The victory by Syriza in the recent elections for the European parliament in Greece poses the real possibility that it could take over the Greek government in the next elections.
Pedro Fuentes, Secretary for International Relations of PSOL (Brazil), and one of the most important leaders of MES (a tendency of that party), put out a statement a few days ago titled “If Syriza wins the elections, what happens to the question of power?”
In his text, he states that a possible future Syriza government would be a workers’ government and thus participating in it would comply to the criteria defined by the Third International.
We do not agree with this. But, in fact, the combination of economic crisis, the uprising of the masses, and the crisis of Social-democracy is opening the possibility that one of the so-called “anti-capitalist parties”could actually reach the government for the very first time.
It is necessary, therefore, to discuss clearly what would be the character of such a government and what should be the attitude of the revolutionaries towards it.
Facing reality is part of the Marxist method
Pedro Fuentes’ text starts with an attempt of hiding the positions which Syriza is currently posing.
“It is clear that important sectors inside the anticapitalist left, now that Syriza comes closer to power, spend hours debating characterizations to eventually state, very promptly, that Syriza suffered a qualitative change and is already part of the regime. They come to those conclusive characterizations starting from Tsipras’ declarations attesting that Greece will not leave Euro currency and that he would be willing to negotiate with the international financial organisms, and/or based on Syriza’s attempts to dialogue with some personalities who split from PASOK, but when the time came voted in favor of the memorandum, or yet because of Syriza’s refusal on taking part in a protest of disapproval towards the presence of Greece in the presidency of the EU.”
However, denying reality is not a good method for any kind of analysis, even less to Marxism. Since Syriza did well in polls in 2012, and thus opening the possibility of reaching government through elections, it has been dedicated to show to the European bourgeoisie that it would be “reliable”. It is a movement very well known by the Brazilians, similar to the one made by Lula and his “Letter to Brazilians”, in which he ensures financial capital that his victory on elections would change nothing on the economical policy. Unlike what Pedro says, it is not about “some declarations” by Tsipras, but in reality it is about the essence of the orientation by Syriza to avoid a negative reaction from the bourgeoisie.
Pedro’s position would be the same as underestimating Lula’s “letter” in 2002. A catastrophic mistake, considering that that letter has guided every PT government so far.
We could not compare the situation of economical and political crisis in Greece to the Brazilian scenario at Lula’s first government, neither Syriza to PT. But it is possible to say that Tsipras’ political attitude is similar to Lula’s in 2002, and that it shows Syriza’s strategical project.
Will Syriza fight for power?
Pedro Fuentes mentions a key issue:
“Then we may consider whether if the rising of a left alternative to power coming from outside of the regime, and which expresses a break with it, would be a blocked path in the next period. It seems it is not. On the contrary, the dispute taking place in Greece shows this hypothesis is open.”
Fuentes says Syriza could take power in Greece. Is it so?
Marxism clearly distinguishes “reaching government” from “seizing power”. Power is defined by state power, which has the armed forces as its central core. The bourgeois state is the basis of class domination by the bourgeoisie, and for the control that the ruling classes have over economy and society as a whole.
The government is a fundamental part of the political institutions within the state, but it does not define the nucleus of power, which resides on controlling the armed forces. Reaching government without seizing power, without destroying the bourgeois state, means serving and administrating this very state for the bourgeoisie. Such government comes to have a bourgeois class character- due the kind of state that the government would administer and for the bourgeois class that would control the state. That has been the role played by the European Social-democracy, as well as by PT in Brazil.
Or maybe the goal of a possible Syriza government is to destroy the bourgeois state. Is it true that Syriza wants to seize power, destroy the bourgeois state, and make a revolution? Tsipras, who is a reformist leader of some coherence, would take this as a calumny coming from those who want his party to lose votes in Greece.
Perhaps Pedro Fuentes has abandoned this ABC of Marxism, the distinction between government and state. But that would be a serious mistake.
