By MARTY GOODMAN
(Updated Aug. 5) The new $93 billion (86 billion euros) economic bailout deal in Greece is a shameless act of international capitalist piracy. The July 13 proposal—approved by the Greek parliament two days later—wielded cuts to pensions, including special aid to the poorest; a hike in taxes on food and other goods and services; a “liberalizing” of the labor market (that is, voiding labor protections and job security); and perhaps the most odious, the privatization of Greek public institutions, with the proceeds (50 billion euros) to be hijacked off to Luxemburg banks, out of reach of the Greek people.
And, that was only the beginning. On July 22, the Greek parliament, by a 230-63 vote, approved a second set of cuts demanded by international creditors.
A quickly organized government referendum on July 5 of an earlier version of the “memorandum” of agreement resulted in a heroic vote of 61% of Greek voters who said “NO!” to more misery by the European banks. That historic “no” was turned into a “yes” by a government unwilling to fight. The Syriza government agreed to bailout terms that were even more savage than those in the memorandum the Greek people had rejected. One TV commentator quipped sarcastically when news of the deal emerged, “Why not auction off the Parthenon?”
Indeed. The middle-class Syriza leadership, headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras, calculated that, while promising to not to leave the EU (“Grexit”), they could outwit and shame the billionaire leaders of European capital and bend them to the will of the Greek people. But, the bloodsuckers who rule Europe would have none of it and imposed their will on the long-suffering Greek masses.
Despite the continued personal popularity of Tspiras, disbelief at the results of patient negotiations turned to anger at what is now the third and most punishing bailout for Greece in five years.
On July 15 unions called for a one-day general strike and demonstration against the memorandum. The action was called mainly by ADEDY, a union representing public workers who are facing layoffs and wage cuts under the terms of the agreement. The march was led by women cleaners and hospital workers, followed by transit workers who had shut down trains that morning. Street protests that day amounted to about 15,000 memorandum opponents.
That evening some 15 protesters were arrested, many of whom had been savagely attacked by police in front of the parliament building. The arrested demonstrators included two members of OKDE-Spartacos, supporters of the Fourth International and co-thinkers of Socialist Action in the United States. Protesters say that the previous government had removed confinement barricades for protests in front of the Greek parliament—only to have them replaced by police clubs and teargas. An international campaign for their release has been mounted. Go to: https://www.change.org/p/alexis-tsipras-abandonnez-toutes-les-poursuites-pesant-sur-les-manifestants-contre-le-nouveau-mémorandum-arrêtés-ce-mercredi-15-juillet-à-athènes-drop-all-charges-against-the-activists-arrested-in-the-anti-memorandum-demo-in-athens-on-july-15th.
The Greek debt of $330 billion (300 billion euros) is currently 174% of the country’s Gross National Product (GNP), up from 134% GDP in 2010. The European Union (EU) lenders have refused a “haircut,” meaning the kind of debt reduction that is offered to some countries by big lenders for mostly strategic political reasons, such as the recent write-off of a 13.5 to 18 billion euro loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the CIA-backed Ukrainian regime.
The major financial institutions that are strangling Greece, nicknamed the Troika, are the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Commission (EC). On July 20, a 7 billion euro EU bridge loan and an emergency bank credit got the bank doors reopened in Greece. Banks had been closed since June 29, except for ATMS, where customers were limited to withdrawals of 60 euros per day. Capital controls on large withdrawals are still in place.
Clearly, the EU’s hard line is meant to punish Greek workers for daring to defy capitalist diktat by electing an ostensibly “leftist” government. Since Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) took power in January with 36% of the votes, Greece’s corrupt elite have removed hundreds of millions, if not billions, of euros from the country and deposited their booty in foreign European banks, depriving Greece of taxable wealth.
Greece’s debt crisis is only one of several scenarios of the worldwide debt and economic crisis, one that includes Puerto Rico, a colony of U.S. imperialism. Many nations are still reeling from the capitalist crisis of 2007-8 and drowning in debt to international banks, particularly the U.S.-dominated World Bank and its austerity enforcement arm, the International Monetary Fund. In Europe alone unemployment remains high: The youth jobless rate is still 42% in Italy and 49% in Spain despite mass emigration.
The fate of the proposal is now in the hands of Germany, the acknowledged financial and political leader of the 28-member EU. Germany’s parliament should vote on the proposal within the next month, agreeing thus far only to discuss terms. The remaining EU parliaments must also vote on it. The draconian austerity guidelines of the bailout are to be monitored by the IMF, whose trickle-down, starvation policies have left hundreds of millions in poverty and misery.
