THE BATTLE FOR THE REFERENDUM IN GREECE

by Savvas Matsas-Michail

Day 1. Monday June 29, 2015

More than 200 thousand people assembled in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek Parliament, in a tremendous mass rally supporting a “NO” vote in the coming Referendum on July 5. The “NO” vote would reject the ultimatum of the EU, the ECB, and the IMF for Greece to accept a new round of measures of social cannibalism or to be evicted from the Euro-zone (the infamous “Grexit”) and then from the EU. The size and spirit of the rally recalls the days of the historic popular mobilizations in the years 2010-12, when the troika of EU/ECB/IMF with the willingly servile Greek bourgeois governments, first imposed the infamous “bail-out” programs tied to the “Memorandum” of draconian measures of “austerity” to save their banks by starving the people of a bankrupt Greece.

The last five years of social polarization and radicalization produced a massive turn to the left, which finally led to the electoral victory of the left reformist Syriza on January 25, 2015, on the expectation that it will end “austerity”. Five months of fruitless “negotiations” of the pro-EU Syriza with the hostile troika of EU/ECB/IMF has finally collapsed.  On June 22, a desperate Tsipras government, under the blackmail of conditions of financial asphyxia imposed by the ECB, was at the point of full capitulation, accepting a new program of austerity, worse even than the previous ones that the neo-liberal governments of PASOK and the right-wing New Democracy had imposed in 2010-2014. But at the last moment, on June 24, the IMF introduced more barbaric measures. Already the signs of a Syriza capitulation had produced a vast popular discontent in Greece and a real rebellion in the ranks of Syriza itself. Returning to Athens on June 26, Tsipras faced the dilemma either to commit political suicide himself and his government or to make a new turn. Thus, he announced that the troika ultimatum would be posed in a referendum to be decided by the Greek people itself by a “Yes” or a “No”.

This turn produced hysteria in all the centers of global capital, in Brussels, Berlin, and Washington first of all. The leaders of the imperialist institutions expressed their fury demanding a “Yes” by the Greek voters and  a change of government. The collaborators of the troika in Greece, the bourgeois opposition parties (including the Nazis of the “Golden Dawn”) staged a counter-revolutionary  anti-communist mobilization of the middle class  named “We stay in Europe” , which revives memories of Allende’s Chile in 1973.

Disgracefully, the Stalinist Communist Party is boycotting the campaign for a “NO” vote in the referendum, claiming that a “NO” to the clear and direct question “Do you accept the terms of the EU/ECB/IMF, Yes or No?” indirectly means a “Yes” to the government austerity plan. By urging their supporters to hand in a ballot with the name of the Communist Party (KKE) and its slogans instead of the official ballot, (of course, legally this does not count and it is considered a spoiled ballot) the Stalinists promote an “abstentionism” in favor to the  capitalist parties and system.

The EEK, although criticizing the policies of class collaboration and adaptation to the EU of Syriza and the entire logic of fake “negotiations”, is actively campaign for a NO in the Referendum advancing as well a transitional program of cancellation of the debt, nationalization of the banks under workers control, a restructuring of the economy on new socialist bases, a break from the imperialist EU and for the socialist unification of Europe.

We participated today under our own banners in this tremendous rally in Syntagma, and we are organizing our own EEK rally in front of the old University in the center of Athens next Wednesday, July the 1st—one day after the non-payment of 1.5 billion euro to the IMF. Other public meetings of the EEK will take place in cities all over Greece the next days. The Secretary of the EEK Savas Michael-Matsas today gave an interview in the main News bulletin of the National Radio Station ERA, presenting the position and analysis of the Trotskyist party, criticizing as well the attempt by the government to use the referendum as a card for an impossible renegotiation with the EU. The main evening pro-Syriza daily Efsyn published the Resolution of the Central Committee of the EEK on the referendum.

A new chapter of the world capitalist crisis that erupted in 2007-2008 has been opened. Already the resistance of the Greek people that imposed a referendum on the imperialist ultimatum has produced globally a tsunami in all financial centers and a panic among the imperialists themselves who try now to advance a kind of post-modern coup d’etat to establish their government of servile stooges in Athens. Merkel, Juncker, Hollande, the President of the European Parliament Schulz, the leaders of European Social democracy are daily intervening, bluntly demanding a victory for the “Yes” vote and “regime change”.

This is class war. Despite the difficulties, the confusion, the panic produced by the Greek “corralito” imposed by the ECB, we are fighting with all our might, dedication, and confidence in the final victory of the working class in the developing confrontation between social revolution and counter-revolution.

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Day 2. Tuesday June 30, 2015

The battle for the Greek Referendum, for a “Yes” or “No”  vote on July 5 to the new  barbaric  “austerity” measures,  demanded  from the impoverished Greek people by  the recent ultimatum by the IMF/EU/ECB as the only way to “avoid”  collapse and  Grexit,  escalates every day.

