In the recent interventions of three of the most central and media-exposed Syriza members, Giannis Dragasakis (responsible for the Syriza programme), Giorgos Stathakis (Head of Sector for Development) and Giannis Milios (Head of the Department of Economic Affairs), we can see a new “narrative” on key issues: debt, “Marshall Plan”, “primary surplus” and “balanced budget”, banks.
It is an attempt to form a “centre-left” (with the emphasis on the centre) quasi-social-democratic narrative, rather than a working-class-biased left narrative.
Giannis Milios has said:
“We will attempt (if we become government) to really get to the markets, and because we want to have a reliable banking system, to solve the issue of financial credibility, to become a creditworthy State... We are confident that as a government we will immediately create a primary surplus. We will take immediate steps to fight corruption and impose justice…” (from an interview, 22.1.14)
Giorgos Stathakis says: “We will negotiate the loan agreement in order to achieve a sustainable debt”.
Illegal, he has said, speaking to Syriza radio, “is only 5% of the debt”. “It’s the armament programs and the electrification of the OSE that never happened. It is around 5%. The vast majority of the debt, more than 90%, it is traditional public debt. There is no legal challenge to it”.
Instead of a unilateral write off the debt, now Stathakis proposes a moratorium with lenders, with very low repayments for three to four years, until the economy is back on track. After that the debt will be paid normally. As for the idea of an audit committee on the debt, this is practically useless: the odious debt is 5%.
Yet the programmatic decisions of Syriza’s conference were:
“Prevent the conversion of our country into a debt colony. Renegotiate the loan agreements and cancel their onerous terms, prioritise the write off the majority of the debt, form a committee to audit the debt...
“We will put the banking system under public ownership and control, with radical changes to its operation and objectives”.
The central argument from Dragasakis, Milios, and Stathakis is that the renegotiations with the lenders and Troika will result in a happy ending, i.e. “agreed” solution. The whole plan is based upon the unjustified claim that a government of the left will not need to make any unilateral actions. It can achieve all it needs by agreement.
The argument makes a jump over politics to land at the end of a successful negotiation: Yes, the government of the left will oblige Schaüble and the bureaucracy of the eurozone to accept their terms.
This does not sound like a government of the left which, basing itself upon the mobilisation of its working class base and rank and file, will confront the beasts of capitalism and imperialism on class terms. It sounds like an an enlightened technocratic left leadership which will overcome all the difficulties of the current government through its technocratic competence.
It is always added for good measure that fights lie ahead in order to achieve these key objectives. But the emphasis means that we are not talking about negotiations that may take place auxiliary to the class struggle, but about international capitalism and imperialism being forced through the persuasive power of the left wing technocrats to an agreement with the program of the government of the left.
Even if we believe that a government of the left in Greece will cause a pan-European political domino effect, it is still un-historical to assume that international capitalism will quietly agree a deal.
The Syriza leaders’ shift is portrayed as a shift to realism and responsible politics, but in fact has an utopian and metaphysical character, with the claim that negotiations will persuade international capitalism to finance a government that will put an end to neo-liberal capitalism’s grand scheme and in addition to supply the government of the left with “non-loan” financial bonuses for development.
But the Marshall plan was a plan to reconstruct capitalist Europe as a buffer against the “communist threat”. The modern equivalent of the “communist [Stalinist] threat” must be Syriza and a left government in Greece with a fighting to overthrow the capitalist austerity programme.
Therefore, what Syriza’s leadership is calling when demanding a Marshall Plan is for the austerity Europe of MerkOlland to offer an equivalent of a “Marshall Plan” to a government of a left equivalent to the then “communist danger”.
It’s almost shocking to hear from members of the left who consider themselves Marxist or refer to Marx speaking of restoring the “creditworthiness” of the Greek government.
Do they have in mind some anti-capitalist credit rating agency that uses the overthrow of austerity measures as a positive index?
