Editorial Note: The CWPUSA had the opportunity to attend a speech given by the Eliseos Vagenas, the head of the International Relations Section of the CC of the KKE. The following is an English translation of this speech provided at the event.
Dear friends, dear comrades
We are very happy to be with you here, in New York, and to be provided with the opportunity to inform you about the developments in Greece and around the world as well as about the KKE’s assessments.
On May 21, parliamentary elections will be held in Greece, which are likely to lead to new, early elections on July 2, despite the fact that the main parties in the country can form a coalition government from the first election battle. Why is this happening? What awaits the Greek people in the coming years? In what kind of international environment are these processes taking place? How are the world trends being formed and what should be the stance of the communists and all people concerned about them? How do all the above affect Greek-Turkish relations and the international position of the country in general? What is the KKE’s assessment of the developments and what is its proposal? I will make an effort to focus on all these issues.
In order to help the discussion that will follow up, I will touch on a few aspects. I know that you are following the developments in Greece so I imagine that you are well aware of the recent tragic train crash that claimed the lives of 57 people, mostly young university students. We are talking about a crime that both the communist MPs in parliament and the railroad unionists rallying in the All Workers’ Militant Front (PAME) had been warning about. All the bourgeois governments, New Democracy (ND), SYRIZA, PASOK, which, following the policy of so-called liberalization, first fragmented the state railroad company and then proceeded to privatization, are responsible for this crime that had been waiting to happen. In this case, as in every sphere of economic and social life, it appears that the profits of capital are put before the lives and safety of workers and passengers.
This is not a “Greek phenomenon” or a Greek “pathology”, as the government claims, trying to put all the blame on the stationmaster. In 2021 in the EU alone, 1,389 major train accidents were recorded, with a total of 683 deaths and 513 injuries, while 97 of those involved train collisions. The common denominator in all capitalist countries is the policy of achieving the maximum possible profit for businessmen and/or the bourgeois state, at the expense of the safety of workers and passengers. Here, in the USA, a similar serious incident took place recently. On February 3, a 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. 38 of the cars crashed resulting in an incalculable disaster, as toxic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid were released into the air and the ground. There are many experts who argue that this accident, too, was the inevitable result of the reduction of safety measures and staffing levels, the intensification of work, the reduction in transport costs, in order to boost the profits of the railroad companies. The figures show that every two weeks a train carrying dangerous goods derails in the USA! And this happens regardless of who is in power -the Republicans or the Democrats. It is telling that the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has recorded 54,539 train derailments between 1990 and 2021. Despite this situation, the railroad business lobby has spent over $200 million in the past 5 years to completely block or limit the implementation of safety regulations on railroads, as they are considered to be a cost. But how is it possible, dear friends and comrades, that trains are still colliding in Europe, America and elsewhere at a time when humanity has developed technology at such an advanced level, allowing us for example to track our pizza order? How is it possible that, while the capitalist state can organize on-line property foreclosures to perfection in order to throw popular families out of their homes, only 13% of the routes of the EU’s central railroad network operate under the automated rail traffic management system (ERTMS)?
Various phenomena in Europe but also in the USA, the “metropolis” of capitalism, show that the capitalist state is incapable of protecting us from floods, blizzards and wildfires, but it is perfectly capable of suppressing demonstrations, undermining strikes and conducting warfare with ultra-modern murderous weapons. We believe that all this is happening, not because there have been some miscalculations, or simply because some people are “not doing their job well”, but because this system sets its own priorities and needs, which, unfortunately for us, are at odds with the needs and priorities of the workers and the peoples. In the first weeks following the train crash in Greece, there was great indignation and anger, especially among the youth. The KKE and KNE were at the forefront of the demonstrations, in which hundreds of thousands of people took part. Ahead of the forthcoming elections, the KKE calls upon the people to turn this great anger into a force of struggle; and this can be done with an even stronger KKE. The KKE has revealed that the policy in favor of profits, pursued by those who are governing and have governed in the past, is the culprit of the crime in Tempe. The KKE daily reveals the potentially fatal incidents similar to the crime in Tempe: the school buildings in ruinous state; the lack of health and safety measures at workplaces; the lack of planned protection of people’s lives from wildfires, floods, earthquakes and large-scale accidents. Today we need to strengthen the power that clashes with the anti-popular policies, the interests of the big business groups that treat the people’s safety and needs as a cost.
