Greece’s leaders appear to have folded. But the rift between its citizens and the rest of the continent won’t be so easily fixed.
By Alexander Clapp – JULY 10 2015
ATHENS, Greece—On Thursday the appliance stores in Kifissia, an upper-class suburb here, were packed with Greeks scrambling to buy expensive imports. They were doing so with cash; Greek-issued credit cards are no longer accepted within or outside of the country. The more dire-sounding residents I met claimed that, within months, Greece will no longer be importing iPhones; others just wanted to spend their money while they still have it. Elsewhere in Athens, lines were still forming outside of ATMs, many of which had run out of cash altogether.
The mood in Athens this week was at once embattled and proud, erratic and panicked. A wave of political resignations has swept Greece since Sunday’s referendum, in which Greeks were asked whether they agreed with the latest bailout terms offered by the country’s creditors. “No” won resoundingly in every province of the country. Antonis Samaras, the former prime minister, stepped down as head of the New Democracy Party that night; Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s finance minister, left his post the next day. There have been taunts of violence. Thanos Tzimeros, a former leader of the minor political party Recreate Greece, is under investigation for taking to social media and calling for a forceful overthrow of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “We are at war here,” Panos Kammenos, the defense minister and head of the Independent Greeks Party, declared after several of his associates threatened to vote “yes” in the referendum.
Tsipras’ Syriza Party ascended to office in January amid a stalemate between Greece’s two political machines, New Democracy and PASOK, which had swapped rule over the country for the past 40 years. It happened on the back of a fundamentally contradictory promise: Tsipras told Greeks he could end the austerity policies that have handicapped public services for the past six years, even while keeping Greece on the euro. In February, he was given a four-month extension by European leaders to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt. That extension ended on June 30. The next payment to the European Central Bank is due July 20.
Relations between Syriza and Greece’s European creditors have been disastrous since Tsipras took power. The conventional wisdom is that Syriza overplayed its hand and is now being put in its place by the Brussels bureaucracy. With Tsipras’ seeming capitulation Thursday in the form of a new bailout proposal that is fairly similar to the one voters rejected and includes major concessions, Europe’s leaders may appear to have finally won the standoff going into a possibly final summit Sunday. But they have done damage to the sanctity of the European project. And Syriza’s fortunes notwithstanding, Europe has failed to cow the Greek left.
Throughout the entire crisis, Europe has treated Greece in belittling, often outright infantilizing ways. The hostility toward Syriza has been astonishing for two reasons. As Varoufakis has argued repeatedly, Syriza remains France and Germany’s best chance at getting any of their money back. It has no incentive, and possibly ability, to give it back in the event of a Greek exit from the euro, which is likely if Greece defaults on its bailout obligations. It is important to remember Syriza’s promise to remain in the eurozone. Tsipras recognizes that his popular support would collapse should that change. For its part, Germany has failed to recognize that its intransigence has in fact given continued life to Syriza, currently the only game in town in Athens.
European officials profess no trust in Syriza, but their picture of Syriza is highly deceptive: Attacks tend to psychologize the party for being reckless, or amateurish, or goaded by some sort of historical trauma or inferiority complex. If anything, the last two weeks have made it sufficiently clear how Europe, as an institution, has its own dissembling ways of operating. Until last week, EU officials had managed to block the release of a June International Monetary Fund report declaring that the only viable solution for Greece’s debt was to have most of it written off; in other words, the IMF vindicated much of what Syriza has been arguing for months now. Incidents of this sort have eroded the investment that many Greeks, regardless of political affiliation, have in the EU as a bureaucratic concept—if not their faith in the very idea of Europe. Historically speaking, the implementation of austerity has rarely resulted in renewed social trust, and the new, harsher rounds of austerity that Brussels has devised for a potential third Greek bailout package will likely only further polarize Greek society.
Three months ago, the lesson of Syriza’s struggle to extract a new deal may have been that the European technocracy can’t be ruffled by a pesky left-wing party on Europe’s fringe. Today, the lesson may be that the failure to create a political union on par with a monetary union not only affects the fortunes for democracy at the national level, but in Europe as a whole. Europe’s attempts to oust Syriza from power by flaunting its weaknesses lack even the semblance of discretion; the idea has been openly acknowledged by northern European leaders. In another context this might be called an attempted coup from afar.
The second reason why Europe’s intransigence toward Syriza is shocking is that Tsipras is not threatening the world of global capital or the structural integrity of the EU. He climbed to power on promises that, among other things, he would spearhead a revolution of working-class people against Europe’s political elite. But Tsipras has accomplished nothing of the sort. He no longer speaks about such things. His actual negotiating points with the EU for the past few months have been over relative trifles: reductions in the value-added tax percentages of certain Aegean Islands, changes in the retirement age of state-sector employees. These are largely symbolic fights—Tsipras needs to prove to his base that he’s tough enough to extract something from lenders—and winning them will no doubt afford certain financial relief to Greeks who have come to expect little from their politicians. But it can hardly be said that Tsipras is confronting the EU in ways that, say, PASOK would never have dreamed. He’s just doing it with a vast base of popular appeal, and with all eyes in Europe on him. This makes him an annoyance to European elites, but also a potentially useful paradigm: He may serve as a precedent for Spain and Portugal if he successfully renegotiates bailout terms, and he likewise becomes a warning to governments in those countries if he fails.
Syriza is by no means blameless in any of this. Its handling of negotiations and its exercise of power have been abysmal. Time and again Tsipras has misled his electorate. He claimed that a deal with creditors would be reached on Tuesday, when in fact he had no new terms to present to Brussels. He has made few of his tactics transparent to the Greek people. Few Greeks last Sunday knew exactly what they were actually voting on—problematic not least because Tsipras has said that he would never lead Greece out of the European Union without first consulting the Greek people. Last Sunday could be used as the “evidence” he needed that Greeks do want to leave. But the majority, according to opinion polls, still don’t.
The deeper problem with Syriza is a kind of bravado fueled by populist tactics. The alliance it made with the far-right Independent Greeks in January now appears less a case of odd bedfellows and more like a perfectly natural partnership. There’s something pettily nationalistic in Syriza’s activation of Greek pride against the creditors. Of course this is now the strange position of the left across Europe, traditionally opposed to nationalism; patriotism has become a last plank of resistance against technocratic incursion. In Greece, right-wing elements—including the neo-Nazis—join the left in opposing this. There’s also something uncomfortably opportunistic about Syriza’s obsession with the German midcentury, be it the wartime loans forcefully extracted from Greece, or the forgiveness of German wartime debts in 1953.
