Greece: blackmail and resistance

Submitted by AWL on 24 February, 2015 - 5:32 Author: Theodora Polenta

The “win-win” approach was always illusory: the approach aiming for an agreed solution beneficial for all, from the Greek worker to the Greek banker and investor to the Eurozone, ECB and EU, and the illusions that a "national" negotiating team (including even previous memorandum “enemies”) would deliver the desired outcome smoothly.

Driven by the logic of seeking this impossible harmonious agreement, the Syriza leaders:

• Dropped the aim of writing off the majority of the debt with a European Summit similar to the German in 1953;

froze, instead of disbanding, the official privatisation agency Tayped;

• Made vague and contradictory statements about privatisations, which include Varoufakis supporting selling-off the railways for one euro and the privatisation of Piraeus and Thessaloniki Port Authorities;

• Signalled acceptance of the capitalist golden rules of primary surpluses.

All these moves undermined the stated intention of the government to abide by its commitments in the Thessaloniki declarations.

It is the duty of the left inside and outside Syriza to strengthen the party operations and the channels of communications, restore the collective functioning of the party, and make the Syriza party capable of pushing the government "from below" and "from the left".

After the Friday 20 February meeting with the eurozone finance ministers, prime minister Alexis Tsipras wrote:

"Yesterday Greece achieved an important and successful result in negotiations with Europe. In a tough and difficult, for the first time real negotiation. We have set our goals, we kept it together, we were decisive but at the same time flexible. We reached our main goal at the end... We managed to win the battle, but not yet the war. The real difficulties, not only those having to do with the negotiations and with the relations with out partners, are ahead of us.

Twenty days ago we took over the country. A country who was at the edge, with no money and with lack of liquidity. And entrapped, at the same time, in an extremely tight deadline...

Yesterday we cancelled their plans. We overcame the plan of blind, conservative forces, inside and outside of the country, to cause asphyxiation to Greece on February 28.

Greece remains standing - and with its dignity intact. We proved that Europe stands for mutually beneficial compromises - not for doling out punishments...

The Eurogroup’s joint statement... cancels de facto the commitments of the previous government for cuts in salaries and pensions. For lay offs in the public sector.... It cancels austerity and the mechanisms that implement it, like the unrealistic primary surpluses, that in fact create recession.

This agreement creates the institutional framework for much-needed, progressive reforms concerning the fight against corruption and tax evasion, as well as reforming the State and public administration, and of course overcoming the humanitarian crisis, which we consider our primary responsibility.

Yesterday, we took a decisive step, leaving austerity, the Memoranda and the Troika behind... Yesterday was not the end of the negotiations. We will be entering a new, more substantive stage in our negotiations until we reach a final agreement to transition from the catastrophic policies of the Memoranda, to policies that will focus on development, employment and social cohesion".

The "new Memorandum" outlined in emails by the outgoing ND finance minister, Gikas Hardouvelis, has been cancelled by the government. That is a huge relief for a lot of people. But the cuts in pensions will finally be undone only if the lenders are convinced that there will be more revenue coming from tax reform. The same goes for the public sector lay-offs.

The Greek government representatives argued that the reversal of the planned cut pensions, the reintroduction of the "13th month" of pensions, the reintroduction of collective bargaining agreements, an increase of the minimum wage to 751 would not affect the fiscal or financial stability. But only one way exists for these measures not to affect the stability of the capitalist system and the primary surplus: never to be implemented, even if they are legislated. Already the uplift of the minimum wage to 751 euros has been shifted from late March 2015 to the end of March 2016.

Without being maximalistic, and using as our measure the implementation of Syriza’s programmatic statements, which were endorsed by the majority of the Greek working class people and popular strata, an assessment of the published Eurogroup Statement shows that the Syriza leaders' claims of success are hollow.