It is well known that all bourgeois parties and politicians that have ruled and today ask for the people’s vote (ND, SYRIZA, PASOK, Velopoulos, Varoufakis) are responsible for the tidal wave of 900 anti-popular laws passed in the country through the 3 memoranda during the years of the capitalist crisis. Now they are telling us that since Greece has exited the memoranda, they will be able to implement their program without hindrance. ND is calling for stability, while SYRIZA is calling for a “progressive coalition” government. However, both of them are glossing over the fact that the anti- popular laws, which have crashed workers’ rights and the people’s income, are still in place! They are still in effect! They determine the lives of millions of people! They conceal the fact that a new round of harsh anti-popular policies is being prepared, in the framework of both the new capitalist economic crisis in the European Union foreshadowed by international organizations, and the acute imperialist confrontations. They fail to mention that the people are burdened by permanent memoranda such as the European Semester, the Fiscal Compact, the Euro Plus Pact and the Recovery Fund. All these instruments, which are endorsed by all the other parties, are intended to +secure the continuous adoption of measures in the service of capital at the expense of the workers. It is, as we say, a super-memorandum by which all the other parties are bound. That is why SYRIZA voted for 50% and PASOK for 70% of the bills put forward by the ND government. Tsipras’ recent statement that “the next government, no matter its form, will face a return to fiscal equalization” is also telling. With these words, on the one hand he assures capital of his ‘realism’ in the face of a new crisis, and on the other hand he provides an alibi for the escalation of anti-popular policy in the case that his party comes to power. That is why those parties rejected a number of legislative proposals submitted by the KKE such as:
- The abolition of VAT on foodstuffs and consumer goods, as well as the abolition of VAT and Excise Duties on fuel, electricity, heating oil and gas for domestic use, water supply and telecommunication services.
- The ban on foreclosures of primary residences of the popular strata.
- The proposal of 500 trade unions for the re-establishment of Collective Labor Agreements.
This is the anti-popular stability of curtailed rights, defended by ND, SYRIZA and PASOK, in the name of enhancing and attracting investments in the country. In practice, it is the path that brings insecurity and instability to the lives of the people and the youth. It is the path that leads to a new round of heavy taxation for the working people, to the commercialization of other sectors by skyrocketing costs, prices and risks for the people while boosting the profits of big companies. This is the path that assuredly leads to the new capitalist economic crisis, whose burden will be shifted once again onto the working class and the poor urban and rural self-employed and tradesmen.On the contrary, stability for the people means securing their life and contemporary rights. This presupposes a stronger KKE, for a much stronger labor movement, in order to pave the way for radical social changes. Some people wonder: Does the KKE believe that all the other parties are the same, that there are no left-wing, progressive parties? First of all, the KKE has never said that all the other parties are the same. If they were the same, the bourgeois system could not function. In this system, one bourgeois party rules for one or two terms of office, it disappoints large sections of the people and then makes them turn to another party within the system; and the same story is repeated over and over again. There certainly are historical and ideological differences between the other parties, although they are mitigated over time. A few years ago, we witnessed the “left- wing” SYRIZA forming a coalition government with the far-right ANEL, while in these elections we see that cadres of the so-called pro-Karamanlis right-wing have joined the lists of SYRIZA. Let’s take for example the concept of the left, which has been abused these days, but has always meant struggling against injustice, oppression, exploitation, NATO, foreign bases and unjust wars. Does SYRIZA, which calls itself a party of the “radical left”, struggle for the above? No! On the contrary, it backs the system of injustice, exploitation and imperialist wars. The stance of all the other parties on the issue of the war, which has broken out in Ukraine as a result of the break-up of the Soviet Union, is telling. Let me remind you that all the other parties, except for the KKE, were celebrating the dissolution of the USSR and promising the people “paths to peace and prosperity”.
Today, 32 years later, we have witnessed a chain of imperialist wars and interventions: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan,Libya, Syria, etc. The war that has broken out in Ukraine is being waged between the bourgeois classes and the monopolies over the control of mineral wealth, commodity transport routes, fertile lands, labor force, geopolitical pillars and market shares. The powder keg of the conflict has been storing up for a long time due to the enlargement of NATO, the formation of different plans for capitalist unification in the territories of the former USSR, the new NATO military bases in the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Balkans etc. Our Party rejects both the pretexts used by the Euro-Atlantic side talking about “democracy” and one’s “freedom to choose allies”, and the “anti-fascism” and supposedly “anti-imperialism” that the other side is invoking. In order to prevent plans for capitalist unification of the region where capitalist Russia is the engine, the Euro-Atlantic forces supported reactionary and even fascist forces to change the political landscape in 2014. They took criminal actions, outlawed communist forces and other parties. The KKE opposed all this and warned of the dangers, even before Russia’s unacceptable military invasion of Ukraine, which we have condemned. Unfortunately, our country is also participating in this war, under the responsibility of all the other parties that support the sending of military equipment and the expansion of the US-NATO bases, from which war material and troops are being deployed.
