[Marxism] Fwd: Syriza’s Rise Fueled by Professors-Turned-Politicians - WSJ

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 24 20:39:43 MST 2015

On 1/24/15 10:21 PM, Ralph Johansen via Marxism wrote:
> Louis Proyect wrote
> (...)
> http://www.wsj.com/articles/syrizas-rise-fueled-by-professors-turned-politicians-1422045127
> This is behind a firewall and looks interesting. Could you dig it out
> for us?

Syriza’s Rise Fueled by Professors-Turned-Politicians

NAOUSA, Greece—Wearing suit pants and a jacket, Costas Lapavitsas stood 
Wednesday afternoon on the floor of a steel-fabricating shop here and 
addressed a few dozen workers and small-business owners who smoked while 
sitting in plastic chairs. “I am not a career politician,” he began.

Indeed. Mr. Lapavitsas ’s political career is only a few weeks old. In 
Greece’s elections Sunday, he is a parliamentary candidate for the 
leftist opposition party Syriza, which leads Prime Minister Antonis 
Samaras ’s conservative party in the polls and could roil politics 
throughout Europe if it wins.

For more than 20 years, the 54-year-old Mr. Lapavitsas has taught 
economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African 
Studies. Now, he is part of the cadre of academics-turned-politicians 
forging Syriza’s economic thinking.

European economic orthodoxy, led by Germany, has fought Greece’s debt 
crisis with painful austerity—public-spending cuts and tax hikes—and 
other strict reforms. Syriza’s rise is the most potent challenge yet to 
that orthodoxy.

If Syriza wins, it could embolden left-wing parties in other countries, 
especially Spain, where political tensions also are boiling. It could 
even result in a rift with Germany that ruptures the euro.

The economic plan advanced by Mr. Lapavitsas and other professors 
aligned with Syriza is rooted in the core principles of debt forgiveness 
and higher government spending, which Germany has rejected.

“We need to renegotiate the logic,” says Yanis Varoufakis, a visiting 
professor at the University of Texas at Austin until a few days ago. He 
describes himself as a “libertarian Marxist” and has been recruited by 
Syriza to run for a seat in Greece’s parliament. His wife is heading to 
Austin to pack up their belongings for their move back to Athens.

A few years ago, Syriza was a fringe coalition of leftists. It jumped 
into the political mainstream in 2012 because of populist fervor and the 
party’s charismatic young leader, Alexis Tsipras. But a muddy economic 
message left Syriza in second place—and out of power.

It has honed its focus since then, and Mr. Lapavitsas describes the 
party’s platform as “a Keynesian program with redistribution attached, 
with some Marxist view of the world.” He adds: “We are not ashamed of that.”

In the tradition of John Maynard Keynes, Syriza advocates public 
spending to reignite economic growth. Greece can afford to spend more if 
some of its debt is forgiven by other countries.

Nikolaos Chountis, a Syriza candidate in Athens, ticks off the party’s 
spending priorities: food and electricity subsidies for impoverished 
households, a pension boost for the poorest retirees, a hike in the 
minimum wage and tax cuts for low earners. “The legislation is ready,” 
he says.

Since 2010, Greece’s economic policy has largely been dictated by the 
“troika” of technocrats appointed by Europe and the International 
Monetary Fund to supervise Greece’s €240 billion ($280 billion) bailout.

The troika wields a memorandum that minutely details what Greece must do 
in return for the rescue. Section commits Greece to 
reviewing customs procedures for canned peaches and four other products.

More significantly, the bailout put ceilings on government spending and 
floors on revenue. It has cut pensions, subsidies and the public payroll.

“It has to be over,” says George Stathakis, a University of Crete 
economist who won a parliamentary seat for Syriza in 2012 and is an 
economic adviser to Mr. Tsipras.

The party’s first message to Europe would be “let’s get rid of the 
memorandum,” Mr. Stathakis says. Syriza is willing to agree to a 
balanced budget, adds John Milios, another Syriza economist, but he says 
it is “impossible” for Greece to pay down its debt while the economy is 

Naousa, where Mr. Lapavitsas is running for parliament, is in the steep 
foothills of the Vermio mountains in northern Greece. Naousa became a 
cotton-spinning center under Ottoman rule in the late 19th century. Its 
mills were powered by a stream that cut through town, tumbling to the 
wide Macedonian plain below.

The son of a doctor, Mr. Lapavitsas grew up in the area. He left to 
attend university in England. The area’s cotton mills have steadily closed.

“Greece has been de-industrializing for 30 years, ever since Greece 
joined the European Union,” he says Mr. Lapavitsas. “The period of the 
bailout has finished it off, basically.”

 From his academic perch in London, Mr. Lapavitsas challenged the 
German-led approach. In 2010, he began writing articles advocating that 
Greece leave the euro. He is close to Panagiotis Lafazanis, the leader 
of an anti-euro bloc inside Syriza, though Mr. Lapavitsas says he 
accepts Syriza’s pro-euro position.

When elections were called in December, Mr. Lapavitsas says, local 
officials asked him to run. So he trundled Wednesday from a hospital 
visit past peach orchards and grapevines to the area’s last cotton mill. 
He watched machines spin bales into ropes, ropes into strings, and 
strings into threads.

“We believe there are big political changes coming,” he told workers, 
promising to raise Greece’s minimum wage.

Mr. Lapavitsas then drove to the steel-fabricating shop. He told workers 
and small-business owners that “we’ll die” unless Greece can renegotiate 
its debt and unwind austerity.

Charalambos Kotsidis, one of the shop’s owners, says he will vote for 
Syriza in Sunday’s elections. Sales for the supplier of steel girders 
and plates to construction companies are down 80% in the past five 
years, he says. The number of employees has shriveled to 12 from 60.

“In a country where values have dropped 80%, you cannot demand that 
payment,” he says of Greece’s bailout debt. “It is the same in business.”

A default in 2012 on Greek bonds wiped out most of what was owed to 
private investors. Much of Greece’s remaining debt is owed to other 
eurozone countries. It expires decades from now and carries low interest 

But the European Central Bank holds about €7 billion in bonds that are 
due this summer and could become a flash point. Greece doesn’t have 
enough cash to repay the bonds but can borrow the money if it sticks 
with the bailout.

“They know we can’t pay it back, so they want to lend us the money,” 
says Mr. Varoufakis, the former Texas professor. “I’ll be damned if I’m 
part of a government that says yes to this.”

Persuading Germany to change its mind seems like it will be a daunting 
challenge for Mr. Tsipras if Syriza wins and he becomes Greece’s next 
prime minister. But Syriza could splinter if he backpedals on the 
party’s promises.

On Wednesday evening, Mr. Lapavitsas prepared to address a rally at 
Naousa’s auditorium. In the lobby, songwriter Kostas Kaldaras compared 
Greece’s two once-dominant parties, which followed the troika’s 
dictates, to the Symplegades, the mythical rocks at the mouth of the 
Black Sea that smashed passing ships.

“They crushed culture and social cohesion,” Mr. Kaldaras said. Syriza 
would “start to change the form of the European Union from a primitive 

Mr. Lapavitsas told the crowd that Europe is a “continent of economic 
asphyxiation” with Greece at the “cutting edge” of the decline. “It has 
to be written off,” he said of Greece’s debt, acknowledging that the 
negotiations would be tough.

If the answer is no, “we will not back down,” Mr. Lapavitsas said. “It 
is simple. We will not back down.”

— Pavlos Zafiropoulos contributed to this article.

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