"1. The Eurogroup notes, in the framework of the existing arrangement, the request from the Greek authorities for an extension of the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFFA), which is underpinned by a set of commitments. The purpose of the extension is the successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement, making best use of the given flexibility which will be considered jointly with the Greek authorities and the institutions. This extension would also bridge the time for discussions on a possible follow-up arrangement between the Eurogroup, the institutions and Greece".

This makes clear that the request for an extension refers to the existing agreement which contains a number of commitments - previously known as the Memorandum. It says that for the next four months the Greek government is obliged to implement the commitments the Memorandum imposes.

"3. Only approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions in turn will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits. Both are again subject to approval by the Eurogroup.".

Here things become very clear. Even the disbursement of the €1.9 billion held by the ECB and the eurozone Central Banks as profit from the Greek bonds they have bought, is dependent on the completion of an evaluation by "the institutions" - what we used to call the Troika.

"4. In view of the assessment of the institutions the Eurogroup agrees that the funds, so far available in the HFSF buffer, should be held by the EFSF, free of third party rights for the duration of the MFFA extension. The funds continue to be available for the duration of the MFFA extension and can only be used for bank recapitalisation and resolution costs. They will only be released on request by the ECB/SSM".

€10.8 billion euros already borrowed by the Greek people can be disbursed only after approval by the ECB and used only to recapitalise the banks. Syrizas plans to use €3 billion of it for social relief are not valid anymore.

"5. The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely".

In negotiations, probably some compromises and diplomatic formalities were necessary.

This is something else; an absolute and unequivocal commitment by the government to meet all financial obligations fully and on time. It means that the Greek Government accepts the debt, and considers it sustainable and viable. This is in complete contradiction with both the pre-election commitments of Syriza and reality.

"6. The Greek authorities have also committed to ensure the appropriate primary fiscal surpluses or financing proceeds required to guarantee debt sustainability in line with the November 2012 Eurogroup statement. The institutions will, for the 2015 primary surplus target, take the economic circumstances in 2015 into account".

This is the only positive part of the decision of the Eurogroup: for 2015 only, "the institutions", I.e. the renamed Troika, will take into account the economic conditions for the determination of the primary surplus. Thereafter the Greek government is committed to having the required surplus for the payment of interest - around 4.5% of GDP.

"7. In light of these commitments, we welcome that in a number of areas the Greek policy priorities can contribute to a strengthening and better implementation of the current arrangement. The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions".

Here the whole of Syriza’s programme is made subject to the Troika's approval. The increase in the minimum wage and the reinstatement of the collective bargaining agreements will “affect economic recovery”, i.e. competitiveness as perceived by our creditors. Contrary to the Syriza leaders' reassurances that the bailout agreement would be negotiated independently from the Syriza’s programmatic statements, this clause explicitly makes implementation or non-implementation of each of Syriza's commitments depend on how it is "assessed by the insitutions".

Syriza Left Platform leader, and Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Panagiotis Lafazanis stressed that no agreement with the Eurogroup should cancel the radical anti-memorandum, progressive orientation of the government. “The red lines should ensure that any agreement will not create any obstacles to the government’s fundamental commitments of its electoral and programmatic statements”. He insisted that “the government has not abandoned the demand to write off the majority of the Greek debt and ask for an EU summit for the restructuring of the debt”.

He stated that “DEH [electricity supply], DESMHE [grid operator], and DEPA [gas supply] will not be privatised and will remain under public ownership and management and will work under developmental and social criteria." He pledged that the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki, and the Greek railways, will not be privatised.

Deputy Minister for Administrative Reform George Katrougalos stated that he will leave the government if the cleaners are not re-instated.

But the government's leaders have led it into a trap.

The Thessaloniki declaration included four pillars at a cost for the first year as follows:

• €1.9 billion to address the humanitarian crisis

• €6.5 billion to restart the economy with tax cuts, establishment of the Development Bank, and an increase of the minimum wage to €751

• €3 billion in the first year and another €2 billion in the second for 300,000 jobs through a Public Employment Programme.

