Greece’s resounding OXI shakes Europe to the core

By Jerome Roos On July 6, 2015

Post image for Greece’s resounding OXI shakes Europe to the coreThe outcome of Sunday’s historic referendum marks a historic victory for people power — but with euro exit looming, Greece’s future remains wide open.

Photo by Milos Bicanski.

They tried everything. They shut down the banks. They imposed capital controls. They faked the polls. They spread rumors about impending deposit seizures. They even threatened to force Greece out of the Eurozone and to pursue outright regime change. Over the past 10 days, the political, financial and media establishment — both within Greece and in Europe — went full-on apocalyptic.

But the Greeks resisted. Refusing to be terrorized into submission or treated like children who cannot tell right from wrong, they stood firm and held their ground, with over 61% of voters rejecting the creditors’ ultimatum of June 28. The resounding OXI has shaken Europe to the core and will reverberate across the country and the continent for years, if not decades, to come.

On Sunday night, the atmosphere on the streets of Athens was electric. In one fell swoop, the referendum dramatically changed the balance of power — not only strengthening Tsipras’ hand but effectively obliterating the legacy of the so-called Metapolitefsi, the period following the fall of the military junta in 1974. In a highly symbolic move marking the end of a political era, the despised former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras finally resigned from his post as leader of New Democracy, the main right-wing opposition party.

The spectacular assertion of people power will strengthen the popular movement and solidify Syriza’s political hegemony domestically. The opposition has been all but obliterated. After the results of the referendum came in, Tsipras waited for Samaras to resign and then summoned the leaders of the three main opposition parties to his office, where he made them sign a pledge of national unity backing his negotiating strategy to obtain a new agreement with the creditors — one that that crucially includes debt relief.

In doing so, the Prime Minister skilfully foreclosed the option of EU-sponsored regime change, which had been seriously raised by several leading officials — including European Parliament President Martin Schulz — as a possible solution to the stalemate between Greece and its creditors. Moreover, Tsipras basically transformed himself overnight from a leftist politician into a national-popular leader, commanding the support of all the main opposition parties (save the Communists and the Nazis) and a fresh democratic mandate.

As a positive side effect, the referendum may help marginalize some of the more careerist and concessionary voices inside Syriza, especially those around Deputy Prime Minister Dragasakis, who has long been pushing for a deal at any cost. The moderates will find themselves weakened following the huge OXI victory and the renewed outpouring of popular opposition to austerity in the streets.

Still, Greece now faces an incredibly uncertain future. The next days and weeks are going to be crucial. Two parallel processes are currently conspiring to force the country to its knees — and both of these processes are almost entirely outside of the government’s control.

First, official reserves are now seriously running on empty, possibly forcing the government to start issuing IOUs (effectively a parallel currency) to pay pensions and wages later this month. The definitive cut-off date will be July 20, when Greece is bound to miss a major payment to the ECB if it does not immediately receive a further injection of credit from the Europeans. Unlike last week’sdefault on the IMF, a default on the ECB would have far-reaching consequences, likely forcing Greece out of the euro in a matter of days.

The second and most acute factor undermining Greece’s position is the ongoing collapse of the domestic banking system. Following a 10-day run on ATMs and the ECB’s cynical decision to put a cap on its emergency liquidity assistance, Greek banks are now on the verge of implosion. If the ECB maintains its current position, the government will soon find itself forced to step in and pump fresh liquidity into the financial system, requiring the minting of a new currency or, more controversially, the unauthorized creation of “Greek” euros.

All of this puts Tsipras in an incredibly complicated position. In the next days, he will have to somehow reconcile two fundamentally contradictory forces bearing down on him. On the one hand, the creditors’ ruthless strategy of financial asphyxiation is forcing him to seek an immediate deal to stave off economic collapse, undoubtedly requiring tough new austerity measures. On the other, Tsipras’ call for the people to vote against austerity unleashed social forces that he did not expect and may not be able to control.

In the end, something will have to give: either the creditors back down and concede major concessions (a deal with debt relief and with much less austerity) or popular expectations will have to be dashed to keep Greece inside the euro. If the creditors refuse to give in, the only alternative for the Greek government would be to start printing a parallel currency and gradually phase out the euro.

The surprise resignation of Yanis Varoufakis on Monday morning expressed this intractable dilemma in the clearest possible terms. To get a deal despite the resounding NO of the referendum, Tsipras was basically forced to sacrifice one of his closest confidantes and the single most popular member of his cabinet in order to placate foreign lenders and the moderates inside his party.

Still, Varoufakis’ resignation should not be considered a defeat per se. With Euclid Tsakalotos taking over the post, the creditors managed to oust an outspoken Keynesian for a soft-spoken Marxist. As a leading figure inside the so-called Group of 53 — made up of prominent party members on the left-side of Syriza’s presidential faction — Tsakalotos has been at the forefront of an internal mini-rebellion clamoring for a much tougher negotiating stance. Also, unlike Varoufakis, Tsakalotos does not categorically rule out a Greek euro exit.

