Change the World Without Taking Power, Marxist Edition

by Pham Binh on May 29, 2012

The Weekly Worker’s Eddie Ford wrote richly detailed and engaging overviews of a political earthquake in Greece that is rattling international investors and European governments alike. SYRIZA, a radical left coalition, may soon control the Greek government. Instead of concluding his articles with timeless, useless truisms like “what happens now depends on the class struggle,” he directly confronted the question posed point-blank by Greece’s upcoming elections: capitalist state power and what the left (specifically SYRIZA) should do with it.

Ford’s answer? “[R]eject all invitations to join or form a government” since “there is no Marxist party in Greece capable of forming” a “government committed to carrying out the full minimum program of Marxism.” Instead, we are told, it is better to wait “[t]ill we have a clear majority committed to a transition to socialism it is far better to be parties of extreme opposition which intransigently fight not only against the cuts but for a new, much more democratic, constitution.”

This is the Marxist edition of John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power.

If SYRIZA can form a government based on Alexis Tsipra’s (SYRIZA’s leader) five conditions, it would be criminal not to do so. Under the rules of the Greek constitution, refusing to form a government would mean ceding that power to an election’s runners up, meaning PASOK (social democrats) and/or New Democracy (ND, a right-wing big business party), the two parties responsible for the severe austerity policies that have unraveled Greek society.

For SYRIZA to voluntarily surrender power to ND and PASOK would be treason to the millions of Greeks who are giving SYRIZA a chance to govern. What use is voting for SYRIZA if PASOK and ND lose the election and form the government anyway because SYRIZA refuses to live up to its campaign promises? If SYRIZA hands power to PASOK and ND, becomes a party of “extreme opposition” instead of a party of government, and then begins to “intransigently fight” PASOK and ND for a “new, much more democratic, constitution” it will be met with well-deserved mockery and derision.

The single best way to demoralize SYRIZA’s new supporters and guarantee their return back to the PASOK camp would be for SYRIZA to follow Ford’s advice, washing its hands of its political responsibilities because conditions are far from ideal for the implementation of the “full minimum” Marxist program of a non-existent European Union Communist Party. This course of action (or rather inaction) by SYRIZA would give the very “bourgeois political game” the Communist Party of Great Britain derides a new lease on life. It would also preserve the game’s main players in the workers’ movement, Stalinism and social democracy, two forces that have held us back from revolutionary breakthroughs in Greece and almost everywhere else for almost 80 years. When was the last time millions of workers shifted their support from Stalinist and social democratic parties to the radical left, creating the possibility of supplanting both? Should we let this pass us by because circumstances are far from ideal and because the difficulties ahead are great?

What today exists in Greece is an opportunity of world-historic importance to “win the battle of democracy” as Karl Marx so eloquently put it in the Communist Manifesto and reminds us that “[t]he democratic republic is the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” as Lenin wrote in State and Revolution.

Clara Zetkin (l) and Rosa Luxemburg (r)

Canadian socialist John Riddell was prescient when he began in 2011 to raise the question of what in the Communist International’s glory days was called, “the workers’ government.” This term was a confusing way of discussing what mass worker-socialist/communist parties should do if they won formal, legal control of the capitalist state or parts of it through elections, coalitions, or appointments. (The clearest treatment of this question is an essay by Clara Zetkin, a criminally under-appreciated figure who deserves just as much study as her contemporaries Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.)

In short, the hypotheticals that the Comintern discussed are now a real possibility Greece.

The main danger in Greece is not reformism or opportunism on the part of SYRIZA. If SYRIZA had strong opportunist tendencies, we would have seen pressure after the May 6 elections from within its ranks to water down, weaken, and compromise on its five-point pledge to halt austerity. Such a rotten and unnecessary compromise would have been the necessary precondition for a SYRIZA-led coalition government with PASOK, ND, and/or DIMA (a rightist split from SYRIZA). Instead, Tsipra stood firm and resisted the temptation to trade principles for power and enjoyed the full and unanimous backing of SYRIZA’s constituent elements in doing so.

All of this makes the claim by British socialist Alex Callinicos that SYRIZA’s actions thus far are illustrations of reformism’s contradictions either a bad ultra-left joke or a hopelessly dogmatic attempt to force SYRIZA to conform to the British SWP’s schema for categorizing political organizations as reformist, revolutionary, or centrist. Fighting to implement SYRIZA’s five points will be far more revolutionary than anything the SWP has ever done.