There’s hope for the Greek left beyond Syriza. It partly derives from the methods Syriza used to rise to power. As early as 2008, when anti-austerity rallies and anti-fascist demonstrations began hitting Athens, Syriza deliberately refused to politicize them. Instead the rallies remained organic gatherings of citizens, who were taking to the streets voluntarily, not because their politicians were telling them to. Today, there’s a tremendous social base on the Greek left unconnected to Syriza that supports the party but is not wrapped up in its political fate. The vast majority of these people sit to the left of Syriza and would argue that Tsipras is not being nearly radical enough when it comes to reforming Greece’s place in the eurozone.
This social bloc, comprised primarily of the youth, now bears a heavy hand in the Greek political scene. Its capabilities were on full display on Friday night, at the final “no” rally in Syntagma Square—organized by Syriza, but not very well promoted by it. Those who spread the word about attending that demonstration were members of organizations like ANTARSYA, an anti-capitalist movement. They combed the streets, working-class neighborhoods, and the parks, explanatory pamphlets in hand; they spray-painted sidewalks and bed sheets with NO! and slung them across various symbols of Athens—Lycabettus Hill, different departments of Athens University. The opposing Yes! campaign was another thing altogether, waged predominately via crisp, professionally shot video ads that aired on YouTube and Greek TV.
The results were clear. One hundred thousand Athenians showed up to the “no” demonstration in Syntagma Square—by some accounts, the largest gathering of Greeks in a single place since the collapse of the Junta more than 40 years ago. Those supporting the “yes” vote in the Panathenaic Stadium numbered just 20,000.
What does this actually mean for Greece right now? Two things. First, the “no” victory in the referendum, while hardly deserving of the jubilation it received, at the very least showed that democracy, even if in the form of a plebiscite, is still alive in Greece on the ground. Second, if Syriza falls from power, the basis for its popular support—the movements, the social activism—still exists; Syriza, or at least the ideas behind it, won’t go the way of PASOK, the center-left party that imploded as soon as its political foothold vanished and its European cash flows dried up. Should Greece stay in the eurozone, Germany will still have to reckon with this element of Greek society, which is now enraged by Tsipras’ concessions.
That’s why Friday evening, tens of thousands of Greeks flocked to Syntagma Square—not only to protest Europe’s harsh yoke, but also what many consider their prime minister’s great betrayal. The majority of the protesters were from unions controlled by the Communist Party; a small portion were from the Greek far right. The police were out in full force, although Syriza had run on the promise that the presence of riot police would be tempered. Almost every protest that’s occurred while Syriza’s been in power has been pro-government. This was different. “It’s just like it was six months ago,” a teenager named Konstantinos told me. “The police are back, and so is the austerity.”
Five leading economists warn the German chancellor, “History will remember you for your actions this week.”
The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.
The never-ending austerity that Europe is force-feeding the Greek people is simply not working. Now Greece has loudly said no more.
it would, the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.
The humanitarian impact has been colossal—40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent. Corruption, tax evasion and bad accounting by previous Greek governments helped create the debt problem. The Greeks have complied with much of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call for austerity—cut salaries, cut government spending, slashed pensions, privatized and deregulated, and raised taxes. But in recent years the series of so-called adjustment programs inflicted on the likes of Greece has served only to make a Great Depression the likes of which have been unseen in Europe since 1929-1933. The medicine prescribed by the German Finance Ministry and Brussels has bled the patient, not cured the disease.
Together we urge Chancellor Merkel and the Troika to consider a course correction, to avoid further disaster and enable Greece to remain in the eurozone. Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger. Sadly, the bullet will not only kill off Greece’s future in Europe. The collateral damage will kill the Eurozone as a beacon of hope, democracy and prosperity, and could lead to far-reaching economic consequences across the world.
Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.
To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear; we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.
Heiner Flassbeck, former State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Finance
Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the Paris School of Economics
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Dani Rodrik, Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy, Harvard Kennedy School
Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
TheRealNewsPublished on 7 Jul 2015
Heiner Flassbeck, former director of UNCTAD, says German economic policy put Greece into crisis and progressive Germans must stop the irrational bleeding of the Greek people
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THURSDAY, JUL 9, 2015
The battle in Greece is identical to the one we need to be waging right here for fairness over markets and banks
PATRICK L. SMITH
The referendum in Greece refuting the European Union’s unbending insistence on radical austerity as the medicine Greeks must continue to swallow is simply not to be missed for its multiple layers of significance. To put the core take-home first, we are all Greeks as they stand against the neoliberal orthodoxy. Their battle is perfectly of a piece with one that needs to be called by its name and waged in our great country.
The Greek crisis has given us an altogether exposing moment, to put the point another way. It is universal in all that it lays bare about the world’s political economy as it has come to be over the last, say, four decades.
Three understandings—recognitions, maybe—were immediately plain as the polling results came in Sunday evening. The Tsipras government, left social democratic in its thinking, won a triumphant 61 percent of the electorate’s support in its stand against the E.U.’s utterly irrational desire to impose more human suffering in the name of market principles. And the magnitude of the victory underscored the truths Greece just gave us:
• Greeks voted courage over fear. They insisted that there is a value higher than market value—this value being the commonweal, the well-being of a society and the people who comprise it. They asked, Does the polity serve the market, or does the market serve the polity? This is one of the essential questions of our time, however rarely it gets asked. Posing it is a very large deed in itself, a favor to all others, and the Greeks’ reply is larger still, of course.
• The European Union, with roots in the too-distant idealism of the early postwar years, has just destroyed any claim it had to stand among humanity’s higher aspirations. The E.U. will remain, obviously, but effectively in form only—a collection of powerful but hollow institutions that inspire little loyalty. Its nakedly corrupt use of power against Greek democracy devastates what may have remained of its original ambition. For now at least, there is no reason to do anything other than oppose it in the name of the very thing it was supposed to stand for: human freedom.
• “What’s going on with the austerity is really class war,” Noam Chomsky said in an interview with the estimable Amy Goodman on this site a few days ago. It is time we got used to this term, which requires that we discredit our densely layered mythologies to the effect that class conflict occurs elsewhere but never in our Providential land. Greeks ’r’ Us: In what they have just done we must see what must be done in America if this nation is to avoid letting the neoliberal order subvert it altogether.
Alexis Tsipras’ last speech on the eve of the referendum is a remarkable document. Unless you speak Greek, you have to read it in an English translation of the French translation, but it comes over clearly nonetheless. (And isn’t it interesting that the French would translate it but no one in the Anglo-American world would bother?)
Tsipras addressed “citizens of Athens, people of Greece,” sounding a little like a fifth century B.C. orator. He spoke of “mutual respect,” “solidarity,” “living with dignity in Europe,” “bravery,” “strength,” “democratic tradition.”
He spoke of the E.U.’s “rhetoric of terror,” which I find a perfectly defensible description of its disgraceful campaign to spread fear among Greek voters in the days prior to the vote. “We are giving democracy a chance to return,” Tsipras said. “To return to Europe, because we want Europe to return to its founding principles.”
