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News :: International
The lessons of Greece
22 Jul 2015
At the end of yet another «historic» marathon session Brussels negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors, a «definitive» agreement has yet again been found to «resolve" the Greek crisis: Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and his team have come to accept as a condition for new loans to the virtually bankrupt Greek government, a plan of austerity measures significantly harsher than he had rejected a week earlier and against which he had, supposedly, held a referendum! The only point where he apparently got something concrete, is that of the reduction in military spending: the creditors have accepted that it is weaker than what they asked for...
Many, even among the so-called «far left» currents who claimed to have no illusions about Syriza and its government, cried out about the treason of Tsipras. But only those who took the demagogical speeches of this party and its leader at face value could feel betrayed.
Syriza which calls itself a «radical left» party, is in reality no different from a classic reformist party: it does not want to destroy capitalism but to improve it, reform it: its dream is that of all reformists, the dream of a capitalism with a human face, that of all collaborators, the dream of fraternal collaboration among all citizens or at least the overwhelming majority of them. But there are dreams and there is reality; and in reality, capitalism cannot be changed, only a few minor reforms are possible and even those, provided they do not cost much – we must combat it or submit to it!
Having never had the intention to fight capitalism, Syriza could only submit to it and submit the workers who trusted it. Brought to power by claiming that it was going to end austerity and the economic crisis which battered the workers and some petty-bourgeois strata, Syriza embodied the illusion that a mere change of government, obtained quietly and peacefully by the democratic electoral process, could bring a significant improvement in the situation of the masses. The constitution of his government on the basis of an alliance with a far-right militarist and pro-religious party, (Anel) should have been enough to dispel any doubts about the «radical» nature of Syriza. But for months, the government conducted the comedy of defending the workers against the creditors of the country, whom he claimed to be able to convince to give up part of their requirements and to grant further financial aid; while the situation of the proletarians and the working masses never ceased to deteriorate – so there has been a real social truce in part because of uninterrupted blows suffered by the proletariat in recent years, but also because of the hopes that many nurtured towards Syriza.
But in reality, the Greek negotiators were defending primarily the interests of national capitalism and not those of the proletariat or the population; evidenced by the fact that they finally accepted more readily antisocial and anti-proletarian measures than those of particular capitalist interests (e.g. they have defended tooth and nail the privileged status of shipping owners from taxes, military expenditures or the maintaining of a low rate of VAT on tourist activities); the austerity measures imposed to repay creditors have had dire consequences for the economy in general, leading to the disappearance of thousands of businesses: an economic stimulus policy, not more austerity is demanded by many capitalists.
But negotiations and agreements between bourgeois or between bourgeois states – including when the States are “partners” in a «union»! – can only be based on the relationship of forces. But puny Greek capitalism had little strength to resist the exigencies of the major European capitalism for long, especially when their state is on the verge of bankruptcy. At the end of June the creditors laid down a quasi-ultimatum to accept their plan, to which the Tsipras government replied by organizing a referendum on the plan, calling for a «No» vote. While this decision was greeted with enthusiasm by a part of the European left and far left who saw the possibility of a «people» democratically refusing a Europe of austerity and finance, etc. or even getting out of the «straitjacket of the euro», Tsipras clearly stated that the referendum was organized, not to break with the creditors, but to continue negotiations with them in a position that would be strengthened by universal suffrage.
The «Yes» campaign included traditional bourgeois parties (the socialists of Pasok and the right-wing New Democracy) and new (the centrists of To Potami), employer organizations, but also the leaders of the private sector unions, the major media, etc., supported by European governments.
«No» proponents in addition to Syriza, included the neo-fascist Golden Dawn and small formations from the far left, along with some anarchists. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) refused to participate in the «No» campaign: – reasonably asserting that the government's proposals were no better than those of the creditors; it called for a null vote, thus spoiling the ballot (the essential thing, of course is to vote!) in this way thinking to express a «double no» to both proposals and defending its own nationalist perspective of exiting the EU.
The rest is history: the «No» supporters achieved a resounding victory (nearly 60%, with spoiled or blank ballots at 6%, «Yes» collecting only 36% of the votes; the rate of abstentions was down, being 38%); the main square of Athens, Syntagma, saw scenes of jubilation of voters believing that they had dealt a severe blow to supporters of austerity and notably to the old parties that had formed successive governments throughout the past years. The formations of the radical left of Europe also celebrated the electoral victory; one example is the statement of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, but we could have mentioned the French Front de Gauche, the Spanish Podemos, etc.: «The victory of No in Greece represents the victory of democracy and dignity for the Greek people against the financial terrorism of the troika. It is a historic result for Greece and the European peoples» (1).