There is talk of sending Greece’s anti-ballistic systems, even 100 Leopard tanks. It is shown once again that the expenditures made in the name of defense and paid for by the Greek people are in fact for NATO’s needs. Moreover, Souda, Alexandroupolis, Larissa, Volos, every corner of our country that is being used for military actions against the other side of the imperialist war is being targeted. We can all understand what this means in the event of a generalization of the conflict, at a time when both sides are constantly using new weapons in the conflict, while making threats to use nuclear weapons. The KKE informs the Greek people about the dangers and at the same time struggles for an end to the involvement of the country in the imperialist war and the sending of materiel to the conflict, for the closure of military bases, for the return home of the sections of the armed forces participating in missions abroad and of course against their deployment to Ukraine, for the disengagement of our country from the imperialist unions of NATO and the EU, with the people being masters in their own land. All that we demand and struggle for is necessary today, since now is the time when the conflict between the powerful imperialist powers is intensifying around the world, as what we are seeing in Ukraine is only a part of this conflict. New hotbeds are constantly emerging or may emerge as the conflict between the Euro-Atlantic bloc and the emerging Eurasian bloc intensifies, and the US and China are competing for supremacy in the international imperialist system.
The KKE struggles for a peaceful world, free of military confrontations, foreign bases, imperialist interventions and wars, where our country will be able to develop mutually beneficial relations with all countries expressing an interest in this matter. This also applies to our country’s relations with Turkey. These relations today are being poisoned by the rivalries of the bourgeois classes over which country will become an “energy hub”, over which monopolies will take control of the region’s wealth. In this context, the Turkish state is exploiting its economic and military power and strengthening its claims and threats on issues concerning Greek sovereign rights, even the sovereignty of the islands. Thus, this has taken us from the strategy of the so-called gray zones to the “Blue Homeland” doctrine, which is combined with the unfounded dispute over the right of the islands to the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or even the demand for their demilitarization. You know that general elections will be held in Turkey tomorrow; however, we must be clear that the above strategic direction of Turkey cannot be changed by a change of government. It is known that even the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its alliance is urging Erdoğan to step up his aggression. On the opposite side lies the Communist Party of Turkey, to which we wish every success in tomorrow’s elections. We are dealing with strategic choices of the Turkish bourgeoisie to dominate the wider region. This purpose fuels its claims in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, the military operations and occupation of Syrian territories, the military interventions in Northern Iraq, the unacceptable Libya-Turkey maritime deal. The claims and threats of the Turkish bourgeoisie are long-standing and escalating.
They are also made with the backing of our “powerful” allies, such as NATO, which does not recognize borders in the Aegean. Both the current ND government and the previous SYRIZA government reassure the people, fostering unfounded complacency, that there is no question of a military confrontation, that the “allies” and the enlargement of their bases in Greece will act as a deterrent. However, history shows that this is far from being the case, just as the NATO-British bases in Cyprus did not prevent the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which has been going on for decades. It is obvious that the Turkish side is creating faits accomplis, insisting on comprehensive negotiations, with the aim of reaching a compromise for the joint exploitation of the natural resources of the region; a painful compromise at the expense of Greek sovereign rights, which at the same time will be a blow to both the environment and the future of the two peoples. International developments, the war in Ukraine, the attempt of Euro-Atlantic powers to keep Turkey on their side, away, as they say, from the “negative influence” of Russia and China, also have a huge impact on Greek-Turkish relations. We cannot help but wonder, what have they given in return? That is why, dear friends and comrades, the claims of the main parties (ND, SYRIZA, PASOK) about Greece’s position, which is supposedly a “pillar of stability” in a “triangle of instability”, are completely unfounded. If your neighbor’s house catches fire and, in fact, you are the one that has let the arsonist pass through your own house to start it, it is highly unlikely that you will get away unscathed. This is even more true when we are dealing with developments in the global capitalist economy, which is characterized by anarchy, uneven growth and crises. The recent successive collapses of US banks bring back memories of the collapse of the big banks in 2008 that triggered the great financial crisis of 2008-2009, which lasted until 2015 in Greece.
