Report from Greece, plus more links on Greece

Marshall Plan poster(1) When Greece Bailed Out Germany: Via Portside, the image above was the “poster of the week” recently from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, which organizes traveling exhibitions, including Art Against Empire: Graphic Responses to US Interventions Since World War II:

The U.S. inaugurated The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) to rebuild Western Europe and counter the appeal of communism. Named after Secretary of State George Marshall, the plan ran from 1948-1952 and helped rebuild the economies of Western Europe on a capitalist model. In the fall of 1950, the Intra-European Cooperation for a Better Standard of Living Poster Contest was held throughout Europe whereby artists were encouraged to submit posters that captured the spirit and goals of the Marshall Plan with an emphasis on cooperation and economic recovery as the main theme. Over 10,000 pieces were submitted from Artists from over 13 Marshall Plan countries. The entries were submitted to a jury in Paris comprised of museum curators and other artist and scholars, each representing a different Marshall Plan country. They selected twenty-five winning posters, including this one from Sweden.

The flag of Greece, prominently located in the upper right, reminds us of Greece’s supporting role over sixty years ago to aid the economic recovery of Europe, and links to what is happening to Greece now. It is both ironic and criminal that Germany is the primary obstacle against forgiving or reducing Greece’s debt today, yet Greece-which was one of Germany’s creditors-supported reducing Germany’s debt after WWII. Greece was one of the countries that willingly took part in a deal to help create a stable and prosperous western Europe, despite the war crimes that German occupiers had inflicted just a few years before.

When will we ever learn!

For more details and analysis read:

Nick Dearden, The Guardian, Greece and Spain helped postwar Germany recover. Spot the difference.

Harold Myerson, Washington Post, republished at Business Insider, Germany failed to learn from its own history — and now Greece is paying the price.

(2) Report from Greece, from Mike Epitropoulos. For earlier dispatches Mike has written for D&S, see his Greece as a Demonstration Project and A Second Demonstration Project for Greece, and also this report from just before the referendum. He sent this one to us yesterday, after Tsipras had “negotiated” the austerity deal, but before parliament had voted in favor of it:

This Is What Disaster Capitalism Looks Like

I have held off commenting on the goings-on since my last entry because of the intrigue and utter insanity that characterizes the Greek and European political scene since the historic “NO” vote of July 5th, 2015.

We have seen an apparent betrayal of the Syriza program and of the rhetoric of the government’s position.  That is clear.

What we can say is that — under the transparent duress imposed on Greece by the Troika of the EU, ECB, and the IMF — is that, “this is what Disaster Capitalism looks like.”. It it precisely self-determination, sovereignty, and democracy that are under attack.  The interests of lenders, investors and profit are prevailing over the will of the people when it comes to those in positions of power.

It is also the case that Greeks apparently do “fetishize” the Euro and desire it more than they they desire the struggles necessary to regain their sovereignty, even in the face of openly-admitted unsustainable austerity, debt, and memoranda.

All political scenaria are still in play in my view, and ideological class warfare is still ongoing.  It is also clear that — even Keynesians like Krugman, Stiglitz, and others say — that the economics of the Greek case are NOT the issue as much as the POLITICAL ECONOMY is.  It clearly is NOT about economics.  This is bigger than Greece — way bigger.

Even in its apparent “betrayal”, Syriza has exposed and opened further cracks in the undemocratic foundations of the European project and those of an EU that is in clear trouble.

Having said that, I still do not have high hopes for an outright success of Syriza transforming the EU into a democratic institution.  Sovereignty is a secondary issue at best for them, and for too many Greeks, in my opinion.

We must also recognize the geo-political forces and interests directly and indirectly in play in this scenario, involving the West’s interests in the region and vis-a-vis Russia.  These might end up larger variables than meet the eye.

Who — at the end end of the day — are the “extremists”?  The communists?  The Nazis? The anarchists?  Or the capitalist oligarchs?

One thing is clear:  this insanity is what “Disaster Capitalism” — not democracy — looks like!  So, let’s not be too quick to cast the first stone.

(3) Yanis Varoufakis, from his blog, On the Euro Summit’s Statement on Greece: First thoughts.  Also, the Euro-Summit “agreement” annotated by Varoufakis, also from his blog.

(4) Jacob Soll, The New York TimesGermany’s Destructive Anger. Interesting.

(5) Leo Panich, Socialist Project/The Bullet, The Denouement.  I found this useful. But–see this post by Panich criticizing the position on Syriza of Richard Seymour of the blog Lenin’s Tomb, and this response from Seymour.

(6) Christos Laskos, John Milios and Euclid Tsakalotos, via Workers’ Liberty, Communist Dilemmas on the Greek Euro-Crisis: To Exit or Not to Exit?  This piece, which I haven’t read carefully enough, is from 2012, but it is interesting partly because it is co-authored by Euclid Tsakalotos, who replaced Varoufakis as the Greek finance minister.

 

 

 

 

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.)