“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Feb 2, 2015
On January 25th, Syriza, the Coalition of Left political parties, won the Greek election. The following was an editorial in the January 30th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), published by the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union wanted to discourage Greek voters from voting for Syriza, claiming, “If Syriza wins, Greece will leave the euro, financial aid will stop and chaos will break out.” The blackmail failed. The Greek people weren’t impressed. By voting massively for the radical left, they rejected austerity and sacrifices. They can be proud of that.
Since 2009, the Greeks have seen their living conditions collapse. Unemployment has tripled; wages and pensions have been cut by 10, 20 and 30 percent. Thousands of small businesses have failed. The health system has basically been demolished. Thousands of public workers were laid off.
Except for some hundreds of families tied to the owners of big shipping companies and large capital in retail and construction, the entire population was hit. Engineers, management, workers and those in public employment have suffered layoffs, pay cuts and the withholding of the pay they earned. Their lives have been shattered since they couldn’t meet daily expenses.
Families have become used to living without electricity. Some get medical care at charities. Others eat in soup kitchens. Bailout plans gave the bankers the guarantees they wanted, but Greece was turned into a Third World country.
After five years of a descent into a living hell, the population isn’t resigned to sacrifice. This is a lesson for all of us and a good omen for the future.
Today, hopes are turned toward Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras. But is it enough to trust those who have climbed to power promising all kinds of good things? Definitely not!
We are well placed, here in France, to know that workers have paid a high price for such illusions. In the past, French workers had hopes in Socialist Party leaders Mitterrand, Jospin and Hollande. This gave rise to demoralization, depoliticization and the current success of far right-wing demagogues among working people.
In Greece, workers also have had bitter experience of this. In 2009, Papandreou, the leader of the Socialist Party, promised to “break with the dictatorship of financial markets.” Once in power, he saw to it that the bankers were paid on time, whatever it cost the workers.
History doesn’t repeat itself identically, but we have to guard ourselves from repeating past errors. Workers don’t need hope, but consciousness.
Tsipras promised to make the richest pay more, including the shipping company owners and the Orthodox church. He also promised to renegotiate the terms of debt with the Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union). When everyone admits that this debt can no longer be paid and that austerity treatments do more harm than good, maybe the creditors will loosen their grip. And with some ten billion euros, maybe Tsipras can ease the situation of the most helpless.
But this won’t let Greeks escape misery and unemployment. Neither in Greece nor elsewhere can jobs be created and wages and pensions increased – without questioning the capitalists’ profits.
In order to guarantee the public services of decent health care and education, the richest have to be forced to pay.
There can’t be a miracle. People can’t end austerity without pulling up its roots: exploitation, profit and the capitalists’ power. By setting as the only objective the fight against the abuses of certain rogue and criminal capitalists, Syriza pulls the working class into powerlessness.
In order to recover living conditions worthy of the 21st century, a merciless struggle will have to be led against the power of the bourgeoisie and the financiers.
To be victorious, this struggle must engage the collective force of the workers and their conscious action: for only they have the power to reorganize society in accord with the interests of the greatest number.
This isn’t Syriza’s objective, but it must be that of the Greek workers. They don’t have to wait for elections to put forward their demands. Several times they have shown their combativeness and their determination to fight for their living conditions. ALL that we can hope for them is that they continue.
If the elections allow an opinion to be expressed, they don’t permit a change in the relation of forces with the capitalists. For that, the only arms Greek and French workers have are those of the class struggle, mobilizations and strikes. It is there, and not with Syriza, that their future well-being will come.