Tsipras drew his best-known line, repeated on the wires quickly afterward, from a 19th century Greek poet. “Liberty demands virtue and courage,” he said, invoking the phrase several times before he finished. I had to remind myself as I read: This guy is 40 years old and already a master of his head, his heart and his principles.
We should think about this speech. What was Tsipras talking about? OK, he wanted to move his electorate, but what about the way he chose to do it? Why did he evoke the Greek past and the Greek character so fulsomely—“this passion, this anxious desire for life, this anxious desire for hope, this anxious desire for optimism”?
Start to finish, Tsipras had one thing on his mind: values. What are the values by which we should live? From what do we all derive our identities? These were his implicit questions, to which his answers could not have been clearer.
Among E.U. officials, Tsipras and his government have been dismissed since he took office in January as amateurs, irresponsible grandstanders, dreamers, dangers, neophytes, incompetents. The technocrats in Brussels and Frankfurt would never in a millennium take any interest in this kind of thinking, to say nothing of learning from it, and this is entirely natural: They do not respect any such values and do not think Europeans should live by them.
Gradually since the early 1970s, when American corporations and political elites began to consolidate the neoliberal order as we now have it, it has come to determine Europe’s direction, too. The Greek crisis, if we understand it as essentially political rather than financial or economic, was thus 40 years or so in the making. Sooner or later, neoliberalism was going to collide with someone or other’s democratic process.
Yanis Varoufakis, Tsipras’ now departed finance minister, sent out a superbly revealing tweet after the prime minister announced the referendum late last month and the E.U. started in on its campaign to subvert the Syriza government in favor of one more pliant. “Democracy deserves a boost in euro-related matters,” Varoufakis wrote. “We have just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds.)”
Depends on what you mean by “funny.” I take the funny part to be a measure of just how far we have let our values slide in the face of neoliberalism’s 40-year advance toward cast-iron orthodoxy. You have to take a page from Elvis Costello at this point and ask, What’s so funny about human dignity, strength, virtue (in the sense of moral character and humane intent)?
Lionel Jospin, the Socialist premier of France on either side of the millennium, used to say, “Market economy, not market society.” Sensible and modest, you may think, but name a European leader who would touch such a thought with a pole these days. Another measure of how far and fast we have come (or gone).
I dwell on this question of values because the Greeks have just shown us something very vital. Neoliberalism, as it operates through corporations, political elites, and corrupted media striking poses of authority, does not degenerate only our towns, traditions, environments, local fabric, culture and so on. At bottom it is well along in destroying the values that give value, in turn, to all such things.
It is thus essential to understand values as the field of decisive battle. This lets us redraw all the lines in the right places—which is a good description of what Tsipras has persuaded Greeks to do. What is the goal, the purpose? What can be compromised and what is beyond compromise? These questions become easier to ask and answer—as we must require ourselves to do. Sacrifice is easier to accept.
When I look at the E.U. now I marvel at the power of neoliberal ideology. I say this because it is in the service of the ideology, plain and simple, that Europe’s technocratic class and many of its leaders have just destroyed the union itself in its most important dimension—as an idea, a source of identity, a form of human organization that could transcend the eternally warring nation-state.
It is gone, decimated in the six-month interim since Greeks voted Syriza into power, which makes this a moment of history, surely. This said, the moment was that 40 years mentioned above in the making.
It pains me to write this, honestly, as I had long bought into the ideal as articulated as early as 1946. A unified Europe was to be a peaceful, democratic, one-for-all entity.
Luisa Passerini, an interesting Italian scholar, traces the idea of Europe back to the 17th century and finds concrete proposals for a federated Europe as early as the 19th. Even more interesting, she finds in “Europe,” the notion, a long thread of emotional bonding: Greeks and Belgians would be Greek and Belgian but Europeans together.
Intellectual construct, political construct, psychological and even emotional construct: What of it is left now? Post-Greece, it is sheer illusion to pretend any longer that membership has anything to do with abstractions such as identity—or even the preservation of the democratic process, given Brussels and Berlin just tried to subvert Greece’s.
Varoufakis now likens the E.U. to a debtors’ prison. Who could have imagined such talk when the euro was launched in 1999? In his recent book, “The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy,” he put it this way:
Europe is looking like a case of alchemy-in-reverse: for whereas the alchemist strove to turn lead into gold, Europe’s reverse alchemists began with gold (an integration project that was the pride of its elites) but will soon end up with the institutional equivalent of lead.
How to explain what the E.U. has just done? For months one has had to ask, Why does Europe insist on intensifying the very policies that measurably worsened Greece’s predicament, turning disaster into calamity?
There are a few answers.
One, the E.U. and Germany are ducking responsibility. So long as they insist on more austerity they do not have to acknowledge the strategy’s failure. As Paul Krugman has pointed out repeatedly in his New York Times columns, Greece has done nearly everything demanded in the two previous bailout plans only to find its circumstances worsened. Let Greeks suffer in the cause of our political reputations: This is in essence the position. Disgraceful, of course.
Two, the power of ideological belief and the out-of-hand rejection of all imaginative thinking both derive from the reality Chomsky named: Austerity and the neoliberal orthodoxy it manifests are at bottom forms of class war. When we recognize this, the mystery starts to evaporate.
Failed policies, malnourished Greeks, widespread homelessness, shuttered schools and hospitals—none of it counts as more than collateral damage in the campaign to turn Greece into a low-wage, low-cost, deregulated park wherein global corporations can do more or less what they like.
Third, it is time to put the E.U. in the file with all other supra-national institutions developed in the post-1945 period. The three I have in mind are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. Anyone who does not recognize these as instruments deployed in the West’s campaign to roll the neoliberal order across the globe like linoleum needs to look more objectively at events.
Back in the early 1970s, Shirley Hazzard, the Australian-cum-British-cum-American writer, published a scathing account of the U.N. called “Defeat of an Ideal,” and the title tells you the sad tale this book recounts. An institution founded on hope and aspiration ends up a gross betrayal of its own purpose—not least, in the U.N.’s case, because Washington insisted on waging the Cold War in its corridors.
Hazzard concluded that the U.N. should be dissolved so that the community of nations could begin again and retrieve the original principles written into the charter. I am not quite there yet with the E.U. Tsipras is right to try to keep his country in the eurozone, but I doubt he is looking for fraternal harmony.
I doubt he has any illusions, either, as to the long-term prospects of an enduring accommodation between a social democratic populace and a set of neoliberal institutions answerable to no electorate. Tsipras needs a deal to spare 11 million Greeks more suffering and chaos, full stop. I do not think we should look for more to come of this.