Just hours after this historic victory of democracy, Prime Minister Tsipras, after discarding his Minister of Finance, whose tone had been too assertive and demanding, met with all the parliamentary parties, both right and left, with the exception of Golden Dawn; and except for the KKE, they all gave him their full support to negotiate to keep Greece in the euro area ... on the basis of the plan proposed by the creditors! Trounced at the polls, the «Yes» vote had in fact triumphed! It would be difficult to imagine a more striking demonstration of the futility of electoral illusions and the role of disorientation of the electoral circus...
By garnering the consent of the old traditional bourgeois parties, Syriza becomes the representative of a true national unity, the defender of the interests of all the Greek bourgeoisie in front of the Europeans.
Declarations of intent not being enough, the Greek negotiators in Brussels presented a specific and detailed plan, drafted under the leadership of high French officials, who accepted all the points which a week earlier they had denounced as an ultimatum. But when the negotiating sessions began, this plan was rejected by the German representatives, who presented another, based on the expulsion of Greece – for five years – from the Eurozone, because, they said, «confidence» in the Greek Government no longer existed: for the capitalists, confidence is based on submission.
It took endless and bitter negotiations for the German leaders to abandon this perspective and to accept maintaining Greece in the European currency area, inflicting in return drastic and humiliating measures for the Greek leaders who had to pay for trying to resist them.
As good reformist minions, the Greek representatives finally agreed to everything that had been demanded of them; it was not a capitulation, since the Tsipras government had actually already capitulated even before the start of negotiations, when, while victorious at the polls, he received the support of all parties, particularly by those who had called for a “Yes” vote; not a surrender in relation to a defense of the interests of the workers and the poor masses since this has never been the real intention of Syriza, but a capitulation in relation to the refusal to accept all the demands of creditors and to renounce any attempt to get relief from debt burden.
We wrote that «The Syriza-ANEL government has no alternative: it will have to submit to the pressure of the most powerful bourgeois states so that it will not be ejected from the euro zone, or replaced by a more comprehensive government. (...) Syriza is placed in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between attacking the interests of the proletariat and the working masses, or those of capitalism; and like all reformist parties, which are inextricably linked to the defense of the capitalist mode of production, it can only attack the workers, profiting from the confidence they have in it. This is the role assigned to it by the bourgeoisie, Greek and international, and its government will only be tolerated so long as it fulfills this role. » (2).
It did not take long to wait for the demonstration of this easy forecast. It appears, moreover, that during the last negotiations, some states and «institutions» have threatened to force the formation of a new government, perhaps a «government by technocrats» if the Greek leaders were reluctant to accept the conditions requested by creditors. But others have probably argued that Tsipras and his followers, strengthened by their “victory” election, were best able to get the proletarian masses to swallow the bitter pills: that is precisely what democracy is for.
The Brussels negotiations were particularly contentious: two groups of countries showed disagreement à propos the fate of Greece: on one side, Germany with its allies in the North who advocated it leaving the Eurozone, on the other side France, supported by Cyprus and Italy, who were opposed. Some people explained this confrontation by the opposition of two conceptions of Europe: on one side the supporters of financial orthodoxy and respect for treaties, on the other supporters of solidarity between peoples.
The reality is quite different; in «defending Greece» against the German representatives, Paris was not defending the Greek «people» and even less Greek proletarians: the draft presented by the Greek government and developed in collaboration with French officials took up all the anti-working class and antisocial measures requested by the European creditors.During the negotiations, the French finance minister used the argument that if Greece left the euro zone, it could not repay its debt; but more worrying for Paris and Rome was that an exit from the euro would have risked cause economic problems in the zone, delivering a severe blow to hopes of restarting even meager growth in France and Italy. The alleged «defense of Greece» was nothing more than the defense of French and Italian national capitalist interests!
The position of the German leadership was different because the health of their economy would have enabled it to absorb without much trouble the shock of a «Grexit» (Greek exit from the euro); what concerned them more, beyond the unhappy prospect of throwing new funds down a bottomless pit, was to create a precedent that could be invoked tomorrow by governments of other much larger countries, for example Spain; hence their desire, if Grexit did not take place, to impose punitive conditions on Greece so that it serves as a warning to those tempted to imitate ...
Finally the United States put pressure on Germany that Greece not be ejected from the euro zone and that its debt be reduced (3). This corresponds to their traditional position of pushing the Europeans to abandon austerity policies and to adopt economic stimulus measures, so they play the role of a locomotive of global growth to reverse the slowdown; but in this case their position is mainly explained by the desire to avoid a NATO member occupying a key strategic position, being plunged into an economic slump that would weaken its military capabilities. However the US did not want to interfere directly in the negotiations, as Tsipras, the supposed representative of the «radical left», demanded of them, hoping to find strong support in the US imperialists...
