What Happened to KKE in the Greek Elections: A Correspondence with Dimitris
May 10th 2012
The second part of your email (re Greek elections) was the most difficult one and this explains my short delay in responding to you. I have been thinking and writing a lot since the elections for the results and in particular the role of KKE. It has been a painful but important process for me, given that I have been a member of the party for all more than 15 years -and this is half my life!
I do think that the result clearly signifies a defeat for KKE. The paradox here is that overall it was a good result for the Greek people given that the two ruling parties have been smashed for the first time in decades (and no I don't think that the Nazi's demonstrate very significant gains- but this is another story). So when the people make a huge step forward, massively rejecting mainstream political parties but the communist party cannot demonstrate any visible gains, then there is something wrong with the Party- not the people.
The recent call of Papariga for new elections, so the people correct their vote and support KKE, is even more irrational. This arrogance shows that the party is not ready to accept its tactical failures, let alone re-considering its strategy. This divorce from important tools of historical materialism blinds the party and does not allow the current central committee to read the electoral results within the historical and political processes that lead to the current defeat.
In my opinion the main pitfall is that even though the Party correctly predicted the character of the EU and the forthcoming crisis already from the early 1990's (their precision was impressive), the strategy and work with the masses was not one of a revolutionary character.
What I mean is
a) The party accurately warned about the crisis and described it as a capitalist crisis related to accumulation of capital (not a crisis of debt neither a crisis caused by corruption) but failed to recognise that this was not "just one more capitalist crisis". As you witness in Samos, we currently experience the deepest and more intense crisis in the last 50 years. The financial recession was very soon transform to a humanitarian disaster. The majority of Greeks are either out of work or working without getting paid. This, combined with the total collapse of social and health services (unfortunately I have a first hand experience of this collapse) resulted in a struggle for physical survival. This humanitarian crisis and struggle for physical survival has escaped the attention of the party which stubbornly believes that the only arena for class struggle is the "workplace". This fixation with the "workplace" and the factories in particular (!) totally ignores the everyday struggles of the working class in the places they live, suffer, hope, struggle and die (especially now most of working class are out of employment). The "village", the "urban neighbourhood" and the "public spaces" have stopped being areas where the party directs its effort for class struggle. Consequently, KKE failed in organising grassroots campaigns offering solidarity and welfare support to the struggling working class people. They did not follow the successful example of EAM which had declared that survival of the people was the movement's first priority. After all, in order to organise a revolution, a necessary precondition is keeping the working class people alive! Even worse the party did not consider that creating such solidarity network involves a very important educative element and helps develop class conscience. The way some local community grassroots initiatives were boycotted or attacked by KKE, provides a clear example of detachment from reality (remember the "potato movement"). I am sad to say that most of the party members I speak with still refuse to recognise the humanitarian crisis as part of the broader crisis saying that "We have not seen people starving to death", having apparently in mind images from sub-saharan countries. How disappointing and ignorant! It is not a surprise that the lack of a welfare/ solidarity networks developed by the Party or the unions, has lead to the surrender of the people to bourgeois philanthropy, religious organisations and even the fascist gangs.
B) The second miscalculation of KKE is related to they way we should form alliances. The argument that we are always correct but the people are stupid, is elitist and far from marxist principles. The fact that the ruling parties saw their power being reduced from 85% of the electoral vote to 30%, and SYRIZA is now in a position to negotiate forming a government seems to me as a big step in the way for emancipation of the working class. It was a big step forward indeed for the people to embrace SYRIZA's agenda, which -despite their internal ambivalence- SYRIZA as a coalitions challenged TINA's orthodoxy; at least in theory, their actions remain to be seen and I am concerned by their recent tactical retreat, declaring that they are fully committed to Eurozone.
Of course, I believe that SYRIZA is a social democratic party and not radical left. Nevertheless, people who voted for them managed to challenge neoliberal orthodoxies, cause panic to the ruling class and are now facing massive pressure (both at a domestic and international level) to turn their back to SYRIZA's "extreme policies" in order to "save the nation". The ruling classes use arguments that remind of the main cold war rhetoric like "the left will take our houses, we will end up like Korea" etc. This situation clearly reflects a wider and multi-level negotiation. People will either be defeated and retreat, falling in a deeper crisis or will have to move forward adopting a radical agenda. And as you know it is the first time in recent history when many people openly discuss and want to learn more about socialism. One thing is clear, that there is no going back to the pre-crisis stage.
KKE has a great responsibility here: active participation to this debate in order to "pull" the people to the left. If the party (once again) ignore that such debate is even taking place and stay defensively at the sidelines, then the party's approach that the people are not ready for transition to other forms of organising our society will become a self-fulfilled prophesy. And this would be the biggest historical mistake after the Varkiza Agreement (when the peoples army gave up their arms in 1945). The movement needs the party of the working class in the frontline not ring-fenched in their own reality.
These are some random thoughts. I would also like to hear what did you make of the electoral result. Samos was the only constituency where KKE was first!
May 14th 2012
Good morning from Samos!
I really appreciated your thoughts on KKE and the election. I found them both insightful and very helpful.
I think I might have mentioned that I have been very surprised to find virtually no analysis of KKE’s performance last week . Given the surge in the anti-austerity vote across the board I was staggered to see that KKE’s share of the vote increased only by a fraction. Clearly a very poor result although looking at KKE’s homepage you wouldn’t know it.
Your analysis – and I can understand you must have many mixed emotions given your long time association and involvement with KKE – certainly resonates with what we have experienced here in Samos.
One very important point that is rarely picked up on is that the crisis has provoked almost a universal reconsideration by the people of the society they live in, what is important, what can be done etc. Even in the periphery of the periphery ( ie Ambelos) the consciousness of the people is far in advance of most if not all the political parties. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that most of the people we know here, from old to young want a revolution. Nothing less would suffice. They want to sweep away the elites and the current state system (which is evaporating anyway). Everything!
Of course, many things stop people from taking the necessary steps to achieve this goal, including fear, lack of confidence and energy. As I have said in the blog pieces, the energy needed to survive, to live, to eat, to stay warm, to manage anxiety, debts, bank harassment, searching for scraps of work is both the first priority and exhausting, physically and mentally. But even so, from the standpoint of Samos I would say on the whole that the political and social consciousness of the people is far in advance of most of the political parties of the left. I repeat this because I believe it is very important to recognize.
KKE did well (relatively in Samos) largely because it includes the island of Ikaria whose history you know well. To a lesser extent on Samos itself, KKE has an important legacy stemming from the civil war and the resistance which has given it a presence and a profile which Syriza lacked here. We have a number of friends who voted for KKE for the first time not because they supported KKE with any enthusiasm but because they thought that their vote would not ‘be wasted’.
My thoughts on KKE here are somewhat impressionistic and based on random conversations in shops, the kafenio, friends and the like. The KKE members we know are really good people, open, generous and engaging. But we have also met KKE members from Athens who have come (as teachers) to work on the island and we have been staggered by their arrogance and their certainty. We had an incredible evening with 2 such young comrades who denounced all other Marxists and progressives with even more vitriol than they ever directed against the ruling elites! It seemed to us that they regarded others on the left and outside of KKE as a more significant enemy than capitalism itself.
Certainly many of our friends here are not only turned off by the arrogance of KKE – one friend who voted KKE last week described the party as the Jesuits of the Left, always telling you what was right and wrong and being like the Catholic Church sending down edicts from the Pope! Those who are not so immersed in politics constantly express surprise at why KKE refuses to co-operate with other left forces and the non aligned/organized left which are the majority on the island. You don’t need to be that astute to see that on an island of 26,000 people it is simply madness to always have 2 marches in Vathi – one for KKE and the other for the rest. And at one of the most recent demos KKE would not allow striking students and teachers speak and so they had to set up their platform 100 metres away even though what they had to say was no different from the KKE speakers. For those with no active past in politics this simply looks like madness. In my discussions on the street this arrogance of KKE and its failure to be seen as a party prepared to work alongside other progressive forces on the island significantly weakens their appeal.
I know it sounds trivial but it also seems to me that KKE has not woken up to the fact that there have been and are major changes in the Greek population. There are a significant number of young people who have been through university, who don’t take readily to be hectored and lectured at, who demand to be listened to and taken seriously, who like in the West Bank don’t just want to cry but to laugh and dance as they try and survive. In so many ways, the public persona of KKE’s leaders seem miles away from these people just as the PA leadership seems so distant from the young people of the West Bank. Weed, cannabis, call it what you like is endemic amongst the younger people here. Who could ever imagine sharing a joint with any of the leaders of KKE???? It is as hard to imagine as having sex with the Pope!
Like you I rejoice at the shattering of Pasok and ND and hope they are further humiliated in any forthcoming election. Its significance can not be under-estimated. As you know well, the dominance of these 2 dynastic parties bought with it a clientistic set of practices and relationships which distorted much of Greek society. By turning against them in the election they have chopped off the head of this monster and make it possible to envisage a massively reshaped civil society which is not formed by who you know etc etc. To my mind this is probably one of the most significant outcomes of the election or at least has this potential if people seize the opportunities now presented as the old Mafia bosses no longer have the power to dish out favours and jobs.
But I am also very frustrated here. Samos could so easily be a paradise and we have so much going for us on the island. Its beauty and its abundant nature is a major factor in sustaining all of us. Capitalism’s touch is relatively light in many ways and has not destroyed either our environment or destroyed all the humane solidarities common in agrarian societies. Ironically the crisis is bringing many of these qualities to the fore. The lack of cash is a major problem as prices for basic things such as fuel mean that cars don’t move and people were unable to heat their homes through this last bitter winter. But you hear more and more people talk of their happiness in growing and sharing their own food and working the land again. Of ridding themselves of the stuff and clutter associated with being consumers and realizing that happiness doesn’t come from owning an I Pad or smart phone. The political leaders both here and across Europe, including many on the Left talk of the importance of growth as the antidote to austerity. But to me this seems a major error for the growth they envisage seems almost entirely capitalistic. Places like Samos could so easily point to another sense of development and ‘growth’ based on very different principles and relationships between people and our environment. I am not entirely clear yet what all this means and it is something I want to explore further as it seems so important.
Enough for now.