The main danger now is that the rulers of Greece and Europe will use force, fraud, and fear-mongering to thwart SYRIZA’s victory at the polls. They fear that such a victory would strip the austerity regime of any remaining democratic legitimacy and create the threat of a good example for the rest of Europe should SYRIZA make good on its pledge to reverse austerity and, in so doing, stimulate economic growth, much as Iceland did when it refused to socialize the losses of its big banks. A popular regime whose austerity for banks and the wealthy brings general economic growth and prosperity to the 99% is the last thing they want.

To counteract this danger, SYRIZA must grow numerically and qualitatively, sink roots into every neighborhood, workplace, campus, and barrack by organizing its supporters in all those places, and continually mobilize these supporters to maximize SYRIZA’s vote in the June 17 elections. This activist policy will pressure other forces such as the KKE (Communist Party [Stalinist]) to work with SYRIZA to consign austerity to the dustbin of history. Militant grassroots action and organization against fraud, force, and fear-mongering by Greece’s rulers is also the best insurance against any wobbling or weakness by SYRIZA leaders. They will need such support if they come to power, in order to help confront enormous difficulties in trying to solve the complex problems that come with trying to govern in the interests of the 99% from within state institutions created by the 1% to keep the 99% in check.

The lesson of Greece is this: we can change the world without taking power, but only within the limits set by the political parties that have that power. Like it or not, states continue to be among the world’s most powerful institutions, and the forces that hold the reins of state power control the direction and speed of the carriage we ride in. ND and PASOK ignored the dozen general strikes and mass mobilizations that shook Greek society for two years, rendering those actions ineffectual from the standpoint of steering policy away from austerity. Only when a political organization born of and inseparably linked to those mobilizations – SYRIZA – began to compete with ND and PASOK electorally for the reins of state power did the possibility of changing the direction Greek society go from the realm of popular demands at demonstrations to the realm of political realism.

To be truly effective, direct action in the streets, workplaces, and campuses must be matched by direct action at the ballot box. We must take power, not because we crave power over others or aim to replace the old hierarchy of party bosses with a new one but because we can no longer afford to allow the 1% to control any government, anywhere, for any reason, whether it is because we are against states in principle or think elections are a difficult and boring waste of time.

We don’t want to take power so much as we want to stop them from using it on us. To protect ourselves and the lives of the elderly, poor, pensioners, and differently abled who depend state incomes to survive, the levers of government must be pried from the hands of all parties working in the interests of the 1%, whether they label themselves liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Tory or Labour, socialist or democratic makes no difference. It is too dangerous to allow these parties to control politics or policy at any level – global, national, regional, local.

This is not a matter of anarchism, Marxism, principles, or ideology, it’s a matter of survival – for humanity and for the planet. If the economic system is controlled by an international band of rapacious fraudsters and organized to systematically disregard human decency, ecological sustainability, and common sense, the political parties that are loyal to that system and those fraudsters cannot be allowed to wield the reins of state power unchecked, unchallenged, because as long as they do, the closer and closer to the precipice we get.

Removing the parties of austerity and environmental destruction from existing governments will not create the horizontal, borderless, corporationless, stateless world we want since state institutions are so intimately part of the oppressive social fabric that must be unraveled to get to that world. However, at this point, we are not going to have much a world left to win unless and until we occupy governments and stop their ruinous policies ourselves.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Moody May 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Ford’s proposed solution has been met with (not unfounded) criticism by a number of commentators, but I think the perspective he puts forward raises an important question which we should be thinking about- what are the prospects for a socialist transformation of Greece, under a SYRIZA-led government or otherwise? My guess is that Ford thinks that, unless there is a serious commitment to overhaul the political constitution of Greece in addition to its strong stance against austerity, no transition will be possible, since any “left” government would be committing itself to governing within the fundamentally corrupt and undemocratic framework of the bourgeois state. This seems fairly sound to me, but broad constitutional questions often remain unaddressed by much of the socialist movement.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 1, 2012 at 8:53 am

Thanks for your comment. As Lenin indicates in State and Revolution and Zetkin indicates in her piece on the workers’ government slogan, a capitalist government controlled by workers’ parties (depending on context) opens up the possibility of creating a dictatorship of the proletariat since it is only by trying to use the existing state will huge numbers of people come to the conclusion that it needs to be scrapped in favor of something far more democratic like workers’ councils and other mass assemblies. We can’t forget that what is obsolete for us (the existing state) is not obsolete for the masses.

