SYRIZA’s Stability Rocked by New Memorandum (1/3)
Leo Panitch interviewed by Sharmini Peries at SYRIZA Headquarters in Athens: In spite of the differences within SYRIZA over the new deal, the government remains enormously popular.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Athens.
I’m in front of the Syriza headquarters, and this week there’s been a conference going on all week called Democracy Rising, in which our regular guest Leo Panitch has been participating in. The debate has been intense, so I’m going to begin by giving the mic over to Leo so that he can explain to you some of the tensions that is arising within Syriza, within the left coalition and also the Left Platform of the coalition.So Leo, let’s just begin by outlining what some of the tensions are within Syriza.
LEO PANITCH: Well, of course if you have been involved as a union in a long, long, long period of collective bargaining against a management which has been making the life of the workers in the plant miserable, and you finally say we’re going to call a strike vote to show you we really have support. And you win that strike vote overwhelmingly, and you come back to the negotiating table and say you see what kind of, the support we have? And they say you know, what, forget it. We’re closing this plant.
It’s just not worth it for–we see you’re not just the problem. The problem is that these workers can’t be disciplined enough to make us a lot of profits. Then what is that union leader should do? We’re closing the plant. We’re closing it this week. Most usually the union leadership signs the agreement. If it has any integrity and comes back and says, this is not a good agreement. We’re never going to say it’s any good. We’ll find loopholes in it as much as we can. But of course it disspirits the workers. They voted for this, they’re militant. Many of them–some of them at least want to let off steam in the strike.
And that’s what’s happened inside Syriza. There’s enormous popularity of the government. Enormous popularity of the government. If they had an election now they would form a full clear majority. They have over 21 percent of the lead over New Democracy. Most of the people you talk to in the street are actually impressed with Tsipras and the way he stood up to this. They blame the Germans rather than Tsipras. The party, however, is very disappointed. It felt that with this tremendous mobilization for its strike vote it should have been able to get a victory out of this rather than a defeat.
And I understand that. But that’s the situation here, so those in the party who all along have said it’s impossible to square the circle, you can’t strike a collective agreement inside the framework of the Eurozone, now say you see, we were right all along. They won’t let you do anything. And that sounds plausible to people. And that’s partly what’s going on. Most people in the party don’t–and let alone those who voted in the referendum still don’t want to leave the Eurozone. In fact, what the Left Platform is presenting could not be done within the Eurozone. You would have to break the European Union in order to do what they were doing, and they’re not honest about saying that. They too are trying to square a circle. Everybody is trying to accommodate the fact that most people–it’s like [a plant]. We want to be militant but we don’t want to lose our jobs.
PERIES: Okay, Leo, so this is an interesting analogy but it doesn’t quite get at the tensions that we are sensing as we have been walking the streets and covering what’s going on in terms of the debate, in terms of the 61 percent that had voted to say no. In defiance of that Prime Minister Tsipras went and signed a new memorandum, parliament passed a new memorandum and accepted the deal that was offered, which most people are A, saying it’s impossible to deliver on and B, it’s a capitulation and not a democratic response to the no referendum.
PANITCH: Sharmini, if I grabbed you by the neck and asked you to do something and you did it, would you say you had capitulated? If I put you on a cross and crucified you would you say oh, you–would someone say you capitulated? Of course it wasn’t a capitulation, it was forced. Had they come back and said it’s a good deal, that would be different. They came back and said it was a bad deal. They came back and said we’re going to try to make the oligarchy as much as possible wear this deal. Of course they’ll be constrained by it.
The notion that you can simply walk out when they threaten to close down the economy–people want to let off steam. But if you’re serious political people, which presumably people in the party are, you want to find some strategy for now moving on.
So you want to say, let’s find loopholes. If they are adding to the VAT on food, which they are by 2 percent, yes, let’s make sure that all of the trucks in the country that aren’t being used by police and soldiers, in between demonstrations are handed over to the solidarity networks to collect and distribute food to the people who have to pay and can’t pay the higher tax. The higher VAT. Let’s do that for the pensioners who are having their pensions cut, the poorest pensioners. Let’s throw resources into the solidarity networks. That way we’ll deepen what we’re trying to do anyway in order to compensate for this. That doesn’t cost anything in the budget. The imperial accounts who are coming here can’t prevent that or say anything that would prevent it.
In other words there has to be a way for the party to get beyond this in and out of the Euro business, for which it’s not an immediate possibility not least because the Left Platform in saying that they could manage an exit from the drachma are being no more honest about this than is the leadership in saying we can win this inside the Euro. Because in order to manage its successful leaving the drachma you would have to be able to convert the economy so that you’d have a furniture industry again. All of the things that were lost by joining the European Union and having free trade, and all the things that are in this agreement that now we’re going to have the tourist industry opened up to the travel agents of German capital.