In the space of six months I have surrendered a lot of illusions—the illusions of an American, for I long (and naively) looked to Europe to evince some alternative to America’s military-centered assertion of its ambitions. It does, but the distinction is merely one of means, not ends: In the Greek case, Europe wanted regime change in Athens and probably still does. It prefers to do with bond debt what Washington likes to do with bombs.
Parenthetically, think about the Ukraine crisis in this light. The same very modest distinction applies. Washington and the Europeans continue to bicker about method—how to yank Ukraine westward, violently or otherwise—but no more.
The dream is over. What can I say?
Just one final point, actually.
The term “class war” is powerfully provocative in the American context. You do not use it unless you are willing to put up your dukes, for the myth of America as a middle-class nation with no contesting endowed and deprived extremes is a wide plank in the platform of our claim to exceptionalism. How many times have you heard the trusty, “We’re all in this together”—articulated most frequently when it is perilously obvious that we are not?
We Americans would do very well, then, to reflect on the Greeks’ predicaments for what we may learn about our own. In yet one more context, unless we overcome the exceptionalist narrative we stand little chance of understanding who we are, what is being done to us, and what we must do.
Last Sunday, Greeks told the rest of us they are perfectly clear on all three points. Are they not to be envied in this respect, even amid their sufferings and struggles.
Patrick Smith is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist. A longtime correspondent abroad, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, he is also an essayist, critic and editor. His most recent books are “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale, 2013) and Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World (Pantheon, 2010). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is patricklawrence.us.
The Greeks are correct: Brussels’ denial that this is an ideological question is ideology at its purest – and symptomatic of our whole political process.
BY SLAVOJ ZIZEK – PUBLISHED 6 JULY, 2015
The unexpectedly strong No in the Greek referendum was a historical vote, cast in a desperate situation. In my work I often use the well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union about Rabinovitch, a Jew who wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: “There are two reasons why. The first is that I’m afraid that in the Soviet Union the Communists will lose power, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communist crimes on us, Jews – there will again be anti-Jewish pogroms . . .”
“But,” the bureaucrat interrupts him, “this is pure nonsense. Nothing can change in the Soviet Union! The power of the Communists will last for ever!”
“Well,” responds Rabinovitch calmly, “that’s my second reason.”
I was informed that a new version of this joke is now circulating in Athens. A young Greek man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. “Why do you want to leave Greece?” asks the official.
“For two reasons,” replies the Greek. “First, I am worried that Greece will leave the EU, which will lead to new poverty and chaos in the country . . .”
“But,” interrupts the official, “this is pure nonsense: Greece will remain in the EU and submit to financial discipline!”
“Well,” responds the Greek calmly, “this is my second reason.”
Are then both choices worse, to paraphrase Stalin?
The moment has come to move beyond the irrelevant debates about the possible mistakes and misjudgements of the Greek government. The stakes are now much too high.
That a compromise formula always eludes at the last moment in the ongoing negotiations between Greece and the EU administrators is in itself deeply symptomatic, since it doesn’t really concern actual financial issues – at this level, the difference is minimal. The EU usually accuses Greeks of talking only in general terms, making vague promises without specific details, while Greeks accuse the EU of trying to control even the tiniest details and imposing on Greece conditions that are harsher than those imposed on the previous government. But what lurks behind these reproaches is another, much deeper conflict. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, recently remarked that if he were to meet alone with Angela Merkel for dinner, they would find a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, the two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one, in contrast to technocratic administrators such as the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. If there is an emblematic bad guy in this whole story, it is Dijsselbloem, whose motto is: “If I get into the ideological side of things, I won’t achieve anything.”
This brings us to the crux of the matter: Tsipras and the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned on 6 July, talk as if they are part of an open political process where decisions are ultimately “ideological” (based on normative preferences), while the EU technocrats talk as if it is all a matter of detailed regulatory measures. When the Greeks reject this approach and raise more fundamental political issues, they are accused of lying, of avoiding concrete solutions, and so on. It is clear that the truth here is on the Greek side: the denial of “the ideological side” advocated by Dijsselbloem is ideology at its purest. It masks (falsely presents) as purely expert regulatory measures that are effectively grounded in politico-ideological decisions.
On account of this asymmetry, the “dialogue” between Tsipras or Varoufakis and their EU partners often appears as a dialogue between a young student who wants a serious debate on basic issues and an arrogant professor who, in his answers, humiliatingly ignores the issue and scolds the student on technical points (“You didn’t formulate that correctly! You didn’t take into account that regulation!”). Or even as a dialogue between a rape victim who desperately reports what happened to her and a policeman who continuously interrupts her with requests for administrative details.
This passage from politics proper to neutral expert administration characterises our entire political process: strategic decisions based on power are more and more masked as administrative regulations based on neutral expert knowledge, and they are more and more negotiated in secrecy and enforced without democratic consultation. The struggle that goes on is the struggle for the European economic and political Leitkultur (the guiding culture). The EU powers stand for the technocratic status quo that has kept Europe in inertia for decades.
In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative T S Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief, ie, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. This is our position today with regard to Europe: only a new “heresy” (represented at this moment by Syriza) can save what is worth saving in European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity. The Europe that will win if Syriza is outmanoeuvred is a “Europe with Asian values” (which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but all with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy).
In western Europe we like to look on Greece as if we are detached observers who follow with compassion and sympathy the plight of the impoverished nation. Such a comfortable standpoint relies on a fateful illusion – what has been happening in Greece these past weeks concerns all of us; it is the future of Europe that is at stake. So when we read about Greece, we should always bear in mind that, as the old saying goes, de te fabula narrator (the name changed, the story applies to you).
An ideal is gradually emerging from the European establishment’s reaction to the Greek referendum, the ideal best rendered by the headline of a recent Gideon Rachman column in the Financial Times: “Eurozone’s weakest link is the voters”.
In this ideal world, Europe gets rid of this “weakest link” and experts gain the power to directly impose necessary economic measures – if elections take place at all, their function is just to confirm the consensus of experts. The problem is that this policy of experts is based on a fiction, the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid).
Why is the fiction so stubborn? It is not only that this fiction makes debt extension more acceptable to German voters; it is also not only that the write-off of the Greek debt may trigger similar demands from Portugal, Ireland, Spain. It is that those in power do not really want the debt fully repaid. The debt providers and caretakers of debt accuse the indebted countries of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. Their pressure fits perfectly what psychoanalysis calls “superego”: the paradox of the superego is that, as Freud saw it, the more we obey its demands, the more guilty we feel.
