Report from Greece; Links on Greece

Links to good pieces on tomorrow’s Yes/No referendum in Greece:

A report about tomorrow’s referendum from our author Mike-Frank Epitropoulos (see his Greece as a Demonstration Project and A Second Demonstration Project for Greece), who is now in Greece:

On the Front Lines of Class Warfare

By Mike-Frank Epitropoulos

I am writing from the epicenter of the global class war which aims to trounce sovereignty, democracy, and all vestiges of the social state and social justice.  These are truly historic times in Greece and the world as we are living the exercise of open political economic battle that is leaving much collateral damage.

Since Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his Syriza party called for a referendum on whether or not to accept further debilitating austerity and increasing, rather than decreasing debt, I have been witness to a “shock and awe” barrage of propaganda from private Greek media outlets (the worst enemies of Greece in my opinion), the opposition parties (especially those from the governments who escorted Greece to this point), and the  Troika — global capital and its neoliberal project.

The fear-mongering, confusion, and terror that has been unleashed on the Greek public and the world is overwhelming to live through.  The ‘YES’ / ‘NO’ referendum on whether or not to accept the Troika’s punitive offer that flatly rejects and disregards the platform upon which Syriza was elected in January has been reframed multiple times — by EU and European Central Bank (ECB) officials, opposition parties, private media demagogues and others.

Add to this the capital controls that were put into place as the ECB cut off cash flows to Greece — another blow from the outside — and we have a situation where multiple interpretations of a YES/NO referendum have led to a tired, confused, but yet resilient population.

It is clear that global capital, and especially European capital did (and does) not want another ‘demonstration effect’ of popular democratic will — the referendum — to take place; and if it is to take place they want Greeks to sign off on an even more savage set of austerity terms — they’ve said it openly!  The IMF has once again taken the position that Greek debt is unsustainable and the program will not work to free Greece from debt peonage.

And yet… the mantra that echoes through the mainstream, private media and the halls of Brussels and the opposition parties of Greece is this:  There Is No Alternative!  (TINA!)

This summer, here, on the island of Karpathos, long known as one of the areas of Greece with the highest repatriation of capital from its diaspora abroad, the class interests are reflected as well, with the wealthier and vested interests speaking in doomsday terms about resisting the Troika and the younger and poorer taking on a more defiant tone since they have less (or nothing) to lose.  What is clear to both camps is that there is no easy way out.

For the first time, I have also heard wealthier, and business people, use the term, “American communists” in referencing President Obama, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Greek diaspora from the US, and anyone from Keynesian persuasion or leftward who dares to be critical of the Euro and its project!  These people are not only apologists for the hardline neoliberal free-marketeers, but they also reject the importance of sovereignty, democracy, autonomy and self-determination.  They claim that those of us who speak of these ideals are out of touch, and that all that matters is cash.  (More than a few have asked me if I’ve heard about the end of history!)

Yet, sovereignty and power is what this demonstration project is all about.  It’s totally a political battle, and that is why I do not have faith in the European Union.

European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, said that his faith in the Greek government had hit “rock bottom” and went on to openly suggest that a technocratic government be appointed to bridge the time between Syriza resigns and new elections could be held to a new Memorandum of austerity and loans done.  This is further proof that the main goals are to prevent democratically-elected governments that do not adhere to free-market orthodoxy from taking power and now — with the referendum — to scar the notion of a tool of democracies — the referendum.  There is clear indication that they don’t want the voice of the people — anywhere — to be heard.

One high school teacher / activist said he gives Angela Merkel credit for saying she and the German government would not negotiate until after the referendum this Sunday (July 5th, 2015), interpreting her decision as some level of respect for the referendum process in Greece.  He also stressed that Greeks of all political persuasions in this referendum have been civil “opponents”, but not “enemies” — and this further highlights the premium on democracy and hearing the will of the people.

From inside Syriza, momentum and optimism characterize the climate.   They are encouraged and emboldened the more people actually debate the issues and become problematized.  This problematization is what has been lacking with previous governments and hard core capitalists.

It’s time for all freedom-loving people to support the Greek people in this class-based battle.  This is ultimately NOT simply a Greek crisis, but a global capitalist crisis and it’s not over yet!

Links on Yanis Varoufakis

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One of the exciting things about the new SYRIZA government in Greece is that the new finance minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a left economist. I am familiar with him because he has been interviewed many times on Behind the News, the radio show of Left Business Observer editor Doug Henwood.

The latest episode of Behind the News compiles clips from five of those interviews, starting with one from 2008 in which he comments on the street demonstrations by students and unions, running through several interviews about the eurozone crisis, and ending (culminating?) in an interview from November in which Varoufakis talks about how SYRIZA should deal with its creditors if it takes power. Two questions and answers from the end of the interview are especially telling and interesting:

Doug Henwood: “Why has it taken so long for some kind of political response to what is now getting to be a fairly old crisis?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “When things go bad and families lose income, their members lose their jobs, it is a natural, I believe, reaction, of people to privatize their concerns and lick their wounds and try to do whatever they can in order to put food on the table. The result is that any radicalism just disappears and what you have is a wave of pessimism that numbs people and causes them to abandon the political–the public–sphere. But that doesn’t last forever, and at some point–especially if there is some hope of stabilization, even at very low levels of economic and social activity–something gives, some spark ignites a fire, especially amongst younger people, who just don’t believe they deserve to live in a world that treats them as fodder. One hopes that young people will at some point say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Doug Henwood: “What would SYRIZA do if it got in power or close to it?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “One word sums it up: negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. … But to negotiate, and be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you are not taken seriously.”

That first stage, when people are “numb,” is when Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine kicks in, I take it (and explains why it took so long for Occupy to happen). I recommend listening to the whole episode (it’s about an hour), and to the interviews the excerpts come from.  But if you want more quotes of some of the best bits, check out the piece in HuffPo with the inflammatory title, Greece’s New Finance Minister: ‘You Have To Be Prepared To Blow The Whole Thing Up’, which seems to have taken the episode as its main source.

There’s been some discussion of Varoufakis on the email list of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG), whose members Ron Baiman and Bill Barclay have blogged here.  That discussion produced more interesting background about Varoufakis, including an interesting blog post by the Australian economist Steve Keen (Steve wrote a piece on debt deflation for our Economic Crisis Reader; Varoufakis taught at Sydney University in the 1980s): My Friend Yanis the Greek Minister of Finance.  And Peter Dorman has a post (Greek Negotiations Begin with a Blast) about SYRIZA’s strategy of not engaging with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU)–the “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” of Doug’s interview, if you listen closely, is with other European governments, not the Troika. Dorman mentions Varoufakis’s background in game theory (though I gather he was mostly a critic of game theory); that is especially interesting given that Varoufakis recently had a consulting position with the video game company Valve Software (as discussed in this episode of Doug’s show).

Another good place to get information about Varoufakis is at his own blog, which is in English, and which he promises to keep posting to even as finance minister.