It’s not just about the money. It’s about the whole way in which European integrated neoliberal capitalism operates. And it’s a pretense. And it’s–in fact, it’s a monetary illusion to think the problem is the drachma or the Euro.
PERIES: We’re going to continue this discussion with Leo Panitch, and we’re going to talk about the memorandum that has been signed, and whether it is possible for Syriza to actually deliver on that in our next segment. Thank you for joining us, and Leo, thank you for joining us.
PANITCH: Thank you, Sharmini.
SYRIZA’s Stability Rocked by New Memorandum (2/3)
Leo Panitch says the latest memorandum is a shell game
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Athens. We are in front of the Syriza headquarters, coalition of the radical left, who has recently signed on to another memorandum with the European Union in order to address the debt crisis. And this was passed in parliament just days ago, and I’m here with Leo Panitch, our regular guest on the Real News Network. He’s a professor of political science at York University and he’s been here with us for the last week talking to people and academics, activists, and members of Syriza.
Leo, thank you so much for joining me again.
LEO PANITCH: Hi, Sharmini.PERIES: So Leo, in the earlier segment we were talking about ways in which the Syriza government, although this is seen as a difficult time for Syriza, and they have signed on to the memorandum. But most people are, actually even Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, has come out and said that this is not an agreement that Syriza can actually deliver on.
PANITCH: Yes. [Just as] every previous government couldn’t deliver on the memorandum, right. Of course it’s impossible, and they know it’s impossible.
So I think one has to expect that they signed in order to get some breathing room, and they won’t be able to deliver on it. They’ll pass some of the legislation in order–as they passed the legislation last week and got in return the 7 billion that allowed them to pay back the 7 billion. The whole thing’s a shell game, and they need to play it like a shell game. Now, I think a lot of people in the party worry that these guys don’t have the capacity to play it like a shell game. I worry even more that people down at the base, maybe above all the Left Platform, don’t have the kinds of roots in the base to be able to explain to people the nature of the shell game, to give them confidence that it can be played.
What they’ve got is a plan, a top-down plan which they tell people, all we have to do is introduce this. Introduce this in this state, in this unreconstructed clientelist state. Introduce it in the state in which the police, the security apparatuses are probably not even controlled by this government. It involves an assumption, a very naïve one for Marxists, which these guys claim to be, that you elect the government and then it uses the state in a unified way as its weapon. No, you need time to transform the state. You need to figure out ways to do it.
I think they suspect that this leadership who they think are soft, et cetera, in the old communist tradition, right. If you’re not in the disciplined, Trotskyist tradition, right, then you’re soft. And they think they don’t have the capacity to do that. They may be right. But that’s the real question. It’s not about will the Troika let you do this or that. And you say no, they won’t. Well, then you think they’re going to let you make a revolution? I mean, really.
The debate needs to be transcended. The best thing would be, if Tsipras could do it, for him to stand up and make a speech to the central committee and through them to the party membership which says we are going to find creative and inventive ways which the imperial accountants who are going to show up here are not going to be able to say get in the way of the budget.
PERIES: But Leo, he’s clearly not saying that. He’s at this moment not–.
PANITCH: And is anybody from the Left Platform saying that? I mean, that’s the problem. We need to transcend that debate. That’s the problem. I don’t say he is saying it. If he won’t say it then at least the general secretary of the party needs to say it. But someone needs to move on because all we’re getting now is recriminations. The Left Platform knows that this leadership will not adopt that program. And I think they have good reasons not to, as [those] bad ones. Because as I’ve said on the Real News for how many years now this leadership will never go further than the Europeans will let them. That’s a mistake. There is no way forward without getting out of the European Union and then reconstructing a Europe on the basis of new types of socialist alliances.
That’s true, right. They need to learn that. But there is no magic bullet here that is in somebody’s back pocket in this plan that the Left Platform thinks it has.
PERIES: Okay, let’s unpack that a bit because that is leading to a great deal of tension and division within the Syriza party. And instead of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reaching out to the diversity and divergent opinions in his own party he’s actually shifting further into a neoliberal political landscape within parliament, because that’s where he can get support. And the recent shift in the cabinet itself is reflective of that.
PANITCH: I don’t know that that’s true. This is what the Left Platform is telling you. You don’t know any more that’s true than I do. I’ve heard other people say that ideologically in fact what’s remarkable about this is how little it shifts anything ideologically. I certainly hope that this won’t–this stand, this division in the party won’t lead to socialist elements in it being marginalized. Of course I hope that. That would be the worst thing. But it takes two to tango, and he Left Platform should be trying to come up with some ways to create something creative out of this.