Imagine a vicious teacher who gives to his pupils impossible tasks, and then sadistically jeers when he sees their anxiety and panic. The true goal of lending money to the debtor is not to get the debt reimbursed with a profit, but the indefinite continuation of the debt, keeping the debtor in permanent dependency and subordination. For most of the debtors – for there are debtors and debtors. Not only Greece but also the US will not be able even theoretically to repay its debt, as is now publicly recognised. So there are debtors who can blackmail their creditors because they cannot be allowed to fail (big banks), debtors who can control the conditions of their repayment (the US government) and, finally, debtors who can be pushed around and humiliated (Greece).
The debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. That’s what is so disturbing for the EU establishment about the Syriza government: that it admits debt, but without guilt. They got rid of the superego pressure. Varoufakis personified this stance in his dealings with Brussels: he fully acknowledged the weight of the debt, and he argued quite rationally that, since the EU policy obviously didn’t work, another option should be found.
Paradoxically, the point Varoufakis and Tsipras have made repeatedly is that the Syriza government is the only chance for the debt providers to get at least part of their money back. Varoufakis himself wonders about the enigma of why banks were pouring money into Greece and collaborating with a clientelist state while knowing very well how things stood – Greece would never have got so heavily indebted without the connivance of the western establishment. The Syriza government is well aware that the main threat does not come from Brussels – it resides in Greece itself, a clientelist, corrupted state if everthere was one. What the EU bureaucracy should be blamed for is that, while it criticised Greece for its corruption and inefficiency, it supported the very political force (the New Democracy party) that embodied this corruption and inefficiency.
The Syriza government aims precisely at breaking this deadlock – see Varoufakis’s programmatic declaration (published in the Guardian), which renders the ultimate strategic goal of the Syriza government:
A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone. I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s. If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.
The financial politics of the Syriza government closely followed these guidelines: no deficit, tight discipline, more money raised through taxes. Some German media recently characterised Varoufakis as a psychotic who lives in his own universe different from ours – but is he so radical?
What is so enervating about Varoufakis is not his radicalism but his rational pragmatic modesty – if one looks closely at the proposals offered by Syriza, one cannot help noticing that they were once part of the standard moderate social-democratic agenda (in Sweden of the 1960s, the programme of the government was much more radical). It is a sad sign of our times that today you have to belong to a “radical” left to advocate these same measures – a sign of dark times, but also a chance for the left to occupy the space which, decades ago, was that of the moderate centre left.
But, perhaps, the endlessly repeated point about how modest Syriza’s politics are, just good old social democracy, somehow misses its target – as if, if we repeat it often enough, the Eurocrats will finally realise we’re not really dangerous and will help us. Syriza effectively is dangerous; it does pose a threat to the present orientation of the EU – today’s global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state.
So there is something hypocritical in the reassurances about the modesty of what Syriza wants: in effect, it wants something that is not possible within the co-ordinates of the existing global system. A serious strategic choice will have to be made: what if the moment has come to drop the mask of modesty and openly advocate the much more radical change that is needed to secure even a modest gain?
Many critics of the Greek referendum claimed that it was a case of pure demagogic posturing, mockingly pointing out that it was not clear what the referendum was about. If anything, the referendum was not about the euro or the drachma, about Greece in the EU or outside it: the Greek government repeatedly emphasised its desire to remain in the EU and in the eurozone. Again, the critics automatically translated the key political question raised by the referendum into an administrative decision about particular economic measures.
In an interview with Bloomberg on 2 July, Varoufakis made clear the true stakes of the referendum. The choice was between the continuation of the EU politics of the past years that brought Greece to the edge of ruin – the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid) – and a new, realist beginning that would no longer rely on such fictions, and would provide a concrete plan for how to start the actual recovery of the Greek economy.
Without such a plan, the crisis would just reproduce itself again and again. On the same day, even the IMF conceded that Greece needs large-scale debt relief to create “a breathing space” and get the economy moving (it proposes a 20-year moratorium on debt payments).
The No in the Greek referendum was thus much more than a simple choice between two different approaches to economic crisis. The Greek people have heroically resisted the despicable campaign of fear that mobilised the lowest instincts of self-preservation. They have seen through the brutal manipulation of their opponents, who falsely presented the referendum as a choice between euro and drachma, between Greece in Europe and “Grexit”.
Their No was a No to the Eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory for principle against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.
It is now up to the EU to act. Will it be able to awaken from its self-satisfied inertia and understand the sign of hope delivered by the Greek people? Or will it unleash its wrath on Greece in order to be able to continue its dogmatic dream?
Slavoj Žižek’s is a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and international director at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. His latest book is “Trouble in Paradise: from the End of History to the End of Capitalism” (Allen Lane)
reece may be financially bankrupt, but the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers, powers of the kind now afflicting us all. Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes.
The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.
It would be sheer folly if the Greek government and central bank aren’t utilising the current Bank Holiday to print ample supplies of new drachmas and recode the banking support systems to cope with introduction of a new currency, while continuing to pursue negotiations with the Troika.
TheRealNewsPublished on 5 Jul 2015
Michael Spourdalakis, Dean of the School of Economics and Politics at the University of Athens, in an interview with Dimitri Lascaris, says it is time for the Greek government to play hardball with the Troika
- Standard YouTube Licence
The battle for the Referendum in Greece
| Savas Michael-Matsas
Day 1. Monday June 29, 2015
More than 200 thousand people assembled in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek Parliament, in a tremendous mass rally supporting a “NO” vote in the coming Referendum on July 5. The “NO” vote would reject the ultimatum of the EU, the ECB, and the IMF for Greece to accept a new round of measures of social cannibalism or to be evicted from the Euro-zone (the infamous “Grexit”) and then from the EU. The size and spirit of the rally recalls the days of the historic popular mobilizations in the years 2010-12, when the troika of EU/ECB/IMF with the willingly servile Greek bourgeois governments, first imposed the infamous “bail-out” programs tied to the “Memorandum” of draconian measures of “austerity” to save their banks by starving the people of a bankrupt Greece.
The last five years of social polarization and radicalization produced a massive turn to the left, which finally led to the electoral victory of the left reformist Syriza on January 25, 2015, on the expectation that it will end “austerity”. Five months of fruitless “negotiations” of the pro-EU Syriza with the hostile troika of EU/ECB/IMF has finally collapsed. On June 22, a desperate Tsipras government, under the blackmail of conditions of financial asphyxia imposed by the ECB, was at the point of full capitulation, accepting a new program of austerity, worse even than the previous ones that the neo-liberal governments of PASOK and the right-wing New Democracy had imposed in 2010-2014. But at the last moment, on June 24, the IMF introduced more barbaric measures. Already the signs of a Syriza capitulation had produced a vast popular discontent in Greece and a real rebellion in the ranks of Syriza itself. Returning to Athens on June 26, Tsipras faced the dilemma either to commit political suicide himself and his government or to make a new turn. Thus, he announced that the troika ultimatum would be posed in a referendum to be decided by the Greek people itself by a “Yes” or a “No”.