Do they know of some capitalist markets that will welcome the victory of the left in Greece by reducing the spread on Greek bonds and rushing to buy Greek bond in the markets, when the government of the left who has just announced an increase in the minimum wage to pre Memorandum levels and restoration of collective bargaining and labour relations?
Where will the government of the left find the money? The answer of these top Syriza people is that “we will go to the markets”. Why is borrowing from the markets, at rates much higher than those on the Troika’s loans, in the interests of the Greek working class? Why suggest that the markets as an adjustment mechanism to austerity are milder than the Troika?
This is very far from the conference decision for writing off most of the debt. The Syriza leaders have begun adapting to the criteria of “creditworthiness” and “sustainability”. The chasm is unbridgeable. It is a class chasm.
Then we are told that the government of the left will not fall short of the government of Samaras in creating a primary budget surplus. Indeed, it will surpass Samaras’s “achievements” and achieve a balanced budget. Government income will cover not only all state expenditure but also the interest on the national debt!
Even the memorandum program does not project a balanced budget till 2016. When Syriza leaders “promise” balanced budgets, whose needs do they respond to? to whom they address this promise? what time framework do they set?
The whole scenario breaks down as soon as we consider even the possibility that the renegotiation efforts of the left government are not immediately successful. Then the government of the left will be forced to deal with the lack of external funding.
The only plausible answer for a government of the left that is committed to overthrowing the austerity program is to stop making payments on the debt.
Attacks on tax evasion, high incomes and profits will take time and at any rate cannot guarantee a primary surplus for the first year of the left government budget.
Those who promise primary surpluses and balanced budgets have an obligation to enlighten us on what the first year budget of a government of the left would look like — main categories of expenditure and revenues that the primary surplus would come from). How would they construct a budget which would both make a rupture with the austerity program and serve “an agreed solution” with the lenders?
How does Stathakis know with confidence that only 5% of Greece’s debt is “odious”. After all, Syriza has made an electoral pledge to form an audit committee.
In Ecuador, in 2008-9, the government of Rafael Correa defaulted on debt payments, ran an audit committee, and in the end negotiated a cut of about 70% in payments due on outstanding bonds.
In the case of Greece, economists and lawyers already characterise as odious the loan agreements signed by the governments of the memorandum. The unilateral suspension of payments can be supported by numerous provisions of international law.
If stopping payments is ruled out, then what weapon that would a left government hold which could force capitalists to accept a debt write off or moratorium that they have vehemently refused to grant to the ideologically fraternal government of Samaras-Venizelos? What is the weapon that a government of the left has up its sleeve that will coerce the European and international capitalism to surrender?
Of the 317 billion euros of Greek government debt at the end of the third quarter of 2013, only slightly less than 30 billion is in private hands. The rest is either interstate or in the hands of the European Central Bank, other central banks, or the IMF.
What remains for a left government in Greece is the “weapon” of a subversive political domino effect. This can be developed only in one way: unilateral political decisions that will act as a pressure on any negotiations.
Not only the political logic, but the simple logic says that after the founding act of the repudiation of the Memorandum by a left government of the left, and during negotiations if there immediately are any, the next step must be a default on debt payments and interest of the debt. The percentage of the debt that will then be written off will be depend upon the correlation of forces and the intensity of the class struggle and developments in a national and international level.
However, if the government of the left fails to deliver its promise for the founding act of the unilateral abolition of the memorandum and the default in repayments and interest of the debt before the commencement of the negotiations, that will be not just the wrong negotiating tactic, but strategically wrong for two additional reasons:
1. It will negate the “nuclear bomb” that the left government has in its hands: the political-subversive “domino effect” created by a message, not to the ruling classes and chancelleries, but to the working class and the peoples of Europe, that the left government of the left dares to challenge the very basis of negotiation.
2. The message to the Greek working class will be that the government of the left negotiates within the framework of the big powers of international finance.
