Greece: Neither “Honorable Compromise” nor “Accidental Rupture”—The Only Way Forward is a Socialist Policy (Part Three)

Today we publish the third part of Stamatis Karagiannopoulos’s article on the situation in Greece. The series was originally published in Greek on the website of the Communist Tendency of Syriza at the end of April this year.

<< Part Two | Part Four >>

Concessions to SYRIZA or “Grexit”? Which do the lenders fear most?

The central idea that accompanied, and still accompanies, the defense of the negotiating tactics of the leadership of SYRIZA is the belief that Germany and the other “partners,” i.e., the lenders, fear the effects of a “Grexit.” The Communist Tendency has never denied the truth of this elementary observation. After all, this was the main reason that led, five years ago, to Greece being the recipient of the largest loan “package” ever granted to a country in modern history.

Indeed, the bankruptcy of Greece and its exit from the euro would be an unpredictable adventure for the European and global economy. It would create large “pressure” on the value of the euro and the lending rates of eurozone countries, sending waves of uncertainty across all continents. The occasional attempts to quantify these effects can never be accurate as a result of the chaotic nature of the globalized capitalist economy.

But the leadership of SYRIZA has also been estimating, and still estimates, that the inclination to avoid a “Grexit” is capable, even at the last moment, of making Germany and the other lenders tolerate the implementation—at least partially—of SYRIZA’s election program. Here lies the mistake in the attitude towards the “negotiations.” The question at this point goes beyond the narrow sphere of economic calculations and passes into the political sphere; thus, in the final analysis, the correlation of forces between the classes at a European and global level is what is decisive. With this in mind, from the lenders’ perspective a “Grexit” would not be worse than making substantial concessions to the demands of a government led by a left party.

Why this is the case? Although a “Grexit” would mean the threat of instability to the global economy, an agreement between the new Greek government and the lenders on the basis of abandoning austerity would also cause a number of negative side effects for the lenders. The example of the negotiating victories of SYRIZA could give rise to the strengthening of European political parties and movements that challenge the dominant bourgeois policies, starting with Podemos. The idea that would be planted in the minds of the European working class could be expressed in the following words: “Since the German ruling class backs down in the face of the demands of the Greek working class and SYRIZA, why should we not pursue the same policy?”

It is also worth noting that the possibility that there is a certain development of these concepts in the minds of the German workers is concerning the German bourgeoisie. We should not forget that the foundation of the authority of German capital in Europe is its ability to impose its sovereignty over the German workers. This authority, in the form of coercion to accept permanent austerity, is imposed using the notion that workers in the European South live in much worse conditions. If the German bourgeoisie appears to make concessions to the “citadel of European austerity,” then it will soon be faced with massive struggles against policies it has imposed within Germany.

The concessions granted to the Greek government to prevent the feared “Grexit,” would thus lead to something more dangerous for the European bourgeoisie. It could alter the balance of class forces across Europe and bolster the position of the Left parties in every European country. This common threat to the ruling class in each nation explains the siding of the rest of the European bourgeois “partners” (Hollande, Renzi, Rajoy, etc.) with the German demands on the Greek government.

Furthermore, the concessions to the SYRIZA government would have significant consequences for the balance of power among the various national bourgeois groups in Europe. Threatened with the rise of the Left in their own countries, the bourgeois governments of Southern Europe would then demand from Germany a general easing of fiscal conditions, in order to preserve their position in power. This would cause turbulence in the relations among the members of EU and Eurozone, with a serious impact on ruling class cohesion.

The political cost therefore of any meaningful concessions to the government would be much greater than the cost of a “Grexit.” But aside from the political cost, the lenders will inevitably take into account another factor that more and more international strategists of capital mention and seem genuinely convinced of. This is the fact that a “Grexit” today is more controlled than in 2010. Indeed, anyone can understand that the risk of the Greek debt is much higher when it is anarchically distributed between so many different private banks, than when, as at present, is concentrated in a coalition of states.

