[Marxism] Greece: crisis (1) and hope (2)

Dayne Goodwin daynegoodwin at gmail.com
Sat Apr 25 15:09:00 MDT 2015


1) "The Greek Crisis"
video of April 10 forum in Vancouver, CA by Left Streamed
<http://www.socialistproject.ca/leftstreamed/ls262.php>

three speakers each about 20 minutes:
* Ingo Schmidt, Academic Coordinator of Labour Studies at Athabasca
University [good basic education on austerity]
* Peter Prontzos, social activist, teaches political science at Langara
University [brief review of international capitalist
oppression/exploitation of Greece up to today]
* Natassa Romanou, climate scientist at Columbia University, Syriza member
and founding member of Syriza-NY


2)  A Very European Coup
by Costas Douzinas
openDemocracy, April 24
<https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/costas-douzinas/very-european-coup>

[Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck
Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. He is
a regular contributor for the Guardian and his latest book Philosophy
and Resistance in the Crisis (Polity) was released in 2013.]

. . .
The negotiations over the future of Greece dominating our news are
nothing less than a very European coup...

Following the German lead, the black arts of threat, blackmail and
misinformation have been put into overdrive. Daily anonymous briefings
and hostile commentary against the government in the press are
accompanied by official threats about a pending ‘Grexit’. The Greek
government did not reciprocate. It did not attack its tormentors and
it formally complained about the continuous leaking of its negotiating
position to the press despite a confidentiality agreement.

Get Syriza

No other interpretation can explain the emerging establishment
position except “Get Syriza”: either overthrow the government or make
it accept such humiliating conditions that it would lose popular
support or make the party split. Yanis Varoufakis was told that if
there is a liquidity problem the government should not pay salaries
and pensions for a couple of months. The attacks soon took on a
personal dimension - Varoufakis was attacked for his dress-code,
didacticism, academicism and bad manners. He is “foolishly naïve”, he
should be replaced - giving rise to a diplomatic incident with the
Greek ambassador in Berlin lodging a formal complaint. The CEO of the
Frankfurt stock exchange called Tsipras and Varoufakis “Taliban”,
while Spiegel claimed that Varoufakis displays symptoms of psychosis.
Like a schizophrenic he believes in a parallel reality in which it is
not Syriza to blame but the capitalism around it.

The threats have been followed by punitive measures bordering on
illegality. They have been described as fiscal strangulation and
liquidity Chinese water torture. The Europeans are not returning to
Greece the 1.9bl owed by the ECB on Greek bonds or any part of the
last installment of 7bl from the previous agreement. Furthermore, the
ECB piled on the pressure by pulling the normal credit lines and
capping emergency lending. Mario Draghi, totally inappropriately for a
“neutral” central banker, stated that if Greece continues with the
privatisation of airports, it may receive some of the sums owed. As
far as liquidity is concerned, the ECB has adopted a drip-drip
approach offering small sums of euros to the banks and keeping them
begging on a weekly basis. This is probably illegal. Greece is still
part of the old bailout programme. The ECB as the issuing bank is
legally obliged to offer liquidity to the Eurozone commercial banks.
. . .
The election victory does not mean that the government has acquired
power or ideological hegemony. It resembles a government in exile.
Time is necessary therefore in order to gain control of a hostile
state machinery and to prepare the specific policies that would
implement its election promises. This takes time for inexperienced
politicians never before in government positions, facing hostility or
indifference from the civil service.

The government needs time in order to communicate internally and
internationally the new direction against the resistance and
incomprehension they receive from officials and from media.

Finally, time is necessary to start building collaborations and
alliances with anyone prepared to accept that democratic decisions
should override the markets.

The time won is necessary in order to gain space and change the
terrain towards friendlier territory.

1. The first tactic is to complicate the negotiations by introducing
directly or indirectly third parties or issues considered extrinsic to
the table. The visits by Premier Alexis Tsipras and senior government
ministers to Russia, USA, China and Latin America move in this
direction. The strategy is to show that the fate of Greece will affect
economic but also geopolitical and security concerns. They remind the
other side of the crucial position of Greece in a corner of the world
in flames from Ukraine to Syria, Iraq, the Middle East and North
Africa.