The class lines of the  confrontation became very clear.  All the leaders of  world imperialism- Obama, Merkel, Holland, Renzi, Rajoy, Cameron etc., all the institutions of  finance capital and their  world wide mass media intensify their threats  and  intimidation, while they try unsuccessfully to “minimize the dangers  for  the world capitalist economy”. Obama, in his last statement, claimed  that a Grexit will not affect the US economy, although most  bourgeois analysts, including his own Treasury Secretary have the opposite view. Jack Lew, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, has warned the EU on several occasions that a Grexit represents “ a global systemic risk”.

In Greece, all the bourgeois opposition parties, local government leaders of the Right and of the “extreme center” Potami, the capitalist owners of the big companies, and nearly all the TV, radio, and Press mass media are united not only in terrorizing the population,  blackmailing it  to vote “Yes”, but also in mobilizing  a counter-revolutionary “ civil society” petty bourgeois pro-EU “We stay in Europe” movement,   having as a model, as themselves say, the “Euro Maidan” in Ukraine.

Today, these reactionary  forces of the ruling class have organized their rally in support of the Yes, in Syntagma Square.  Large businesses, even as they withhold salaries from their  workers, blaming that on “the  communist government that has closed the banks”, blackmailed their employees into participating in today’s rally, making it clear that otherwise, their jobs were in jeopardy.

The  reactionary pro YES rally was  massive but obviously had less people than yesterday’s pro-NO popular mobilization. Furthermore, as a well known atheist said, “even God is against the right wingers” because during their rally  a torrential summer rain started to fall dispersing the assembled petty bourgeois “warriors”!..

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, feverish secret  negotiations  have started again between the EU and the Tsipras government to find an agreement at the last moment.  Yesterday’s mobilization of the popular masses against the troika-  reviving  memories of 2011 and 2012- has frightened both the imperialist institutions but also the government, which does not stop repeating that “a victory of the NO  does not mean a break but a new round of negotiations with the EU”!! In any case, the  referendum was a clear expression of the pressures  of the masses themselves against the  capitulation of the government.

A previous proposal  by Juncker was resurrected and now presented by the Greek government asking for a new  2-years loan from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) with softer austerity terms to avoid  a full meltdown of the Greek economy with uncontrollable implications in Europe and internationally.

The previous “bailout program” with the troika has expired today, June 30, and officially Greece is without any “safety belt”. There was no payment of  the 1.5 billion euros  for the debt  to the IMF – a first  for a European country. The  biggest challenge for the institutions’ will be a probable non payment of a 3.5 billion euros installment due to the ECB on July 20.

The EEK continues its  campaign for a NO vote throughout the country. We held a demonstration in Volos under the slogan “We will not pay for the crisis of the capitalists”. Tomorrow, we have a central rally in Athens- let’s hope without a rain!

 

 Day 3.  Wednesday July 1, 2015

Tension and pressure are increasing daily. The European Council tried -unsuccessfully- to  prevent the coming Referendum on the EU ultimatum to Greece, claiming it was …“illegal”. But pressure  to cancel the referendum also came  from within the country, not only from the Right wing and the other smaller bourgeois opposition parties  but also from within Syriza, from well known cadres of the party, members of the European Parliament elected on the Syriza list (the “Green”  K.Chrysogons and the journalist St.Kouloglou) and left intellectuals, such as the “Third Worldist” Kostas Vergopoulos, known in France and Latin America.

The campaign of intimidation on behalf of a victory for the ‘Yes’ vote by the bourgeoisie, the mass media, bourgeois politicians, and the  trade union bureaucracy is intensifying. The nearly non-existent  GSEE (General Confederation of Labor, a union organization that had disappeared from the scene for many months, particularly after the January 2015 elections) suddenly reappears as part of the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. Confusion and discontent  are spreading by the closure of the banks and the anxiety of pensioners to get their  small pension.

Tsipras made a last moment desperate overture to the leaders of the troika, Draghi, Juncker, and Lagarde. He sent them a letter accepting many of their demands in the last ultimatum and that are put to the question in the language of the referendum. But all “discussion” on this proposal of capitulation is postponed till after the referendum. It becomes obvious that the goal of the troika is not only the victory of the ‘Yes’, but also the crashing defeat of Syriza and the overthrow of the Tsipras government, to be replaced  with “a new  government with  the necessary credibility to discuss with the European institutions”, as Schauble and Juncker have said. The emergency meeting of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers of the EU also ended with the same postponement of any discussion till the aftermath of the referendum.

