[Marxism] Kouvelakis "A Moment of Great Decisions"; Milne "Europe's elites want regime change"; Crook 'punishing Greece'

Dayne Goodwin daynegoodwin at gmail.com
Wed Jul 1 18:18:39 MDT 2015


A Moment of Great Decisions
Despite media misinformation and EU blackmail, anti-austerity forces
in Greece remain strong ahead of Sunday’s referendum.
by Stathis Kouvelakis
Jacobin magazine, July 1
<https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/syriza-default-debt-european-union-tsipras>

My “uncharacteristic silence” of the last few days, as someone
described it on my Facebook page, is simply due to the fact that,
since I arrived in Athens for the No campaign on Sunday, I have slept
very little and worked a lot. Today I spoke at two gatherings at
workplaces (the central railway station in Athens and the central
building of the subway). A great experience. My schedule for tomorrow
includes talks at various gatherings in the industrial zone of
Moschato and a public meeting in Petroupoli, in the western suburbs of
Athens.

Workers feel the pressure of the situation created by the media
hysteria and the closure of the banks. They are rather critical of the
concessions made by the government during those exhausting
“negotiations,” but in general they are confident in the victory of
No. They expect this to be a new start for the Syriza government, with
more of its program implemented.

I would urge all those who follow what is going on in Greece with the
typical mixture of anxiety and hope to keep as cool a head as
possible. The Greek media are in a hysterical state, and the Western
media are not that different. One of their favorite themes, on top of
the apocalyptic atmosphere they are propagating, is that the
referendum will not take place, that the government has actually
accepted the Juncker plan and will cancel the referendum and so on.
Beware of such misinformation.

It is true that some initiatives of the government are, to say the
least, ambiguous and debatable. This is particularly true of
yesterday’s proposal for a new loan from the European Stability
Mechanism and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s letter to the Eurogroup
disclosed today. Their aim is to display goodwill and give credit to
the position that what will take place next week, following a
potential victory of No, is a new cycle of “negotiations.” But
everyone knows that a) this is very unlikely to happen and b) that in
any case there aren’t any proper negotiations going on now: Merkel
made it clear that absolutely no talks are conceivable before Sunday.

So there is a dimension of posturing on both sides and of tactical
maneuvering on the side of Syriza, but it is also true that this is a
reflection of contradictions within the government and Syriza. Its
“realist” wing (lead by Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis) is
trying to put forward the idea that the referendum is just an
unpleasant (and brief) conflictual parenthesis and that the
negotiations will start anew on the basis of the very serious
concessions the government had accepted just before the break of the
talks. The official position, however, is that the negotiations will
start from a “zero basis,” which means that all the previous Greek
proposals have to now be considered obsolete.

Tsipras’s speech today was well-received and widely seen as defiant,
thus succeeding in overcoming the demobilizing impact of the latest
proposals. But of course, the best ally of the No camp is the
uncompromising and hubristic attitude of the lenders, leaving no room
for “compromise,” even of the worst kind.

According to opinion polls published today, “no” is ahead by eleven to
thirteen points, but the gap has narrowed significantly since Monday
due to the closure of banks, the restrictions on cash withdrawals, and
the problem pensioners have had receiving their payments.

This has inevitably created an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, and
that was exactly what the Eurogroup leaders had in mind when they
decided to stop any liquidity provision. However, it is also
unsurprising that it is only among pensioners and housewives that
“yes” leads or is close to majority support. Everywhere else,
including among small-business owners, “no” leads.

A lot will depend on the capacity of each camp to mobilize, but
particularly the No side. Tuesday’s gathering of Yes voters was big
and well-planned, but almost exclusively upper middle-class, and that
was probably the peak of what they can do in terms of mobilization.
Taking into account that it was highly improvised, Monday’s No rally
was a successful start. The campaign on the ground started today, and
it will be almost entirely monopolized by the No camp. The mood in
Greek society is one of increasing polarization — along clear class
lines in the urban centers, more diffused in the countryside and in
the small cities.

