Greece heads for yet another round of elections on June 17 after the inconclusive May 6 poll and the inability of any of the three main parties - the conservative New Democracy (ND), the euro-leftist Syriza and social-democratic Pasok - to form a coalition.
Since no party's vote succeeded in reaching even the 20 per cent mark a multiparty coalition - not merely a bipartisan agreement - would have been needed to achieve a majority government resting on at least 151 of the Greek parliament's 300 seats, or very close to that to achieve at least a working majority.
The refusal of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) to consider joining a Syriza-led coalition has provoked critical comments from some sections of the left. Much of it has come from currents traditionally hostile to the communist movement in Greece and everywhere else for that matter, but also from more sympathetic critics who cannot understand why the Greek left cannot simply put aside its petty differences and create a new government.
As we will see, some of this is based on a simple misreading of the May election results and much more is based on an unrealistic and utopian projection of what will happen in June.
Current opinion polls forecast that Syriza, led by the charismatic Alexis Tsipras, will emerge greatly strengthened in June - perhaps achieving 20-25 per cent of the vote and probably taking first position and thereby receiving an extra 50 seats on top of whatever constituencies it wins.
The Communists will find themselves tightly squeezed but show no signs of backing down from their belief that a Syriza-led government will simply be "a leaking lifeboat," maintaining illusions that the Greek crisis can be solved by simply annulling the debt with the troika - the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - and yet still allow Greece to remain within both the eurozone and the EU itself.
By contrast, the KKE's vision is one of a radical rupture with these institutions.
But aren't these simply tactical issues, as some imply? Shouldn't the KKE swallow its pride and opt for a "united front" to establish a "workers' government" or indeed a "revolutionary government," as one letter-writer to the Morning Star urged?
Let's leave aside the rhetoric and first look at the hard realities that the KKE faced following the May polls.
The Greek electoral system's complicated voting process produced numerous anomalies. Right-wing New Democracy came top, winning 18.85 per cent of the vote, down from 33.4 per cent in the 2009 election.
Yet the conservatives actually increased their number of seats.
They rose from 91 to 108 due to the top-up system that gives the front-runner an extra 50 seats.
Runner-up Syriza, by contrast, took 16.8 per cent of the vote yet won only 52 seats, less than half ND's tally.
The biggest loser Pasok took 13.2 per cent of the vote and held 41 seats. Voters deserted Pasok in droves - the party dropped 30 percentage points.
The main beneficiaries to its left were Syriza (an acronym for its full title Coalition of the Radical Left), which won more than a million votes, and the smaller newly created Democratic Left with 6.11 per cent of the vote and 19 seats.
Given its herculean efforts in the mass extra-parliamentary struggles against the austerity programme, the KKE's vote also increased nationally - but only marginally, by just under 1 per cent nationwide, giving it five more seats or 26 in total.
In five out of six key urban constituencies in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki the KKE vote actually dropped marginally, unquestionably due to the momentum built up by Syriza.
Support for the two pro-austerity parties, ND and Pasok, fell by an astonishing 3.5 million votes, reaching just 33.5 per cent of the total vote.
Yet despite their electoral slide the establishment parties together held 149 seats, just two short of an outright majority.
On the right New Democracy lost votes to a new formation, the Party of Independent Greeks (Anel), formed by anti-troika ND MPs.
Humiliated by the violation of Greek sovereignty that the troika-imposed programmes symbolise and aware of the catastrophic results of austerity on domestic capitalist interests, Anel took 33 seats delivered by voters of the traditional right.
The rise of the neofascist Golden Dawn with 7 per cent of the vote and 21 seats is also a sign that austerity is fuelling the re-emergence of aggressively racist and anti-left sentiments.
The previous far-right party in the Greek parliament was Laos, formed by former ND leaders and allied at EU-level with the Italian Northern League and Britain's Ukip, although comparison with the French National Front might be closer to the mark.
However in late 2011 Laos participated in the short-lived pro-EU austerity "national unity" government of Lucas Papademos before pulling out four months later, and it seems this taint was sufficient to see its vote halve in the general election, losing all its seats.
Given these facts can we reasonably assume that the KKE is solely responsible for the impasse of the left, as some seem to suggest?
The truth is at once both simpler and more complex.
First, there is the straightforward problem of arithmetic: add the seats won by Syriza, KKE and Democratic Left (52+26+19) and we have just 97, far short of a working majority.
A "workers' government" or "united front" would not have been possible even if Syriza had included pro-austerity Pasok (41 seats), a party socialist in name, historically social-democratic in outlook and in recent years nakedly neoliberal in practice.
KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga is not the only Greek politician capable of simple sums. So the KKE regarded the week-long process of party-to-party discussions and presidential roundtable interventions in the full glare of the media as "a mockery, a travesty," as Papariga put it.
In the KKE's eyes new elections were inevitable from the start and talk of left unity governments - at one point Tsipras even suggested tongue-in-cheek that Papariga might serve as prime minister - was cynical grandstanding.
The second factor was more deeply political. While more than 60 per cent of the Greek people voted against the pro-austerity parties, this is not a monolithic vote.
For example, while it might just be conceivable for the left to create a temporary tactical bloc with Anel to reject the EU-IMF programme, given Anel's clear right-wing outlook longer-term co-operation is neither likely nor desirable.
In any case, for the partisans of the "united front" even a tactical alliance would be unacceptable. For example in their joint article on the SocialistUnity.com blog Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson stated that "any co-operation between Syriza and the bourgeois parties should be opposed but it is not currently on the agenda."
A quick reread of Lenin's Left-Wing Communism - an Infantile Disorder on that very principle might be worthwhile, but Syriza has in fact merely ruled out co-operation with the pro-bailout parties, a rather different position.
Tsipras is a wilier operator than Burgin and Hudson imagine.
For example, in deciding who would act as caretaker prime minister until June, Syriza first supported former Pasok minister Gerasimos Arsenis, whose wife just happens to head the small anti-bailout but pro-EU Pasok splinter party Social Agreement for Greece in Europe.
When Pasok objected, Tsipras then announced he was backing Lucas Papademos, the troika-imposed caretaker premier until the election and previously the governor of the Bank of Greece and vice-president of the European Central Bank. This was rejected for obvious reasons by both KKE and Anel and so senior judge Panagiotis Pikrammenos has taken the role in line with the constitution.
The next few weeks will see a hectic election campaign but looming large will be the focus on Syriza's promise that the austerity package can somehow be rejected without leaving the euro.
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