[Marxism] Paul Mason "What was the point of Tsipras referendum?"

ehrbar at marx.economics.utah.edu ehrbar at marx.economics.utah.edu
Fri Jul 10 17:45:07 MDT 2015

Not sure if Andrew Pollack is misreading Paul Mason, but to me, Paul
Mason made sense.  Here is my own take on it.  I do understand why the
Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone.  The Euro has strong symbolic value
for the unity of the European people.  The possibility to travel without
having to go through customs and without having to go to the currency
exchange window is a great unifying experience for the ordinary person.

(1) What was the point of the Referendum?  I think the referendum should
be taken at face value.  Tsipras needed to know whether the Greek masses
were willing to accept the conditions of the Institutions.  This would
make a difference for further negotiations.  I don't think he expected
to lose, but he assumed that there was a good probability he might lose.
He needed the referendum exactly because he did not know whether the
answer would be yes or no.  In case of a yes vote, others would continue
the negotiations.  I think the no vote was an expression of confidence,
that the Greeks knew that their government was doing the best they could
to fulfill their electoral mandate.

(2) Why did Varoufakis resign?  Again I think the official story is
basically correct.  After the resounding no vote, Tsipras expected that
the Institutions would see themselves forced to make more concessions.
And as an ice breaker, Tsipras sacrificed Varoufakis in order to get the
negotiations going again.  Not because Varoufakis did something wrong,
but because Varoufakis knew too much; he embarrassed the negotiators on
the other side by being the better economist.  Varoufakis showed to the
whole world that the negotiaions were not about economics but about
power.   His latest Guardian op-ed
is another proof of a much more penetrating insight into the process
and history than available from the other negotiators.

(3) Now the important thing is the reaction of the Institutions to the
Referendum and to Tsipras's good-will gesture of withdrawing Varoufakis.
Their reaction was: nothing.  Not a single conciliatory gesture, instead
they insisted on the deadlock before the referendum and said "it is up
to the Greeks."  This ultimate intransigence showed their disdain for
democracy and also showed that they did not want Greece in the Euro zone
any more.  Perhaps Merkel had maneuvered herself into a position where
she was not able to make concessions any more, or perhaps---Varoufakis is
not the only one to say this about Schauble---Schauble had not been
negotiating in good faith, he wanted the negotiations to fail.

(4) What did Tsipras do when he, and everybody else, saw the true
position of the Institutions?  He saw the expulsion of Greece coming and
he did not want it blamed on Syriza.  He did not have the mandate to
leave the Euro, and I think it is also strategically wrong for
socialists to voluntarily leave the Euro or the EU, they should push the
envelope and do as much as they can do inside the Euro and EU.
Therefore he made an offer giving the Institutions all they wanted, in
order to see if under these conditions the Institutions would grant
Greece a reduction or re-structuring of the debt in such a way that this
austerity would have at least a chance of success.

(5) Did Tsipras's gambit pay off?  Der Spiegel, which until yesterday
preached how the collapse of the Greek economy is the fault of the
Greeks, who were demanding too much, is suddenly full of revelations how
much pressure the US was exerting on Merkel to give the Greeks a break.
This give Merkel a face-saving way out: she does not have to "cave" to
the "lazy Greeks" but she has to respect the will of the US.  So I think
there is a good chance Greece will stay in the Euro, but this is not at
all certain.

Here are the two possibilities as I see them:

If Greece remains in the Eurozone at the cost of further austerity
measures, then this is the loss of one skirmish but not of the war.
Syriza tried to get the best outcome possible while respecting the will
of the voters to stay within the Eurozone.  Syriza did not betray the
voters.  They tried everything possible to carry out the mandate of the
voters and were defeated because the enemy was stronger or more ruthless
than they, and because their own mandate, eliminating austerity while
staying in the Eurozone, was somewhat contradictory.  And the struggle
continues.  Despite the fact that they were forced to accede to
austerity demands in the end, their honorable and courageous battle and
their respect for democracy will encourage the voters in Spain, Ireland
and elsewhere to vote for their own left parties.

If the Institutions do not accept Syriza's offer, then it will be clear
to all that Greece did not leave the Eurozone voluntarily but was kicked
out.  This will create unity in Greece for the trying times ahead, and
it will make it easier for Syriza, if Greece is forced to go through
such a painful adjustment process, to see to it that the new economy
they are building will have elements of socialism in it.  In my
estimation, this will not happen this time, but the Greek experience
will teach the left parties everywhere that it is not premature to make
experiments and gain experiences in cooperative production, municipal
energy utilities, etc.

Hans G Ehrbar

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