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.)

 

Greece and TINA: Syriza Igniting Debates

Margaret Thatcher coined the radical neo-liberal slogan/mantra, “There Is No Alternative”—what most of us know as, “TINA.” Naomi Klein brilliantly developed the history and use of TINA in both theory and practice in her bestseller, The Shock Doctrine. TINA has been the driving force of the Troika, the EU and the US (to varying degrees) in dictating, justifying and implementing austerity, privatization drives, and most importantly—the deconstruction of anything “democratic.”   In the US, we have witnessed the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision and, in Greece and the other debt-plagued EU nations (the “PIIGS”), anti-people memoranda and teams of Troika “administrators” have stripped autonomy from citizens.

Over the past five years, since the New Democracy (ND)-PASOK coalition ruled as the Troika’s go-between in Greece, that government and the media elite in Greece constantly claimed that the main reason their austerity programs hadn’t worked was that parties and groups—like newly-elected Syriza—disagreed and “wouldn’t go along.”   The “nay-sayers” were the problem, and the country needed to maneuver “with one voice”—their voice.

This same theme reared its ugly head yesterday in the Hellenic Parliament as Syriza wound up its three-day presentation of its political program, as the ND and PASOK opposition warned that, “Greece must go to into negotiations with one voice.” The problem is that this is symptomatic of the larger problems that Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is pointing out (among other things): in democracies, people disagree.   And to even passive observers, that was on display when Varoufakis met with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, when they parted, and Varoufakis stressed that they, “…didn’t even agree to disagree.”

Syriza, and Greece, disagree. They disagree with the continuation of the inhuman pain and suffering being inflicted on the Greek people who didn’t make the decision to enter into those deals, and who didn’t pay Goldman Sachs to cook the books to allow Greece’s fraudulent entry into the Eurozone.

As my good friend, and long-time Syriza international relations point man, Panos Trigazis, pointed out in his 2010 book, TINA Is Dead, there are alternatives, and they are being placed squarely and plainly on the Troika’s and the world’s table.   Whether or not they will succeed is another matter completely. The spark has been struck—in Greece, in Spain, across Europe—and the world has taken notice.

As part of their negotiating strategy and their domestic political strategy, Syriza is clearly not putting all of their cards on the table. Who would?

Critics are crying that Syriza’s stance on ending austerity is threatening the annihilation of the EU. Good! We have been witnessing a regime that nakedly puts banks and creditors ahead of people—and they want to call it, “democracy!” That won’t wash anymore, because TINA is Dead!

In Germany some are mocking and warning that the “Greek Dream” could turn into an EU nightmare. Good! Let the technocrats tremble or up the ante. This is not a card game, however. This is a fight for self-determination, self-respect and dignity for the Greek people.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos teaches Sociology and is the Director of the Pitt in Greece and Pitt in Cyprus programs at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent three years teaching in both private and public-sector higher education in Greece before returning to the United States in 2007.