From the “Asian tigers”, as the capitalist economies of Asia were called, which fell gravely ill in 1998, or the 2008 crisis, or the so-called corona-virus crisis (in 2020), to the symptoms of the new crisis (2023) following the Silicon Valley bank collapse, what we eventually see is the inability to invest capital in a profitable way. Different formulas of financial management were tried each time. In recent years, both in the USA and the EU, the notorious Green New Deal policy and the digital transformation have been developed to manage the problem of over-accumulation of capital that cannot find outlets for investment providing sufficient profitability. The expansionary policy, which was common throughout the capitalist world, offering huge loans at low interest rates, through state aid packages, could not provide a magic solution to get out of the crisis and led to soaring inflation. Central banks all over the world used as a remedy the increase in interest rates, which turned out to be poison for other issues and ended in new deadlocks in the capitalist economies. History repeatedly proves that capitalism, whether with restrictive or expansionary policies, with low or high interest rates, ultimately leads to the same result: a deepening of the impoverishment of the workers and crises, which are based on the main contradiction of the system, i.e. the social character of production and the capitalist appropriation of its results as the means of production are capitalist property.
In one way or another, the people pay for both crises and capitalist “growth”. The strengthening of the monopolies, the internationalization of the capitalist economy sharpen the anarchy of growth, the massive over-accumulation of capital; they sharpen contradictions with greater intensity and lead to deeper crises. Therein manifest themselves trade, energy and currency wars, with very fierce competition between the big financial groups and the capitalist states, which ultimately bring us closer to imperialist wars. That is why the “fine print” of the programs of ND and SYRIZA include the financial “balance” as a prerequisite, or the supposed “economic resilience”, which in reality is nothing but the profits of capital. The capitalist economy of Greece, which is currently showing a fragile recovery, will not be left unaffected in the event of global shocks. On the contrary, the so-called outward-oriented policy of the Greek economy (e.g. the large size of the tourism sector), which in previous years was presented by the ND and SYRIZA governments, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) and the Bank of Greece as a major post-crisis achievement, objectively leads to greater exposure of the Greek economy to the fluctuations of the international economy. Concluding my keynote speech, and before we move on to the discussion, I would like to anticipate some of your questions. What should be done to enable the people to finally live the way they deserve, based on the possibilities provided by science and technology today? You see, dear comrades and friends, that possibilities today also give the opportunity to Greeks abroad, many migrants who have left the country to work or study, to take part in the elections. All parties have made sure to include representatives from the Greek diaspora on their lists. At the same time, the bourgeois parties that have ruled and seek to rule again do not say a word about the causes that lead thousands of people, mainly young people, to leave Greece concerning the economic and social policies pursued by the anti-popular governments in our country.
We see that these governments do not even take the necessary measures to preserve education in the Greek language, which is an important step for the reintegration of expatriate families, should they be able and decide to return home. The KKE argues that there is a way for the working class and the popular strata to live in a just society. The Program of the KKE scientifically documents that the people today can live with contemporary rights and a quality of life that corresponds to the 21st century and the potential of our time. The scientific central planning of the economy, the socialization of the means of production, the all-round utilization of workers and scientists, the institutions of workers’-people’s power, the disengagement from the imperialist unions can propel the country’s growth by safeguarding the people’s welfare. The Program of the KKE provides for the disengagement of the country from NATO and the EU, with the people holding the reins of power, saving valuable resources and shaping international relations based on mutual benefit with all peoples and their countries. Only the Program of the KKE addresses the political problem of the country. The socialist economic and social organization is the real novelty in the 21st century and secures the interests of the working people. Only the Program and the positions of the KKE provide an answer to the urgent workers’-people’s problems.
The time has come to reject the well-known and bankrupt notion of the so-called lesser evil, which calls upon the people to suffer losses in order to protect the interests of the few. The people can and must think outside the current box of the EU and the power of capital, which is the common denominator of all the parties of the system, to be able to breathe a sigh of relief and assert their rights. The totality of what we are experiencing, such as the uncertainty of crises and imperialist wars, illuminates the undeniable fact that there can be no solution to the acute and ever worsening people’s problems within the limits of the capitalist system and this policy. For sure this will not be addressed simply by a vote in the elections; however, the electoral strengthening of the KKE will certainly be an important step in the organization of the people’s struggle, in the people’s opposition, the representative of which will be a strong KKE that will contribute to the rallying of social forces, will struggle for every issue concerning the people and at the same time will lay the foundations for the overthrow of capitalist barbarity, for the building of the new socialist-communist society.
The issue at stake in the elections is one: either there will be a strong anti-popular government that will continue the same policies or a strong KKE that will be at the forefront, that will be the main bulwark against all that is to come. Because stability for the people means a much stronger KKE, supporting them in their struggle against the anti-popular policy and paving the way for its overthrow. Dear friends and comrades, A few days are left before the May 21 elections and we should use them to talk about the importance of strengthening the KKE with as many expatriates as possible, who will exercise their right to vote here in the USA, in New York, in Boston and other cities, or even in Greece. The KKE can look the migrant workers, the expatriates in the eyes because it has always stood by their side, struggling against the causes that have driven them away from their country, and seeks to help them resolve any problems they may face.