In the past, reformist tendencies solved this dilemma by assuming the “electoral way to socialism”, the parliamentary strategy that should lead to a progressive reform of the bourgeois state through elections. According to this point view, a mere accumulation of electoral seats would ensure a peaceful path to socialism. This was the basis of tragedies such as Allende’s defeat in Chile and an endless amount of disasters. The bourgeoisie will always use their control over armed forces – the state power – in order to keep their economical domination.
Since the end of the last century – and generally since the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe – the European Social-democracy and the reformist parties as a whole have clearly lowered their strategical horizon. They eventually abandoned any perspective of ending the bourgeois state to reach socialism. They passed into a strategy of reforms in capitalism plus bourgeois democracy. In other words, they do not mean to destroy the state. Their strategy is clear: to reach government through elections and administrate the bourgeois state.
This is also Syriza’s strategy. Winning elections and, once in government, making reforms in capitalism and in the bourgeois state. And what is Pedro’s and MES’ strategy? Is it the “electoral way to socialism”? Is it the same as Syriza’s, i.e. to reach government and administrate the bourgeois state?
Would the Third International’s criteria legitimate the participation in a possible future Syriza government?
It is worth noting that the MES’ positions are always presented as “updates” of Marxism. Revisionism is a mean of assuming reformist positions without saying it clearly, by covering those positions with claims of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.
Pedro Fuentes justifies the support and participation in a possible Syriza’s government starting from the Third International definitions.
“Two things may derive from it:1) there are conditions to state that anti-austerity governments would be new kinds of workers and peasants or people’s governments like those the Third International used to suggest; 2) the composition of these governments and the representation of the workers inside it may possibly assume different forms, that we do not know exactly what could be, although they all exclude the old European bourgeois parties and the old Social-democracy. In its Fourth Congress’ resolutions, the Third International (the finest school of revolutionary tactics and strategies) offered fundamental concepts on the attitude of the communists before a government of workers and peasants’ organizations not linked to a revolutionary party. They were in favour of participating in a workers and peasants’ government (now it would be a workers and people’s government) as the continuity of the policy of united front along with those organizations. They established as a condition that their representants should be under the discipline of the party and of the International. With all due distances, that would be like a Syriza government and, therefore, revolutionary left should participate in it.”
Revisionism relies on the fact most young activists do not know about these Third International debates in order to deliver some Marxist legitimacy to its political positions. In doing so it uses quotes from our masters taken out of context precisely to distort their positions.
In its fourth congress discussions on the workers’ governments, the Third International avoided, first of all, taking part in bourgeois Social-democratic governments. Reading the resolution is enough to understand such clear content:
“In place of a bourgeois/social-democratic coalition, whether open or disguised, Communists propose a united front involving all workers, and a coalition of all workers’ parties around economic and political issues, which will fight and finally overthrow bourgeois power. Following a united struggle of all workers against the bourgeoisie, the entire state apparatus must pass into the hands of a workers’ government, so strengthening the position of power held by the working class.
The most elementary tasks of a workers’ government must be to arm the proletariat, disarm the bourgeois counter-revolutionary organisations, bringing control over production, shift the main burden of taxation onto the propertied classes and break the resistance of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.”
The resolution (Theses on Comintern Tactics) of the Third International also makes an alert on what concerns fake “workers’ governments”, mentioning as an example a “liberal or a social-democratic workers’ government”:
“The two first types of workers’ governments are not revolutionary workers’ governments, but actually disguised coalition governments between the bourgeoisie and counterrevolutionary workers’ leaders. These “workers’ governments” are tolerated in critical periods of weakness of the bourgeoisie in order to deceive the proletariat on the real state’s class character or to postpone and save time before an eventual revolutionary attack of the proletariat. It all with the helping hand of corrupted workers’ leaders. Communists must not participate in such governments. On the contrary, they must mercilessly unveil the true character of those false “workers’ governments” before the masses.”
Nevertheless, the Third International states that “accordingly Communists are also ready, in certain conditions and with certain guarantees, to support a non-Communist workers’ government. However, the Communists will still openly declare to the masses that the workers’ government can be neither won nor maintained without a revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie.”
