On hearing the first declarations from the ministers in Greece’s new Syriza-led government, elected on 25 January, the invisible hand of the markets reacted. The stock market lost 8%. The interest rate on Greek bonds went up.
Some EU and IMF leaders sent harder messages about the need for compliance — Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde — and some tried to be more conciliatory (Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Matteo Renzi).
Cristobal Montoro, finance minister in Spain’s right-wing government, was aghast that any government should be less compliant with Euro-austerity than his own. There could be no question of “changing the rules”, and if Syriza wants to ease suffering, “the question is, where will this money come from?”
The leadership of Syriza, seeing the international pressures, is trying to secure the support of a section of the Greek ruling class. This was largely the political logic that led to the government’s cooperation with ANEL, and now the unacceptable plan to propose Dimitris Avramopoulos, a political leader of the Right, for a new President of the Republic.
By way of international trips by economics minister Yanis Varoufakis and prime minister Alexis Tsipras, Syriza is trying to build an alliance for the American (“expansive”) model of capitalist crisis management against with the German (“restrictive”) model.
And a part of the Greek ruling class would like to use a “left-wing, intransigent” government as a means to extract more concessions from the Troika. This intention explains the friendlier attitude exhibited by some sections of the ruling class and press to Syriza.
But no “flirting” with bourgeois parties, bourgeois leaders and other capital factors are going to make the bourgeoisie really friendly and tolerant towards a Left government’s pro-working class measures.
The leaders of France and Italy, Francois Hollande and Matteo Renzi, both have reasons to use Greece as a lever against Angela Merkel for relaxation of austerity. Both of them are threatened by opposition within their countries. However, they are highly unlikely to support the most radical demands of the Greek Prime Minister. Besides, French banks will bear a very large share of the losses if some Greek debt is cancelled.
The EU leaders are prepared to consider some compromises with the new government. It is not their first choice to push Greece out of the euro, and consequently destabilise the European economy.
But the extent of it is probably a little more time for negotiations and perhaps a repayment extension, along with a limited financial “precautionary credit line” and a guarantee of liquidity to Greek banks.
Even apart from pure economic calculations, the EU leaders do not want to allow the mushrooming of Syriza anti-austerity types of government in Europe. In Spain elections must be held before the end of 2015, and currently the new leftish anti-austerity party Podemos tops the polls.
If the Greek government demonstrates the necessary resistance, then we will probably see something like events of March 2013 in Cyprus. The banks’ liquidity will be blocked and one ultimatum will succeed another.
If the leadership of Syriza wants to stay true to its pro-working-class commitments, then the only realistic and effective response is:
• European and international working-class solidarity. The huge 300,000 demonstration in Madrid on 31 January, waving Syriza and Greek flags, organised by Podemos, shows the potential.
Syriza calls for the EU to convene a European Leaders’ conference on the debt. Better to organise an international conference of all organisations of the working class across Europe to fight the cuts.
• No illusion about the EU and the eurozone. For the United Socialist States of Europe!
• Immediately mobilise workers to actively support the upcoming the battle against international and Greek capital, with mass meetings in workplaces and neighbourhoods. Simultaneously appeal to workers across Europe to show solidarity and to fight the cuts and “structural reforms” (attacks on workers’ rights) in their own countries.
• Support workers’ struggles in Greece:
The 600 Alter media workers, unpaid for three years and then made redundant, are asking the new government to punish the owners of Alter, to get their wages back, and to re-open the station under new ownership
The 2500 ERT media workers have published a manifesto, calling for: all of them to get their jobs back; an ERT run under workers’ control; an ERT open to society and directly linked with solidarity structures, the social movements, and the neighbourhood community movements.
Similar demands have been raised by the unions of Bank workers, transportation workers, and council workers, and collectives of the unemployed
• Organisation for workers’ control, including taking over workplaces shut down by their owners, and workers’ control of food distribution. Revitalisation and reinvigoration of the neighbourhood communities and the building of workers’ and popular committees’ councils to combat the fascist gangs of Golden Dawn and all threats of military coup.
In the battle likely to open up between the Greek people and the EU leaders, Greece’s hopes depend on Europe-wide solidarity. If labour movements apply enough pressure, the EU leaders will be forced to ease the grip. And that will be a gain for other workers too.
To a certain extent it is true that we cannot assess the politics of a government that is just one week old. The defeat of the Samaras-Venizelos government has already created a breathing space for the working class. If another memorandum government had been elected, then the day after the election would have been another one with new pension cuts, new redundancies, new tax increases, and new working-class defeats.
There is neither a “drachma” road to socialism nor a Euro-expansionist road to socialism. There are no short cuts, but only the road of defiant struggle.
The roads we will traverse are unknown, but our compass will be steadily pointing to workers’ power and workers’ control of production and distribution.
The Syriza-led government in Greece is hemmed in more tightly, by the flows of the international financial markets and by the economic supervisions of the EU, than left-reformist governments of earlier times. Simultaneously, its efforts have more chance to set going and feed into a Europe-wide revolt larger than its modest initial aims.
Two events in 1982-3 set up the current capitalist era. In March 1983, France’s coalition government of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party shifted to a more privatising, welfare-cutting, market-worshipping programme than the country’s right-wing governments of the years 1958-81. Previously, after its election in May 1981, it had nationalised 12 industrial firms, 36 banks and two financial corporations; extended union rights; substantially raised the minimum wage; and cut maximum working hours. But now financiers were selling off the franc.
In August 1982, Mexico’s government had declared default on repayments of money borrowed since international credit dealings had exploded after the big oil prices of 1973. Other defaults followed; countries got locked into “structural adjustment programmes” from the IMF and the World Bank.
Apart from some countries with large oil and gas exports (Venezuela, Bolivia...), and with some delays, pretty much all governments since then have accepted neo-liberal parameters.
Variations within neo-liberal parameters can be important. In 1984, New Zealand’s Labour government banned nuclear-armed US ships from its waters, and Australia’s Labor government reinstated social health insurance, while both ruthlessly geared their countries’ economies to world-market competition.
The parameters are enforced by the big, fast flows of the international financial markets. The UK in 1945 had relatively bigger debts than Greece has now. But only 17% of the debt was held outside Britain, and most of that by US lenders; the British government could (with difficulty) do deals with the US, and, with exchange controls, moneyed people in Britain could not and did not at will dump British debt to buy other debt.
In 2010, 70% of Greece’s debt, and 52% of all euro countries’ debt, was held outside the countries.
In the eurozone, Greece faces a central bank, and a European Commission, outside its control, determined to impose neo-liberal “structural reform”.
Thus, Syriza’s “Thessaloniki programme”, modest enough in itself, and its mild proposal to have an international debt conference for Greece as Germany had in 1953, become dramatic.
It is not exactly true that capitalism is so economically strained that even modest proposals become revolutionary. The eurozone has the size and weight to grant Greece’s demands even without breaching neo-liberal rules.
In 1967 the Stalinist ruler of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, had sufficient memories of his Leninist youth to tell an Italian delegation who earnestly asked him how they could help Vietnam’s struggle against US imperialism: “Fate la rivoluzione in casa vostra!”: make the revolution in your own country.
If workers across Europe can respond to Greece’s struggle by making, not yet the revolution, but the militant anti-cuts struggle in our own countries, then that can force the EU leaders to grant Greece respite.
If we do that, though, it won’t end there. A victory for Greece even in limited terms would raise confidence for change explosively. That is why the EU leaders are so reluctant to give concessions. It is also why we can and must force them to back down.