There is no short cut or bypass. A left government must go first for abolition of the Memorandum before any negotiation. It must stop debt payments. All the rest will be determined by these two fundamental first steps.
During the decade 2002-2012 the government paid to the banks, in interest alone, more than 120 billion euros — an amount corresponding to almost 40% of the current debt. From 2008 until today the state has to subsidise the Greek banking system with tens of billions of euros to avoid a collapse that would have tremendous impact on the whole economy.
Today, the public is the main shareholder in the big four “ systemic “ banks in Greece. The directors, however, still are the same old bankers . Now the government is devising tricks to return the shares to the old bosses - collecting only a fraction of the billions that has given them.
The prime cause of the current indebtedness of the Greek government are all sorts of direct or indirect state subsidies to capitalists, - banks, industry, shipowners and so on.
The pattern is old. When business is going well, capitalists pocket the profits. Once they begun to encounter difficulties they are bailed out by the state.
That is why a program of a left government should talk clearly about “nationalisation of the banks and big business without compensation to the capitalists and under workers’ management and control”.
Other issues have brought conflict between the Syriza leaders and the rank and file.
There was fierce opposition in the two-day debate in the Central Committee of Syriza on 1 and 2 February 2014 to the candidacy of Odysseas Voudouris for regional governor of the Peleponnese and the nomination of Theodoros Karypidis for the region of Western Macedonia.
As a Pasok MP, Voudouris voted for the first memorandum. Then in June 2011 he voted for the intermediate memorandum . In 2012 as an MP by then for the Democratic left, he gave a vote of confidence to Samaras government. He was on the other side, when the members of Syriza and of the rest of the left were on the streets again the memoranda.
All the local organizations of the Syriza in the Peloponnese have voted against Voudouris candidacy. He is unacceptable to the recently-radicalised rank-and-file ex-members of PASOK.
But the central leadership of Syriza want to clearly signal an intention to move towards the centre-left and social democracy. They want to make a “political nod” towards the Democratic left and some Pasok MPs and top leaders.
The opposition of the left Platform was not only on the substantive selection of the candidates but in the procedures followed to arrive at these selections.
These procedures disrespected and bypassed the organs and structures of Syriza. In many cases the candidates’ names were announced in the mainstream media prior to being publicised within the rank and file of Syriza, let alone discussed.
In Athens Helen Portaliou, head of the Athens Municipal Movement “Open City” and previously Syriza selected candidate for mayor in Athens, was informed by the media about Syriza’s selection of another candidate for mayor. Portaliou correctly stated that neither the “open city” movement nor the Syriza’s local Athens organization discussed the candidacy.
Such abuses of democratic procedure do not fit in a democratic party, and still less in a left party that aims to establish a government which will secure and expand the democratic institutions.
At the Central Committee meeting, the left Platform also raised the shift of the Syriza’s leadership to the right.
Left Platform leader Panayiotis Lafazanis stated:
“Opinions expressed by central members of Syriza who are in charge of Syriza’s financial matters, about odious debt of around 5% and for balanced budgets, are arbitrary, erroneous and deeply outside the collective decisions of the Syriza conference. The reference to the Marshall plan ignores that these plans were within the context of the anti-left witch hunt and were used by the Americans as a weapon to control Western Europe and Greece.
“The selection as candidates for mayor of politicians who voted for the first memorandum and have granted a vote of confidence to Samaras’s government lies outside the decisions of the founding conference of Syriza and sends the wrong messages the people. “
Antonis Davanellos (DEA) voiced objections about the candidacies in Western Macedonia and the Southern Aegean. He contrasted, as exemplary, the candidacy of Aglaia Kyritsi in N. Aegean, stressing that the main “reservoir for the enlargement of Syriza should be in the world of social struggles and resistance”.
The Central Committee unanimously backed the candidacy of Kyritsi, a non-aligned militant left-wing journalist and dismissed worker from ERT.