All of this means that, while enormous challenges lie ahead in the days and weeks to come, the future is suddenly wide open. Greece’s defiant OXI has put people power back at the heart of European politics, challenging the very logic of neoliberal governmentality in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin. The mask is finally falling and the European project is forced, at last, to reveal its true colors: can the irreversible union still abide by the democratic choices of its people, or should whole countries be sacrificed to guarantee its fiscal integrity?

The leading financial commentator Wolfgang Münchau believes that Germany has no interest in a deal and Grexit is now the “default position.” We may find out whether he is right today. By July 20, we will know for sure.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. He tweets about the Greek debt crisis at @JeromeRoos.

A landslide “no” to EU austerity in Greece

Supporters of the No vote in Thessaloniki celebrate the referendum results (AP)

Supporters of the No vote in Thessaloniki celebrate the referendum results (AP)

6 July 2015

The landslide “no” vote in yesterday’s referendum on austerity in Greece is an overwhelming popular repudiation of the European Union and the austerity agenda it has pursued across Europe since the 2008 economic crisis.

The vote is an extraordinary act of political courage, defying threats and intimidation from the European Union, the US government and the Greek ruling class. Together with last Friday’s massive anti-EU austerity demonstration in Athens, the overwhelming “no” vote on Sunday has once again revealed the social force that can put an end to austerity and political reaction—the working class.

Berlin led the campaign for a “yes” vote in support of the EU’s last set of austerity demands. German government officials made it clear that their intention was to use such a vote to push for the ouster of Greece’s Syriza-led government.

In advance of the referendum, Berlin warned that the EU would respond to a “no” vote by cutting off credit to Greece’s financial system and bankrupting the country. This would be followed by the expulsion of Greece from the euro zone.

The Greek media campaigned relentlessly for a “yes” vote. Retired Greek army officers intervened publicly on the eve of the referendum to attack Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and demand that the Greek people back the EU’s austerity demands. This was a blatant act of political intimidation, which, in a country still traumatized by the seven-year dictatorship of the Greek colonels, carried an implied threat of military coup.

Fully 61.3 percent of the Greek people, drawn largely from the working class and poorer layers of the population, responded by voting “no.” This landslide, coming after media polls had predicted a close vote, stunned the political establishment in Greece, Europe and the United States.

The “no” camp won decisively in all 13 of Greece’s administrative regions, according to Interior Ministry figures. Greek youth, over half of whom are unemployed due to the collapse of the economy under the impact of EU policies, voted “no” by fully two to one.

The “no” vote exposed the fact that the policies of the EU under the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel have no popular support or democratic legitimacy.

Since 2009, the major powers have sought to rescue European capitalism from the impact of the global economic crisis by effectively seizing hundreds of billions of euros from the European population—€65 billion in Greece alone, or over €17,000 for each of Greece’s 3.7 million households.

With Sunday’s vote, articulating the opposition to EU austerity of the working class throughout Europe, the Greek masses are demanding not minor modifications to the austerity agenda, but its overturn.

Disavowed not once but twice by the Greek people—once in January when Syriza was elected based on its pledges to end EU austerity, and again in yesterday’s referendum—the European Union stands exposed as a ruthless instrument of finance capital, working in league with Greece’s ruling elite to ride roughshod over the sentiments of the Greek people and impose a policy of economic devastation.

The “no” vote has further exposed the cowardice and bankruptcy of Syriza. Prime Minister Tsipras went on national television Sunday night to stress that Greek negotiators would return to austerity talks with the EU, insisting that “the mandate you give me is not one of rupture with Europe.”

No one was more terrified than Tsipras by the outpouring of popular opposition to EU austerity, seen first in Friday’s “no” demonstration in Athens and then in Sunday’s vote. Since coming to power last January, he and his government have sought to contain and dissipate social opposition to the European Union and tie the working class to austerity and capitalism.

The actions of the Syriza-led government during the referendum campaign were cowardly and two-faced. Top government officials, including Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, indicated that they would resign in response to a “yes” vote and help their successors impose EU austerity measures. As for their response to a “no” vote, Tsipras said last Wednesday that he would seek to negotiate a settlement with the EU based on a Greek offer that accepted virtually all the social cuts demanded by Brussels.

Syriza’s referendum maneuver, a barely disguised attempt to engineer a vote of no-confidence in its own government, exploded in its face. Tsipras and company were as stunned by the “no” vote as Merkel. Their negotiators headed as fast as they could for Brussels. Varoufakis and Syriza spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis predicted that a deal for a new financial aid package in exchange for further austerity measures could be reached in 24 to 48 hours.

In the aftermath of the referendum, the question facing the Greek working class is: what next? How is the fight against austerity to be carried forward? There should be no illusions that Syriza or the EU will modify their policies in response to the “no” vote.

