Syriza Inside the “Iron Cage”?

A reply from Stathis Kouvelakis, a central figure in Syriza’s Left Platform. Both translated by David Broder

This column by Alexis Tsipras is important in a number of regards. It shows a qualitative change in the Greek situation, for many different reasons.

Before anything else, for the first time Tsipras provides us (Greek readers included) with a list of the concessions that the Greek government accepted during the negotiations with the institutions, as the troika has now been renamed.

And the list is an impressive one: agreement on budget surpluses; the effective abandonment of the demand of canceling the debt (not even mentioned in this text); a rise in the VAT; postponing the rise in the minimum wage and the restoration of collective bargaining to a vague future and on condition of an International Labour Organization approval; implementing cost-saving pension reforms; and rubber-stamping existing taxes on property, which Syriza had staunchly committed itself to abolishing.

And to that we should add another essential point: as the Greek version of Tsipras’s text makes clear, the “strengthening of the independence of public bodies” concerns not only the statistics agency ELSTAT but, most importantly, the state secretariat for public revenue.

Thus the very heart of the state’s economic apparatus is freed from the control of elected governments: in reality, it will work under the direct supervision of EU institutions. Keeping Katerina Savaidou in this strategic position, who was appointed in the last weeks of the previous government, was already an indication that the government had consented to keep this strategic body out of its field of control.

Let’s be clear. Firstly, these concessions, which Alexis Tsipras has recognized here for the first time, have never been publicly discussed at any level, neither in the party nor in parliament, nor even within the government, in the sense of a collective debate communicated to the citizenry. They are simply announced, after having been concocted during the entirely opaque negotiations with the EU.

Secondly, in this text Alexis Tsipras fails to pick up on a theme that he had referred to on many other occasions, including in his widely commented on Der Spiegel interview, namely the fact that since February the ECB has been using liquidity as a means of blackmailing Greece.

He only mentions the halt to the loan payments, which has forced the Greek government to reimburse its lenders by drawing on its own resources alone — a process that has led to the current situation, where the coffers are running dry. As such, he denies himself the central argument that could have allowed him to show what the EU is really up to — but which would, at the same time, have forced him to admit the weakening of his position and the harmful character of the February 20 agreement that he continues to defend.

Thirdly, it is clear that however the question is posed, the framework that Tsipras is proposing here is one of softened austerity, and in no sense a rupture with austerity. The whole edifice of the memoranda is renewed, but just trimmed at the edges. Conversely, not much is left of the Thessaloniki Program, which was, lest we forget, presented as an “emergency program” that would be applied immediately and independently of the outcome of the negotiations.

Even worse, the four red lines that Alexis Tsipras had himself set down on April 16 in a portentous declaration to Reuters (on pensions, VAT, privatization and collective bargaining) have all to some extent been crossed.

So some might ask where the blockage is, and why Alexis Tsipras is seeking to dramatize things, as the final sentence of the article (“for whom the bell tolls”) and certain passages would seem to indicate. The very simple reason for that is that the troika isn’t happy to continue with the existing austerity and memorandum framework.

The troika’s demand is to aggravate it, by imposing immediately further cuts in pensions and increased deregulation of the labor market, with the goal of humiliating Syriza. And Tsipras knocks the ball back into their court, saying, “You’re looking for rupture, not me. I, you see, am ready to manage austerity and defer sine die the program I was elected on, but you demand more than that, demanding that I go beyond even what you asked of Samaras.”

And then he brandishes the specter of the “division of Europe” and calls for its “values” to be respected, as if the burial of Syriza’s promises not even five months after it was elected was an acceptable sacrifice in order to preserve this European “unity”; as if accepting the “deal” he proposes could represent a step towards the “Europe of solidarity, equality and democracy” that he evokes (this is just empty phrase-mongering — rarely has it sounded so sinister).

Without playing at being a prophet and predict where all this is going to lead us, let’s simply note the current state of things:

  1. The Greek government has entered into a veritable spiral of retreats, where one concession leads to another, and there is no reason to think it is going to stop.
  2. All this was entirely predictable, because the majority of Syriza’s leadership didn’t prepare and adopt a line of confrontation as was proposed since the start of the crisis in the numerous interventions of the Left Platform and, more broadly, of the Syriza left.
  3.  Clearly, after all this, to persist in speaking of a rupture with austerity and neoliberal policies within the current European framework is either irresponsibility or a deliberate attempt to fool people.

There is an alternative.

Another way is still possible, that could spare the most promising experience of the Left for decades the disaster which is now looming.  Its main elements have been pointed in the last document of the Left Platform, which got 44% of the vote at the last session of Syriza’s central committee.

The government should proceed to a counterattack with an alternative plan that is based on Syriza’s pre-electoral pledges and the government’s programmatic announcements, a plan structured along 
the following set of measures to be implemented immediately:

  • The nationalization of the banks with all necessary accompanying measures to insure their function along transparent, productive, developmental and social criteria.
  • The immediate termination of every grid protecting the country’s scandal-immersed oligarchy.
  • The substantial taxation of wealth and large properties, as well as the taxation of top earners and of high corporate profitability.
  • The immediate and full reintroduction, as well as safeguarding and practical implementation of labor legislation and rights to trade union organization.

The government has to counter decisively the propaganda of the ruling circles that terrorizes the people with the scenario of full disaster that the suspension of debt servicing and of an eventual exit from the eurozone will allegedly bring upon the country.

The priority of the next few days should be to default on the debt and not proceed to the next IMF payment on June 5.

The greatest disaster facing Greece would be the imposition of a new memorandum that would signify the end of any hope for an alternative to the neoliberal shock therapy. 
This development must be avoided, as Malcom X used to say, by any means and sacrifice necessary.

1 comment

  1. Bill Leumer June 5, 2015 5:47 pm 

    We have greatly appreciated Stathis Kouvelakis’ contributions to the debate on the direction of Greece, but we were a bit troubled by this article.

    We agree with the Left Platform within Syriza that the most propitious course of action would be to refuse to accept any additional austerity measures, stop paying the debt, and prepare for a euro exit. But we also understand that most of the Greek people do not want to leave the euro zone, at least at this time. Certainly, that fact presents a difficulty for a party like Syriza that is defined by its loyalty to defending the interests of the working class where members of this class themselves have a voice in stipulating exactly what these interests are. The fact that a majority of the people wants to remain in the euro zone can’t help but weaken the Tsipris government in its confrontation with the “institutions.” Consequently, we can understand, although not agree with, the backsliding on positions that the Tsipris government has endorsed. We completely agree with Stathis Kouvelakis that all these maneuvers must be publicly aired so that they can be thoroughly discussed and debated.

    What we found troubling, however, was the framing of the arguments. In the past Stathis Kouvelakis has placed his criticisms of Tsipris et al. in the larger context of the battle with the “institutions,” so that the main enemy is clearly the “institutions,” not the Tsipris government. In this article that number one target seems to fade into the background so that it almost looks as if the real enemy is the current Tsipris government – the “traitors!”

    Additionally, there is a personal attack by innuendo on Tsipris that lacks any convincing proof. The article states that continued talk about a rupture with austerity “is either irresponsibility or a deliberate attempt to fool people.” Here it is suggested that the Tsipris government might not even be acting in good faith.

    We think it would be far more effective to situate the criticisms of the Syriza leadership in the context of the truly barbaric and brutal role of the “institutions” – operating in the interests of capitalism – and avoid any insinuations about character that cannot be conclusively proved. Otherwise, one runs the risk of demoralizing Syriza’s supporters and eroding support, which none of us want.

    Bill Leumer and Ann Robertson

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