Look. Since we’re talking mainly to an international audience, yes, you could see if you were of a certain type of historical tendency rooted in the Russian revolution, you could see Tsipras as Karensky, yes. And what you were expecting is that support will melt away for this bourgeois democrat who is trying to get rid of the monarchy and establish a responsible government. But you are the real revolutionaries, right.
And I think there is a bit of a attempt in going on here for years. We’re not able to get more than 1 percent of the vote, and [tarsia] proves it, getting out of Europe. The communist party isn’t able to move outside of its ghetto by saying we reject all of Europe. So then you have a party which appeals to people by saying we will bargain as hard as we can–because you want to stay in Europe, we will bargain as hard as we can to do that. Yes, they’re trying to square the circle. It’s not possible.
What they are hoping is to be able to wipe away this Karensky on a sweep of popular power that is suddenly going to put them in place. That’s not happening because their biggest asset is Tsipras. And two, as was shown in the poll that was released yesterday 66 percent of those who voted oxhi want to stay in Europe.
Let’s say that their only asset for winning popular support–.
PERIES: Who did this poll?
PANITCH: It was a very reputable poll. A very reputable poll. In fact, you should go see it. It shows that Syriza has a 21 percent lead over New Democracy. It would get 164 seats in parliament. It’s remarkable that the international media haven’t picked up on this.
But that’s–the only person who could persuade people to go out would be Tsipras. And even if he went on now on a big campaign, what would he get, a small majority to be prepared to go out. The other problem is–.
PERIES: But I think the people of Greece, when they would have voted for the referendum, they knew that the outcome of that, saying no, is an exit on the Euro. Isn’t that the ultimate poll?
PANITCH: No. I don’t know how you could possibly say that. I mean, you may want to criticize the Syriza leadership for telling that wasn’t the case. But of course not, how can you say that, in fact, every poll showed at the time and the whole campaign was run on even though they’re trying to scare you that isn’t true. And not even the Left Platform has the courage to say it means–it would mean getting out of the European Union. Even they don’t have the courage to say that, which it would have to mean. Because they couldn’t convert the economy without getting out of the European Union. It would be a stopgap.
So everybody recognizes that people are incredibly torn over this. It would be possible to win them, I think. But you’d have to win them after a period of showing that you could transform the state. You’d have a social base for this. There would be alternative ways of production.
PERIES: That all requires money. And according to the current referendum and servicing that debt means that all of the revenue–.
PANITCH: Sharmini, what are you saying, that they won’t let you do these things I’m saying, use army trucks to distribute food, yes? Or even find loopholes to the agreement. But they will let you make a revolution–.
PERIES: You still have to buy the food to distribute it.
PANITCH: So they’ll send in the troops. The point is we’re dealing with power, here. Not some notion of what room do you have for legislation. If it isn’t settled by the American treasury forcing the Germans to give you more space as you press, to give you that 30-year moratorium. This story’s not over in that respect. Then it won’t be the American treasury, it’ll be the CIA here, insofar as you become dependent on some sort of external support.
I mean, we’re playing at the highest stakes. And this negativity in terms of you won’t be able to do anything, and then to imply you’ll be able to do the biggest thing with anybody opposing you, it’s not serious. It’s just not serious.
PERIES: Okay. So here the biggest thing is exiting the Euro. Now, while–you are saying here there’s ways in which the Syriza government could stimulate the economy in spite of what’s–.
PANITCH: No, I’m not saying that. I think there’s no easy way out of this. I’m not saying, as Stiglitz would say, let’s stimulate the economy with this policy or that policy. Greece is trapped in a deep, deep contradiction of networked, international capitalism, which Stiglitz with his policy notions doesn’t even begin to capture. I’m saying that Syriza can find loopholes, avenues, with which–both ideologically to give people courage, and as they have always said they would do, offset the costs so that those who suffer most would not bear them.
So take the solidarity networks, take the fact that people now need to pay 2 percent more on food and VAT, and take those poorest people and get them access to food, if not free than at a minimum price. You were in Venezuela, Sharmini, you saw that the army could be mobilized to do that kind of thing. It doesn’t cost anything. You’re paying them anyway.
PERIES: Venezuela had oil. Venezuela had–.
PANITCH: I’m not talking about the oil. I’m talking about the use of the resources you’ve got–.
PERIES: I’m saying that the Venezuelan government had the resources to be able to mobilize within the state and stimulate the economy, and provide [inaud.]