The “guarantees” for a “revolutionary struggle” include the overthrow of the bourgeois power, passing the entire apparatus into the hands of a workers’ government, arming the proletariat, bringing control over production and breaking the resistance of the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie.
In other words, the Third International was talking about workers’ governments that were based on revolutionary mobilizations to destroy the bourgeois state. In that case, a revolutionary organization could discuss whether they should take part or not in the government.
That might be the case, for instance, of the Bolivian revolution of 1952, when the militias of the Bolivian Workers’ Center (COB, in Spanish) faced and destroyed the bourgeois armed forces. The COB’s reformist leadership refused to seize power and backed the MNR’s bourgeois nationalism. In case Lechin (COB’s main leader) was willing to seize power, the revolutionaries might have discussed – accordingly to the Third International – the possibility of taking part in that government. Even so, the Third International demanded that it should be approved (or not) by the International’s leadership, for the big risks of errors involved.
That is an interesting debate that has provoked controversy within the revolutionary left for decades. But… What does it have to do with the chance of Syriza winning forthcoming elections in Greece?
It is understandable that Pedro Fuentes supports the participation in a bourgeois government in Greece. After all, we are talking about the same current that defended the same position for Venezuela. But, stating that by claiming the resolutions of the Third International is beyond any possible limits.
So, to complete the mistake, the MES turns the Third International’s “workers’ government” characterization into an “anti-austerity government”. It means to leave behind the Third International’s hypothesis of a workers’ government based on revolutionary mobilizations to destroy the bourgeois state. It actually means supporting a parliamentary government in a bourgeois state with an “anti-austerity” program.
A serious anti-austerity program in such a dominated country as nowadays Greece could only have a content of breaking with Euro and the EU. One may not recover economical growth and rise workers’ income by maintaining the financial capital’s domination that suffocates that country. The rupture with EU and the euro currency could really trace an anti-capitalist path if it actually happened. But that is exactly what Syriza wants not to do. Tsipras rejects the austerity plans imposed by the EU while he stands for keeping Greece inside the EU and the Euro Zone at the same time. He does not say how that might be because electoral promises do not need to show coherence.
Pedro Fuentes neither demands clearness to that “anti-austerity” plan. Carefully, he avoids precising the relation between that plan and the maintenance of Greece in Euro or EU in order not to unmask Syriza’s policy. That attitude legitimates a participation in an “anti-austerity” bourgeois government, such as a Syriza’s government could be. But it has nothing to do with Third International positions.
What about the Venezuelan example?
Fuentes points out the possibility that Syriza in government could come into a process of rupture with capitalism:
“However, one may not discard a Syriza’s government would strengthen Greece’s position to impose new conditions, if there is mobilization and continental solidarity with the Greek people. That hypothesis should be taken into account and discussed in a different manner by the left. Taking a previous Latin American example into account, the Chavez government, in Venezuela, after many ups and downs (which included many negotiations with the bourgeoisie) the “leyes habilitantes” [qualifying laws] eventually passed and the government began to control the PDVSA in 2002. That meant the nationalization of oil, the most remarkable fact of a rupture process that brought political and economical conditions of independence for Venezuela that allowed the creation of ALBA  (It is worthy to remind that the left sectors that did not stand in favour of it, under the argument that Chávez was not anti-capitalist, ended playing the game of the right wing and becoming a sect).”
Pedro Fuentes should approach the Venezuelan example more carefully. The MES made a very serious mistake before the Chavismo, that is now repeated in relation to Syriza. Actually, they “juggle” with concepts so as to justify their political support to those organizations of mass influence.
On 2008 they characterized the Chavez government as “petty-bourgeois nationalism”, justifying their support to that bourgeois-nationalist government. They used to make a confusion between the class origin of the governor himself – Chavez in that case was a colonel of the Venezuelan armed forces, so a petty bourgeois man – with the class character of the government as a whole. Accordingly to such criteria, the Lula government in Brazil should be characterized as a workers’ government, because he comes from the working class, and not as what it actually is: a bourgeois government.