This turn produced hysteria in all the centers of global capital, in Brussels, Berlin, and Washington first of all. The leaders of the imperialist institutions expressed their fury demanding a “Yes” by the Greek voters and a change of government. The collaborators of the troika in Greece, the bourgeois opposition parties (including the Nazis of the “Golden Dawn”) staged a counter-revolutionary anti-communist mobilization of the middle class named “We stay in Europe” , which revives memories of Allende’s Chile in 1973.
Disgracefully, the Stalinist Communist Party is boycotting the campaign for a “NO” vote in the referendum, claiming that a “NO” to the clear and direct question “Do you accept the terms of the EU/ECB/IMF, Yes or No?” indirectly means a “Yes” to the government austerity plan. By urging their supporters to hand in a ballot with the name of the Communist Party (KKE) and its slogans instead of the official ballot, (of course, legally this does not count and it is considered a spoiled ballot) the Stalinists promote an “abstentionism” in favor to the capitalist parties and system.
The EEK, although criticizing the policies of class collaboration and adaptation to the EU of Syriza and the entire logic of fake “negotiations”, is actively campaign for a NO in the Referendum advancing as well a transitional program of cancellation of the debt, nationalization of the banks under workers control, a restructuring of the economy on new socialist bases, a break from the imperialist EU and for the socialist unification of Europe.
We participated today under our own banners in this tremendous rally in Syntagma, and we are organizing our own EEK rally in front of the old University in the center of Athens next Wednesday, July the 1st—one day after the non-payment of 1.5 billion euro to the IMF. Other public meetings of the EEK will take place in cities all over Greece the next days. The Secretary of the EEK Savas Michael-Matsas today gave an interview in the main News bulletin of the National Radio Station ERA, presenting the position and analysis of the Trotskyist party, criticizing as well the attempt by the government to use the referendum as a card for an impossible renegotiation with the EU. The main evening pro-Syriza daily Efsyn published the Resolution of the Central Committee of the EEK on the referendum.
A new chapter of the world capitalist crisis that erupted in 2007-2008 has been opened. Already the resistance of the Greek people that imposed a referendum on the imperialist ultimatum has produced globally a tsunami in all financial centers and a panic among the imperialists themselves who try now to advance a kind of post-modern coup d’etat to establish their government of servile stooges in Athens. Merkel, Juncker, Hollande, the President of the European Parliament Schulz, the leaders of European Social democracy are daily intervening, bluntly demanding a victory for the “Yes” vote and “regime change”.
This is class war. Despite the difficulties, the confusion, the panic produced by the Greek “corralito” imposed by the ECB, we are fighting with all our might, dedication, and confidence in the final victory of the working class in the developing confrontation between social revolution and counter-revolution.
Day 2. Tuesday June 30, 2015
The battle for the Greek Referendum, for a “Yes” or “No” vote on July 5 to the new barbaric “austerity” measures, demanded from the impoverished Greek people by the recent ultimatum by the IMF/EU/ECB as the only way to “avoid” collapse and Grexit, escalates every day.
The class lines of the confrontation became very clear. All the leaders of world imperialism- Obama, Merkel, Holland, Renzi, Rajoy, Cameron etc., all the institutions of finance capital and their world wide mass media intensify their threats and intimidation, while they try unsuccessfully to “minimize the dangers for the world capitalist economy”. Obama, in his last statement, claimed that a Grexit will not affect the US economy, although most bourgeois analysts, including his own Treasury Secretary have the opposite view. Jack Lew, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, has warned the EU on several occasions that a Grexit represents “ a global systemic risk”.
In Greece, all the bourgeois opposition parties, local government leaders of the Right and of the “extreme center” Potami, the capitalist owners of the big companies, and nearly all the TV, radio, and Press mass media are united not only in terrorizing the population, blackmailing it to vote “Yes”, but also in mobilizing a counter-revolutionary “ civil society” petty bourgeois pro-EU “We stay in Europe” movement, having as a model, as themselves say, the “Euro Maidan” in Ukraine.
Today, these reactionary forces of the ruling class have organized their rally in support of the Yes, in Syntagma Square. Large businesses, even as they withhold salaries from their workers, blaming that on “the communist government that has closed the banks”, blackmailed their employees into participating in today’s rally, making it clear that otherwise, their jobs were in jeopardy.
The reactionary pro YES rally was massive but obviously had less people than yesterday’s pro-NO popular mobilization. Furthermore, as a well known atheist said, “even God is against the right wingers” because during their rally a torrential summer rain started to fall dispersing the assembled petty bourgeois “warriors”!..
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, feverish secret negotiations have started again between the EU and the Tsipras government to find an agreement at the last moment. Yesterday’s mobilization of the popular masses against the troika- reviving memories of 2011 and 2012- has frightened both the imperialist institutions but also the government, which does not stop repeating that “a victory of the NO does not mean a break but a new round of negotiations with the EU”!! In any case, the referendum was a clear expression of the pressures of the masses themselves against the capitulation of the government.
A previous proposal by Juncker was resurrected and now presented by the Greek government asking for a new 2-years loan from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) with softer austerity terms to avoid a full meltdown of the Greek economy with uncontrollable implications in Europe and internationally.
The previous “bailout program” with the troika has expired today, June 30, and officially Greece is without any “safety belt”. There was no payment of the 1.5 billion euros for the debt to the IMF – a first for a European country. The biggest challenge for the institutions’ will be a probable non payment of a 3.5 billion euros installment due to the ECB on July 20.
The EEK continues its campaign for a NO vote throughout the country. We held a demonstration in Volos under the slogan “We will not pay for the crisis of the capitalists”. Tomorrow, we have a central rally in Athens- let’s hope without a rain!
Day 3. Wednesday July 1, 2015
Tension and pressure are increasing daily. The European Council tried -unsuccessfully- to prevent the coming Referendum on the EU ultimatum to Greece, claiming it was …“illegal”. But pressure to cancel the referendum also came from within the country, not only from the Right wing and the other smaller bourgeois opposition parties but also from within Syriza, from well known cadres of the party, members of the European Parliament elected on the Syriza list (the “Green” K.Chrysogons and the journalist St.Kouloglou) and left intellectuals, such as the “Third Worldist” Kostas Vergopoulos, known in France and Latin America.
The campaign of intimidation on behalf of a victory for the ‘Yes’ vote by the bourgeoisie, the mass media, bourgeois politicians, and the trade union bureaucracy is intensifying. The nearly non-existent GSEE (General Confederation of Labor, a union organization that had disappeared from the scene for many months, particularly after the January 2015 elections) suddenly reappears as part of the campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. Confusion and discontent are spreading by the closure of the banks and the anxiety of pensioners to get their small pension.