PANITCH: You’re making my point all the more. And any notion that you’re going to walk out of this by simply rejecting the agreement in a country that doesn’t have these resources, that you’re going to pretend that by producing a piece of paper that you are going to then be able to manage the enormous problems in a way that will help the poorest people quickly rather than make it worse?
I mean, I just don’t think it’s–we need to find within this power, set of power relations, this government needs to be able, it may not be able, to make linkages with the social movements of a kind that materially benefit people, even within the framework of the limitations on them. The story’s not over. In three months of they do that they might have a better basis for saying we can’t–or the others might kick them out again.
This is how the thing needs to be looked at, not in terms of we’ve got some magic bullet that the state could be implementing at no cost.
PERIES: Leo, let’s get into the crux of the finances here. Let’s put away some of the political aspects of it. And give me your prognosis for the Greek economy in the coming months.
PANITCH: Well, I think unless there is a game of bluff going on, which is often played in these kinds of power poker games, unless the Americans through the IMF do force them to do something on an immediate moratorium on debt so that–and so that some of that 85 billion is transferred and is not used to simply pay back the debt, the privatizations aren’t going to take place for years in any way that will be useful. I think the situation will be very difficult here.
No one would deny, and the Left Platform doesn’t, it’s leading platform on this doesn’t, that things would even be much tougher over the next three months if you try to transit out of the currency. And what would happen is in that context people who might barely support this in three months [inaud.] I mean, this is actually what happened in Russia in [1917-18]. And what they did, wrongly I think, was they banned opposition parties because they were losing the working class support that they had in the face of the difficulties.
So these are very high stakes. This is not a matter of Stiglitz on policy or Lapavitsas on policy. He really–we’re talking about the question of power relations inside this country and there’s nothing–and outside. There is no policy to discuss that doesn’t involve politics. That doesn’t involve power. That doesn’t involve class struggle.
People like Lapavitsas and Krugman, et cetera, who think in policy terms–this is the sickness of the economists–think in policy terms rather than political terms, are not useful in a context like this.
PERIES: Leo, we always appreciate you being able to do this kind of analysis in the moment as the issues are evolving. Thank you so much for joining us today.
PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini. Glad to be here.PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
SYRIZA’s Stability Rocked by New Memorandum (3/3)
Leo Panitch says SYRIZA should prepare for the inevitable Grexit, but it has to factor in geo-political power relations that will get in the way
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Athens. I’m talking to Leo Panitch about the recent agreement that had been signed by the Syriza government and the European Union. As you know, Leo Panitch is a regular guest on the Real News Network. He is a political science professor at York University in Toronto, and for the last week he’s been here in Athens.Leo, thank you so much for joining me again.
LEO PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini. Good to be here with you.
PERIES: Now Leo, one of the most important statements that Costas Lapavitsas made in his talk that the Real News had published recently from the Democracy Rising conference is that he said that the IMF recognizes that there has to be a huge reduction in the debt, and it has also offered to assist in preparing for exiting the Euro, and that is a tremendous, I think, fig leaf in terms of helping Greece. And also, Schauble, the finance minister of [Greece] has also said that they are prepared to provide humanitarian assistance and technical assistance for exiting the Euro.
Should the Syriza government not be taking up those offers and preparing, in spite of the memorandum?
PANITCH: It would be an interesting alliance, wouldn’t it, between the IMF and Schauble and the most left-wing government that Europe has ever produced. But it’s not impossible to contemplate. And yes, I think they should be open to that were they to get those kinds of offers. In fact, I would be in favor of it.
I think you need to recognize the degree of emotional, almost psychological attachment that very large portions of the Greek population have for Europe, that abstraction. Partly to do with the inferiority complex of the Balkans. Partly having to do with the fact they have a military dictatorship here and they think that might be a protection.
I don’t think this is simply a matter of, again, policy calculations, monetary calculations, et cetera. I do think a significant portion of the working class has always been suspicious of this, which–as I have. I’ve always argued this is not possible within the European Union. I’ve never had these illusions about the European Union being a better variety of capitalism than the free market, North American version. A lot of people here have.
So yes, of course I’d be open to that. I don’t think the alignment of forces in Europe or in the United States are there yet. I don’t think they’re there yet. Not least because they worry about the implications of a Syriza-led government, Greek government, outside of the material base for the American NATO umbrella. The European Union has always been the material base of NATO and of the spy network. The security apparatus network that goes with it.