Also very important is the temporary ability to maintain low interest rates for all the heavily indebted eurozone countries, as a result of the “quantitative easing” program implemented by the ECB. The decision to exclude Greece from this program, apart from acting as a means to put pressure on the undisciplined new government, is also a preventive tool for insulating the other eurozone countries from the effects of a potential “Grexit.”

Because of all these factors, the pursuit of concessions on the basis of a strategy which assumes the bourgeois fear of a “Grexit” cannot lead to any meaningful victories for the Greek working class. So what remains of the “negotiation” while the central strategy is collapsing? The main declared goals of SYRIZA, i.e., the abolition of austerity and the Memorandum; the splitting up of the lenders’ front; and the change of the current overwhelming balance of forces against the Greek working people, can never be won with any kind of negotiation. The only way to achieve these goals is via the implementation of a class-based, internationalist, and socialist policy.

What is the alternative to “negotiation”?

What does this mean in practice? The unconfessed social democrats of the SYRIZA leadership accuse us of “hollow leftist slogans.” For every conscious social democrat anything that rings of genuine Marxism is proclaimed ultraleftism, which apparently makes Marx and Lenin the biggest ultraleftists in history . . .

Of course, the demand for a class-based, internationalist, and socialist policy, if left as a simple sentence, is indeed a hollow slogan. The Communist Tendency has described in detail this alternative policy in the program that it submitted before the elections to the Central Committee of Syriza. Here we will limit ourselves to a summary of the most basic points, in comparison with the government’s policy.

On January 25 the working class voted for SYRIZA, in order to set up their own government, which would abolish all the measures imposed in previous years by the lenders in collaboration with the Greek capitalists. But the leadership of SYRIZA, although having spoken in the past about the need for a “class-biased government, in favor of the exploited,” refused to establish such a government. Comrade Tsipras himself, in the first statements after the victory of January 25, started talking about a “government of all Greeks,” and “a government of social salvation,” showing clearly that the leadership wanted openly to establish the new government on the bourgeois logic of class collaboration.

There were two key elements that embodied the bourgeois nature of the new government from the beginning of its term. First, the establishment of a coalition government with the reactionary, bourgeois party of ANEL. Second, the programmatic declarations of the government which, although they were much more radical than subsequent government policy, raised as a political goal—not the challenging of the bourgeois establishment—but its “patriotic” progressive management.

What was the alternative to all these options, from the viewpoint of the working class? The leadership of SYRIZA should have followed the class mandate it received on January 25 and formed a Left, working-class government. Instead of announcing policy statements limited to fighting corruption and to fair management within the framework of the bourgeois establishment, it should have announced a program to transfer economic and political power from the hands of the bourgeoisie to the hands of working people.

These ideas will be dismissed as “Out of date utopias” by the apologists of the SYRIZA leadership. These are the same people who, consistent with their apologetic manner, invoke the excuse, “Unfortunately we have only gained the government, but we don’t have the power!” Of course, no worker can take these people seriously.

From the first moment of the announcement of the governmental alliance with ANEL, the Communist Tendency stressed that cooperation with a bourgeois party is a formal confirmation of the intention to leave untouched the power of the bourgeoisie. Simultaneously it constitutes a barrier towards any possible future radical shift in government policy. Instead of this detrimental cooperation, the leadership should have exhausted every possibility of forming a Left, working-class coalition with the Communist Party, or at least seek from them an agreement to vote for the most important reforms of the Thessaloniki program. If the leadership of the Communist Party had refused, then SYRIZA, following a policy of principles that would be easily understood by the workers, could have asked them to go once more to the polls to help it form a majority government without the political representatives of capital.

The substitution of the necessary class politics for “national,” i.e., bourgeois politics, led the government to a position at home and abroad which was formed not according to what is needed for the benefit of the working class, but for the safeguarding of the stability of Greek capitalism.

Internally, the government has postponed indefinitely any reforms of its pre-election program that are opposed by the bourgeoisie and foreign financiers, while the leadership has been pushing the party and its forces in the labor movement into a state of complete paralysis. With these political choices they contributed to the development of a passive mood among the masses. For this reason, it is really provocative to hear the apologists of the leadership try to explain the current concessions and compromises of the government on the basis that “the people are in no mood for struggle” . . .