Whatever divisions may emerge within the EU on how to respond to the setback it has suffered in the referendum—with some factions calling for crushing Greece and expelling it from the euro zone, others for working with Syriza to negotiate a deal—they will not change the class policy of ruthless austerity against the workers. EU Parliament head Martin Schulz indicated this weekend that the euro will no longer be available as a method of payment for Greece and that Greece should introduce a separate “parallel currency.”

It is critically important to draw the political lessons of this experience. There is enormous opposition in the working class in Greece and internationally to austerity. However, this opposition can be mobilized only if the working class breaks with Syriza and mounts a revolutionary struggle against the EU and the imperialist powers as well as their base of support within Greece itself—the Greek capitalist class.

As he addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Athens last Friday, a shaken Tsipras insisted that the mass demonstration was not a “protest.” He declared, “Regardless of Sunday’s decision, on Monday the Greek people will have absolutely nothing dividing them.”

This is a patent lie. The “no” vote itself has made clear the social chasm separating the working class from the ruling elites of Greece, Europe and America. The referendum result has brought to the fore the enormous class tensions within Europe and above all within Greece itself.

As Syriza repudiates the popular will and seeks to continue its talks with the EU, it will base itself ever more directly on the security forces to deal with internal opposition. Syriza Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis is overseeing planning, code-named Operation Nemesis, for the mass deployment of riot police and army units to crush social unrest.

Such preparations are the clearest warning that the fight against austerity in Greece is a fight against an entire social order. It requires a determined struggle to mobilize the international working class on a revolutionary, socialist perspective against both the imperialist powers and the local agents within Greece of international finance capital—the Greek bourgeoisie and all of its political representatives.

Alex Lantier

Europe never existed. It was a story made up to deal with the legacies of war  

Has Europe lost its hold on our collective imagination?

Is European unity an unsustainable myth?
Is European unity an unsustainable myth? Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

When I was a teenager in Dublin in the early 1970s, the phrase “We’re into Europe!” gained a peculiar currency. It was half-jokey but not really sardonic. You used it for good things that promised even better things – when a girl you fancied smiled at you or your team scored the first goal.

It came from what was (in retrospect quite amazingly) a popular TV show calledInto Europe that the state broadcaster put on to educate the populace of a peripheral nation that was going to join the European Economic Community in 1973. I remember documentaries about farm consolidation in Denmark or students sitting around some castle in Germany discussing “What does it mean to be European?” It seemed terribly exciting that we, too, would soon be able to discuss that question with the same earnest enthusiasm. We were into Europe.

But what did “Europe” mean in this sense? It was not a physical place. Ireland had, after all, always been part of Europe. And the EEC was not, in any case, Europe – it was a small fraction of the continent. But it wasn’t a mere set of trading and institutional arrangements either. It was a story, an imaginative fiction of the kind that Yuval Noah Harari evokes in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He makes the point that the capacity to believe in fictional constructs is a defining element of what makes us human, because without it we cannot co-operate with people we do not know: “At the heart of our mass co-operation networks, you will always find fictional stories that exist only in people’s collective imagination… There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.”

One of these enabling fictions is “Europe”. It is a story that most of the central and western nations of the continent agreed to tell themselves and each other in order to deal with the legacies of the second world war and the cold war. And like all stories, it sustained itself, if not exactly with belief, then at least with a willing suspension of disbelief. The question now is whether it still exists at all, whether “Europe” has lost its hold on our collective imagination. All the evidence suggests that it has.

In a remarkable outburst reported last week by the Observer, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, denounced the failure of his fellow EU leaders to agree on more than a voluntary plan to deal with the thousands of refugees and migrants landing on his country’s shores: “If this is your idea of Europe, keep it for yourself… you do not deserve to call yourself Europe. Either we have solidarity or we waste our time!”

In recent weeks, too, the appeals by leaders of Syriza in Greece to “our shared European values” have come to seem not just desperate but naive. It is as if the Greeks were appealing to medieval codes of chivalry or expecting Premier League footballers to respect 19th-century Corinthian values. “Europe” and “European values” seem, even as rhetorical gestures, entirely hollow. They are evoked now only to underline their absence.

One by one, the elements of the Europe story have fallen away. Democracy? European leaders, especially the Germans, have been openly canvassing the idea of “regime change” in Athens. The free movement of people? Hungary is planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia and David Cameron is hoping to build a metaphorical fence around Britain. The welfare state? The recent elections in both Finland and Denmark suggest that even in its Nordic heartland, it is no longer seen as a European value but as a national, even an ethnic, possession, to be kept for “our people” alone.

Solidarity? Who now believes that the average person in Frankfurt or Helsinki sees the pensioner rummaging in a bin in Thessaloniki as a fellow citizen? Thresholds of decency? Formulaic expressions of sympathy aside, there is little sense that the European Union as a whole finds it intolerable that hundreds of thousands of Greeks are living without electricity or that millions have no access to public health care.