“They blackmail the Greek people either to accept  and say Yes to an endless horror of austerity or, in the case of No, to be condemned into a horrible end , of  social economic chaos”  said  Savas Michael-Matsas, secretary of the EEK, in his speech at  the successful public rally of the Trotskyist Party in front of the old building of Athens University at the center of the Greek capital. “Our task” he said “is to defeat both an endless  horror of austerity as well as a  horrible chaos  by putting an end  to the horrors of bankrupt capitalism and open a socialist way out from this inferno.”

In front  of an applauding audience , which also included many rank and file supporters of Syriza,  he concluded: “We have to reject the imperialist ultimatum by a triumphant ‘NO’ next Sunday as the beginning not for new hopeless negotiations but  for an uncompromising struggle of the working class and the popular masses to cancel the debt, nationalize the banks and the strategic sectors of the economy under workers control  by taking  power and initiating the socialist revolution in Europe. In this way, we could celebrate in 2017, in two years, the centenary and the return of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 ”.
EEK banner at rally. ‘Down with Imperialism!’ ‘For a Red Socialist Europe!’

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Day 4. Thursday July 2, 2015

The build up of tension  accelerates as the D-day of the referendum approaches. The intensive cultivation of mass fear by nearly all bourgeois media  to manipulate public opinion for a victory of the ‘Yes’ to the troika’s ultimatum   on July 5 is coordinated  with non-stop provocative  statements by   the heads of the European Commission , the European Council, of the ECB, of the European Parliament, by Chancellor Merkel and her finance minister Schäuble, by the French  President Hollande, and his minister et tutti quanti   calling  for a ‘Yes’ to their orders  and, now, openly  for an overthrow of the Tsipras Government to be replaced by a new governmenet of “national unity” or a government of appointed technocrats. Democratic European imperialism demands openly the strangulation of  parliamentary democracy, in the name of which it governs.

The role of the mainstream  international mass media also  should not be underestimated. The “serious” Reuters News Agency  published a photo of the magnificent   pro-NO popular rally of  June 29 in Syntagma Square as  a picture of the …pro-Yes  reactionary rally of the next day, June 30, which was significantly smaller!!

Manifestations of fear but also of defiance  are seen every day in the streets of the cities all over the country.  Civil strife  emerges. A small but characteristic example: a group of comrades  of the EEK was campaigning for the ‘NO’  and our revolutionary program in the streets of the working class  neighborhood of Petralona ( not far from Acropolis of Athens) when it was brutally  attacked by pro-Yes “civilians” and finally arrested by the police,  to be later released.

Today, a quite  massive central rally of the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) took place in Syntagma. In his speech the General Secretary of the KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, advocated  a null vote in the referendum. Specifically he advocated use of a special leaflet  printed and distributed by the KKE  to serve as a protest. The leaflet says ‘No both to the Syriza government and to the EU Memoranda’… This is not just sectarianism: it is reactionary political blindness in an extremely crucial and dramatic moment of the history of the working class. It manifests the alienation from reality of a sclerotic bureaucracy, which puts its self-preservation above the class interests of the workers and in the service of the  capitalist system in crisis.  In conditions where, the orchestrators of the hysterical  pro-EU campaign  revive all the old slogans of the anticommunists and imperialist propaganda during the Greek civil war of the 1940s, the bureaucrats at the head of the KKE discredit communism.

Today also ANTARSYA, the coalition of about 20 centrist organizations, together with a small front of nationalists named MAS, had their own central rally in front of the old building of Athens University ( at the same place where the EEK held its own independent rally yesterday). They call for a No vote next Sunday, criticizing, at the same time, Syriza  with a KKE-like rhetoric,  demanding a break from  the EU and the euro and  a return to the drachma, without breaking from the framework of capitalism.

Tomorrow, Friday July 3, is the last day for the public political campaign  before the Referendum. In Athens there will be two  central rallies of the opposite camps of the Yes and of the NO.

The right wing reactionaries of the “civil society movement”(?) “We Stay in Europe”, the self proclaimed Greek “Euro-Maidan” will assemble in the Stadium of Athens.

The popular rally for the NO called by Syriza will take place  again in Syntagma Square. The EEK  will participate in the rally with its own banners. On the contrary the KKE, as well as the Maoists (who call for abstention in the referendum) will boycott it. Antarsya is split on the issue with one part participating and the other boycotting it.

The State and private TV stations  offer hours and hours  to the proponents of the yes, much less to Syriza as proponents of the No. For the EEK, the  Ministry allows only 10 minutes on the National TV  for tomorrow…

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Day 5. Friday July 3, 2015

The biggest mass rally that Athens has known since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, took place today, the last day of the political campaign for the Referendum of July 5, in defense of the NO to the ultimatum of the troika. It was comparable, if not larger than the mass rally in February 12, 2012. That earlier rally was called against the PSI, the so-called  ‘Private Sector Involvement’ – the “haircut” of foreign debt, particularly to private lenders, combined with new draconian measures of austerity – carried out by the extra-parliamentary Papadimos government that had been arbitrarily imposed on Greece by the EU in November  2011.