• Transformation of the political system with interventions in local government and in parliament.

The planned sources of funding were:

• €3 billion - settlement of debts to the tax office

• €3 billion - combatting fraud and smuggling

• €3 billion - Financial Stability Fund

• €3 billion - ESPA and other European programs

The Eurogroup’s statement immediately excludes the utilisation of the €3 billion from the EFSF, and it does not look likely that the EU will give us money to finance Syriza's anti-austerity programme.

The "hard" attitude in Brussels shows that for the EU the issue is both political and economic: the elimination of any notion of popular sovereignty and the simultaneous imposition of a particular model of extreme neo-liberalism. It is not that the EU could not afford some billions for Greece; it is that the EU leaders want to avoid any signal to other EU working classes that struggle, and left electoral victories, can reverse the cuts.

In the Eurogroup statement there is no mentioning of debt relief or restructuring. That leads many to say that the battle will be taking place in the future. But the lenders are the winners, as they still apply all the conditions of the existing loan agreements. The lenders did not want to change anything on the debt repayments. Instead, it was the Greek side that wanted to change something. The absence of change is a victory for the lenders.

If the Greek government is not able to extract a concession on some form of debt relief when it has a fresh popular mandate, above-80% endorsement, and rallies of support around the world, when will it be? In what ways will its negotiating position be strengthened in the next four months.

The government is not entitled to claim that the Memoranda have finished and that the Troika has left the country. Just the opposite has happened. The current government has signed a cancellation of the implementation of the mandate received by the working class and the poor popular strata on 25 January 25, and of its programmatic statements recently approved by the parliament. Later attempts to negotiate will be more difficult from now on, after the government’s disorderly retreat.

The Greek government has been the victim of relentless and outright extortion, lacking all the weapons available to counteract it (nationalisation of the banks without compensation under worker’s control, control of capital movements, default or pause on debt repayments, being prepared for a Plan B and a forced euro/EU exit). In defence of the Eurogroup statement, the leadership of Syriza and some of its friends argue that the main achievement of the agreement is the gaining of time. One can legitimately do what with the gained time? What exactly will change in the next four months, so that the new negotiation with our partners will take place under better conditions? What will prevent the deterioration of the political, economic and social situation of the country?

The anti-memorandum movement, the combative working class movement, Syriza’s members, and Syriza’s organisations need to realise the tremendous responsibility they have shouldered.

The combative working class and the broader anti-memorandum movement should not "sign up" for the government’s agreement with the eurozone, and should accept the consequences of the four-month extension of the Memorandum and of Troika supervision.

In today's conditions, the application of Syriza’s reformist programme to aid the income and rights of the working class people and popular strata and to achieve a preliminary transfer of wealth from the ruling to the working class majority, directly requires revolutionary ruptures and preparation to confront the EU, the IMF, Greek capitalism, and the bourgeois state. It requires a government created by the workers themselves, based on their own structures and systematic mobilisations.

Oust now the nationalist and pro-capitalist government ministers!

For a government based on mass organisations of workers, unemployed, neighbourhood community movements, peasants!

Self-organisation and self-defence of the people against paramilitary fascist gangs and against police attacks.

Nationalisation without compensation of the banks and the strategic pillars of the economy under workers' control and management; control of capital movements

Call for internationalist revolutionary action to the workers of Europe.

The only way to reverse the effects of the Memorandum years is via an attack on capital, i.e. the “aggressive” taxation of both the “legitimate” and the “illegitimate” profits of the capitalist class. However, there are no signs that the government intends to open an interior class war against the Greek ruling class; instead, it temporarily seeks a united front with such Greek ruling-class forces as it can persuade, claiming that this enables it to negotiate better with the international ruling class.

Those who dreamed of progress through harmonious negotiations have been refuted. The future requires conflict across the length and breadth of the Greek society and internationally. Syriza’s rank and file should remind the leadership of the party and the government what Syriza’s program stated in last year’s European elections: "We pledge to deal with potential threats and blackmail from the lenders with all possible weapons that we can muster, and we are ready to take up any conflict, confident that the Greek people will support us".