The “ever closer union” envisaged by the EU’s founders has been replaced in effect by a deeply incoherent mixture of one-size-fits-all thinking and double standards. On the one hand, there is the absolute insistence that there can be no challenge to the technocratic formula for solving the eurozone crisis: austerity plus massive bank bailouts plus privatisation and the dismantling of social and labour protections.

On the other, there is a sharp moral and political divide between the creditor states and the debtor states, with a supposedly virtuous, prudent and righteous core beset by a feckless, reckless periphery. Or, if viewed from that periphery, between victimised citizens and a European political elite bent on punishing them for sins they did not commit on their own.

There is no “collective imagination” of the crisis – in one Europe, it is respectable, hard-working people being exploited by chaotic layabouts from the hot south; in the other, it is hard-pressed and equally hard-working people being sucked dry to feed foreign banks. The stories Europeans are telling themselves about what’s going on around them are not just different but mutually exclusive and mutually antagonistic.

Nor is this collapse of the collective imagination just a product of the eurozone crisis. It has deeper roots. The idea of “Europe” that animated the EU depended on the conflicts that gave it birth. The Second World War, fascism and the Holocaust created a deep appreciation of the fragility of peace, democracy and human rights. The Cold War made it imperative for western democracies to compete with communism on its own terms by showing that market economies could deliver, not just prosperity, but social justice, equality and security.

But the Cold War ended, the rivalry with communism ceased, and the generation of leaders with memories of the Second World War – the likes of Helmut Kohl and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterand and Jacques Delors – passed on. With them has gone the urgency of imagining a European story, not as an abstract fable, but as a necessary alternative to the other European stories of Hitler and Stalin.

Their benign fiction also had a powerful subtext – the need to contain Germany. It is not accidental that it was Schmidt, who was 14 when Hitler came to power, who issued what he called “a serious and carefully considered warning” to his compatriots three years ago: “If we Germans allow ourselves to be seduced into claiming a political leading role in Europe or at least playing first among equals, based on our economic strength, an increasing majority of our neighbours will effectively resist this. The concern of the periphery about an all too powerful European centre would soon come racing back. The possible consequences of such a development would be crippling.”

Schmidt was right – and he was also ignored. No one watching the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in recent weeks can have picked up the slightest hint of anxiety about being “first among equals”. There is only the absolute certainty that, whatever the evidence to the contrary, Greece can and must be beaten until it learns to become more German.

In the technocratic mindset that has filled the vacuum where “Europe” used to be, the old story is just a sentimental romance. But there’s always a story – the old fable of democracy, solidarity and decency hasn’t been replaced by simple dull reality. What has taken its place is a narrative that poses as hard-headed realism but that is actually much more fantastical than the one that was constructed by the postwar generation. It has a wildly improbable plot in which years of austerity magically produce economic growth; mountains of public debt are paid off by shrinking economies; unaccountable experts know more about other countries than their own elected governments; and everyone lives happily ever after. The good are rewarded. The bad are punished but they repent in the end and return to the fold. There’s certainly a lot of imagination in this story. But its ability to sustain a collective enterprise among 28 stubbornly individual nations is negligible.

It is not entirely true, of course, that no one at all believes the old story of Europe. The last true believers are on rickety boats in the Mediterranean, trying to make their way to an imagined continent of compassion, solidarity and security. If they ever get to shore, they will find at best a grudging welcome. But those who purport to share their belief in what Europe means badly need some of their desperate optimism.


Rumbles of military coup as Greek workers demand end to EU austerity


On eve of referendum

4 July 2015

Just 24 hours before anti-austerity demonstrators flooded the streets of central Athens on Friday, a number of retired Greek military officers publicly called for a “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum on the European Union’s demands, defying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote.

The contrast between masses of workers denouncing EU austerity and the pronouncements of prominent military figures could not have been starker. Retired General Fragkoulis Fragkos, a former defense minister and one-time head of the Greek army general staff, called for a “loud yes on Sunday.” In 2011, Fragkos was cashiered by then-Prime Minister George Papandreou amid rumors of a coup.

Clearly referring to Tsipras, Fragkos said that “the moral values and principles that have always defined us Greeks are not under negotiation with any clueless and historically ignorant [politician] who is advancing his own party interest.”

A group of 65 retired high-ranking officers issued a statement citing their “oath to the Fatherland and the Flag” and warning, “By choosing isolation, we place the Fatherland and its future in danger.”

The statement continued: “The strength of our country is the most important thing we have, and this is being put in jeopardy. Our exit from Europe will make our country weaker. We will lose allies that have stood by our side. We will lose the strength we gain from associations and groupings to which we belong historically and culturally.”

These declarations constitute an enormous act of political intimidation. Just over 40 years since the CIA-backed colonels’ junta collapsed, well-connected officers are casting aside any pretense of neutrality and announcing their support for the positions of the EU and Washington in opposition to large sections of the population and the current government.

