Greece: The Left Platform

The majority of Left Platform wanted the exit as a plan B, but a plan B, that the government would actively pursue. They wanted it to be known that if a non-recessionary deal could not be made with the Troika that included a growth package and debt restructuring then the Greek government would begin to put in place an alternative plan and seek new alliances. Austerity was not an option under any circumstances.

In essence, they agreed with both the Varoufakis and Milios positions previously explained, as well as the Lapavitsas position of orderly exit in the event of a non-austerity deal not being signed.

Varoufakis is someone associated with an ‘updated’ Marxism more akin to the Keynesian, social democratic centre-left, whereas Milios has a radical libertarian Marxist heritage. The former believed that a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ could be made with the EU elite and if not, then a firmer stance would need to be taken. The latter believed that the only way to get the Gentlemen in suits to compromise was to frighten them as compromises are made only when systems feel that they are in danger. Varoufakis has since been radicalized. Yet, both were not proponents of a Grexit (as a solution), for the simple reason that a change in currency would not mean a change in policy, Greece would need to borrow massively from the same institutions in order to support the new currency, which would impose similar conditions, so Greeks would lose the value of their bank deposits, plus face hyperinflation with a worthless currency as well as austerity.  Lapavitsas’ position regarding an organized exit may be economically sound by far, but is it politically feasible? Schauble wants a Grexit to scare Paris and Rome into submission not to provide the PIIGS states with a better alternative to financial colonialism.

In any event, Syriza won 36 percent of the vote on January 25, 2015, on a mandate to negotiate hard with the creditors (which it did), to get a non-austerity deal (which it failed to do) and to remain within the Eurozone (which it is).  The Left Platform rightfully believed that the raison d’être of Syriza’s dramatic rise was that people wanted an end to austerity not a left wing version of it and as such, a Eurozone exit is the next step in the struggle. Yet, polls continue show that 70 percent of Greeks did not want to risk Eurozone membership and wanted Tsipras to come back from Brussels with a deal. Therefore, Tsipras’ move should also be put into the context of what seemed to be public opinion.

According to the leadership around Tsipras, the alternatives imposed by the creditors were a memorandum with the euro or a memorandum with the drachma.

The vote on January 25, 2015, and the referendum of July 5, 2015, had been annulled by the creditors.

In my own conversations with members of the leadership of the Syriza breakaway party, Popular Unity, I was told that the wrath of the Greek and European establishments was expected. Left-wingers could not claim to be surprised by that the Ruling Class would not engage with them. This was also confirmed to me by members within the leadership of Syriza. For example, Syriza cadres met with the U.S. congressional progressive caucus.  The Greeks wanted Obama and the IMF to be more firm with the Europeans regarding debt restructuring. U.S. Congressional representatives said that although, Obama agreed with the Greek government’s position that the debt is unsustainable and that the economy needs a stimulus package, the US President could not tolerate a Left government in Athens and would rather see a new pro-establishment administration.

People within the Popular Unity leadership I spoke with, said, why is that surprising? How else would you expect to the US President to react to a Left government? The Left Platform/Popular Unity MPs are angry with the Tsipras leadership for not preparing for such an assault.  In their view, the Greek government should not have made any loan payments until a new deal was signed. It should not have agreed to the truce of February 20, which pushed back the deadline for a deal to the summer. It was obvious that the creditors wanted to stall until the Greek economy was dried up of liquidity and force Athens to capitulate. According to the Syriza dissidents what Athens should have done, was not make any payments and instead use the money it had to begin implementing its program as it best it could. They believed that once Greeks would see immediate results, such as raises in pensions and the minimum wage, as well as free electricity to households who could not afford it, the people would be with the government.  Hence, any external assault (like capital controls which happened anyway) on such a government would energize popular solidarity for this government (which did happen when Greek banks were cut off). With each progressive move on the part of Athens and each new assault on the part of the creditors, Greek unity and radicalization would increase exponentially; the popularity of Syriza when it was at its most defiant and the results of the referendum are a testimony to this. Only in such a context, including a Varoufakis style resistance plan as well as an orderly exit and its implicit geo-strategic consequences on the negotiating table, would there have ever been a chance of getting a viable compromise from the creditors. I was informed that the Russians told Greek officials that they would have been open to supporting Greece if Greece was serious about a rupture. Of course, in the world of ‘diplomacy’ none of these ‘confidential remarks’ can be certain.

Nevertheless, what is certain was that when the referendum was called, Varoufakis confirmed that this was the only time that viable signable offers were being made. Yet, when the creditors understood that the Greek government had reached the end point of its resistance and was going to capitulate, these viable offers were rescinded in favor of extremely draconian measures.

Zoe Konstantopoulou, who is President of the Greek Parliament, was another Syriza MP, who voted against the third memorandum. She was not a member of the Left Platform but is now running for parliament under the Popular Unity ticket. She is noted for having put in place the Committees to audit the Greek debt as well as look into German reparations for WWII.   Her position has been for the Greek government to continue defying the EU and use the courts (EU, International, German) as well as European public opinion to continue fighting until a compromise is made.