The problem with Ford’s argument is that a party of extreme opposition is far less likely to be able to win and implement constitutional reform than a party of government. Do you agree?


Jacob Richter June 13, 2012 at 10:14 am

I disagree.

This is the problem with the Comintern’s pre-DOTP slogan, when the bourgeois state apparatus is already gunning for you, when the working class hasn’t built up sufficient institutions for its own rule, but nonetheless when you’ve mobilized lots of support.

Given the police conduct, perhaps the police should be subject to “austerity,” after all? Then military and paramilitary units can be reassigned to replace police officers? What about neighborhood watch organs and laxing laws on citizens’ arrests in the meantime, too?

My first concern in any “workers government” scenario is to have full-scale turnover of the secret police apparatus; fire and stigmatize every agent like in Eastern Europe (can’t find my old post or thread), but maintain the organization or reorganize it with new staff.

Another problem is bourgeois federalism. “Workers government” isn’t feasible unless all levels of government are aligned.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I would prefer to neutralize the cops by using the prospect of rescinding austerity as a bargaining chip to win them over. The military and a possible coup is a much bigger threat to SYRIZA than the cops, so splitting the military should also be a priority; putting them onto the streets to replace the cops would be very dangerous. It wouldn’t take much for the generals to redirect street patrols to the steps of parliament.

The secret/political police (I don’t know if Greece has one) should be disbanded.


Jacob Richter June 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Historically, the military has been a much easier “problem” to solve than the police, both in terms of carrots and in terms of sticks. Carrots-wise, things like union rights for grunt soldiers might go a long way towards disobeying any wannabe military putschist. Sticks-wise, the French Revolution was the first example of maintaining military loyalty through commissars and other political officers. The Soviets improved on this through the KGB’s Third Chief Directorate, with its agents embedded in the armed forces.

Greece surely has some sort of “national security” or “internal security” apparatus. I understand that the whole staff should be sacked, but why should it be disbanded when the principle of having a security apparatus is still there? For example, it’s the difference between calling for the dissolution of the “Okhrana” or the “Communist Secret Police,” on the one hand, and simply calling for the “abolition of secret police forces” in general.


Jacob Richter June 13, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Also, you didn’t consider bourgeois federalism.

I just suggested now that, realistically, any “workers government” should probably be lent only legislative confidence support.

Recap of problems:

1) Political bias of and within organs of state repression
2) Bourgeois federalism (effective “workers government” can only occur with similar situations at lower levels)
3) Constitutional overhaul may be needed in the pre-DOTP scenario, anyway (linked to #2, since some basic pro-worker/labour stuff can go against “states rights”)


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Tsipra is focusing attention on disarming and disbanding the Golden Dawn-riddled riot police:

This is the best way to break up the capitalist military/police apparatus. Target the worst and most unpopular institutions first.


Evildoer June 1, 2012 at 9:46 am

Basically, I agree with you. The left must unite against the dominant capitalist class, and revolutionaries must be part of the struggle and not stand aside and offer advice as some are now urging. The sectarian drift occasioned by the panic caused by the success of Syriza on the far left is dispiriting.

But the article seems to not know whether it is a stump speech or an analysis. It fails to address seriously the points on which sectarianism plays here. For example:

We must take power, not because we crave power over others or aim to replace the old hierarchy of party bosses with a new one but because we can no longer afford to allow the 1% to control any government”

But “We” cannot take power through elections. This must be understood and internalized, based on an analysis of the state and its relation to class. The popular classes must develop strategies for tactical engagements with state institutions that maximize revolutionary potential. But we shouldn’t fall for the illusion that we can hold non-bourgeois power within a bourgeois state. A victory for Syriza, in the elections — which ought to be a goal of the united left — will not mean that the Greek working class, or even Syriza’s voters, are holding power.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 1, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for the comment. I actually addressed your closing point in the essay, but the relevant paragraph wasn’t published for some reason (see the same text at for comparison). At the risk of repeating myself, here is the missing text:

“To counteract this danger, SYRIZA must grow numerically and qualitatively, sink roots into every neighborhood, workplace, campus, and barrack by organizing its supporters in all those places, and continually mobilize these supporters to maximize SYRIZA’s vote in the June 17 elections. This activist policy will pressure other forces such as the KKE (Communist Party [Stalinist]) to work with SYRIZA to consign austerity to the dustbin of history. Militant grassroots action and organization against fraud, force, and fear-mongering by Greece’s rulers is also the best insurance against any wobbling or weakness by SYRIZA leaders. They will need such support if they come to power, in order to help confront enormous difficulties in trying to solve the complex problems that come with trying to govern in the interests of the 99% from within state institutions created by the 1% to keep the 99% in check.”

