appear in public without provoking angry reactions, possibly even physical attacks. It was astonishing to see Prime Minister G. Papandreou suffer some sort of panic attack. Apparently he was under the spell of the protests and the difficult situation in the ranks of the PASOK deputies­not to mention his inevitable realization that the policy of the Memorandum, which he has followed for 18 months, has failed completely. This is true even in the sense of the official targets set at the beginning. Greece is not only being socially and economically ruined (and to a certain degree this has already happened) but the debt problem itself has proven to be unsolvable.

PASOK came to power in the 2009 elections with the slogans "There's plenty of money" and "For a 
green development model." This was exposed, just weeks after the election victory, as a complete 
fraud. In reality, even before the elections, in the summer of 2009, the leaders of the then 
reigning "New Democracy," but also of PASOK, conducted negotiations on modalities of the 
Memorandum, announced in early 2010, with EU leaders and the IMF. The election campaign was 
obviously set up with the goal of bringing PASOK to power. Only the union bureaucrats of PASOK had 
sufficient hold over the labor movement that they might be able to keep the expected reactions and 
strikes in check, channelling them in a safe manner. ND was involved in numerous scandals and 
was discredited in the eyes of the vast majority of the population­even if it was not yet known that during its reign (2004-09), the country had already been thrown into the financial abyss and was, apparently, ruined irretrievably. While it hould be noted that the policy of the previous PASOK governments under Simitis (1996-2004), and especially the open outbreak of the global capitalist crisis of 2007-8, were already causing the situation to deteriorate, there is no doubt that the economic balance of the years of the ND 
government was a literal disaster.

By early in the afternoon of June 15 Papandreou had come to the conclusion that he could not 
continue as in the past and called Samaras, the current chairman of ND. He offered him a coalition government of the two (so far) major parties, with a suitable candidate to be prime minister. This meant that he himself would resign. Samaras immediately accepted this offer. There was no shortage of dramatic pronouncements, calling for a "necessary national consensus," describing the crisis as an "extremely difficult situation in which all responsible democratic forces must stand together," a "time for new 
beginnings that cut across party boundaries," etc. Karatzaferis, the chairman of the extreme 
right-wing LAOS party along with ND-renegade D. Bakoyianni readily expressed similar views. Of 
course, it would be honorable if a head of government would acknowledge the failure of his policy, resign, and call for elections. But the solution proposed by Papandreou was completely incomprehensible. He opted for a coalition government of the two politically bankrupt parties which have not only proven  their inability in practice to lead the country out of the crisis, but have consistently pushed it deeper toward disaster. It is clear, therefore, that such a coalition government can have no positive result for the Greek people, especially since the policy of the Memorandum will continue to be applied in the future.

The political farce came to a temporary halt when Papandreou changed his mind the same evening and 
issued a statement announcing a new cabinet, implemented on June 17 by the swearing in of the 
new ministers. The main result was that former Minister of Finance, G. Papakonstantinou, previously "the most hated man in Greece", was appointed Environment Minister (!) and the former defense minister and former rival of Papandreou for the PASOK party leadership, V. Venizelos, took over the open seat as the minister of Finance. It is not difficult to predict that this government will have a very short term in office. 
Most likely there will be elections this year and they could lead to a coalition government of PASOK and ND. In no case will the current policy change in any significant respect. Olli Rehn, of the EU Commission, has already stated that Greece will receive the next installment of € 12 billion, if the "Midterm Program" is adopted by the parliament in Athens, while Sarkozy and Merkel appear to have agreed to the same terms. 
The real and open question remains: How will the current Greek government, and all future governments, be able to govern contrary to the clear will of the majority of the population . . .

The Left and the social resistance

But the resistance against the policy of the Memorandum, in spite of its recent and promising successes, is also confronted with major problems. Above all, the workers' movement, despite the frequent general strikes, is and remains far too weak and divided to overthrow the policy of the government. That might change in a relatively short time, and the movement to occupy public spaces can make a substantial 
contribution. The biggest stumbling block, however, is the uninspired and weak attitude of the leaderships of the two leftist parties represented in Parliament: KKE and Synaspismos (SYN)/SYRIZA. Although each is hostile to the other ­ a situation for which the KKE leadership bears the primary responsibility ­ both call for 
immediate new elections. In fact, it's no coincidence that the one-hundred-percent legalistic orientation of these two parties, devoted entirely to bourgeois parliamentarism, can be summarized in this demand. It is their strategic perspective to speculate on the possible success in elections and to hope to be able someday to participate in government coalitions that could be presented in some way as "leftist".

The KKE leadership usually conceals its deeply reformist line with left-sounding phrases. Party 
chairman Papariga said on June 16 that elections could cause “cracks in the reactionary and 
bourgeois political system," leading to a "weak government." At the same time she defamed the 
movement of occupying public spaces in the party’s well-known manner, asserting that it was 
"no real movement," because "not just the socially disadvantaged," but also others were 
occupying the squares­e.g. members of NGO's or persons who might collaborate with the PASOK 
leadership by proposing incorrect alternatives that would serve to perpetuate the existing order.

The SYN leadership, on the other hand, considers the movement of occupation as a sort of auxiliary 
force that could fight for the "democratic, social and political rights and the termination of the current policies," thereby playing the role of a "catalyst." The SYN leadership insists, however, that "a response to the movement can be given by forming a new government with a new majority, including the forces of the Left at their core, so that the country may be exempted from the Memorandum." (All quotations are from 
Eleftherotypia, June 17.) In other words, the goal is a future left-wing government, along with some forces that would currently turn away from PASOK and also, ultimately, KKE (which will have to make a political turn under the pressure of developments). All this is presented in the context of parliamentary democracy, at a time when ever wider layers are losing their illusions in bourgeois parliamentarism. This is expressed 
excellently in the decisions of the public meetings of Syntagma square and many other places around Greece.

In reality, it is of crucial importance to use the recovery of the protest movement and the general strike of June 15 in order to broaden and deepen social resistance. A one-day general strike is not enough. In the days before June 28 there should be a call for a longer general strike. The anti-capitalist and revolutionary left and the rank and file alliance of trade unions could play an important role in promoting this task.

The decision of the People's Assembly of Syntagma Square from June 15 aptly states: "We will stay 
in the squares until all those responsible for the current impasse disappear and do not return 
with others representing the same forces: IMF, Memoranda, Troika, governments, banks, and all of 
those who exploit us. The Midterm Program will not pass no matter who is in power. The maneuvers 
of the political system and the government cannot deceive us. We conduct no negotiations. A vote of 
confidence in the government means consent to the Memorandum and the Midterm Program. On the eve of 
the vote of confidence in the government the People's Assembly of Syntagma Square calls upon 
every single individual union, all the local trade union federations and the trade unions GSEE 
and ADEDY, to declare a general strike on the day this vote will take place, to seal off the 
Parliament with all working people and to demand the overthrow of the government. We all have to 
participate on that day with the goal of bringing about their downfall. We call upon all unions to 
strike repeatedly. Every day at Syntagma Square, every evening in the mass meetings, and on 
Sunday, June 19, all must join together. Solidarity with those injured and arrested! We demand their immediate release!"

(Andreas Kloke, Athens, June 19, 2011)