By MARTY GOODMAN
Since being elected in January, Greece’s Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) was for a time the most followed movement on the international left and the hope of millions of long suffering Greek workers.
But those wishful sentiments were buried in July with the most brutal “loan” and austerity package yet, finalized in August with Europe’s leading financial institutions. The new agreement, often referred to as “the memorandum,” amounts to 86 billion euros ($93 billion) for the crisis-ridden Greek economy, already on the hook to the top capitalists of the European Union for 300 billion euros ($330 billion).
Brokered by the Syriza-led government, the memorandum contains vicious attacks on Greek workers—all in the name of the “free market” and capitalism. The agreement hikes taxes on foods, goods and services; rips up labor rights (which will lead to wage cuts and mass layoffs); and increases pension health-care costs by 50% (almost 40% of Greek retirees live in poverty).
The agreement mandates 50 billion euros to be paid by the privatization of public institutions. Virtually none of the “loan” package addresses joblessness or aid to impoverished Greek families. Most of the borrowed funds will be kept out of the reach of the Greek people in Luxemburg banks, and then go right back to repay debts to private banks and institutions.
Conditions in Greece remain a nightmare for working people. Unemployment is at depression levels of 26%, and for youth it’s 60%; the number of children living in poverty is now approaching 50%; a Greek medical study found that 54% of Greeks were undernourished; pensions were reduced by 27% between 2011 and 2014.
The memorandum is Greece’s third loan from the predators of European capitalism, nicknamed “the Troika.” They are the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the enforcement arm of the World Bank. Both the IMF and the World Bank are U.S.-dominated institutions, which have been responsible for the mass impoverishment of hundreds of millions by imposing “free trade” policies that aid the rich at the expense of the poor.
Selling the memorandum
The memorandum was negotiated by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader who had promised voters that his party would reject all austerity deals with European banks. Tsipras submitted it to parliament on July 15, where it passed 229 to 64. Thirty-two “no” votes came from Syriza MPs, most of whom were in the party’s Left Platform, while seven other Syriza MPs abstained or were absent. The Left Platform comprised about 30% of Syriza’s Central Committee.
The loan package was then approved by European parliaments despite substantial opposition, especially in Germany, the leading funder. Despite ruffled feathers over the loan on the German right, however, German capitalism is doing well in Greece. In August, a German firm acquired control over 14 Greek airports as part of the memorandum’s privatization provisions. In fact, Germany is the biggest investor in Greece.
Moreover, a recent study by the German Halle Institute for Economic Research found that investors have flocked to the “safe haven” of German government bonds, pushing down its interest rates paid to bondholders. The German government has thus saved 100 billion euros, more than the 90 billion Germany is believed to have “loaned” Greece, the study found.
That is all quite apart from the billions German imperialism still owes Greece and other nations for the death and destruction during World War II.
The trade arrangements of the Eurozone, based on the use of the euro as its currency, was established to favor the more wealthy “Northern tier” countries like Germany and France, who impose disadvantageous economic terms on the poorer and “less productive” “Southern” countries, such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc.
Crisis and a split in Syriza
Enraged by Syriza’s betrayal—likened by some to April 21, 1967, the day the Greek military seized power—25 of Syriza’s Left Platform MPs have formed a breakaway party called Popular Unity. Led by Left Platform leader Panagiotis Lafazanis, who was minister of energy before Tsipras purged seven top Syriza government officials who had voted “no” on the memorandum.
Lafazanis accused the government of selling out to the “dictatorship of the Eurozone.” Popular Unity, he says, will continue the original reformist goals of the Syriza party, which include nationalizing the banks, canceling “most” of the debt, stopping payment on the debt, rejecting privatizations, and saying “no” to the memorandums. It will try to remain in the Eurozone, if possible, says Lafazanis. So far, the party’s statements have not mentioned socialism.