A very important omission!


Michael Karadjis June 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for this excellent contribution Binh.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

The same to you for yours!


Peter Boyle June 3, 2012 at 2:43 am

Binh you have hit the nail on the head here. The Greek left should unite behind Syriza’s bid to be elected and to form an anti-austerity government. John Riddell’s work on the Comintern discussions about workers’ governments and workers’ and farmers’ governments might be an apt reference here.

Some leftist nitpickers might seize on your use of the phrase “taking power” here to claim that you conflate winning elections with really taking power, even though that is not you view we all know from your previous work.

Engagement in elections to win (and not just to make propaganda) is not alternative to building the movement in the streets, workplaces, campuses and neighbourhoods for serious revolutionary socialists And vice versa. They need tp go hand in hand, where electoral participation is not denied to the workers movement.

Hopefully the discussion in the left around the world on the challenge for the Greek left to unite put up a serious challenge to austerity in the coming elections will bury some of the abstentionist madness that is a part of the sectarian heritage that the socialist movement desperately needs to break from.

You only have to watch the frustration and demoralisation of Egytian socialists and other revolutionaries at the recent elections to understand how important is the opening that Syriza’s anti-austerity platform and public support offers.

The other thing that is laughable is the superstitious faith that some people place in the paper programs of tiny outfits which are untested in struggle. Put those people in under the pressure of real political responsibilty and I bet most of them would go to water faster than some of the so-called “reformists” in Syriza, who (unlike the armchair socialists who would stay out of the political fray and hang on to their pure paper programs) will in due course be put to the test.

We continue to distribute from Resistance Books (Australia) a very useful pamphlet by Maurice Sibelle called “Revolutionaries and Parliament”, which usefully surveys the attitude of Marx, Engels and later the Russian Bolsheviks to parliamentary elections. A small excerpt follows:

* * *

In his 1895 introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, Engels noted that “The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat.”

When universal male suffrage was granted in Prussia by Bismarck’s government in 1866, “our workers immediately took it in earnest and sent August Bebel to the first, constituent Reichstag.” Through such socialist election campaigns, the German Marxists had been able to transform the parliamentary franchise “from a means of deception, which it was before, into an instrument of emancipation.” Engels continued:

“And if universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than that it allowed us to count our numbers every three years; that by the regularly established, unexpected rapid rise in the number of our votes it increased in equal measure the workers’ certainty of victory and the dismay of their opponents, and so became our best means of propaganda; that it accurately informed us concerning our own strength and that of all hostile parties, and thereby provided us with a measure of proportion for our actions second to none, safeguarding us from untimely timidity as much as untimely foolhardiness — if this had been the only advantage we gained from the suffrage, it would have still been much more than enough. But it did more than this by far. In election agitation it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the masses of the people where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and, further, it provided our representatives in the parliament with a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in parliament and to the masses without, with quite other authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings.”

Engels went on to say that electoral propaganda was a more effective means of struggle than “revolutionary” adventures “carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses” — referring to various ultraleft attempts by small groups to seize power through street fighting. He viewed the participation of socialists in elections as “one of the sharpest weapons” to fight the state institutions and expose the other parties to the masses; as an effective method of reaching the masses of people with the ideas of the party; as a useful platform to express the ideas of the party and attack its opponents if the party succeeded in winning seats; as a gauge of strength and support of the party among the masses; as a means of legitimising the party before the masses and putting the party in a position where attempts to outlaw the party could be fought more easily. This was particularly important in Germany in light of the Anti-Socialist Law. The party’s legal activities — its election campaigns — were powerful weapons enabling it to fight for the right of the party to exist.

