Looking at the revolutionary situation opening up in Greece, some comrades have looked for relevant historical parallels. It is not easy to formulate tactics and slogans from afar – and presumptuous for us to imagine that we can, with any guarantee of accuracy. Whatever points we make are tentative; the best we can do is to ask the right questions rather than know all the answers. While the only resources we can call upon is the historical experience of analogous situations in the past, I'm sure we would all agree that the Russian revolution can never serve as an all-purpose textbook manual, or allow us to bypass the need for a direct appraisal of the situation in question.
As Lenin wrote: "Every analogy is lame". If SYRIZA wins new elections in Greece and (a big if) succeeds in putting together a left anti-austerity coalition government, then that will still be nothing like the provisional government in Russia in 1917. That government was a self-appointed clique which simply usurped the powers of the fugitive Tsarist autocracy. It had no democratic mandate; its fleeting authority was imposed from above; and it didn't take long for the revolutionary workers and soldiers to send it packing. If any of us were in the leadership of SYRIZA today, then if we were not fighting with all our energy for power, then the Greek working class would lose all trust and patience with us; and it would be absolutely right.
The point is: what then? What programme should that government adopt? In 1917, the real power lay in the hands not of the artificially grafted provisional government, but in the revolutionary councils – the Soviets. No matter how democratic its mandate, a left government in Greece could not rely for even a week on the same army officer caste that murdered tens of thousands in the civil war, and then imposed a brutal military dictatorship in 1967-74; on the trigger-happy police that have been repressing demonstrators day after day; on the bureaucrats that have colluded with corrupt tax-dodging bankers, property speculators and shipping magnates to bleed Greece dry.
Structures would have to be mobilised from the very beginning to create a real parliament of the masses, organise a militia, suppress the fascist gangs, organise the soldiers, launch workers’ newspapers and websites and television channels to ensure necessary communication and publicity, etc. At the same time, roving workers' ambassadors should be sent all over Europe to explain the case for a socialist Europe. We don’t need to go back to Russia 95 years ago, but to the much more recent history of Greece itself, to know that if such measures are not taken from the very first days of the new government, then it will quickly fall victim once again to the colonels and the fascists.
I suggest any revolutionary should be working in SYRIZA today. I know that at least one left group with an honourable history in Greece joined it in 2008, but then pulled out last year, just in time to miss out on the most crucial debates that must be taking place now within its ranks, and just when an input of Marxist ideas would be most needed. I suspect that this reflects an impatience shared by many of the left groups with what could be called the fuzzy ideological identity of such parties.
In my opinion, this is a colossal mistake. Such “fuzziness” is surely inevitable in the context of the diminished profile of the industrial working class in Europe and the dying out of the old socialist traditions. In the Workers' International Network's recent document The Future International, we described the nature of the new parties that we envisage are likely to come into being in the current situation. We wrote:
“What form will such an organisation take in its inception? It will necessarily be a broad, all-encompassing forum in which all forces participate which regard themselves as opposed to the dictatorship of the corporations. It will bring the ‘anti-capitalist’ youth and many of the existing single-issue protest lobbies into alliance with mainstream organisations of the working class and new fighting units of struggle. It will provide a point of contact and solidarity between some of the more exotic or primitive ‘anarchist’ youth groups and the deeply rooted but long-buried traditions of Marxism. It will be built, not on words and manifestos, but on practical campaigns. It will not be an ideological monolith but a vibrant arena of democratic debate in which organised platforms contend. When such a party does arise – as eventually it must – it can take no other form. No single tendency will dominate a resurgent party of the left. It will be a coalition of platforms...
“Such a movement could not in and of itself complete the task. It could not overthrow capitalism. But it would be a hothouse of debate, a workshop in which rival theories and strategies could be tested out, selected and sharpened. It would be the duty of those who consider that they have the answers to convince their peers shoulder-to-shoulder in the day-to-day struggle.”
I think this is a reasonably accurate description of precisely such new political phenomena as SYRIZA in Greece, the Front de Gauche in France, and perhaps Die Linke in Germany. We can be sure that there will be many more such parties developing as the European crisis spreads – transient phenomena, perhaps, but it would be madness for Marxists to stand aside from them.
In this connection, perhaps I could comment on a recent perspectives document that I read by the one of the most serious Marxist organisations. Most of it is a brief summary of the developing global crisis of capitalism; the last section is an affirmation that what naturally must flow from this is the vindication of Marxism and the growth of their own particular organisation. For all its qualities, this document follows exactly the same templates as so many similar documents that I have read – perhaps in some cases even wrote myself – in the last half a century. Now, several decades ago – when there were still widespread illusions in reformism, if not even in capitalism itself; when it was still necessary to demonstrate that capitalism was subject to crisis and a future slump; when there was still one single arena of political debate where Marxists could argue their case against right and left reformists – then such documents served a useful purpose. The Marxists in the labour movement would doggedly argue and, gradually against the background of objective events, win their case. But today the crisis of capitalism doesn’t need much amplification; everyone is aware of it. Never before has there been such a hatred of capitalism throughout society. The missing link is: what programme does Marxism have to offer, and how can we revolutionaries win the kind of lifelong mass class allegiance that was commanded in the past by the old Social-Democratic and Communist parties? On this key question, there is not a word in this document; and I believe this is equally true of other perfectly admirable and sincere left groups. And the absence of experienced militants from the debates raging today within SYRIZA is surely a tragic example of this mistake.
The situation is crying out loud for the kind of programme and ideas outlined above; and the ranks of SYRIZA are precisely where they first need to be put forward.