Qualitatively speaking Syriza’s branches are galvanized, and there is
an excellent relation with the comrades of Antarsya. Other forces,
from the social movements and various campaigns, are also joining. A
“united front” type of campaign is taking form, which is excellent
news.

But the big setback here is the attitude of the Communist Party, which
can only be qualified as a “betrayal.” (In general I don’t like this
term but in this case it seems justified.) They will present their own
ballot paper, affirming a “double no” (to the troïka plan and to the
government, both seen as “two sides of the same coin”), a ballot paper
that of course will be invalid. Presumably they will do their own
counting and then announce the result as some kind of “success” of
their line.

If No wins — which seems likely but not certain — and if it wins a
clear majority, which also remains to be seen, it’s almost inevitable
that the confrontation with the European Union and the domestic
dominant class will escalate. Greece has already refused to pay the
International Monetary Fund in June, and formal default will be
declared in thirty days. The liquidity and currency weapons will be
used even more heavily, with the European Central Bank and the
European Financial Stability Facility asking for their loans to be
repaid immediately. The moment of “great decisions” for Syriza will
then inevitably come.

A victory for the No camp would galvanize popular forces. But this
outcome should not under any circumstances be considered a given. It
is the object of the amazing battle that is taking place now.


Syriza can’t just cave in. Europe’s elites want regime change in Greece
by Seumas Milne
The Guardian, July 1
<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/01/syriza-cave-in-elites-regime-change>

*Greece’s confrontation with the euro overlords will shape resistance
to austerity – and the future of the whole European Union
‘There’s no suggestion of genuine compromise. The aim is apparently to
humiliate Tsipras and his government in preparation for its early
replacement with a more pliable administration.’*


It’s now clear that Germany and Europe’s powers that be don’t just
want the Greek government to bend the knee. They want regime change.
Not by military force, of course – this operation is being directed
from Berlin and Brussels, rather than Washington.

But that the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the troika of
Greece’s European and International Monetary Fund creditors are out to
remove the elected government in Athens now seems beyond serious
doubt. Everything they have done in recent weeks in relation to the
leftist Syriza administraton, elected to turn the tide of austerity,
appears designed to divide or discredit Alexis Tsipras’s government.

They were at it again today, when Tsipras offered what looked like
almost complete acceptance of the austerity package he had called a
referendum on this Sunday. There could be no talks, Merkel responded,
until the ballot had taken place.

There’s no suggestion of genuine compromise. The aim is apparently to
humiliate Tsipras and his government in preparation for its early
replacement with a more pliable administration. We know from the IMF
documents prepared for last week’s “final proposals” and reported in
the Guardian that the creditors were fully aware they meant
unsustainable levels of debt and self-defeating austerity for Greece
until at least 2030, even on the most fancifully optimistic scenario.

That’s because, just as the earlier bailouts went to the banks not the
country, and troika-imposed austerity has brought penury and a debt
explosion, these demands are really about power, not money. If they
are successful in forcing Tsipras out of office, a slightly less
destructive package could then be offered to a more house-trained
Greek leader who replaced him.

Hence the European Central Bank’s decision to switch off emergency
funding of Greece’s banks after Tsipras called the referendum on an
austerity scheme he had described as blackmail. That was what
triggered the bank closures and capital controls, which have taken
Greece’s crisis to a new level this week as it became the first
developed country to default on an IMF loan.

The EU authorities have a deep aversion to referendums, and countries
are routinely persuaded to hold them again if they give the wrong
answer. The vote planned in Greece is no exception. A barrage of
threats and scaremongering was unleashed as soon as it was called.