More here: Revolutionaries and Parliament


Steve Bloom June 4, 2012 at 10:51 am

Pham Binh writes: “The single best way to demoralize SYRIZA’s new supporters and guarantee their return back to the PASOK camp would be for SYRIZA to follow Ford’s advice,”

On the other hand, the best way to demoralize SYRIZA’s new supporters and guarantee that a significant proportion of them will become transformed into supporters of Golden Dawn, or other outright fascist formations in Greece, is to do as Pham Binh suggests, because the level of demoralization that will exist after the failure of a SYRIZA government to resolve anything meaningful on terms favorable to the Greek masses, when the present prospect of such a government has raised hopes so high, will be even more profound than the disappointment that might exist if SYRIZA is unable/chooses not to form a government. The fact is that there is no solution favorable to the Greek masses, or to those in any other country, that can be achieved by “occupying governments” where all the rules about what those governments can and cannot do have already been made by the 1 percent in order to guarantee the continued domination of the 1 percent–no matter who holds formal power in whatever parliament or presidential palace. If our movement is not about creating a genuinely revolutionary pole, which can seriously attempt to attract those who are beginning to look for a more radical alternative in Greece (and whose number will rise dramatically after the failure of a SYRIZA government) then the only radical alternative out there will be the fascists. This fact suggests a somewhat different set of tasks from those called for by Pham Binh.


Peter Boyle June 5, 2012 at 7:10 am

Surely the point is that an effective revolutionary pole — one that secures the support of the masses — is unlikely to be created by a group abstaining from this political contest in the elections, or running against Syriza’s popular anti-austerity alternative. Given the choice of demoralising the masses in advance by refusing to unite the left for the election around Syriza’s anti-austerity platform OR uniting around this platform and fighting whatever further fights may be needed after the election, it is clear we should support the latter.


Steve Bloom June 5, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comment. It seems to me that we have to make a distinction between two different things:

1) Your proposal to participate in “this political contest” and not “run against Syriza’s poopular anti-austerity alternative,” and

2) Pham Binh’s proposal to “occupy government” (that is, to actually engage in administering the Greek crisis on terms essentially dicatated to a new Syriza-led coalition by the existing reality of Greek parliamentary democracy and its relationship to the Eurozone).

It is the second that I am completely opposed to. I am open to the first. Revolutionaries could participate in the political contest while calling for an extremely critical vote in favor of Syriza. This would, essentially, be a pro-democracy position: “We understand that there is an overwhelming will on the part of a vast majority of those in Greece who seek a progressive and humanitarian way out of the crisis to put Syriza in power. Thus, even though we ourselves do not agree that this is a way out of the crisis we will help that majority to elect Syriza and test whether they, or we, are correct.” Such a position achieves what you would like to achieve, taking a stance which allows for the “unity of the left” while still maintaining an ability to explain that the consequences of actually forming a government are likely to be disastrous. A Syriza government will not effectively combat the agenda of the 1 percent. based on its stated program and proposed methods. The democracy we actually want to build is in the streets and around a far more militant program (see below).

At the same time whether this kind of critical support for Syriza in the election is the right choice or not is a tactical matter that can only be really judged by those in Greece attempting to create a more revolutionary alternative. I have, from long experience, come to understand that even when such questions seem clear to those of us on the outside looking in, the actual dynamics of struggles may suggest something different to those with a more intimate knowledge.

I have had some correspondence on this very question with one Greek revolutionary whom I have known for years, and who is active in ANTARSYA. He explained to me that some within ANTARSYA advocated the kind of approach that you suggest, but if ANTARSYA had actually pursued it the group would have probably come apart since at least half of its militants favored a direct electoral challenge to Syriza. Since ANTARSYA is a coalition and not a disciplined party with a long-established leadership, the sophistication that would be needed to engage in a “critical support” strategy (assuming it is the correct tactical approach in the first place) is simply not present. And the most important thing in the current situation is to keep ANTARSYA together, as it is the only genuinely radical pole on the left. If the only genuinely radical pole on the left disappears then the only genuinely radical pole will be on the right, in the form of the Golden Dawn. If (or more likely when) masses of people become disillusioned in a Syriza-led government because it cannot keep its promises, begin to seek some kind of more radical solution, it would be an absolute disaster if the Golden Dawn is the only alternative they have to turn to.

From a purely tactical viewpoint it is hard to argue with this perspective—however obvious a different choice might seem to those of us who reside outside of Greece. So while I do not rule out the kind of orientation you project, I do give some considerable benefit of the doubt to those revolutionaries engaged on the scene in Greece itself who have given this matter a great deal of thought and feel they have to proceed in a different way.