The government’s class character is determined by answering a simple question: to which social class does that government serve? If the government serves the bourgeoisie interests – or a sector of the bourgeoisie – in order to run the bourgeois state and guarantee the maintenance of capitalism, it is a bourgeois government.
The case of the Chavismo is a clear example of the rising of a new bourgeoisie (the so-called “boli-bourgeoisie”) from the state’s administration. Diosdado Cabello, for instance, is now a major capitalist in Venezuela. It is a bourgeois nationalist movement and government, similar to the Argentinian Peronism.
The MES is part of the majority of he Latin American left (almost the entire PSOL, PC, PCdoB and PT in Brazil) that supported the Chavismo. In a 2008 statement, the MES said that the whole struggles process in that country was due to Chávez:
“It is wrong to believe that Chávez has taken his measures as a result of a permanent pressure from the mass movement, as if Chávez was like a Venezuelan Kerensky. According to that opinion, Chávez took those measures as a reactionary manoeuvre in order to break the masses uprise. Actually, Chávez is the leader of the real process that goes on. Without Chávez there wouldn’t be that process.”
Then it doubts the bourgeois character of the Venezuelan state:
“We may define the state as bourgeois, once it did not expropriate the bourgeoisie. However, saying only this is not enough, because the bourgeoisie doesn’t control the state as a class. Bonapartism, according to Moreno, is a sui generis type of bourgeois state. We would add: a very sui generis bourgeois state.”
The controversy on the Venezuelan issue is not limited to the nationalization of the oil. It is much more serious and involves the capitulation of most of the Latin American left towards the Chavismo. It has dramatic consequences, as we shall see. And it should not be roughly simplified, as made by Fuentes when he says that the organizations that had diverse positions from him “became sects”. Chávez’ nationalization of oil was a progressive measure – very limited though, as it delivered to multinational companies a considerable share of the Venezuelan oil.
There was not any rupture in Venezuela, neither with capitalism nor with imperialism. The Venezuelan state remains bourgeois and multinational businesses keep on exploiting oil in that country. The Chavista government is still the major oil supplier for US, even after the Iraq invasion. Venezuelan banks are associated to imperialist ones and keep achieving gigantic profit rates in that country too. The anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Chavista government should not be confused for splitting with imperialism.
A short time ago, the MES silently turned away from Chavismo, so far with no self-criticism or an explanation for this change of route. But mentioning the Venezuelan example in order to point to the possibility of Syriza breaking with capitalism, seems to indicate a lowering of the horizon of such “breaking”. Fuentes says:
“That is why it is fair to consider that all economic measures against austerity and (real and objective) adjustments lead to a break with them and open the doors for a transitional anti-capitalist process.”
It means that Greece under a Syriza’s Government would go straight to a anti-capitalist transitional process by the force of the objective reality. There wouldn’t be any need to consider the political forces of the bourgeoisie, or the media, or Syriza’s reformism itself. That is a rather objectivist point of view that leads to a direct capitulation to Syriza, once reality would go “objectively” towards an anti-capitalist transition.
But none of it is true. A possible Syriza’s government will be a bourgeois government. Syriza is a petty-bourgeois organization with a reformist leadership and program, not compromised with any task of rupture with capitalism.
Back to the thesis of a “government in dispute”
Pedro Fuentes not only defends taking part in a possible Syriza’s government. He also stands for a general policy of “disputing” that government.
“In the case of a Syriza’s government, we should also take into account either if we should take part in it or not. Those who think that Syriza has already capitulated, would obviously oppose to such participation. Anyway, a new phenomenon like this would lead to many doubts. Every broad party is under pressure of social classes. Pressures from bourgeoisie, middle classes and the working class. Precisely for that, like in every single process, there are trends and disputes. Syriza is a party that surely suffers these pressures and, therefore, is an open process to be disputed. A Syriza government would also be like this, would be under multiple pressures, mainly coming from the big business that might use the “policy of the carrot and stick” against that kind of government.”