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis characterised Wednesday 18 February as an “historic day”, as a Left Government voted alongside ND (Greek equivalent of the Tories) for the election of a Tory (although moderate Tory) President. Two red lines were crossed at the same time.

The government renounced its opportunity to elect for the first time a left-wing President, thus emphasising symbolically a break from the past. In fact, the co-habiting of a left government with a centre-right President symbolises an era of political conciliation.

Under the Constitution the President has the power to block bills and in crisis to convene a summit of political leaders. He can hold a sword over the head of a Left that does not have 151 seats in parliament.

As with the government’s handling of the negotiations with the eurozone, the presidential election showed increasing autonomy for the circle around the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Varoufakis from Syriza’s central and executive committees. This sort of thing is a common phenomenon in bourgeois parties, but, for the radical left, the de-activation of Syriza as a party in the name of urgency in negotiations will have dire consequences.

Alexis Tsipras discussed his decision to propose Prokopis Pavlopoulos as President with Syriza’s parliamentary group and not with Syriza’s elected committees. The Left Platform voiced its principled disagreement and suggested a President from the Left, but in the end it “supported the government” and voted for Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Gianna Giatani from Thessaloniki A, a Syriza MP who is a member of the Trotskyist group DEA as well as the Left Platform, issued a statement of conscious political abstention. The "Communist Tendency" of Syriza, which does not have an MP, issued a political statement condemning the class-collaborationist approach.

295 MPs were present for the vote. 233 (ND-Syriza) voted for Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and 30 voted for Nikos Alivizatos, supported by Pasok and Potami. 32 abstained, with the KKE (Communist Party) following its usual practice in presidential elections.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a former minister considered to representing the ultra-neoliberal wing of NC, also abstained. The election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos is said to mark the opening of a communication channel between the government and the so-called "Karamanlis" tendency of ND.

Syriza's conduct in the presidential election is in direct contradiction with the decisions of several local organisations of Syriza’s rank and file, of various Syriza regional committees, and of the central committee of Syriza’s youth.

The Syriza leaders portrayed Prokopis Pavlopoulos as a gentle man, one of the most moderate politicians within the Tory party, and a well respected academic. All true, up to a point. On the other hand, Prokopis Pavlopoulos supported all the Memoranda and was the Interior and Public Order minister when Alexandros Grigoropoulos was murdered.

In his speech to the parliamentary group of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras said he sympathised with the wish of the Left Platform and the majority of the Syriza’s rank and file will to elect a President from the Left; but, he said, "the unity of our people is now more necessary than ever” and the "widest possible social and political consensus” was necessary to deal with the negotiations.

Since when the unity of the people is identified and interlinked in collaboration with the enemies of the people?

No doubt against the blackmail of the capitalist leaders, the maximum possible unity of workers, unemployed, youth and popular strata is necessary. But the recent polls show that Syriza's initial defiant attitude in negotiations won the support of the overwhelming majority of the Greek people, even those who voted for rival parties.

Between 12 and 17 February, 80% of the Greek people approved of the Syriza’s government handling of negotiations. 73% of the people considered Tsipras to be the most appropriate Prime Minister (as opposed to 12% for Samaras to be the most appropriate Prime Minister), and 75% had a positive opinion of Varoufakis.

Syriza’s and the government’s popularity was strengthened when they showed strong stand against the lenders, in conflict and not in harmony with Samaras, Venizelos and their parties.

The Memoranda have not affected all the "Greek people" equally. The Memoranda have increased the transfer of wealth from the working class to the capitalist class.The ship owners, the industrialists, the big business, the bankers, the “national” Greek bond-holders, the capitalists in general, have benefited by the Memoranda, have seen their profit grow, and have greeted with satisfaction the anti-labour laws “achieved” under the Memoranda.

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