In parliament, Tsipras attacked the foregoing positions as not being based in realpolitik. He said that the creditors’ demands would not budge based on the findings of the audit commit. He said that the pensions could not be paid by IOUs and that the drachma would not bring about an end to austerity.

The split of Syriza has been a major blow to the Greek Left. Since former comrades are now divided amongst each other, they are pursuing different strategies rather than a multipronged attack in order to destabilize the other side.

Greeks are demoralized and Leftists disillusioned.

New Syriza?    

Tsipras called an election because he faced a political problem. He lost control over his caucus, he did not want to depend on the pro-establishment parties to govern and the creditors wanted the dissident Syriza MPs gone.

Since his own MPs mostly from the Left Platform had voted against the Third Memorandum the document was passed with the support of the  Establishment parties (ND/To Potami/Pasok). The Creditors before releasing any new tranches of money wanted a stable Greek government that could pass the laws required by the Third Memorandum. They wanted a Syriza led coalition government that also included at least the systemic Centre/Cente-Left (To Potami and Pasok) and excluded the dissidents that voted against the memorandum.

There seemed to be a hope by many Syriza supporters that even though Syriza had now split on the question of the Third Memorandum, the dissident MPs would not actively seek to push the government out of office. In such a context, Syriza could survive by passing the austerity legislation required by the memorandum with the opposition parties and in tandem pass radical reforms outside the reach of the MOU with its dissident comrades. Within the prison of continued austerity, Syriza would be able to keep its banking system afloat, avoid Grexit and a Cyprus style haircut of people’s deposits all the while attacking corruption and the oligarchy.

It would also be able to open a space within society to help new social, non-state, radical institutions (i.e. worker, neighborhood assemblies) grow and coalesce.  Other ideas included using the military to transfer agricultural products from small farmers directly to local town markets at cheap prices or for free (hence using the military budgets to buy the food and distribute it). Still other ideas were to simply sabotage the austerity measures. Indeed many wanted Syriza to begin to divert money it got from the creditors away from making loan payments and towards social ends, outside of legislation and normal state channels, this is where social movements would play a more active role. In the words of one Syriza MP: we could pass any law they want but they can only make us enforce it with tanks.

This was the hope, that Syriza could stall, buy time, drag its feet and sabotage its own legislation, all the while passing the memorandum laws through parliament with the help of the establishment parties in order to get loan tranches in tandem with passing radical reforms with the help of the Left dissidents. The hope was that by the end of the year Podemos would come to power in Spain and the European Anti-Austerity cause would gain traction. Greece came to a political dead end, maybe others in Europe would join this struggle and together we could escape the cage of austerity.

This could have been possible, but the creditors wanted a stable majority government. They wanted the establishment parties in the government cabinet and they wanted the dissidents within Syriza who could infect their comrades in the majority of the caucus out of the way.

There is much blame from one camp to another, Syriza blames that Popular Unity (then Left Platform) had decided to split from the party over a year ago. Popular Unity claims that they were played by Tsipras and that the vice-PM, Yannis Dragasakis had already made a deal with the creditors several years ago when Syriza looked like it was going to take power. Syriza leaders claim that Popular Unity is a top down group, made up of cadres only, without support from rank and file members and that few rank and file members have left. Popular Unity claims that Tsipras was forced to have elections in order to form a national unity government with all the pro-memorandum parties. It is difficult to tell where the grey zone is, when opinions between former comrades and friends is so categorically black and white.  There is much bad political blood and in the words of one Popular Unity member, only history will clear all this up.

In any event, Tsipras did have pressure from the Troika to form a larger coalition. He chose to go to elections as he thought he could get a majority government in order not to depend on the votes of the Establishment parties. The hope was to pass the memorandum all the while finding spaces of resistance within that context. It seems that this message has been lost; the public is confused as to how one can pass austerity and resist it at the same time. If the leadership within Syriza is seriously contemplating the strategy mentioned above, of passing the bills but sabotaging their execution, then surely it cannot speak about this in public.

Therefore, Syriza’s campaign of hope within the memorandum seems to have evaporated along with it early lead in the polls and likelihood of a majority government. Syriza is now concentrating its campaign efforts against corruption and the oligarchy that are to blame for bringing the country to the dead end it finds itself in.

One thing is for sure, that the creditors want Syriza in government.

A Syriza opposition would simply create another space for the left to reunite and coalesce again and build a new anti-austerity front, probably one that is more radical than the last. This is was Popular Unity hopes for, they also claim that if Syriza participates within a national unity government, then Syriza will fall apart even faster with many joining forces with the dissident Left MPs as each new austerity measure is passed. The leadership of Syriza is aware of this and they are desperately struggling for a majority government in order to manage austerity from the left as explained above.

But is this wishful thinking?

Varoufakis thinks it is.

Varoufakis’ position was that if the government was not going to go all the way and fight austerity after the referendum victory then it should have simply handed over the keys to the Establishment parties who believed in it.

Yet, this too does not seem to be a politically realistic position. How can the Left simply desist?

Continued struggle is the only responsible response from the left.

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