Tsipras made a last moment desperate overture to the leaders of the troika, Draghi, Juncker, and Lagarde. He sent them a letter accepting many of their demands in the last ultimatum and that are put to the question in the language of the referendum. But all “discussion” on this proposal of capitulation is postponed till after the referendum. It becomes obvious that the goal of the troika is not only the victory of the ‘Yes’, but also the crashing defeat of Syriza and the overthrow of the Tsipras government, to be replaced with “a new government with the necessary credibility to discuss with the European institutions”, as Schauble and Juncker have said. The emergency meeting of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers of the EU also ended with the same postponement of any discussion till the aftermath of the referendum.
“They blackmail the Greek people either to accept and say Yes to an endless horror of austerity or, in the case of No, to be condemned into a horrible end , of social economic chaos” said Savas Michael-Matsas, secretary of the EEK, in his speech at the successful public rally of the Trotskyist Party in front of the old building of Athens University at the center of the Greek capital. “Our task” he said “is to defeat both an endless horror of austerity as well as a horrible chaos by putting an end to the horrors of bankrupt capitalism and open a socialist way out from this inferno.”
In front of an applauding audience , which also included many rank and file supporters of Syriza, he concluded: “We have to reject the imperialist ultimatum by a triumphant ‘NO’ next Sunday as the beginning not for new hopeless negotiations but for an uncompromising struggle of the working class and the popular masses to cancel the debt, nationalize the banks and the strategic sectors of the economy under workers control by taking power and initiating the socialist revolution in Europe. In this way, we could celebrate in 2017, in two years, the centenary and the return of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 ”.
EEK banner at rally. ‘Down with Imperialism!’ ‘For a Red Socialist Europe!’
Day 4. Thursday July 2, 2015
The build up of tension accelerates as the D-day of the referendum approaches. The intensive cultivation of mass fear by nearly all bourgeois media to manipulate public opinion for a victory of the ‘Yes’ to the troika’s ultimatum on July 5 is coordinated with non-stop provocative statements by the heads of the European Commission , the European Council, of the ECB, of the European Parliament, by Chancellor Merkel and her finance minister Schäuble, by the French President Hollande, and his minister et tutti quanti calling for a ‘Yes’ to their orders and, now, openly for an overthrow of the Tsipras Government to be replaced by a new governmenet of “national unity” or a government of appointed technocrats. Democratic European imperialism demands openly the strangulation of parliamentary democracy, in the name of which it governs.
The role of the mainstream international mass media also should not be underestimated. The “serious” Reuters News Agency published a photo of the magnificent pro-NO popular rally of June 29 in Syntagma Square as a picture of the …pro-Yes reactionary rally of the next day, June 30, which was significantly smaller!!
Manifestations of fear but also of defiance are seen every day in the streets of the cities all over the country. Civil strife emerges. A small but characteristic example: a group of comrades of the EEK was campaigning for the ‘NO’ and our revolutionary program in the streets of the working class neighborhood of Petralona ( not far from Acropolis of Athens) when it was brutally attacked by pro-Yes “civilians” and finally arrested by the police, to be later released.
Today, a quite massive central rally of the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE) took place in Syntagma. In his speech the General Secretary of the KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, advocated a null vote in the referendum. Specifically he advocated use of a special leaflet printed and distributed by the KKE to serve as a protest. The leaflet says ‘No both to the Syriza government and to the EU Memoranda’… This is not just sectarianism: it is reactionary political blindness in an extremely crucial and dramatic moment of the history of the working class. It manifests the alienation from reality of a sclerotic bureaucracy, which puts its self-preservation above the class interests of the workers and in the service of the capitalist system in crisis. In conditions where, the orchestrators of the hysterical pro-EU campaign revive all the old slogans of the anticommunists and imperialist propaganda during the Greek civil war of the 1940s, the bureaucrats at the head of the KKE discredit communism.
Today also ANTARSYA, the coalition of about 20 centrist organizations, together with a small front of nationalists named MAS, had their own central rally in front of the old building of Athens University ( at the same place where the EEK held its own independent rally yesterday). They call for a No vote next Sunday, criticizing, at the same time, Syriza with a KKE-like rhetoric, demanding a break from the EU and the euro and a return to the drachma, without breaking from the framework of capitalism.
Tomorrow, Friday July 3, is the last day for the public political campaign before the Referendum. In Athens there will be two central rallies of the opposite camps of the Yes and of the NO.
The right wing reactionaries of the “civil society movement”(?) “We Stay in Europe”, the self proclaimed Greek “Euro-Maidan” will assemble in the Stadium of Athens.
The popular rally for the NO called by Syriza will take place again in Syntagma Square. The EEK will participate in the rally with its own banners. On the contrary the KKE, as well as the Maoists (who call for abstention in the referendum) will boycott it. Antarsya is split on the issue with one part participating and the other boycotting it.
The State and private TV stations offer hours and hours to the proponents of the yes, much less to Syriza as proponents of the No. For the EEK, the Ministry allows only 10 minutes on the National TV for tomorrow…
Day 5. Friday July 3, 2015
The biggest mass rally that Athens has known since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, took place today, the last day of the political campaign for the Referendum of July 5, in defense of the NO to the ultimatum of the troika. It was comparable, if not larger than the mass rally in February 12, 2012. That earlier rally was called against the PSI, the so-called ‘Private Sector Involvement’ – the “haircut” of foreign debt, particularly to private lenders, combined with new draconian measures of austerity – carried out by the extra-parliamentary Papadimos government that had been arbitrarily imposed on Greece by the EU in November 2011.
In 2012 about one million people assembled in Syntagma Square and all the streets leading to it but it was dispersed early, by about 6 pm, through an unprecedented and brutal offensive of the repressive force of the riot police using a gigantic quantity of chemicals. This time new masses of people, the great majority youth, continued to come nearly up to midnight. To go from the exit of the Metro Station of Syntagma to the point in the Square where the contingent of the EEK was assembled, a distance of no more than a hundred meters, took about an hour. At the same time, the gathering of the reactionary pro-EU forces of the Greek “EuroMaidan” in the Stadium was at least 15 times smaller, a fact that even the German State Radio Station Deutsche Welle had to admit. It was an enormous blow to the vast counterrevolutionary “united front” built by the imperialist troika, the international mainstream mass media, and nearly all the bourgeois forces in Greece itself, including all the failed prime ministers of the last 20 years (Kostas Mitsotakis, Kostas Simitis, Kostas Karamanlis, George Papandreou, Papadimos). Gigantic resources are being used in a propaganda campaign for a victory of the Yes and the overthrow of the current government to be replaced by a servile “national unity” government of stooges.