One European leader after another warned Greeks to ignore their
government and vote yes – or be forced out of the eurozone, with dire
consequences. Already the class nature of the divide between the
wealthier yes and more working-class no camps is stark. The troika’s
hope seems to be that if Tsipras is defeated by fear of chaos, Syriza
will split or be forced from office in short order. The euro elite
insists it is representing the interests of Portuguese or Irish
taxpayers who have to pick up the bill for bailing out the feckless
Greeks – or will be enraged by any debt forgiveness when they have
been forced to swallow similar medicine. The reality is the other way
round.

Not only has no German or any other EU taxpayer taken any loss bailing
out Greece. The real fear in Brussels and Berlin is not that people in
countries such as Spain and Portugal who have taken the brunt of
eurozone austerity will oppose relief for ravaged Greece – but that
they’ll want an end to austerity and their own debts written off as
well.

That’s what they call “moral hazard”. But it has nothing to do with
morality and everything to do with a dysfunctional currency union, a
destructive neoliberal economic model enforced by treaty and an
austerity regime maintained to ensure a return to profitability on
corporate terms.

That’s why Merkel and the ECB mandarins want Greece’s surrender.
Upstart democratic governments that challenge austerity must be
crushed: the real risk of contagion is as much political as financial.
This is, after all, a system where unelected institutions and other
states have the power to override elected governments – in fact to
impose not only policies but effectively governments too, as we may be
about to see in Greece. Anti-democratic firewalls are built into
Europe’s institutions.

The achilles heel of Syriza has been its simultaneous commitment to
ending disastrous austerity and remaining in the euro. That has
reflected Greek public opinion. But there was never going to be an
honourable compromise with the creditors, or much mileage in trying to
persuade the authorities they were good Europeans. For the euro elite,
the dangers of Grexit are outweighed by the risk that larger states
could follow a successful Greek stand against austerity.

Tsipras and Syriza’s determination to stay in the eurozone come what
may has seriously weakened Greece’s hand. The economic dislocation of
jumping off the euro train would doubtless be severe in the short
term, though the costs of permanent austerity would almost certainly
be greater thereafter.

But Syriza insiders say there is little preparation for what anyway
may be forced on them. The relentless pressure of the EU bureaucracy
demands a strong and clear-headed response. Right now, for example,
that means the Athens government immediately taking control of its
banks, currently shutting down all transactions.

The worst outcome of this crisis would be for Syriza to implement the
austerity it was elected to end. A yes vote in next weekend’s
referendum, if it goes ahead, would probably lead to the government’s
fall, and almost certainly new elections. But even a no vote, which
would offer the best chance for Greece, would need to be followed by
more radical measures if the government was going to strengthen its
negotiating hand or prepare the ground for euro exit.

The real risk across Europe is that if Syriza caves in or collapses,
that failure will be used to turn back the rising tide of support for
anti-austerity movements such as Podemos in Spain, or Sinn Féin in
Ireland, leaving the field to populists of the right.

Either way, any Greek euro deal that fails to write off unrepayable
debt or end the austerity squeeze will only postpone the crisis. If
the Syriza government survives, it will have to change direction. Its
fate, and its chaotic confrontation with the eurozone’s overlords, is
going to shape all of Europe’s future.


Europe Wants to Punish Greece With Exit
by Clive Crook
BloombergView, July 1
<http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-07-01/europe-wants-to-punish-greece-with-exit>

In my more than 30 years writing about politics and economics, I have
never before witnessed such an episode of sustained, self-righteous,
ruinous and dissembling incompetence -- and I'm not talking about
Alexis Tsipras and Syriza. As the damage mounts, the effort to rewrite
the history of the European Union's abject failure over Greece is
already underway. Pending a fuller postmortem, a little clarity on the
immediate issues is in order.

On Monday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a
news conference that he'd been betrayed by the Greek government.

The creditor institutions, he said, had shown flexibility and sought
compromise. Their most recent offer involved no wage cuts, he
emphasized, and no pension cuts; it was a package that created "more
social fairness." Tsipras had misled Greeks about what the creditors
were asking. The talks were getting somewhere. Agreement on this
package could have been reached "easily" if Tsipras hadn't collapsed
the process early Saturday by calling a referendum.