The Syriza majority of Syriza suggested a single vote on of the proposed candidates. The left Platform counterposed individual votes on individual candidates.
92 of the Central Committee members voted for package, and 67 members voted against. There were dozens of abstentions, although over 70% of the Central Committee is generally aligned with the majority.
If the left opposition of Syriza unites and coordinates its action, then it can put a brake on Syriza’s right-wing drift.
After the uproar caused in the Syriza rank and file by the choice of Voudouris as candidate for the Peloponnese, the proposal of Theodoros Karypidis in another region caused even more rage. Karypidis ran an interview with Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris on TV, and started the interview by thanking him for his attendance. On his Facebook page he has propagated anti-semitic views.
Under the pressure of Syriza’s rank and file, the leadership of Syriza decided to withdraw the candidacy of Karypidis.
The case of Karypidis shows that the transformation of Syriza from a protest to a party of administration is a difficult and contradictory affair. Syriza’s rank and file, cemented in the class struggle and educated in democratic procedures and decision-making are not willing to stop complaining about decisions of their own party.
Syriza as a political formation has always been characterised by its structural ambiguity. Within it co-exist a range of forces, from euro-communism to the revolutionary left). If the new push by Syriza’s leaders prevails, this ambiguity will be resolved with the final victory of a line of historic compromise with the domestic and international capitalist system.
In order for this grand right wing narrative to prevail, the democracy of Syriza will have to be devalued if not amputated.
During the two day Central Committee meeting the central leadership of Syriza remained silent about the political criticism and polemics of the left Platform. Both Dragasakis and Stathakis were absent from the meeting. Milios was present but he declined to respond or contribute.
The key for the next period is the extent to which the leftist oppositional tendencies within Syriza will be able to connect organically with the militant sections of society and the leftist voices that exist outside Syriza, and unite forces for a socialist program as a response to the crisis.
The connection with the movement of the working class and the popular strata movement is the most critical issue in the period to come, especially if Syriza becomes the government.
In the current conditions of the great international crisis of capitalism, and especially in the “weak link” of the EU, Greece, the political possibility of a left government will have nothing in common with the consensus governments of the centre such as we have seen in Europe in the last 30 years.
A government of the left, in the current crisis will be a “transitory” formation, and not a stable, definitive one. Either Syriza will take steps that would substantially subvert the austerity programs, opening the way for the working class towards socialist liberation, or it will seek compromise with the local ruling class and their lenders, leading to a rapid dissolution of the political forces at its base.
A government of the left, in the current crisis, would have the characteristics of an episode in struggle, and not of comfortable management of the situation.
Those “above”, the ruling class are not cutting compromises. They are not seeking broad consents. They are trying to crush the workplace and social rights that were conquered in the 20th century.
Those “below” have been thrown to the bottom of society, but they want to take back what they had, and when they get the chance they they would like to crush the system that has crushed them.
The most critical problem in Greek society today is how Syriza will manage the wave of hopes and demands that will break the day after the possible political victory of the left.
Against this background, an important proposal is being discussed within Syriza. It is the decision on the establishment of people’s neighbourhood committees of rupture and resistance. There, under Syriza’s initiative, the political protagonists should be those who led the resistance in schools and hospitals; those who fight against lay-offs, redundancies and wage reductions; those who fought and are fighting against the regressive property tax, against the repossessions of houses, against the fuel poverty; those who formed anti-fascist initiatives and those who created countless of networks of social solidarity and support.
That is the constituency that Syriza should support and rely on in all the political battles, including local, national and European elections. On the constituency and on that working class should be based, as an absolute priority, the political perspectives of Syriza and of the government of the left.
The programme should reflect the demands, anxieties, moods of the world of the working class; and not the “bright ideas” of executives and of people who until yesterday supported neo-liberal capitalism, and now want to “save the country”.
A government of the left should be revolutionary or will not belong to the left!