Various reasons prevented me from going to Patras today to another meeting of the EEK in defense of the No (another comrade replaced me as a speaker). Thus, I could participate personally in a historical experience unique in the decades of my personal involvement in the workers movement and the Left, including my 45 years in the EEK.
It is not only the impressive magnitude of the rally but above all its political quality, which show its importance in the battle for the Referendum, and for its aftermath, whatever the result.
Until yesterday night everybody thought that the unprecedented international and national campaign of intimidation and disinformation had finally achieved its goal: a majority for the Yes, at least according to the polls. Even within Syriza and the right wing Independent Greeks there were movements of renegades to impose a cancellation of the referendum, as all the leaders of global finance capital demanded. Why they were so afraid of an electoral procedure taking place quite often in a dying European parliamentary democracy?
They were not afraid of the always vacillating and weakened Tsipras government, which, until the last moment, is begging for an agreement on austerity terms. What the imperialist institutions and the ruling classes in Europe and in Greece do fear is that this particular referendum, in open defiance of the troika, could initiate a renewed eruption of the Greek popular masses themselves in the arena of history. Anyway, just one week before, Tsipras had declared that he opposed a referendum or early elections. The referendum was not primarily a maneuver from above but a result of pressure from below; it was imposed , not by the so-called left wing in Syriza’s Central Committee, but by the popular discontent and anger against the continuous concessions of the Greek government and the increasing arrogance of the IMF, the ECB, and the EU.
The Greek government, of course, says that it will use a victory of the No for new negotiations that already are rejected out of hand by the troika. The unpredictable factor was again the fighting masses as protagonists of historic change.
From the times of Baruch Spinoza, we know that fear is an indispensable essential method of class rule. But this method has its own limits as many dictators found out, above all the Czar Romanov. The first and most powerful weapon of intimidation was the closure of the banks after the blunt decision of the ECB to cut the life line to the Greek banks (the ELA), a decision that was directly responsible for the long queues of pensioners in front of ATMs.
There are still some petty bourgeois strata that are frightened of losing the little that remains to them and have a superstitious faith in the fallen gods of the EU and the Euro. They are abused by the ruling class, which has revived all the old anti-communism and the spectres of the civil war, while they prepare for a new civil war. They are blaming the ‘communists’ in the government even as they are pretending that they are trying to avoid a new civil war and secure social peace and “national unity” between the butchers and their victims.
But there is a huge part of the pauperized Greek people that has nothing to lose anymore. Not by accident, yesterday, our comrades of the EEK in Larissa organized a powerful 5,000 strong march in the streets. Working together with others from the Caravan of Struggle and Solidarity (an organization initiated by the workers of the VIOME factory and radio and television station ERT 3, both occupied for 2 years and run under workers control) they marched with an EEK banner at the front calling for “all production and all power to the workers” and also displaying the famous dictum by Walter Benjamin “Hope was given to us for all those who lost hope”.
Fear cultivated by the rulers can sometimes be transformed and act as a boomerang against them. After five years of descent into a hell, the most oppressed and most combative layers of workers, both employed and unemployed, and above all the young generation are entering into a path of new rebellions, a transition towards social revolution.
The great majority attending today’s huge rally in Syntagma
were youth, mainly without a job and without hope of finding a job. A sign for a revolutionary future that arrives always unexpected.
La luta continua!
The Final Day, Sunday July 5, 2015: The Triumph
It is a great moment for the Greek people, for all oppressed all over Europe, all over the world. OXI, a defiant, proud, massive popular NO has triumphed against the arrogant ultimatum posed by the imperialist institutions of the IMF and the EU for a permanent barbaric austerity.
About 62 per cent of the voters supported the NO. Only about 38 per cent voted ‘Yes’. In the working class areas the vote was raised to an incredible 70-80 percent! The infamous leader of the Official Right Opposition of New Democracy, Samaras, had to resign.
We have experienced an unprecedented campaign of intimidation of the Greek people, orchestrated internationally by the centers of global capital. The closure of the banks imposed by the decision of the European Central Bank to cut liquidity the week leading up to the referendum produced enormous pressures and fear. Imperialist blackmail was fully supported by all the Greek bourgeois opposition parties, all the bourgeois mass media, the SEV ( Confederation of Greek Industrialists), the bankers, the trade union bureaucrats of the GSEE ( Confederation of Labor) and ADEDY ( the Federation of Civil Servants), by reactionary bishops of the Church, and a reactionary pro-EU “civil society movement” organized from above on the pattern of Euro-Maidan in Kiev. All the enemies of the working class and of the impoverished people combined their forces to secure a victory of the Yes.
Among the Left, the Stalinist Communist Party boycotted the No vote, calling for a null or abstention.
This Unholy Alliance failed miserably to achieve its reactionary goals. They underestimated the strength, the anger, the resistance, the fighting capacity of their victims: of the workers, of the millions of jobless and pauperized people, first of all of the younger generation without a job and without a future.
The political turning point that demonstrated what was boiling beneath the surface took place the last day of the public campaign for the referendum, with the extraordinary popular mobilization in Syntagma, last Friday, July 3. The real social force of historical change came into the arena of class struggle, as the real protagonist. A new phase of revolutionary radicalization has started and with it a new transition towards a decisive confrontation.
Vangelis Meimarakis, former Chairman of the Parliament and now interim Chairman of New Democracy, threatened in openly class terms the victorious people, in his first comment on the results: “ The bourgeois class that supported the Yes will give its own answer if an agreement with the EU is not achieved”.
The danger comes not so much from the camp of the defeated Right but rather from the leaders of the victorious Left. The Syriza government made repetitive calls for “national unity” and for no break with the EU. Tsipras asked the President of the Republic to call a meeting of all parliamentary parties to elaborate a common stand in future negotiations for a “reasonable deal” with the EU. The Syriza demands class peace and class collaboration in conditions of an open class war.
As the Communiqué of the Political Bureau of the EEK on the victory of the NO insistssaying “No concessions, no new retreats in front of the class enemy, the imperialist troika and the Greek bourgeoisie! We won a battle but the class war continues until the final victory, workers power and Socialism in Greece and all over Europe!”
A new chapter in the history of the world capitalist crisis and social revolution has opened. In these new conditions, the EEK is preparing to host the 3rd Euro-Mediterranean Conference of social movements and revolutionary organizations of Europe, the Balkans and the wider Mediterranean region in Athens, on July 18-20, to elaborate collectively an analysis of the current situation, a perspective of struggle and a common plan of action.
As an untrained observer watching events unfold in Greece from afar, it certainly appeared to me that the IMF was doing its very best to nullify Greece’s government with its demands for austerity measures in a country already dealing with a deep economic crisis. Evidently it appeared that way to Greeks, too, who soundly rejected the… Continue reading