This concept of a “government in dispute” is not new. The MES said the same in relation to the Chávez’ government in 2008.
It is a well known policy in Brazil, too. The PT’s inner left sectors and the MST used to consider (and still do so) the Lula’s and Dilma’s governments as “governments in dispute”. It is not novelty. It is the same old Stalinist ideology of the alleged “progressist” bourgeois governments.
The logic is that simple: once these governments are popular, let us stand by them. But, actually, it means an option rather in favor of those governments than of the masses that support them. When a bourgeois government is still backed by the masses, it’s necessary to become minority. The Bolsheviks did so in 1917, under the provisional government. They kept explaining patiently to the masses that it was not “their government” unlike most people used to think. As they was able to be minority they could eventually become majority when the objective conditions had changed.
The results of the policy of a “government in dispute” are disastrous: PT’s inner left has almost disappeared and the MST has lost much of its social and political weight.
When this attitude of a “government in dispute” becomes hegemonic in the left, the consequences are most severe. The Chavistas say that a left wing opposition to their government “would play the game of the right wing”. Pedro Fuentes suggests the same thing by saying that the “left sectors that did not stand in favor of it, under the argument that Chávez was not anti-capitalist, ended playing the game of the right wing and becoming a sect”.
We may prove the error of those Chavistas by looking to the current situation in Venezuela. There is a polarization between the pro-imperialist right wing and a decadent and repressive bourgeois nationalist government. There is not an independent alternative of the workers as it starts to happen in Brazil, in spite of all its limits and weaknesses.
Being an independent left opposition means to try to build a workers side, with independence in relation to the two other bourgeois blocs. It is indispensable in Venezuela, because otherwise every worker outraged by the economic crisis or by the corruption in the government would look for the right opposition as the only political alternative. So, who plays the game of the right wing?
Those bourgeois governments lead the popular movements to unavoidable defeats either through elections or coups. They also drag the left sectors that capitulated to them into loss. Nothing is left of what used to be the strong Peronist left. The Chavista left is now vanishing too.
That would also be the aftermath in Greece. Betting on a policy of “government in dispute” to a possible Syriza’s government would attach the whole left to the fate of that bourgeois government. François Sabado, a NPA leader, came out with a statement on April 2013, whose content is very similar to Pedro Fuentes’ one. He ends his text stating that it would be the only possible policy, because a Syriza’s defeat would mean “ours” too. Yes, that would mean a Syriza’s defeat and of all its attached reformist left. Not the defeat of the independent revolutionary left.
Opportunist program and policy
Fuentes concludes his text with a political proposal:
“It seems to us that the whole Marxist left should defend in Greece the slogan “for a Syriza’s government” (possibly in a more complete formulation) as an slogan of power for agitation in the class struggle and in elections. If in the forthcoming European elections Syriza reaches the first place, this slogan becomes more concrete and for action”.
None of the characterizations exposed above by us denies the demand “for a Syriza government” as a concrete policy, linked to an anti-capitalist program, including the break with Euro and the EU. It is part of the marxist revolutionary arsenal to pose such demand towards the reformist leaders who have mass influence, so that they break with the bourgeoisie and apply a working class program. It means a demanding and denouncing tactics – in the most likely hypothesis that those leadership would not break with the bourgeoisie – so that the working class make their experience in relation to those parties.
But there is an abyss between this policy – which is legitimate among revolutionaries – and the one proposed by Pedro Fuentes. He ends his text appealing for a Syriza’s government, not mentioning any programmatic demand. Without having a clear characterization of what a Syriza’s government would mean and without an anti-capitalist program, this policy of a “Syriza’s government” represents an evident opportunist attitude. It is a reformist policy towards a reformist government. In other words, a discussion between reformists. That is not our case.
 ALBA – Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America is a Trade Treaty idealized by Hugo Chávez.