2. The terrain is also changed when the negotiating narrative is
disrupted through the passing of legislation aimed at reversing the
humanitarian crisis and its main causes: corruption, tax avoidance and
tax evasion. These measures help the most impoverished part of the
population. 300,000 families will receive free electricity, food
vouchers and subsidies for rent. Close to four million families and
small businesses will be given the chance to pay their tax, social
security and other debt arrears in 100 installments. Finally, the
foreclosure of family homes will be banned. As a first symbolic move,
this law indicates that the commitment of the government to social
justice is not negotiable.

3. Guerilla war depends on the help of a sympathetic public. Syriza
must therefore consolidate the home front. The reversal of the
humanitarian crisis helps those in need but also keeps the support of
the larger part of the population not directly benefiting from those
measures. This will be crucial if the negotiations collapse and more
radical steps, such as a referendum or new elections are considered.
The government has so far succeeded. The support of the people for its
negotiating position is around 60%, while the PM Tsipras has an
approval rating close to 80%, despite blanket hostility from the Greek
establishment media. It makes sense. A feeling of national dignity and
honour has returned after five years of repeated and ritual
humiliation.

4. When the material weapons are non-existent, resistance has to
resort to moral arguments, moving from the financial to the ethical.
The emphasis on the humanitarian crisis is part of this redirection of
the negotiations.

Recent humanitarian crises were triggered by natural causes, such as
famine, earthquake or tsunami. By insisting on the existence of a
humanitarian crisis, the government has succeeded in registering the
extent and the nature of this crisis as man-made. It is the austerity
policies that inflicted the catastrophe. Their authors bear moral and
perhaps legal responsibility. The reactivation of the claim for
reparations for the Nazi atrocities, with the concept of crimes
against humanity that lies at its heart, makes the link stronger.

Austerity is a moral wrong: it leads to humanitarian catastrophe and
may amount to a crime. This is why Dijsselbloem, the head of the
Eurogroup, and Costello, an EU official, tried to stop the bill
addressing the crisis because of its fiscal repercussions. The law is
now in effect offering support to the most vulnerable and the
liability of Europe for the catastrophe has been admitted, opening the
way for further claims.

5. . . .
The Greeks rejected their victimization. Their response to the crisis
was not individual relief but collective resistance and solidarity.
The solidarity networks that have spread throughout Greece are not
just helping people who need it. They turned the thousands of
volunteers from passive subjects to active agents of change. When
elections were called, they elected a government with a clear mandate
to transfer resistance from the streets to the negotiating table.

6....If the European public supports the Greeks in their asymmetric
negotiation, it will give evidence of our belief in democracy.

This is why the negotiating strategy has to play to the European
gallery and not just to the suits in the conference room. The Greek
position has to be communicated and performed to different audiences.
Stopping home repossessions and reconnecting electricity is of huge
importance to the Spaniards; stopping water and other utility
privatisations to the Irish; giving good arguments about the
catastrophic effects of austerity to the British. The aim is to
persuade people to put pressure on their own governments or change
them in the coming elections.

The Greek position has a theatrical aspect which necessarily attracts
interest in the persons involved. Varoufakis is a great economist and
teacher but also an actor and celebrity. Getting the public involved
exposes the protagonists both to great acclaim and to personal
vituperation. The fact that the German government has asked for
Varoufakis to be removed from the Finance Ministry indicates that he
is succeeding.

7. The Greek government must continue addressing the European public
and governments above the heads of the hostile Berlin and Frankfurt
establishment. They must keep telling people in London, Madrid and
Dublin that elections matter and that democratically elected
governments have greater legitimacy, if not greater power, than
financial markets. This approach was apparent in the greatest
concession of the government in the February 25[20] agreement. A
standard media accusation has been that German citizens are paying for
the Greek debt. It is a false claim, which has been neutralized
however by the temporary suspension of the call for a debt write-down.

...Growth has to come through redistributive measures instead of the
imposition of Chinese wages and labour conditions.

What about Grexit? A voluntary exit would be political suicide. The
reasons are clear. The living standards of the population have fallen
by 35%. This would be further increased by the amount of devaluation
of the drachma (20, 30, 50%?) plus perhaps another 10%. Proponents of
Grexit suggest that capital controls should be imposed and basics such
as food, medicine and fuel should perhaps be rationed...

The final outcome will depend partly on the negotiations taking place
in the next four months but more importantly on the improvement of the
lives of ordinary people and their continued support for the
government. If the Europeans insist on the continuation of austerity,
the further reduction of salaries and pensions, Syriza has the nuclear
option in its arsenal. Calling a referendum on a European deal that
breaches its red lines or even a new election in order to get a clear
majority in the house for its legislative programme.

A paradigm shift?

The Syriza victory was the first success of the anti-austerity forces
in Europe. The dominant paradigm places markets above people,
marginalises democracy, transfers massively wealth from the [poor to
the rich] and demonises immigrants. Despite the failures, dislocations
and disasters of the dominant theory, many people have accepted that
there is no alternative, have abandoned any hope of change and have
downgraded their life aspirations.

This is where the Syriza victory may become the beginning of a new
paradigm. People who for thirty years heard the TINA dogma now hear a
different interpretation of the world. Take some key changes in the
dominant position. The Greek debt, Syriza argues, is part of a
European crisis and must be dealt at the European level. The European
Union should convene a debt conference similar to the 1953 London
conference, which reduced the German debt. The ECB must take on a
large part of the debt of all indebted European states, reducing their
burden to viable levels. Its repayment should be pegged to an economic
development clause.

Or, take the treatment of immigrants brought tragically home by the
drowning of 800 people in the Mediterranean, the sea at the ‘centre of
the earth’, which has turned into a floating graveyard. Greece is the
second largest point of entry into the EU after Italy. Yet, in a
radical change from most European governments, the Greeks are passing
a law which will give citizenship to all second generation immigrants
and those who had the larger part of their schooling in the country.
The camps for undocumented immigrants have been closed and people have
been moved to open accommodation. Educating people about the benefits
of immigration and combatting racism is the last defence of
Enlightenment values. The alternative is a nightmare scenario of
racist or neo-Nazi parties, like Golden Dawn, entering the mainstream.

The Greek predicament is the symptom of a major legitimation crisis
that will define the future of Europe. Liberal democracy is a post-war
European phenomenon. It combined the operation of the markets with a
correction in the name of social justice. As Wolfgang Streeck has
argued, the compromise worked because democratic politics intervened
in the economy and mitigated market decisions in favour of working
people.
. . .
This compromise has been unravelling in the last thirty years.
Neoliberalism frees the market from its correction by politics,
considered as a hindrance to economic efficiency. It does not care for
citizen consent – except at election time – but for the trust of the
markets. The Syriza victory challenges this dogma. In this sense, the
future of Europe and the Left – the whole Left including the social
democratic and labour parties – may depend on the outcome of the Greek
drama.
. . .
Syriza has set out its detailed programme for the first period in
government. Its economists are some of the best in Greece with wide
international recognition. But there is no single blueprint or
precedent for the democratic socialism of the twenty first century.
The Left will have to improvise and adjust, to become brutally
pragmatic and uncompromisingly principled.

Planning, developing policies, preparing has been going on bigtime.
But there is also the challenge of and response to events, the
contingency of what happens. The government will have to experiment,
use the collective imagination of the people, the experience and know
how of the hundreds of solidarity campaigns and social economy
initiatives and the entrepreneurial innovations of the highly skilled
and educated youth. It is a tall order for a small country and party.

Can Syriza succeed? There are acts you prepare for and others that hit
you on the head, like a miracle or earthquake. You are never ready to
fall in love or to start a revolution. The decision, the act is a
little like madness, it takes over. Syriza has been adopted by the
people as the subject of radical change.

As Immanuel Kant put it, because it must succeed, it will. But the
paradigm will shift, if people around Europe realise that the dominant
model has failed and must be replaced root and branch. Europe will
have to choose between the disasters of austerity and the hope of new
community. The signs are mildly optimistic. History has started moving
again.




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