Confronting a crisis of confidence, Tsipras has called for a new election for Sept. 20. He resigned as prime minister on Aug. 20, in accordance with the Greek constitution, and was replaced by a temporary caretaker government. “I feel the deep moral, political obligation to submit to your judgment,” Tsipras explained. Many Greeks, of course, might not be convinced of Tsipras’ sincerity given the fact that—just a day after the July 5 referendum, in which the Greek people had overwhelmingly rejected the Troika’s loan package, he negotiated a deal in Brussels that was even worse. The new deal slashed public spending by an additional 4 billion euros!
Moreover, a Sept. 20 election will not provide enough time for the Greek people to properly discuss the issues. Left Platform critics cite Tsipras’ unwillingness to discuss his negotiating strategy, let alone heed parliamentary calls for a Syriza convention to discuss the memorandum before paying the Troika some 3.2 billion euros in interest on bonds that were due Aug. 20. Most cynically perhaps, Tsipras has called for an election before Greeks will fully feel the brunt of the memorandum’s devastating impact.
Helena Smith, the Athens correspondent of London’s Guardian newspaper, astutely observed, “the application of neo-liberal policies on a resistant populace can only come from the left…” Capitalism depends on reformist parties like Syriza, especially during a crisis, which then win the trust of workers only to betray them.
The Syriza government is a capitalist coalition government, not a workers’ government. Since Syriza did not win a majority in the January election (36%), it needed a partner to maintain a functioning government. Accordingly, Syriza formed a coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), a right-wing party that is anti-immigrant but also ostensibly anti-memorandum, and it is tied to other capitalist parties in government.
History has demonstrated again and again (Spain, Chile, Haiti, etc.) that the working class cannot achieve its goals, let alone make a revolution, when tied to the capitalist class. The rise of the fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece is a grim reminder of the costs that mis-leadership may bring to a workers’ movement lacking a bold revolutionary alternative.
Not surprisingly, a poll conducted in August reveals that Syriza is backed by only 22.2% of voters compared to its nearest competitor, the conservative “New Democracy,” with 21.2%. In the first poll after Tsipras’ resignation, Popular Unity is backed by 8%, well past the 3% barrier for a seat in the parliament. The fascist Golden Dawn party comes in fourth in one poll, with 6%; the neoliberal “socialists” of PASOK and the Stalinist Communist Party (KKE) both received 4.5%.
Realignment in the Greek left
The SYRIZA coalition began in 2004. The dominant political tendency within it has been the reformist “Euro-communist” split-off from the Stalinist KKE. Both Tsipras and the Left Platform’s Lafanzis trace their political origins to that movement.
Several radical left tendencies also operated within Syriza, including Trotskyists, Maoist Stalinists, and anarchists, particularly from Greece’s Occupy movement. A number of these leftists have now joined Popular Unity. The new party has taken 13 radical left groups into membership, two of them being the largest organizations formerly within the anti-capitalist coalition ANTARSYA.
Popular Unity’s public statements indicate that, like Syriza, it will prioritize electoral gain over building mass workers’ movements. Popular Unity says that it wants “a wide, anti-memorandum, progressive front” and that it will present candidates in the upcoming election. In an Aug. 21 blog post, former Left Platform leader Stathis Kouvelakis stated that Popular Unity would “provide an expression to social forces that do not necessarily recognize themselves as part of the left but want to fight austerity,” thus re-opening the door to the political opportunism and unprincipled alliances of Syriza.
Standing outside Syriza and Popular Unity are the forces remaining inside the radical ANTARSYA coalition, such as OKDE-Spartakos, supporters of the Fourth International and co-thinkers of Socialist Action.
ANTARSYA has exposed Syriza’s sellouts and has been very active in mobilizing against the fascist threat and protesting against the memorandum. Seven ANTARSYA members were arrested on July 15 by cops in front of the parliament building in Athens, including at least one from OKDE. Four of the seven were found not guilty, including an OKDE member. The remaining three were sentenced with unprecedented severity, with the maximum probation period of three years.
There can be no solution for Greece under capitalism. Building a revolutionary party in Greece is necessary if the struggle of the workers, the youth, and the specially oppressed is to succeed. Down with the moratorium! Cancel the debt! Long live international solidarity with the Greek struggle!”