None of these states were concerned by the situation of the Greek proletarians and masses because all have the function of defending the capitalist mode of production against their own proletariat and those countries they dominate!
ALL BOURGEOIS STATES AND ALL THE POSSESSING CLASSES ARE THE ENEMIES OF THE PROLETARIANS
Greek proletarians have endured a tough experience whose lessons, consistent with Marxism, apply to the workers of the world: it is impossible to defend against capitalist attacks, whether undertaken by their own capitalist or applied on behalf of best interests of capitalism by foreign capitalists, by relying on the mechanisms of parliamentary democracy; the ballot is only a scrap of paper which cannot in any way override bourgeois interests and resolve social contradictions. A so-called «class vote» like the one in favor of the «No» vote hailed by Europe's extreme left is a sorry illusion: the class struggle does not take place within the confines of parliaments, but in work-places, in factories, in the street. We cannot soften the capitalists’ demands by trying to move the bourgeois by describing the suffering of the population, generating nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders, as it seems the Greek negotiators in Brussels did – in agreeing to make the proletarians suffer but not too much! The proletarians must not expect the pity or commiseration of the capitalists and their lackeys, but only their blows; these blows undoubtedly can be more or less brutal, but this is only a difference of degree due to a difference in method: the reformist method is kinder to avoid as far as possible the eruption of social clashes. But when the bourgeois interests are too urgent reformist method immediately follows the path of the dictates and when confrontations menace, the path of violence and repression: Tsipras is the umpteenth example.
The «bailout» finally concluded in Brussels with all the sacrifices it imposes on the proletarians and masses (increasing the retirement age to 67 years for some and reducing pensions of state employees, further cuts in social measures, rising prices and taxes etc.) but also on certain sections of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, with the restrictions on sovereignty imposed on the Greek State (to the great consternation of the nationalists of the «far left») will not solve the problems facing Greek capitalism; according to many economists, on the contrary it will aggravate the economic depression that it has undergone for several years. This is certainly the opinion of the IMF, which after bringing all its weight to impose the creditors plan on the government of Athens, estimated in a report published on 14 July, but already known to European leaders in the negotiations, that this plan was not viable if European states did not agree to reduce or cancel the debt owed by the Greeks – which they have stubbornly refused! Thus new Greek crises are inevitable, with their share of anti-labor measures...
The Greek crisis is only the extreme manifestation of the general crisis of capitalism in Europe and the world; therefore the alternative, equally bourgeois, an exit from the Eurozone and/or of the European Union, cannot be a solution for the proletariat. What is possible for a powerful imperialist country like Britain – prosperity based on an independent currency, and the possibility of leaving the EU –, is not for the weak Greek capitalism; the merciless laws of the capitalist market where, in times of crisis, only the strongest remain afloat, would apply to it with perhaps more violence if Greece left this capitalist alliance called the European Union. Greek capitalism, private or state, would even more fiercely extort surplus value from its proletarians in the name of defense of the country, to withstand the competition on the world market.
There is no bourgeois solution to the degradation of living conditions, that in a more or less pronounced manner, the proletarians experience in all countries. Supporters of class collaboration, whether they belong to the so-called «radical left» or traditional «reformism», can only collaborate in this degradation because collaboration between classes means submission to the ruling class: it is no coincidence that Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the Spanish Podemos, has approved the course of action of Tsipras during the negotiations...
FOR THE REPRISE OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE,
FOR THE CONSTITUTION OF THE INTERNATIONAL CLASS PARTY!
For the proletariat there is no alternative but to break with class collaboration and all the parties and unions which support it, and to take the path of anti-capitalist class struggle. It is possible to confront and defeat the capitalists and their state by open conflict, adopting methods, means and classist goals: uncompromising defense of proletarian interests alone, independent class organization, both in terms of the immediate struggle in defense of their lives and livelihood and in terms of the more generalized struggle against the capitalist system, constitution of the political class party, internationalist and international, in conjunction with the proletarians of all countries, to lead the revolutionary struggle until victory.
This path is not easy, but it is the only realistic one, although the facts have once again demonstrated that the reformist collaborationist and nationalist electoral route, is a fatal utopia, which serves only the bourgeoisie.
International Communist Party
(2) Position stated: 04.27.2015, www.pcint.org
(3) The German Minister of Finance responded by referring to the situation of Puerto Rico: This small state, which has the status of «Associate State» in the United States, is also virtually bankrupt, but Washington refuses to help it.
This work is in the public domain