In 2012  about one million people assembled in  Syntagma Square and  all the streets leading to it but it was dispersed  early, by about 6 pm,  through an unprecedented  and brutal offensive  of the repressive force  of the riot police using  a gigantic  quantity of chemicals.  This time new masses of people, the great majority youth, continued to come nearly up to midnight. To go from the exit of the Metro Station of Syntagma to the point in the Square where the contingent of the EEK was assembled,  a distance of no more than a hundred meters, took about an hour.  At the same time, the gathering of the reactionary pro-EU forces of the Greek “EuroMaidan” in the Stadium was at least 15 times smaller, a fact that even the German State Radio Station Deutsche Welle had to admit. It was an enormous blow to the  vast counterrevolutionary “united front” built by the imperialist troika, the international mainstream mass media, and nearly all the bourgeois  forces in Greece itself, including all the  failed  prime ministers of the last 20 years (Kostas Mitsotakis, Kostas Simitis, Kostas Karamanlis, George Papandreou, Papadimos). Gigantic resources are being used in a propaganda campaign for a victory of the Yes and the overthrow of the current government to be replaced by a servile “national unity” government of stooges.

Various reasons prevented me from going to Patras today to another meeting of the EEK in defense of the No (another comrade replaced me as a speaker).  Thus, I could participate personally in a historical experience unique in the decades of my personal involvement in the workers movement and the Left, including my 45 years in the EEK.
It is not only the impressive  magnitude of the rally  but above all its political  quality,  which show its  importance in the battle for the Referendum, and  for its aftermath, whatever the result.

Until yesterday night everybody thought that the unprecedented international and national campaign of intimidation and disinformation had finally achieved its goal:  a majority  for the Yes, at least  according to the polls.  Even within Syriza and the right wing Independent Greeks there were movements of renegades to impose a cancellation of the referendum, as all the leaders of  global finance capital demanded.  Why they were so afraid of an electoral procedure  taking place quite  often in a dying European parliamentary democracy?

They were not afraid of the always vacillating and weakened Tsipras government, which, until the last moment, is begging for an agreement on austerity terms. What the imperialist institutions and the ruling classes in Europe and in Greece do fear is that this particular referendum, in open   defiance of the troika, could  initiate a renewed  eruption of the Greek popular masses themselves in the arena of history.  Anyway, just one week before, Tsipras had declared that he opposed a referendum or early elections. The referendum was not primarily a maneuver from above but a result of pressure from below; it was imposed , not by the so-called left  wing in Syriza’s Central Committee, but by the popular discontent and anger against the continuous concessions of the Greek government and the increasing  arrogance of the IMF, the ECB, and the EU.

The Greek government, of course, says that it will use a victory of the No for new negotiations that already are rejected out of hand by the troika.  The unpredictable factor was again the fighting masses as protagonists of historic change.

From the times of Baruch Spinoza, we know that fear is an indispensable essential method of class rule. But this method has its own limits as many dictators found out, above all the Czar Romanov.  The first and most powerful weapon of intimidation was the closure of the banks after the blunt decision of the ECB to   cut the  life line to the Greek banks (the ELA), a decision that was directly responsible for the long queues of pensioners in front of  ATMs.

There are still some petty bourgeois strata that are frightened of losing the little that remains to them and have a superstitious faith in the fallen gods of the EU and the Euro. They are abused by the ruling class, which has revived all the old anti-communism and the spectres of the  civil war, while they prepare for  a new civil war. They are blaming the ‘communists’ in the government even as they are pretending  that they are trying to avoid  a new civil war  and secure social peace and “national unity” between the butchers  and their victims.

But there is a huge part of the pauperized Greek people that has nothing to lose anymore.  Not by accident, yesterday,  our  comrades of the EEK in Larissa organized a powerful 5,000 strong march in the streets. Working together with others from the Caravan of Struggle and Solidarity  (an organization initiated by the workers of the VIOME factory and radio and television station ERT 3, both  occupied for 2 years and run under workers control) they marched with an EEK banner at the front calling  for “all production and all power to the workers” and also displaying the famous dictum by Walter Benjamin  “Hope was given to us  for all those who lost hope”.

Fear cultivated by the rulers can sometimes be transformed and act as a boomerang against them.  After five years of descent into a hell, the most oppressed and most combative layers of workers, both employed and unemployed, and above all the young  generation are  entering into a   path of new rebellions,  a transition towards social revolution.

The great majority attending today’s huge rally in Syntagma
were youth, mainly  without a job and without hope of finding a job. A sign for a revolutionary future that arrives always unexpected.

           La luta continua!