FYI, here is the action program that is being promoted by ANTARSYA, in counterposition to the Syriza 5 point plan. Three points seem particularly important to me (numbers 2, 4 and 6):

1. Cancellation of all memoranda and all the loan contracts with the EU, the ECB and the IMF, abolition of all measures connected with the memoranda and the contracts

2. Protection of the unemployed, raises of salaries and pensions, reduction of working hours, a stable job for everybody, taxation of the big capital

3. An immediate stop of payments to the creditors, a unilateral cancellation of all the usurious public debt
4. Nationalization of all banks and of all strategically important enterprises without any compensation and under workers’ control

5. Restore popular sovereignty and democracy by the people and for the people, abolish special police corps, neutralize the Golden Dawn, stop all pogroms against immigrants, dismantle all military mechanisms that turn against the people, leave the NATO/OTAN

6. None of these vital demands is achievable without leaving the Euro currency and the European Treaty, without a break with the EU


Peter Boyle June 5, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Thanks Steve, I am aware of ANTARSYA’s action program (and have been following some of the left debate in Links magazine) the but agree with Kate Hudson and Andrew Burgin in their rebuttal of the Callinicos’ defence of ANTARSYA and Coyle’s defence of the KKE that the only real difference (in action plans/platforms) is these two group’s demand that leaving the Euro be on the list. ANTARSYA’s action program reveals it acknowledges that the primary question is opposition to the austerity package as it argues it is not possible to do this without leaving the Euro. So why can’t ANTARSYA support SYRIZA on this primary question and while independently putting forward arguments about how to get there?

There is a whole complex process to go through to convince the Greek masses – let alone political groups – that Greece should leave the Euro, and a simple declaration like ANTARSYA’s point 6 doesn’t allow any escape from this.

The same can be said for nationalisation of the banks and other measures that challenge capitalist property relations.

In the current political situation in Greece, electing an anti-austerity government gives the left an unprecedented opportunity of going through the public discussions that will be needed to develop real mass agreement about how to defeat the austerity package. And in such a debate relatively untested revolutionary socialists who have been prepared to put aside their (presumptious and probably pretentious) claims to be the “genuine” revolutionaries, and build the united front against austerity around Syriza’s platform, will get a better hearing.

One should have no illusions about the tumultous character of such a process and public debate as an anti-austerity government around Syriza would be operating not just with the pressures from the still existing capitalist state apparatus but also with stepped up pressure from other powerful European governments and the capitalist conglomerates they act for.

Revolutionary socialists will also be better placed should an anti-austerity government not be elected.

But in any case surely revolutionary socialists need to embrace this challenging process with a Napoleonic “On s’engage et puis on voit”. This is what I understand’s Binh’s slogan “occupy government” to mean. Am I right on this understanding Binh? The alternative is abstentionism.

I agree with the conclusion by Michael Karadjis in his article “SYRIZA, the Communist Party and the desperate need for a united front” in Links:

‘…In a situation that is revolutionary, that is life and death for the masses, the nettle needs to be grasped. More likely a failure of the left to unite at such a crucial moment for Greek society will open the door to fascism as a section of the masses swing right to find an “alternative” to the crisis. The massive 7% vote for the neo-Nazi, immigrant-bashing criminal gang Golden Dawn on May 6, alongside the 10% vote for a right-wing nationalist split from ND, may end up being a signal of the future direction if the left cannot offer an alternative. Those leftists who pave the way for this will be, and ought to be, judged harshly by history.’


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 5, 2012 at 10:53 pm

“to actually engage in administering the Greek crisis on terms essentially dicatated to a new Syriza-led coalition by the existing reality of Greek parliamentary democracy and its relationship to the Eurozone). It is the second that I am completely opposed to.”

Of course socialists should administer the Greek crisis. We’ll make the capitalists pay for it instead of the workers. Furthermore, a government party is in the best position to make changes to the terms of parliamentary democracy and push democracy to its radical, extreme limits. This was the strategy of Lenin, Zetkin, and the Comintern, and remains fully applicable today in Greece.


Jacob Richter June 13, 2012 at 10:18 am

Clara Zetkin’s paper doesn’t distinguish between entering a cabinet proper and something like confidence votes, or a purely “legislative” coalition.

At one point, SYRIZA offered to have a KKE guy be the PM. The CPGB’s suggestion would be that SYRIZA stay out of the cabinet but lend legislative support to any “workers government.”