To grasp the significance of the Greek officers’ statements, one must recall the 1967 coup, which, in the midst of a political crisis, brought to power the brutal junta that ruled until 1974. Its goal was to suppress working-class protest and preempt any attempt to shift Greece’s foreign policy toward neutrality between NATO and the Soviet Union. The coup was led by Colonel George Papadopoulos, a top CIA liaison officer, who oversaw the roundup of at least 10,000 political opponents, many of whom were tortured or killed.

This week, senior German officials said that they intended to secure a “yes” vote in the Greek referendum so as to bring down the government led by Tsipras’s Syriza party. Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a warning shot Tsipras’s way by inviting bloodstained Egyptian dictator General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Berlin as Cairo held joint military exercises with the Greek armed forces. Berlin subsequently arrested Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour on trumped-up charges issued by Sisi’s regime.

The statements coming from the Greek military vindicate the warning made by the WSWS after Mansour’s arrest. The WSWS wrote: “It is a calculated signal sent by Berlin that it is ready to publicly collaborate with repressive measures by military dictatorships… One of the intended recipients of this message is doubtless the Greek premier, Alexis Tsipras.”

The EU is emerging ever more openly as a ruthless dictatorship of finance capital. There can be no doubt that the Greek officers intervened in the referendum with the support of Berlin and Brussels. They see the events in Greece as part of a war on the entire European working class, to be waged by means of state violence and repression if necessary. They are out to demonstrate in Greece that they will brook no challenge anywhere to the dictates of the banks and finance houses.

The policy of Berlin and the EU confirms the assessment of Lenin. “Finance capital strives for domination, not freedom,” he observed, adding, “Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism.”

Imperialism seeks support within the reactionary classes of the targeted countries. So it is with the bourgeoisie and its allies in the upper echelons of the middle class in Greece. The events of the past few days—masses of workers and youth calling for a struggle against austerity and the EU on the one side, wealthy businessmen and professionals, joined by the military, backing the EU onslaught on the other—have laid bare the stark and irrevocable class divide in Greece.

These events expose the bankruptcy of the Tsipras government. Its entire policy has been based on the self-deluded notion that it is possible to reach a compromise with the EU, and that some respite from vicious cuts in jobs, wages, pensions and social services can be secured without a struggle against the social base of support for such policies within Greece itself.

Not only has Syriza refused to take any measures to challenge the economic interests of Greek capital, it has not taken a single step to protect the people against the conspiracies of the state. On the contrary, it has placed far-right forces such as the Independent Greeks (Anel) in key positions of power.

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, an Anel leader, all but admitted yesterday that the government is preparing to use the army to crack down on domestic dissent and impose the army’s preferred foreign policy. “The country’s armed forces guarantee stability internally, the defense of national sovereignty, and the country’s territorial integrity and stability in relation to the country’s alliances,” he said during a joint visit with Tsipras to army units.

The Tsipras government doubtless conceived of its referendum as a means of providing political cover for its own retreat and accommodation to both the EU and the Greek bourgeoisie. A “yes” vote would be used to justify total capitulation, while a “no” vote, as Tsipras declared this week, would serve as a pretext to return to the negotiating table in yet another fruitless attempt to obtain a deal for slightly modified austerity measures.

As yesterday’s mass protests showed, however, the referendum call has produced an enormous radicalization of public opinion. Masses of workers who have come onto the street to call for a “no” vote see such a vote as the beginning of a struggle to end austerity policies and break the stranglehold of the EU.

The working class cannot be bound by the policies of Syriza, whose aim is to secure at most token modifications of the austerity program, the better to uphold the EU bankers’ dictatorship and Greek capitalism. It fears nothing so much as a mass movement of the working class, against which it is prepared to unleash the police and military.

What is required is a broad appeal for the active support of the European and international working class in opposition to the EU, combined with the most determined measures within Greece itself to break the power of the local allies of international finance capital.

It is necessary to carry out revolutionary measures in defense of the Greek masses: the nationalization of the banking system and major industries under the control of the working class, the repudiation of the national debt, the dismantling of the military, the arrest of officers involved in military conspiracies against the people, and the establishment of a workers’ government.

Alex Lantier

Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communality

By Jerome Roos On July 4, 2015

Post image for Greece needs a Plan C: for the commons and communalityWhatever the outcome of the referendum, tough times are ahead. To survive, Greek society will need to reinvigorate the commons and communal solidarity.

Image: A solidarity kitchen in Greece. The poster in the back reads “Free Food for All” (by Marko Djurika).

As the Greek debt crisis enters its dramatic apotheosis — with an unprecedented default on the IMF last Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity protesters taking to the streets on Friday, and a historic referendum scheduled for Sunday — concerns are growing over the state of the Greek economy.

The decision by the European creditors and the European Central Bank to basically cut off Greece’s banking system from continued emergency support has forced the government to close all private banks and impose far-reaching capital controls. As a result, Greek companies can no longer pay foreign suppliers and are already starting to run short on food, pharmaceuticals and other key imports. Some pensioners are struggling to obtain their much-needed cash.

Sunday’s referendum, for all its flaws and limitations, marks a triumph for democracy. Still, it won’t bring an immediate end to the turmoil. Whatever the outcome, tough times are ahead. After nearly six years of brutal austerity, the Greek economy is devastated while the “welfare state” remains anemic and dysfunctional. Unemployment and misery are rife. Needless to say, none of this will change overnight. Indeed, as the creditors intensify their vicious campaign of financial asphyxiation, things are likely to get significantly worse.

A rupture with endless austerity, debt servitude and the straitjacket of the single currency would certainly restore a degree of autonomy and improve Greece’s economic prospects in the long run. But it would also come at a very high immediate cost. Both the government and Greek society would need to be highly organized and well-prepared to weather the stormy transition it would entail.

It should therefore be emphasized that the referendum is not a panacea. A friend of a friend described it as a choice between “poverty with servitude” and “poverty with freedom.” Moreover, this choice has to be made under the intense pressure of the creditors’ financial blackmail and the media’s campaign of fear andoutright lies. It is hard to imagine more adverse circumstances for the NO camp.

The problems are further compounded by the lack of clarity about the consequences of either choice. What will happen in case YES wins? Will the government resign? Will we see a return to an unelected technocracy? And what in case of a NO vote? Will Tsipras really continue negotiating in good faith with the creditors? Will the creditors even trust him to reach an agreement and carry out further reforms? Or will they force Greece out of the euro? These are all monumental questions — none of which have been properly answered.

All we know is this: over the past couple of years, the debate within Syriza on how to resolve the crisis has essentially revolved around two poles: the government’s original plan A — to end austerity within the eurozone — and the more radical alternative originally proposed by the party’s left faction, whose Plan B envisions a unilateral default and Grexit as a way out of the misery. We also know that the latter plan has gained more and more support from Syriza cadres (even those close to Tsipras) as the negotiations with creditors stalled.

The two plans always appeared to be diametrically opposed to one another. In truth, the strong dichotomy between them obscures a shared premise. Ultimately, both Plan A and Plan B revolve around the belief that, if only the government can succeed in executing its chosen top-down program, recovery will be swift and things will quickly go back to the way they were before.

This is a dangerous illusion. With or without Grexit, for the majority of Greeks (as for the majority of Europeans and Americans) there will be no going back to the halcyon days of credit-fueled consumerism. Both Plan A and Plan B — however successful either may be — will still be accompanied by future hardship and deprivation. Plan A would result in endless austerity, forever, while Plan B would produce an extremely painful short-term shock to the economy.

In the medium-term, debt cancellation and currency devaluation would likely have a positive effect on economic recovery and social well-being. Still, neither Greece’s dysfunctional state apparatus nor its uncompetitive economy will be able to fully restore the status quo ante, or even meet the needs and desires of the millions of workers, pensioners and unemployed youth who have been dispossessed and immiserated over the course of the crisis. Besides facing a structural crisis of its own, Greek capitalism will always be inserted into the European and world economy under highly disadvantageous terms.

Clearly, if the government and society were well-prepared, Plan B would be superior to Plan A. But merely advocating a rupture is far from enough. In fact, it would be particularly irresponsible if done without the proper preparations — and right now it doesn’t really look like Syriza is properly prepared. Where, then, should we be looking for further options and alternatives?

Undoubtedly, grassroots movements and solidarity initiatives will have a critical role to play as both the crisis and the struggle intensify. Without a fresh upsurge in self-organized popular mobilization in the streets, workplaces and communities, the prospects of positive change will remain grim.

In this respect, it is remarkable how rapidly the radical horizon has shrunk in recent years. During the mass mobilizations of 2010-’12, especially theMovement of the Squares in 2011, the political imagination was still brimming over with original ideas, practices and organizational forms — many of them centered on an anti-capitalist conception of the commons, defined by Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis as:

… autonomous spaces from which to reclaim control over our life and the conditions of our reproduction, and to provide resources on the basis of sharing and equal access; but also bases from which to counter the processes of enclosure and increasingly disentangle our lives from the market and the state.

While we have since seen a remarkable proliferation of such commons — think of solidarity kitchens, social clinics, self-managed workplaces, mutual aid networks, alternative currencies, and so on — the urgency of the negotiations and the preoccupation with the “high politics” of Grexit and debt relief has largely overshadowed the deeper questions raised in these grassroots initiatives: What about the day after? What kind of country do we really want to build together? Can capitalism still fulfill our needs and desires?

These are the questions that would be addressed by an anti-capitalist Plan C: a reinvigorated project of the commons and communal solidarity. In contrast to both Plan A and Plan B, Plan C would be a bottom-up project organized by local communities that would situate itself directly on the terrain of everyday life. Its main contributions would be threefold. First, through solidarity networks and communal support systems, it would enhance popular resilience by securing the means of social reproduction under conditions of extreme precarity.

Second, by creating new and strengthening existing organs of popular power, the commons would collectively act as bases for continued grassroots resistance to further austerity and dispossession. History has shown that, without powerful grassroots movements exerting pressure from below, even left governments are easily led astray by the siren call of domestic and international capital. To prevent this, the still relatively small and dispersed movement of commoners will have to become an organized force of political opposition.

Third, a project of the commons has revolutionary potential insofar as its protagonists manage to reclaim the means of production and reproduction; democratize workplaces, communities and existing political institutions; and contribute to a fundamental transformation of social relations from below. All of this is clearly still a far way off, but Plan C is precisely about cultivating this sense of perspective and direction — taking the struggle far beyond the stale dichotomies of state and market, euro and drachma.

Needless to say, Sunday’s referendum will mark a historic moment for Greece and for Europe. Only a proud and dignified NO can begin to liberate Greek society from the endless suffocation, blackmail and humiliation at the hands of the country’s creditors. But whatever the outcome of the plebiscite may be, the left should not limit its political imagination to the terms of a new bailout agreement or the denomination of the national currency.

Deal or no deal, euro or no euro, one thing is clear: a long fight still lies ahead. As the creditors’ assault intensifies, only a reinvigoration of the struggle from below can save beleaguered Greece — and turn it, once again, into a proud beacon of democracy and solidarity for the rest of the world.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. He tweets about the Greek crisis at @JeromeRoos.

A slightly different version of this article (in Greek) appeared in this month’s issue of Unfollow Magazine. Credit for the original idea and inspiration behind the piece goes to Bue Rübner Hansen in Barcelona.

The political fraud of Syriza’s referendum on EU austerity in Greece


3 July 2015

Since Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on European Union (EU) austerity last Saturday, the entire enterprise has been exposed as a political fraud. It is designed to engineer a further capitulation to the EU’s demands, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

On the eve of the referendum, the Syriza government is in full-scale retreat. If the “yes” vote carries, the Tsipras government is preparing to resign and give way to a more openly right-wing regime, dedicated to implementing whatever the EU demands. In his speech Monday calling for a “no” vote, Tsipras signaled that his government would step down after a “yes” vote, declaring that “we will respect this [vote], but we cannot serve such a mandate.”

If the “no” vote wins, Tsipras declared in a nationally televised address Wednesday that he will only use it to boost his positions in negotiations on austerity with the EU. In exchange for a €30 billion bailout, however, Tsipras has already made clear that he is willing to impose virtually all the EU’s demands. He is asking only for a slower phase-in of deep pension cuts and a partial exemption for the Greek islands of regressive increases in sales taxes (VAT).

Were Tsipras to concisely explain to working people the content of his referendum, he could say: heads the EU wins, tails you lose. Coming only months after Syriza won an election pledging to end five years of austerity, the referendum has been called to give political cover for a surrender to the EU. Had Syriza intended to fight, it would have had no need to call a referendum on EU austerity already rejected by the Greek people.

The referendum has been set up to create the conditions for a vote for austerity, giving a pseudo-democratic veneer to the escalating assault on the Greek working class. While there is widespread hatred of the years of brutal austerity, both Syriza and the EU have done everything they can to confuse and demobilize popular opposition.

The EU, predictably, is pressing for drastic austerity and regime change in Greece. On Wednesday, an anonymous high-ranking German conservative told the Times of London that Berlin will block any EU deal with Greece and expel it from the euro unless the “yes” vote wins and both Tsipras and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resign.

Varoufakis responded yesterday by promising that he also would resign if the “yes” vote carries. He added that he would help his successor implement whatever austerity package the EU demanded. While Varoufakis still claimed to be calling for a “no” vote, he had publicly disowned this position the day before, ordering guards to remove a banner draped over the Finance Ministry that read, “No to austerity and blackmail.”

Varoufakis’s announcement, on the eve of the referendum, that he is all but cleaning out his desk amounts to publicly broadcasting Syriza’s pessimism and demoralization. Listening to Syriza officials speak, one concludes that they not only expect a loss, they more or less welcome defeat, knowing as they do that there is plenty of money to be made from it. It is a clear example of the political duplicity and rottenness of this type of pro-capitalist, pseudo-left party.

The conflicting signals Syriza sends reflect the class interests it represents. It is a bourgeois outfit using democratic jargon to posture as a left-wing party giving voice to broad popular opposition to EU austerity. However, it is deeply committed to the structures of European capitalism, including the euro currency and the EU. The EU, for its part, will tolerate no opposition to its austerity agenda, and Syriza’s anti-austerity posturing has been exposed time and again as empty political theater.

Upon taking office, Syriza has done everything it can to smother opposition to austerity in the Greek and European working class. Tsipras and Varoufakis jetted around European capitals for a few weeks, fruitlessly looking for a deal with the EU, then signed a February agreement extending the austerity Memorandum Syriza had campaigned against. After the EU still refused to restore the flow of credit to Greece, Syriza looted billions of euros from the public coffers this spring to repay its creditors.

As these funds finally ran out last weekend, Syriza called its referendum on austerity as Greek banks closed and the state faced imminent collapse—the conditions of economic turmoil most likely to secure a panicked capitulation to the EU. Some Greek officials even suggested that this was their goal. After European officials responded by ending their bailout of Greece and threatening to expel Greece from the euro, a shocked Varoufakis responded that Syriza had intended to obtain a deal with the EU before the referendum, and ultimately campaign for a “yes” vote.

Syriza’s cowardice and dishonesty give political expression to the outlook of the sections of the affluent middle class and of the Greek bourgeoisie that it represents. These layers, who fear that an expulsion from the euro and a return to a weaker Greek national currency would slash the value of their bank holdings and stock portfolios, enthusiastically defend the EU and the euro. These moods are shared by the privileged parliamentarians, academics and trade union executives inside Syriza itself.

The Syriza government and the Greek referendum call are an immense experience of the Greek and international working class. Millions of workers in Europe and around the world are witnessing the political bankruptcy of parties like Syriza and its international allies—Podemos in Spain, the International Socialist Organization in the United Sates, the New Anti-capitalist Party in France, the Left Party in Germany—that cater to the affluent middle class.

As the EU points a gun to their heads, broad sections of workers in Greece intend to vote “no.” Such a vote can have meaning and deal a real blow to EU austerity policies, however, only in struggle against Syriza as well. It is evident that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, the ruling elites in Greece and across Europe will use it as a pretext to escalate attacks on the working class.

The working class faces a struggle against European capitalism and its pseudo-left defenders such as Syriza. The central precondition for waging such a struggle is the building of a new revolutionary political leadership in the working class. Reactionary instruments of the affluent middle class such as Syriza can bring the working class nothing but disaster.

Alex Lantier

Noam Chomsky: Austerity Is Just Class War

The esteemed scholar offers his views crisis over Greece’s debt problems.

As Greece defaults and faces a referendum this Sunday on a new bailout package, watch Noam Chomsky on Europe’s “savage response” to the pushback against austerity demands. He spoke to Democracy Now! in March.

Click here to watch Monday’s segment, “As Greece Heads for Default, Voters Prepare to Vote in Pivotal Referendum on More Austerity.”

Below is an interview with Chomsky, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Syriza in Greece, a movement that started as a grassroots movement. Now they have taken power, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. And then you have Spain right now. We recently spoke to Pablo Iglesias, the secretary general of the group called Podemos, that was founded, what—an anti-austerity party that has rapidly gained popularity. A month after establishing itself last year, they won five seats in the European Parliament, and some polls show they could take the next election, which would mean that Pablo Iglesias, the 36-year-old political science professor and longtime activist, could possibly become the prime minister of Europe’s fifth-largest economy. He came here to New York for just about 72 hours, and I asked him to talk about what austerity measures have meant in Spain.

PABLO IGLESIAS: Austerity means that people is expulsed of their homes. Austerity means that the social services don’t work anymore. Austerity means that public schools have not the elements, the means to develop their activity. Austerity means that the countries have not sovereignty anymore, and we became a colony of the financial powers and a colony of Germany. Austerity probably means the end of democracy. I think if we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pablo Iglesias, the head of this new anti-austerity group in Spain called Podemos, which means in English “We can.” The significance of these movements?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very significant. But notice the reaction. The reaction to Syriza was extremely savage. They made a little bit of progress in their negotiations, but not much. The Germans came down very hard on them.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean in dealing with the debt.

NOAM CHOMSKY: In the dealing with them, and sort of forced them to back off from almost all their proposals. What’s going on with the austerity is really class war. As an economic program, austerity, under recession, makes no sense. It just makes the situation worse. So the Greek debt, relative to GDP, has actually gone up during the period of—which is—well, the policies that are supposed to overcome the debt. In the case of Spain, the debt was not a public debt, it was private debt. It was the actions of the banks. And that means also the German banks. Remember, when a bank makes a dangerous, a risky borrowing, somebody is making a risky lending. And the policies that are designed by the troika, you know, are basically paying off the banks, the perpetrators, much like here. The population is suffering. But one of the things that’s happening is that the—you know, the social democratic policies, so-called welfare state, is being eroded. That’s class war. It’s not an economic policy that makes any sense as to end a serious recession. And there is a reaction to it—Greece, Spain and some in Ireland, growing elsewhere, France. But it’s a very dangerous situation, could lead to a right-wing response, very right-wing. The alternative to Syriza might be Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi party.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now! and the co-author of The Silenced Majority.