|Dimitris Koutsoumbas and Theo Russell|
Last month Greek communist leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), came to London for a number of events, including a visit to the Marx Memorial Library and Marx’s tomb at Highgate Cemetery. During his stay he talked to the New Worker’s Theo Russell about the current situation in Greece.
Theo Russell: What are the main problems that working people in Greece face?
Dimitris Koutsoumbas: The Greek economy was at the centre of the international capitalist crisis for a decade, from 2009, when the first memorandum was signed, until 2019 when these programmes formally ended. The capitalist economy in Greece is currently entering into a phase of weak recovery but there are ominous forecasts for the economy worldwide in the near future.
Capitalist development requires and demands attacks on the rights of workers and the people by targeting wages and pensions, imposing job losses and deterioration of working conditions (especially for young people), and maintaining a pool of unemployed people. At the same time, trade union rights are under severe attack. The most recent examples are the efforts to restrain the right to strike and force the unions to succumb to the control of the government and employers.
Finally, we have to note our great concern over the continuous and prolonged questioning of the sovereign rights of Greece by the Turkish bourgeois class through the unacceptable maritime agreement with Libya for the establishment of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We are very concerned over the increasing involvement of our country in imperialist war plans of the USA, NATO and European Union, to which all the people in our region (including Greek people) must be alert as antagonisms intensify in the Aegean Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East.
Has the Greek economy recovered from the crisis of 2009–2010?
According to figures and indexes, the Greek economy has recovered to some extent. Nevertheless, living standards, rights and incomes that were lost during the years of the crisis have not been recovered. Of course, any recovery of the economy is uncertain and unsafe due to the conditions prevailing in the European and global economy as well as the deceleration of strong economies, which might bring forward and expedite an upcoming new crisis.
None of the rights that were stripped by the governments have been recovered. On the contrary, the anti-people policies are still in force and the flexible labour relations intensify. This barbaric reality for the workers and the popular strata cannot be hidden behind benefits for the extreme poverty given by governments – either the previous only-by-name left-wing government of SYRIZA or the current right-wing government of New Democracy (ND). These benefits aim only to hide the cause that creates and augments poverty along with the fact that the product of any economic growth will be at the hands of capitalists.
It is proven that in the vicious ‘crisis-recovery’ circle of the capitalist economy the only victims are the workers, so the aim of the struggle must be to break this circle through the fight for a development path where the needs of the people will be at the centre, for socialism.
How is the Greek economy affected by the migration of young people?
It is a fact that during the recent years due to the capitalist crisis, the immigration of young scientists, students and workers to other countries, including Britain, increased dramatically. This deprives Greek society of the workers, including the scientific workforce, that could contribute positively. It also worsens the demographic problem in Greece as the population is ageing.
At the same time, though, Greece becomes a host country of other migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. They arrive in our country and they stay trapped because of the reactionary EU policies. It has been established that economic crises, wars and labour being a ‘commodity’ in capitalism are the causes of immigration and refugees. The working class and people’s movements must aim at the elimination of these causes.
How did SYRIZA survive the treachery of the 2015 referendum?
It is worth reminding that the so-called ‘settlement’ or ‘treachery’ perpetrated by SYRIZA was foreseen and rather anticipated. SYRIZA, even when it was only a small opportunist party, always supported Capital’s strategic priorities and strived to present them as ‘left’. People’s disillusionment of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks (ANEL) coalition government’s administration did not therefore, come as a consequence of some sins committed by some leading cadres of SYRIZA.
SYRIZA never ‘lost its way’ or proved ‘inadequate’. Its true identity was just revealed: a force willing to be a life-jacket for the bourgeois system as its two basic pillars, ND and PASOK, could not form a stable government to manage the crisis to the benefit of Capital. It actually took this step, contributing substantially to the plans of US–NATO imperialism in the area.
Even the referendum organised by SYRIZA was set with a trap question. It actually asked people to choose the memorandum. It eventually joined the group of political forces that supported “Yes” as its MPs voted a third memorandum together with the rest of the bourgeois parties.
This course of SYRIZA, from false hopes to denial, caused a great deal of damage to people’s consciousness. It led left-wing, progressive people who believed in its misleading slogans, to the biggest disappointment, fatalism, resignation. It contributed to greater conservatism inside Greek society, which was also reflected in the election victory of the right-wing party New Democracy last summer. This has always been, after all, the role of social democracy. KKE has highlighted this danger since 2012, when a stream of illusions erupted that SYRIZA would deliver pro-people solutions within the context of EU and capitalist barbarism.
The conclusion that emerges from all this is that the struggles of workers and the people, which break out on the ground of the aggravated problems that the system generates, should target bourgeois governments, international alliances of the Capital, the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state. These struggles should not be trapped in the supposedly ‘humanitarian’ or ‘pro-people’ management of the system, which has never occurred anywhere.
Does the extreme right-wing threat remain eminent after the collapse of Golden Dawn?
The threat of fascism and extreme right-wing will exist for as long as the capitalist system exists; for as long as the big business interests and parts of the capitalist state support and feed organisations such as Golden Dawn, in their attempt to absorb popular discontent; for as long as bourgeois parties that play games with fascism exist. For example, it’s far from coincidence the fact that at the ongoing Golden Dawn trial the prosecutor’s proposal is very lenient despite the fact that plenty of evidence came to light proving that Golden Dawn is a neo-Nazi, criminal organisation.
The Central Committee of KKE in its statement after the latest national elections when Golden Dawn failed to win any seats in the parliament noted: “No one should underestimate the fact that the same forces that previously promoted Golden Dawn ‘withdraw’ it in order to keep this neo-Nazi organisation as a reserve; that a part of its votes moved to other bourgeois parties or to political forces of similar ideology, such as the new party ‘Greek Solution’.”
The strengthening of KKE is the basic precondition to repel, and for the complete isolation of, such forces because KKE is the only power fighting the capitalist system that breeds and uses them. KKE steadily and consistently fought such forces, showed no tolerance, played no games, did not fish for votes from nationalists like other parties did.
What is KKE’s position on the EU and the North-South divide?
The examples of the peoples of Britain, Greece and other EU countries, demonstrate that this capitalist union has far from satisfied the contemporary popular needs. To the contrary, people in all member states are faced with very intensive and long-lasting issues.
This interstate capitalist union serves the capitalist exploitative system and cannot be improved or transformed to a pro-people union, as is argued by those who apologise on the EU’s behalf such Labour in Britain, or SYRIZA and DiEm25 in Greece.
The imperialist nature of the EU has been portrayed as a problem of management regarding which the interests of the ‘hard-core neoliberal’ North and the ‘open-minded’ South collide. This matter is neither geographical nor cultural.
For example, one may consider that the current dangerous situation in Libya is a result of the actions of the EU, USA and NATO, whilst countries of the so-called South such as France and Italy have played a leading role assisted by Greece through the use of the NATO base of Souda in Crete, which has been used for bombings in Libya.
Similar anti-people measures for the dismantlement of the social security system are promoted not only in Greece and France, but also in other countries such as the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. The fake and disorienting ‘North–South’ division hides capitalist economies of different sizes and at different phases of capitalist development.
In any case, without the working class and the people who will play a leading role in any developments and take the power and control of the economy, any renegotiation of a country’s position inside the EU – or even the departure from the EU – unavoidably serves the interests of the bourgeois class and specific parts of Capital.
The disengagement from the EU can be for the benefit of the people through people’s power and the development of mutually advantageous relationships with other countries and peoples.