Finally, another problem is that SYRIZA itself is a bourgeois worker party (hello, eurocoms), albeit of a Continental and not Labourite type.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street June 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm

“The CPGB’s suggestion would be that SYRIZA stay out of the cabinet but lend legislative support to any ‘workers government.'”

So who would staff the cabinet? The KKE? I wouldn’t trust them further than I could throw them. Their rule-or-ruin approach only helps the ECB.


Jacob Richter June 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm

OK, so consider this: since SYRIZA itself is a bourgeois worker party, the CPGB should have called for the actual radical left in Greece to stay out of any hypothetical SYRIZA and/or KKE cabinet, but lend legislative support to any such “workers government.”


ish June 6, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I’m actually going to quote Mao of all people: dare to struggle, dare to win. It strikes me that this is potentially one of those moments that can make or break the left. How much more class struggle could there actually be in Greece before the working class arrives at this kind of moment? It seems to me that the impulse to abstain or hold back or moderate revolutionary demands would mark a movement unable to transition from the realm of competing sects to the realm of revolution. Everyone can see the dangers involved, and a SYRIZA government, especially the revolutionary left wing of such a government, must make use of a very brief time to protect itself and the Greek workers from military coup/fascist assault/NATO intervention. But this is an absolutely incredible moment of opportunity.


Mike Macnair June 29, 2012 at 11:14 am

A belated response (I found this while looking up material on the workers’ government question.

CPGB’s objection to Syriza forming the government if they had been the ‘leading party’ but lacked an overall majority is, broadly, Steve Bloom’s – that in present circumstances the result could only be demoralising, as Syriza got landed with political responsibility for the worsening crisis without the ability to make much difference to it whatever they did in government.

We do not, however, share the Antarsya (and KKE) view that Syriza is just a reformist group and we think that it’s wholly utopian to imagine that exit from the Euro would help (what about the private debts denominated in Euros? What about the fact that Greece is not, and indeed never has been, self-sufficient in food, hence needs foreign trade to avoid starvation?)

The reality is that the EU is much further along the road to operating as a state than ‘withdrawal advocates’ imagine – at least in relation to the smaller EU countries and peripheral countries that do not have EU membership but have to comply with EU law in order to sell into the EU.

Hence, socialism (by which we mean working class rule, not the end goal of supersession of class society) in Greece alone, is as utopian as would be socialism in New York state alone, or socialism in Saxony alone in the period of the late Zollverein shortly before the creation of the Second Reich. To overthrow the capitalist class requires Europe-wide action of the working class.

In the mean time, agitation for such action is better combined with a stance of militant opposition, than with a stance of participation in a ‘left’ government on terms which would inevitably be dictated by the most right-wing party in the coalition.


Arthur July 31, 2012 at 9:21 am

Links to Eddie Ford articles are broken. I found what seems to be one of them via search for “Syriza” at CPGB site:

I don’t know enough about the situation in Greece to present an analysis (and I suspect Pham Binh doesn’t either).

But it strikes me Pham Binh misses a central point.

The “five conditions” or Syriza seem (expertly) designed to ensure an optimum position as a party of extreme opposition rather than the embarassment of government presiding over a disasterous situation with no possibility for fixing it.

By rejecting “austerity” measures Syriza has maximized its vote with no danger of finding itself in government even if it had become the largest party and obtained the 50 seat bonus. It would have been in an excellent position to strengthen itself against its opponents such as the KKE and others pretending to be “left” for refusing to join with it as well as against the openly bourgeois parties presiding over austerity.

Any actual workers government in Greece would have no option but to implement “austerity” measures much sharper than those being enforced now. There would obviously be no massive loans to help “stabilize” and the turmoil involved in revolutionary social change would inevitably result in an immediate significant decline in living standards – as occurred in the Russian revolution for example.

As Ford mentions:

“…Greece would be immediately kicked out of euro/EU – assuming it had not been already. Without a shadow of doubt, the ‘new’ drachma would be massively devalued, there would a catastrophic economic slump and more likely than not hyperinflation – and that is before things got really bad.”

That is obvious and there is no reason to assume the Syriza leadership is unaware of it.

This article however seems to be completely unaware of it – as though economic crisis is simply produced by “fraudsters” and/or “imposed” by the EU and there is some magic formula by which a government not subordinate to the fraudsters and EU could simply “abolish” austerity.

It is only on the basis of not grasping this that the article can assume Syriza genuinely hoped to form a government implementing its five conditions rather than becoming a party of extreme opposition to a government that refused to do so.


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