What an outrageous passel of distortion. Since these talks began five
months ago, both sides have budged, but Tsipras has given vastly more
ground than the creditors. In particular, he was ready to accede to
more fiscal austerity -- a huge climbdown on his part. True, the last
offer requires a slightly milder profile of primary budget surpluses
than the creditors initially demanded; nonetheless, it still calls for
severely (and irrationally) tight fiscal policy.

In contrast, the creditors have refused to climb down on the question
of including debt relief in the current talks, absurdly insisting that
this is an issue for later. On Tuesday, Tsipras made his most
desperate attempt yet to bring the issue forward.

Far from expressing any desire to compromise, dominant voices among
the creditors -- notably German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble,
who often seemed to be calling the shots -- have maintained throughout
that there is nothing to discuss. The program already in place had to
be completed, and that was that.

Yes, the program had failed. No, it wouldn't achieve debt
sustainability. Absolutely, it was pointlessly grinding down Greek
living standards even further. What did that have to do with it?

Juncker says the last offer made no demand for wage cuts. Really? The
offer says the "wage grid" should be modernized, including
"decompressing the [public sector] wage distribution." On the face of
it, decompressing involves cuts. If the creditors were calling for
public-sector wages to be decompressed upward perhaps they should have
made this clear. Regardless, the increases in value-added taxes
demanded by the creditors mean lower real wages, public and private
alike. As for no pension cuts, the creditors called for phasing out
new early-retirement penalties and the so-called social solidarity
payment for the poorest pensioners. Those are cuts.

The creditors called for a lot else, too. Remember that the Greek
economy is on its knees. Living standards have collapsed and the
unemployment rate is 25 percent. Now read the offer document, and see
if you think the advance in "social fairness" that Juncker stressed at
his news conference shines through
<http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5270_en.htm>

But I haven’t mentioned the biggest distortion of all. Noticing for
the first time that Greece has EU citizens within its borders, Juncker
addressed them directly on the subject of the July 5 referendum.
Greeks will be asked whether they accept the offer presented by the
creditors -- an offer, by the way, that the creditors say no longer
stands. "No [to the offer that no longer exists] would mean that
Greece is saying no to Europe," Juncker explained. President Francois
Hollande of France clarified: The vote would determine "whether the
Greeks want to stay in the euro zone."

Nonsense. There's no doubt that Greeks want to stay in the euro system
-- though I find it increasingly difficult to see why. If Greece
leaves the system, it won't be because Greeks decide to leave; it will
be because Europe decides to kick them out.

This isn't just semantics. There's no reason, in law or logic, why a
Greek default necessitates an exit from the euro. The European Central
Bank pulls this trigger by choosing -- choosing, please note -- to
withhold its services as lender of last resort to the Greek banking
system. That is what it did this week. That is what shut the banks
and, in short order, will force the Greek authorities to start issuing
a parallel currency in the form of IOUs.

A truly independent ECB, willing to do whatever it takes to defend the
euro system, could have announced that it would keep supplying Greek
banks with liquidity. If the Greek banks are deemed in due course to
be insolvent (which hasn’t happened yet), that doesn't have to trigger
an exit, either. Europe has the wherewithal and a bank-rescue
mechanism that would allow the banks to be taken over and
recapitalized. These options are foreclosed because the supposedly
apolitical ECB has let Europe's finance ministers use it as a hammer
to extract fiscal concessions from Greece.

Nobody ever imagined that a government default in Europe would dictate
ejection from the euro zone. The very possibility would have been
correctly recognized as a fatal defect in the design of the system.

If the Greeks vote no, a Greek exit is a possible and even likely
consequence. But if it happens, the reason won't be that Greece chose
to go. The reason will be that the European Union and its politicized
central bank chose to inflict exit as punishment.




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