Two Battles in Athens

After Tahrir Square in Cairo and the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, once again Syntagma Square in Athens is the focal point of resistance against the consequences of capitalism’s crisis. In Spain, the ‘indignados’ stated they were inspired by the revolt in Egypt and Tunisia, and likewise demonstrators in Syntagma are proclaiming their linkage to the struggles in North Africa and Spain. Clearly, in our times, borders cannot stop the spirit of resistance; and the official media can no longer control the flow of information. The struggle is contagious.

With admiration and solidarity we are watching the tens of thousands battling the security forces of the Greek government in response to the draconian austerity program that it is savagely imposing on the working class (youth, employed, unemployed, pensioners, immigrants without papers). But there’s more than one battle going on in Athens.

One is a battle between two factions of the ruling class over how to respond to the global capitalist crisis and the specific form that it has taken in Greece: a sovereign debt crisis, the specter of state bankruptcy, and the inability of the state to make its debt payments to bondholders (the big European banks). For the Socialist (PASOK) government, the necessary response is an austerity program that will satisfy the conditions set by the banks, by the European Central Bank (ECB), and the IMF, and that will permit new loans that will avert a default. For the “hard” left, the Stalinist KKE, the “radical left” (Syriza), and the unions, the necessary response is a rejection of the proposed austerity measures, a default on the debt, withdrawal from the euro zone, return to a Greek currency, and new parliamentary elections that will produce a government that will protect flag and nation. A new government of the KKE, Syriza, and the unions, a government that defaults on the state debt and sticks it to the big banks and bondholders, will not solve the present crisis or spare the working class the pain and misery of its own draconian austerity plan. So long as the capitalist state itself is not overthrown, so long as the commodity form and wage labor are not abolished, the capitalist law of value will impose its rules, its imperatives, and — in the face of the present global crisis – its austerity measures and attack on the living standards of those who have only their labor power to sell. Like PASOK, the KKE or Syriza, were it to come to power would have to put the working class on rations. And such a government would impose its will on the working class with the same tear gas and stun grenades if the workers did not accept the need for patriotic sacrifice – not sacrifice for the IMF, for bondholders, but sacrifice for the Nation, for the motherland, for Greece.

That lesson is already drawn by many of the militants fighting in Syntagma square: their leaflets and their arguments against the left, the unions, and the leftists, have made that clear. And that is the second battle being waged in Athens. For those engaged in that battle, the abolition of capitalism, of the dictatorship of the economy, of the commodification of every facet of human life, has to be an integral part of the present struggle, not some distant goal, a stage that can be reached only at some future time. The only way for workers to defend their immediate existence, to claim their “bread” today, to be able to have any possibility of living a decent life, is to directly attack the whole system of production, of social relations based on the value-form and wage-labor. It is that perspective that pro-revolutionaries can provide within these struggles, in the assemblies that arise in the occupations of the public space within this second battle. That conception, with all of the complex issues that it raises, is the only way to begin to create a human community. And that entails clarity on the actual bases of capitalism, its laws of motion, and its underlying social relations. Communism should not be seen either as state ownership of the means of production, nationalization, or as worker’s self-management of individual enterprises and units of production, both of which, in different ways, would perpetuate proletarian labor and the imperatives of the law of value, of capital accumulation. Nationalization or worker’s self-management, “radical” though each appears, will be subject to the same crisis tendencies, the same exploitation of living labor and extraction of surplus value, as any other form of capitalist production. It is the signs of that second battle in Athens that here and now concretely represents a principle of revolutionary hope.


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