Fifty billion euros of the Greek loan is to be used for bank recapitalization, i.e., private profit, 25% toward internal investment—mostly capitalist profit—and 25% to pay debt, mostly to bankers. Greece needs $7.7 billion currently and over $5 billion in August alone. Already implemented are cuts to pensions and added taxes on items, such as food.
Further austerity measures will wreck an already imploding economy. Unemployment in Greece is 26%, U.S. Great Depression levels; for youth, 60%. Some 800,000 haven’t been paid in weeks or months. Pensions have been slashed in half, and wages and jobs have been massively cut since the capitalist crisis began and austerity measures imposed in 2010. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25% since that year. The suicide rate is up 35% since the crisis began.
During the early 2000s, the U.S. investment bank of Goldman Sachs played an important role in helping to unleash the Greek crisis, masking Greece’s true debt while raking in a cool 600 million euros in profit from a shady $2.8 billion deal with the corrupt Greek government.
The managing director and vice president of the European branch of Goldman Sachs in 2010 was Mario Draghi. Draghi was previously the head of the Bank of Italy and involved in the privatization of public utilities there. In 2011, Draghi was made the head of the European Central Bank and today negotiates directly with Greece over the debt.
Socialists say, “Not one penny to the banks! Cancel the Greek debt and nationalize all financial institutions in Greece under workers control!”
Syriza: What went wrong
The proposal passed in the Greek parliament on July 15 with 229 “yes” votes to 64 “no’s”; 123 members of SYRIZA and its right-wing governmental partner ANEL supported the bailout. Thirty-two “no” votes came from Syriza MPs, most of whom are in Syriza’s “Left Platform,” while seven other Syriza MPs abstained or were absent. The Left Platform makes up about 30% of Syriza’s Central Committee. Former Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, a leader of the Left Platform, said that the memorandum was “incompatible with Syriza’s program” and added that the EU had “acted like cold-blooded blackmailers and economic assassins.”
The “leftist” Syriza government was elected on a promise to refuse the austerity that came with loans accepted by the former PASOK (social-democrats) and center-right governments. Most of Syriza’s major “red lines” that it pledged to workers that it would not cross were swept aside to maintain the euro-banksters’ choke hold on Greece.
Since the July 15 parliament vote, some 10 Syriza top government officials who did not back Tsipras have been removed and replaced with mostly conservative MPs. Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis was dismissed from his post, but even so, the “leftist” pledged his support to the Syriza government. There is talk of another election in the autumn.
At a Syriza Central Committee meeting on July 31, the Tsipras leadership was able to defeat motions by the Left Platform to convene a Syriza congress in order to discuss the Aug. 20 payment of 3.2 billion euros in interest on bonds held by the European Bank. The decision will leave Tsipras free to negotiate the Aug. 20 terms with the Troika.
This was not the first Syriza betrayal. The vote for Syriza in January 2015 was a major rebuke to capitalist rulers—the first electoral revolt in some years by the working class of a so-called advanced capitalist country. Syriza’s slogan was “no sacrifice for the euro,” but just a month after forming the government the SYRIZA leadership betrayed its supporters by brokering a four-month bailout extension with the Troika—much as the previous capitalist government did when it negotiated a two-month extension.
Syriza Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself called the recent deal “a bad agreement.” Even the IMF referred to the Greek debt under the proposed deal as “unsustainable.” Nevertheless, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in an April interview in Spiegel Online, pledged to pay off the banks, saying, “We will pay back our debts to the last euro.” Pavlopoulos is a member of the conservative New Democracy party and was elected president by the Greek parliament in February with Syriza’s votes.
Syriza began in 2004 as a fusion party of reformist ex-Stalinist “Euro-Communists,” like Tsipras, from the Greek Communist Party (KKE) but also included independent leftists, Trotskyists, Maoists, and later, Greek Occupy activists. Its leading lights, like Tsipras, are middle-class intellectuals, many of them centered in universities. The organized working class within SYRIZA is small, around 10% to 15%, according to estimates earlier this year. Despite a vote of 2,250,000 votes in the January election, only 35,000 voters were Syriza members at that time, a sure sign that it is a movement based on elections, not on mass struggles in the streets and in the factories (see the March 2015 Socialist Action newspaper).
