[Marxism] Costas Lapavitsas: The Syriza strategy has come to an end

Dayne Goodwin daynegoodwin at gmail.com
Thu Apr 30 15:34:32 MDT 2015

Costas Lapavitsas: The Syriza strategy has come to an end
Verso Blog, April 30

In a joint interview with German daily Der Tagesspiegel and
ThePressProject International, Syriza MP and economist Costas
Lapavitsas says that the time has come for Greece and its partners to
understand that “they are flogging a dead horse”.

Download Lapavitsas' blueprint for real change, Against the Troika, at
a 50% discount!

*What’s your opinion on the negotiations so far? How is the government doing?*

The Syriza strategy has been - and it remains - that a change in the
political alignment of forces in Greece, in Europe, or generally,
would act as a catalyst in the Eurozone. This strategy has now come to
an end. The real question is how long it will be before people
understand it.

I was always extremely skeptical of it. I always argued that it isn’t
just about political alignment, there are institutional mechanisms and
the logic of the monetary union. And those who believe that a simple
change of politics is enough to transform this, were mistaken and I
think this has been confirmed.

What we’ve seen is that the institutional framework of the Eurozone
and the ideological machinery attached to it are not susceptible to
arguments that come from electoral realignments. So the agreement of
the 20th of February at the Eurogroup reflects that.
. . .
*So there is no middle way?*

There is no middle way. The Eurozone will not allow it. Do I think the
leadership was surprised? Yes, I suspect they were to a certain
extent. Because my reading of the situation is that the leadership
genuinely believed that you could change the political alignments, you
could change electoral arithmetic, and on this basis change Europe,
change European policies.

*So what should the Greek government do in your opinion?*

Greece needs to consider the true alternative path which is to leave
this failed monetary union. It is clearly the only way that was there
from the beginning – which is basically exit. If you are going to
apply such a programme, as Syriza has proclaimed, which is not radical
– Syriza’s programme is just moderate Keynesianism -, you need to
think seriously of how you are going to get out of the confines of the

*Do you think Syriza has the mandate for it?*

A straight answer is no. Syriza has a mandate to fulfil its programme.
Indirectly, not directly, it has a mandate to keep the country in the
Eurozone. But this question was never openly posed to the Greek

*Is the solution a referendum?*

The first thing to do is not so much discuss the idea of a referendum
but actually that of the alternative strategy. There has to be a
genuine public debate at last. That’s not easy because for five years
this country has been subjected to the most incredible misinformation
and scaremongering campaigns. So the atmosphere has been very badly
poisoned. It is not impossible to have this debate now but it is much
more difficult than a few years back.

In my judgement, the best strategy right now is what I call a
consensual and orderly exit. Not a contested exit.
. . .
*What would Europe win out of it?*

Peace and quiet. (Pause…) For a period.

*Why only for a period?*

Because the monetary union in my judgement is a major historical
failure. It’s Europe’s biggest failure in decades. And it will not
last. But obviously it might last long enough for Greece to be dead.
Of course the EZ proponents believe it is going to last forever. It is
a historical delusion. Monetary unions don’t last this long. Let them
believe it. Fine.

*Would the EU as a political construction survive if countries exit
the monetary union?*

In 15 years the monetary union has undone all the goodwill generated
in Europe by the EU. The state of relations in the European countries
today is probably worse than it’s been for decades. The state of
affairs between Germany and Greece is appalling, absolutely atrocious.
And this because of the euro.

This is proof that this money doesn’t generate solidarity, this money
creates divisions. And this is again the biggest evidence of its
failure. Now stubbornness, unwillingness to recognize the failure of
it in the last five years is making things worse. What the EU has done
in the last 5 years is to tie itself even more closely around the
common currency instead of deeply restructuring it. It has actually
made it harder. So yes if now the common currency fails, which I think
it will, then the EU will be in question, that’s the price to pay for
the historical mistake of the common currency.

*So for Greece, does leaving the EZ also mean leaving the EU?*

The most important is to differentiate between the EU and the EZ. In
this country, and in most of Europe, a sustained confusion has been
going on for years. That the membership of one equals the membership
of the other. It’s of course absurd because there are members of the
EU which are not members of the European monetary union. If Greece
leaves the euro, it doesn’t have to leave the EU at the same time. If
the Greek people want to leave the EU, let them leave the EU. But
that’s a separate question. This conflation has been deadly and it’s
been used ideologically...

. . .
*Why that?*

Germany is the country that is the most delinquent in Europe. Not
Greece, not Spain, not Italy. And certainly not France. France is
playing far more by the book than Germany. Germany has been not
keeping the rules and I can make it very simple for you: Germany often
accuses Greece - Schauble for instance does - that Greece has been
living beyond its means. It’s true. But Germany has also been
systematically living below its means, and this is how exports are
generated, not because of technology, productivity and all that.
That’s why it is so successful.

But when you are in a monetary union it cannot be a bad thing to live
above your means and a good thing to live below. The real rule must be
to live by your means. So Germany has not kept the rules and the price
is paid by the German people. I understand full well how the German
people live. I know very well that wages have not risen for years,
that one third of the labor force lives under precarious conditions.
Precarious employment, wages below productivity...,

*So what you are saying is that the euro has not been good for the
German people either...*

This also explains why the German people are annoyed and angry when it
comes to sending money abroad, paying for others. Of course, I would
be angry too in that position: you live in a very tight way, you count
your beans and then somebody comes and tells you, you have to pay.

On the other hand, German exporting business, the German banks, this
is a different story. They ‘ve done very well. But that’s for the
German people to sort out.
. . .

*Are you making the same point about Greece? Is domestic demand the
key to return to growth? How should Greece get back on its feet?*

There are three stages. First, as I said, is the negotiated,
consensual, orderly exit.

Second stage is recovery and that would depend very much on recovery
of domestic demand which is very heavily repressed in this country.
There are vast resources lying unused. Small and medium enterprises
would be reactivated, that’s what would really restart the Greek
economy. Not exports - this worship of exports is nonsense.

But obviously that is not really a path for sustainable growth. What
Greece would need after that would be an industrial policy to
restructure its productive base, to integrate itself in the world
economy on a different basis. That would take a few years.

But Greece would be still part of a common market, as a member of the
EU. So it is not so easy to go back to domestic demand and to the SMEs
[small and medium-sized enterprises], because it would have to kick
out the big companies that could still sell cheaper.

I believe that Greece could out-compete imports very easily.
Unfortunately, wages have been destroyed during the last 5 years due
to bailout policies. A devaluation of 15-20% (but no more since as I
said the ECB would defend the exchange rate) would give a tremendous
competitive advantage. Wages would then gradually rise again.

*What are the chances for that to happen? For Greece to choose that path?*

At 2010 I said there are 3 possible solutions. Austerity, ‘the good
euro’ and exit. I said that the most likely solution would be
austerity and this would be a disaster. As for the good euro strategy
(i.e., that you achieve Keynesian policy within the confines of the
euro – the strategy of Syriza), I said that the chances of this
occurring were close to zero. The strategy of exit is the only logical
one. The real issue is will it be contested or orderly? I don’t know.
But exit there will be at some point.

. . .
*What is this ideology?*

It is not neoliberalism, it is Europeanism. The idea of Europe as this
transcendental entity which is good for all of us and we all belong to
it. This great fiction that has emerged in the dominant countries and
has come to penetrate the weaker countries.

I am socialist, old style, with the old meaning of the word, the idea
of the United States of Europe and of European solidarity is a
socialist idea and I share it. Obviously it has also been a Nazi idea,
used by Hitler. No one has the monopoly of the idea of a unified

I don’t believe in a single European people, there is no European
demos, and there shouldn’t be. Europe is about plurality, many
different languages, cultures. Since when was it desirable for all of
us to be just European, to be one thing?

These are illusions and ideologies. I don’t see a political
convergence, I see the rise of fascism, the rise of the extreme right,
I see extreme tension. Front National in France is at 30% of the vote,
and the way things are going, I would not be surprised if the next
president of France were a fascist.
. . .
*But why the core countries of the EU are so much attached to the idea
of the common currency?*

I think the core doesn’t know how to get out. A bad mistake was made
15 years ago, and the risks of getting out are perceived as very high.
At the same time, some special interests, the exporting sector, the
banking sector, are strongly defending it because it has served their

full at: <http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1967-costas-lapavitsas-the-syriza-strategy-has-come-to-an-end>
A shorter version of this interview was published in German in the
Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel.

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