Churchill made his stand, created his iron curtain, right here where we’re standing. The Marshall Plan was introduced. It was triggered by what would be the outcome of the Greek civil war. The Americans took over the British responsibility for policing the Eastern Mediterranean. Given what is going on right now in Odessa, given what is going on right now in the Libyan Sea, what games do people think are being played here?
So yes, I think there’s a fight in Washington over whether it’s a matter that the U.S. Treasury can resolve or whether it’s a matter the CIA is going to resolve. These are the kinds of things that has to be in the minds of any government here, which is contemplating these things.
And I’m astonished at the Western left, which is presumably so aware of power relations in the world discussing these things as though Stiglitz or Krugman or Lapavitsas have the right policy. Of course it’s politics.
PERIES: I don’t think it’s fair for you to put Lapavitsas in the same plane as Krugman and Stiglitz. He is actually a sitting MP of the Syriza government.
PANITCH: Yes, but the, the argument is being made at the level of we have a plan, and this plan can work, without the political conditions for the success of that plan being discussed. Being addressed. Without the membership, its capacity for class struggle, being developed in relation to those political conditions. Their capacity is only being developed in terms of some technical arguments around what would an exchange rate be? What would happen if we controlled and remade the banking system? Without asking, well, what if we haven’t yet remade the judicial system? What are the implications of how those things correlate?
That banking system will not have any reserves. It’s true the IMF has had the only plan, and it’s had it since 2011, on converting back to the drachma. That’s what the IMF does. That’s what their expertise is. They have an interest in doing it because of all the contracts that are now in Euros that are linked to an economy in which merchant trade and the distribution of goods are very important for the rest of Europe, and arguably beyond. So of course they have to be concerned with that. It’s not inconceivable that they could facilitate this.
But it’s not being presented by the Left Platform that way. It’s being presented as though there’s a magic bullet here. Without–a country with no foreign reserves, you would require the introduction of rationing. Is that being said? You would have to have rationing of certain goods that you absolutely have to have for this economy to function at all. In a society like this where there’s already a massive gray market, what would be the black market consequences of that rationing?
You need to address that–I’m not saying you should not do it. At some point it’s probably going to be necessary. But you need–people are not stupid. As I said, there’s an emotional attachment to Europe, but they’re also aware of the forces in the society which represent the black market, the gray market. They’re all over the–almost every society and they’re all over this one. So unless they have the confidence that the type of honest, dignified, sharing arrangements that you find in these massive numbers of solidarity clinics and food distribution [inaud.] and so on, which are de-commodifying, not operating through the gray market, not operating through the black market. That that would trump that.
This is a hard transition to even talk about unless you do that. And I have to tell you that the Left Platform has less respect from the most politicized activists in the solidarity network than almost any other branch of Syriza. They see it as top-down politics. Old-fashioned, top-down–now, they are more committed to getting out of capitalism, certainly, than are wide swathes of the leadership. They are more committed to class struggle than are many, many members of the government who are looking for an alliance with the bourgeoisie, of course. Yes, but–.
PERIES: But at this moment what they’re calling for is a respect of the referendum outcome.
PANITCH: Sharmini, that referendum was a referendum call, like a strike vote, yes. It was, give us the authority to go back and say–for bargaining–and say that the people supported us. They want to interpret it that way against all of the evidence of the opinion polls. That people were trying to vote–and it’s, of course people vote that way. They vote both to have this and that. That’s how people vote. That’s why they vote for parties that offer this and that at the same time. And that happened again.
The fact that they have such confidence in Syriza was remarkable, right. They were essentially giving a vote of trust to a leadership which yes, has been committed, I think wrongly, to being able to make this change inside Europe. But let’s face it. Had there not been that assumption, Syriza never would have been elected. The parties that were calling for a break at their maximum couldn’t get beyond the communist party 5 percent ghetto. At a minimum couldn’t get 1 percent of the vote.
So I mean, let’s get real here. And to simply say the memorandum ties your hands, et cetera, the Greek state ties your hands. The way you’re integrated into capitalism ties your hands. The memorandum is a legal document behind that, and it’s moreover one in which every country in the world negotiates spaces. The IMF and the World Bank are constantly saying there’s no point of having this agreement if the government doesn’t own it. They don’t think this government’s going to be able to own it. So why should the left be speaking as though it’s going to own it?
I’m not saying there aren’t people in the government who will try to own it. But then you need to be taking them on. You need to be trying to show there are ways to get past this, even within the framework of this agreement. To find loopholes. As I said, to, as any lawyer would tell you in the context of a collective agreement, to just bugger up the system with a million grievances.
PERIES: Leo Panitch, we always appreciate your ability to give us some analysis of what’s going on in the moment. Thank you.
PANITCH: Thanks, Sharmini.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.