Abroad, the acceptance of the need to preserve the fragile stability of Greek capitalism led to the signing of the agreement of February 20 with the lenders. In practice, this was a degrading commitment to abandon the pre-election program without any financial return—at the same time that the government was endeavoring to win over this or that bourgeois “partner” or “ally,” speaking as a representative of the bourgeois “Greek Republic.” It did not attempt a single initiative for a joint action of the labor movements and the Left of the countries of the Eurozone and the EU. This bourgeois-patriotic foreign policy of the government is solely responsible for the current position of full international isolation. The leaders who some time ago swore “class bias” and internationalism today speak and act like bourgeois patriotic politicians. These leaders cannot enjoy the confidence of either the European bourgeoisie, nor, of course, the confidence of the European workers.

Instead of postponing the implementation of the Thessaloniki program indefinitely, the government should not only have started to implement it, but to have complemented it with the necessary radical reforms needed to decisively improve the lives of the working masses and to free them from the blackmail of the creditors. The eradication of the gigantic debt that acts as a parasite on the national income and leads to one austerity program after another; the socialization of the banking system and of the basic means of production and distribution, of infrastructure, of mineral resources, of the transport network; to allow the planning of the economy for the benefit of the people; the widespread introduction of workers’ control in the economy and the state as a shield against corruption and mismanagement; are all key elements of a policy that would realize in practice the abolition of austerity and the Memorandum. At the same time, such a policy would arouse and mobilize the workers and the youth who, instead of the current role of passive spectators in the “Eurogroup,” would play the role of the powerful guarantors of the successful implementation of government policy.

The implementation of such a policy in Greece would have a massive effect abroad, breaking through the international political isolation that the lenders are attempting to impose. The government’s program would become an example for workers who are plagued by the same barbaric capitalist policies, not only in Europe but across the world. That would be the best weapon against the pressure of the lenders, who, instead of powerful besiegers of Greece, would become besieged by the labor movement and youth in their own countries. This siege could be further reinforced by the leadership of SYRIZA, if accompanied by a clear and precise call for international struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and austerity across Europe and the organizing of relevant pan-European and international conferences.

The basis of the pseudorealism of compromise

Why does the leadership of SYRIZA not turn, and realistically does not seem at all willing to turn towards this necessary policy, instead insisting on pursuing an “honorable compromise” through negotiation? This question is not explained just through SYRIZA leadership’s lack of courage and fear of responsibility for a conflict with capitalism. These psychological and moral characteristics are not the cause but the result of two deep-rooted political attitudes of the leadership: a complete lack of trust in the historical role of the working class on the one hand, and an excessive confidence in the nonexistent potential of capitalism to transform itself into a progressive and democratic system, on the other.

The deep crisis, with its brutal austerity and the Memorandum which accompanied it, should have at least shaken the second, fatal kind of confidence long ago. What prevented such a development of political consciousness was the abrupt placing of the SYRIZA leadership into the various offices of the bourgeois state.

SYRIZA, being itself the result of the need for the political representation of the working class, shot very quickly to the top of the opinion polls. Any mood of genuine theoretical reflection on the experience of the crisis and the class struggle was overshadowed prematurely by the need for “preparation” for the management of the bourgeois state. The leaders began to think like potential ministers, parliamentarians, senior government officials, mayors, etc. The inner tendency to careerism was boosted by the influx of politicians experienced in bourgeois management directly to the high positions of the party. These experienced politicians, who were destined for state positions, came mainly from PASOK and the wider field of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.

The rise of SYRIZA to government logically strengthened these processes of political degeneration, while the transient, increased levels of support for the government in the polls fueled the leadership with a convenient but shortsighted perception that people supported the abandonment of radical leftist policies.

So the “realistic” search for a compromise on the part of the leadership is by no means innocent. The workers, the youth, and every single member or supporter of SYRIZA has every reason to mistrust this “realism.” It does not reflect the reality of life and their needs, but political myopia, the motivations and fears of the high-ranking party members who are quickly assimilating the spirit and influences that come with the management of the bourgeois state.

<< Part Two | Part Four >>

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