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 SYRIZA-Eurogroup Agreement

Boston--"Caution--Falling Ice!" signsLinks on Greece:  Now that the Syriza government has reached an agreement with the powers that be in Europe to extend its bailout for four months, there seems to be a lot of disagreement about how to assess it, even among commentators and sources that I trust. Most people seem to think the outcome is bad for Syriza and Greece, but some people think the jury is still out and the agreement may give Syriza some breathing room to make more headway later; others think it’s bad but Syriza was forced or even blackmailed into it; others blame Syriza’s strategy and call for it to admit failure and try a new strategy; others speak of betrayal or capitulation by Syriza. (At least none of my left trusted commentators are praising the Troika (now renamed “the Institutions”), which would really leave my head spinning!) Here is a list of links, with minimal annotation from me–I will let readers sort it out.

John Cassidy, The New Yorker, Greece Got Outmanoeuvered. His position is that Greece was outmaneuvered, did a “U-turn” in exchange for little. “In retrospect, it is clear that Tsipras and Varoufakis overplayed their hand.” But “the game isn’t over yet” because it’s just an interim agreement.

Costas Efimeros, The Press Project, “Europe trashed democracy”. The title is taken from a question that Paul Mason of Britain’s Channel 4, asked of Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup: “”What do you say to the Greek people, whose democracy you’ve just trashed?” This is a bit old–from Sunday–but it cites an anonymous Greek official as saying that “the Greek delegation were yesterday subject to outright blackmail” (the quote is of Efimeros, not the anonymous official).

Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism, ECB and IMF to Greece: No Escaping the Austerity Hair Shirt. The latest of her posts since 2/20 arguing that Syriza caved and Greece is screwed.  What really puzzles me is the commenters to this post who are comparing Syriza’s leadership with Obama’s betrayals (prompted by Yves remark that Syriza’s slogan “Hope Is Coming” is a “subconscious echo” of Obama’s “Hope and Change”). This strikes me as ultra-leftism.

Manolis Glezos, MR Zine, Before It Is Too Late.  A short statement by a Syriza member of the European Parliament; apology to the Greek people and call for Syriza supports to fight back against the Troika and Memoranda.

Stahis Kouvelakis, Jacobin, The Alternative in Greece. The “alternative” in the title is explained (sort of) in a section subtitled “How to Avert Total Defeat”:  it is to be “honest” and admit that the party’s strategy failed (“to present a defeat as a success is perhaps worse than the defeat itself.”). Cites the Glezos apology approvingly; very critical of the Syriza strategy. More from him at the website of his publisher, Verso.  One of the pieces at his author page at Verso says that the Syriza leadership was “trapped by its mistaken strategy: though I wouldn’t say it was a ‘betrayal’ or ‘capitulation’, since these are moralising terms that are of very little use for understanding political processes.” But calling for them to be “honest” isn’t moralizing, mind you.

Richard Seymour, Lenin’s Tomb, Syriza’s mauling at the EU negotiations. Another dismal view of the agreement; Seymour calls Tsipras’s account of the agreement “deluded.” A sample: “Tsipras said that the deal creates the framework for Syriza to address the humanitarian crisis.  Not with the commitment to a primary surplus and troika oversight, it doesn’t.”

William Blum, Counterpunch, The Greek Tragedy. Very interesting short piece (hat-tip Mike-Frank Epitropoulos) reviewing the history of post-WWII crushing of the Greek left (with British and American and CIA complicity and help), concluding that the Syriza negotiators may not have known what they were up against, and that: “Greece may have no choice, eventually, but to default on its debts and leave the Eurozone. The hunger and unemployment of the Greek people may leave them no alternative.”

Now for the more positive assessments:

Étienne Balibar and Sandro Mezzadra, Verso website, Syriza Wins Time—and Space. Rejoinder to the doubters. They speak of the formidable barriers that popular movements against austerity and this one left government face; “It would be naïve to imagine that the Greek government could break down these barriers all by itself.”

Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Greek Bailout Extension Deal Represents a “Significant Retreat” by the European Authorities, CEPR Co-Director Says. This is a press release from 2/20 quoting Weisbrot, who took a much more positive view of the deal (or at least did on Friday–he may have changed his view since Monday or Tuesday).

James K. Galbraith, Social Europe, Reading the Greek Deal Correctly. Galbraith is friends with Varoufakis, who at some point taught at UT Austin where Galbraith teaches, and has been acting as an advisor to the new Greek government during the negotiations, which gives him some credibility (though maybe critics would say he’s over-invested in the same bad strategy). His reading of the deal hinges on the wording of the deal. For example:

[T]here was the lovely word “arrangement” – which the Greek team spotted in a draft communiqué offered by Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Monday afternoon and proceeded to deploy with abandon. The Friday document is a masterpiece in this respect:

“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. The Greek authorities will present a first list of reform measures, based on the current arrangement, by the end of Monday February 23. The institutions will provide a first view whether this is sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point for a successful conclusion of the review.”

If you think you can find an unwavering commitment to the exact terms and conditions of the “current programme” in that language, good luck to you. It isn’t there. So, no, the troika can’t come to Athens and complain about the rehiring of cleaning ladies.

Again, this was from right after the agreement was signed on Friday, but before the reform measures were submitted on Monday (Varoufakis got them in on Sunday, actually). So I wonder what he would say now.

Two interviews from the Real News Network that I haven’t watched yet, but look like they are more positive toward the agreement (and by economists whose views I trust):

Michael Hudson, Real News Network, European Banks vs. Greek Labour
Heiner Flassbeck, Real News Network, Greece Eurozone Deal a Setback or Tactical Win for Syriza?

Finally, I finally got around to reading the piece from a while ago by Varoufakis, reprinted more recently in the Guardian, How I Became an Erratic Marxist (hat-tip to TM and JFS). Not an easy read, in more ways than one: it’s pretty theoretical, and it’s depressing. He is explaining why he thinks it’s more important to save European capitalism vs. letting it crumble in the hopes that socialism will emerge from the rubble. He thinks (roughly) that the left is so weak that the right would seize power if European capitalism fails. So that goes a long way toward explaining why he seems to reject the so-called “Grexit” out of hand and doesn’t want Greece to act unilaterally.

(Note: This post’s “possibly irrelevant image” is of the falling ice signs that have proliferated all over downtown Boston (they are there every winter, but there are so many more this year). I understand what I’m supposed to do when I see a “Caution–Wet Floor” sign, but what am I supposed to do when I see a “Caution–Falling Ice” sign? Reader suggestions are welcome.  And if anyone can figure out a way that the image is relevant to the post, I’d love to hear that, too.)