Earlier Syriza platforms, such as the 2014 Thessalonki Program, called for radical reforms such as nationalizing the banks (the Greek government already holds most of the major banks’ shares), public services, railroads, and airports, and saying “no” to the Troika memorandums on jobs and wages. It promised democratic, not top-down, decisions. However, since SYRIZA took office, there have been few meetings of its decision-making Central Committee; the leadership turned its back on its previous platform, ruling by decree and photo-ops.
Electoral strategy and trying to outfox the Troika at negotiations drove Syriza strategy—not mass mobilizations, strikes, occupations, let alone nationalizations. A July 13 radio interview with former Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis illustrates in starkest terms the middle-class mindset of the party’s betrayers. Varoufakis related the details of his personal meeting with Tspiris, as giant crowds surrounded the parliament in celebration of the “no” vote: “I sensed immediately a sense of resignation, a negatively charged atmosphere. I was confronted with an air of defeat, which was completely at odds with what was happening outside.
“At that point I had to put it to the prime minister, ”If you want to use the buzz of democracy outside the gates of this building you can count on me. If, on the other hand, if you feel you cannot handle the big interest in ‘no’ to the rather irrational proposition from our European partners then I am going to simply steal into the night.
“I could see that Tsipris didn’t seem to have a positive attitude, didn’t have what it took sentimentally, emotionally to carry the ‘no’ vote to Europe, to use it as a weapon.” To hear the interview, go to: Yanis Varoufakis on Greek crisis – Late Night Live – ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).
Modern capitalism is adept at co-opting forces that have the attention and loyalty of the working class in order to corrupt, mislead, and derail any serious fightback against deteriorating conditions. At these times, reformists masquerading as “socialists” have shown themselves to be reliable allies of the super-rich and capitalism.
In that role, the non-revolutionary Syriza fits the bill. Syriza has organized few, if any, mass mobilizations against the 1%. Instead, it has focused attention on the negotiating table, not even employing the essential union tactic of supplementing talks with a display of labor’s power in the streets or in the shops. Without it, the struggle is thus reduced to a few elite members on both sides of the table. And when that happens, the ruling class always wins.
Syriza’s services to imperialism
Syriza is also rendering its services to international imperialism. In June 2013, The New York Times published an op-ed titled “Only SYRIZA Can Save Greece.” The piece was co-authored by future Finance Minister Varoufakis, who wrote that if Syriza took office, “Syriza doesn’t intend to leave NATO or close American military bases.” The ever-expanding U.S.-led NATO forces are poised squarely at Russia, elevating the war danger.
A further example was Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias’ recent tour of Israel. Kotzias stated in a joint press conference with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, “We must learn to love Israel.” Kotzias even claimed that Israel is part of a “line of stability in this area,” despite the atrocious bombing of Gaza last year, resulting in 2200 deaths, mostly civilians. Hypocritically, the SYRIZA 2012 platform calls for the “abolition of military cooperation with Israel.”
Since the introduction of the Syriza-proposed memorandum, there is the growing danger that the fascists of the Golden Dawn party, who won 6.3% of the votes in the January election, can steal the mantle as the opponents of the Troika. On Greek TV, a Golden Dawn parliamentarian ripped-up the memorandum. Without a sharp challenge to capitalist misery from the left, the violent anti-immigrant racists of Golden Dawn could make substantial gains.
The left must be in the streets to pose a revolutionary alternative to capitalism and smash the fascist threat.
Capitalism is a brutal system that defends its wealth at any cost. The left cannot fool capitalism with clever arguments and slogans. Only the working class has the power to defeat the Troika. What’s at stake in Greece is an historic battle between its working people and a capitalist system gone mad in a worldwide war over shrinking profit margins. Only a revolutionary strategy based on working-class mobilization can defeat the Troika. Only an overthrow of capitalism can save Greece.
Since the “no” vote victory, Greece has seen terrible setbacks to the struggle to shake off the Euro-Banksters, but the spirit of the July 5 referendum must be nourished and strengthened as Greek workers face even bigger challenges.
A united workers’ front of all labor and socialist organizations against capitalist austerity can and will be built, although it will not happen overnight. Such a united front must take bold action that cuts into the very fabric of capitalist privilege, with not only mass protests but also prolonged general strikes and occupations that can lead the way to the overthrow of capitalism once and for all. Building a revolutionary party in Greece that can lead these struggles remains a top priority.
- Build a united front against austerity and privatizations! Break with the EU!
- Nationalize the banks! Occupy the factories!
- For a government of workers, not capitalists!
Photo: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at late-night session in parliament. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters