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Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch: SYRIZA's dilemma

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a swearing-in ceremony this month. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during a swearing-in ceremony this month. Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters.

[The Greece-EU “agreement” has set off debates on the left on why the SYRIZA government "agreed" to such harsh terms and what are the next steps for the left in Greece, and across Europe. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal hopes to contribute to this by providing essential background information, thoughtful comment and presenting the positions of various left organisations.]

By Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch

July 27, 2015 -- Jacobin, posted at Links international Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Think of a plant where the owners of a company have acted harshly and unfairly to their workers while the union leadership has been passive or even complicit in this treatment. Many workers have resisted, downing tools for a few hours and occupying a section of the plant for a few days.

Finally, with a new collective agreement coming up, the workers elect a radical new union leadership team. The negotiations drag on for many months, and ultimately that leadership calls a strike vote that gets an overwhelming show of support.

It returns to the bargaining table expecting that this fresh mandate will change the minds of the employers, and it does — but not as the union had hoped. Rather, the bosses now say: “Well, that’s it; we’re closing the plant. It’s clear that despite all our efforts these past few years, the workers will never be disciplined enough to generate adequate profits.”

Faced with imminent closure and concerned about their members’ jobs, the new union leadership reluctantly signs off on a new collective agreement that includes even harsher language than before. They do not sugarcoat what has happened: “It is a bad agreement, but it kept the plant alive.”

Although the new union leadership remains popular, many members are upset, shout “betrayal”, demonstrate in front of the union office, and demand that the plant be taken over and run by the union.

The union leadership says this is not going to work: leaving aside the likelihood of the police being called in by the owners, there is the problem of cancelled contracts, lack of investment funds to convert the plant for other, more viable uses, and so on.

“All we can do”, they say, “is hang on, hope to get more solidarity support next time from workers in other plants within the company, and work towards collective action across all the plants. We will not sell this agreement as a victory. Instead, we will keep fighting within it, carry forward as many grievances as we can, and work to rule.”

Reality

Analogies are always limited. Greece is, after all, an independent state that notionally controls the fate of its economy. However, what makes the analogy apt is that the radical SYRIZA government was elected in January 2015 based on its promise to try to bargain a better deal than the severe neoliberal austerity imposed through the memoranda signed by previous governments.

At the same time, it promised to remain in the eurozone monetary system, in which Greece’s financial system is embedded, as well as within the framework of the European Union, into which its economy has been integrated. The new government’s election was conditional on its making both these promises simultaneously, and the negotiations it entered into were a test of the compatibility of these two promises, as was the July 5 referendum it called and won so overwhelmingly after five months of fruitless negotiations.

The charges of betrayal being levelled against the SYRIZA leadership today are based on its signing off on the latest very harsh memorandum. But insofar as this memorandum was imposed on the basis of the threat of expelling Greece from the eurozone and leaving its banking system without support, the claim that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras “capitulated” implies that there was a viable alternative centred on an immediate eurozone exit (“Grexit”) that the government could have undertaken.

The political conditions that would make an immediate Grexit viable are not present today. Those who insist that these political conditions were established by the outcome of the referendum are being disingenuous.

The latest poll, conducted by the reputable Palmos Analysis from July 15 to 17, shows that even taking into account the harsh new memorandum, 74 per cent continue to support staying with the euro — and this includes 66 per cent of SYRIZA supporters. At least 42 per cent of those polled after the signing of the new memorandum indicated they would vote for SYRIZA today, a substantial increase over the 36 per cent in the last election. This gives SYRIZA more than a 20 per cent lead over New Democracy, which is in second place, and would yield a clear majority of the parliament’s 165 seats.

Given his massive popularity, Tsipras might, with an enthusiastic campaign, have tried to increase support for exiting the euro, but even getting that to a bare majority would require more than doubling current support for returning to the drachma, which stands at only 24 per cent. Tsipras has always made it very clear that he — and this applies to the majority of the party’s leadership at every level — would only go as far as the Europeans would let him. He was elected on this basis and conducted the referendum on the same basis.

Those who now traduce him for not doing an about-face are now effectively admitting that they should have backed the Greek Communist Party (KKE) or the Antarysa positions all along, rather than enthusiastically backing SYRIZA’s election.

Tsipras’ credibility is based on his insistence — antithetical to a union leader selling concessions as a victory and therefore doing the work of the company — that the deal is bad. He presents it as being forced not just on him but on the Greek people by the troika, above all Germany.

As he put it to the Greek Parliament on July 22:

We have chosen a compromise that forces us to implement a program in which we do not believe, and we will implement it because the alternatives are tough. We are summoned today to legislate under a state of emergency. The presence of the left in this government isn’t about the pursuit of office, it’s a bastion from which to fight for our people’s interests. And as far as I’m concerned, I won’t abandon this bastion, at least of my own free will.

It must also be said that the Left Platform’s advocates for an easy immediate Grexit are not very persuasive. It assumes that existing state institutions could be readily bent to the will of the government, let alone be adequate to carrying out the plan.

And even if the Left Platform’s plan for Grexit was efficiently applied, it would most likely cause severe transitional hardship for a significantly longer period of time than the advocates of the plan say it would. Any serious alternative would need to consider the political consequences of this, especially if it had the effect of alienating SYRIZA’s supporters.

Possibility

Those who — like ourselves — believe that leaving the eurozone will eventually be necessary must acknowledge that this cannot be done immediately. A base for leaving must be developed, and this means taking the time to prepare for exit.

The continuing support for Tsipras suggests that there is time to deal with creating the necessary transformations within the state, and the creative plans that both maintain confidence in the government and allow people to organically learn why they need to move beyond the limits of integration within a neoliberal Europe.

Most of those who now support Tsipras do not propose to simply wait for European institutions to become “better”. They see the struggle in terms of an internationalism based on each country adding to the “little fires” that SYRIZA started and which will lead to changing the European Union. Others see the need for a rupture but want a far more elaborated and extensive plan for an economic transition than the Left Platform has advanced.

The central problem is that even the most detailed plans now being advanced are presented as a set of alternative policies, but in fact amount to demands for an immediate political revolution. They fail to confront whether this is possible given the balance of forces inside Greece, as reflected in mostly unreconstructed institutions of the state itself, as well as by the continuing public preference for staying with the euro. Concrete political analysis, rather than a technical response to a political problem, is what is needed in the present moment.

The best that can be hoped for right now is the development of sharper clarity, even among those in SYRIZA who understand the need for a rupture, and the recognition that this rupture must go beyond simply a rupture with the euro — it must be a rupture with the European Union as a neoliberal free trade and free capital zone.

The Left Platform’s Plan B shrinks from tying these two imperatives together. Moreover, the fact that it is presented as a set of policies that could be readily imposed from the pinnacle of the state reflects what most politicized social movement activists and creative cadre inside the party dislike about the top-down strategic approach of the Left Platform.

As we have argued, a real Plan B would need to be designed with all this in mind, and it would need to include a political plan for improving both the capacities of the party and the government to better contemplate, and successfully lead, such a rupture through both the state and the society.

Constructive pressure on the SYRIZA government should be oriented toward pressing Tsipras to inaugurate this new phase by actively linking the government and the party with the solidarity networks, with the aim of deepening and expanding them in every community in Greece.

The real test for SYRIZA now will be its ability to do this, thereby transcending its current divisions, including accusations of betrayal against the Tsipras government, on the one hand, and attempts to marginalize supporters of the Left Platform, on the other.

Removing the pressure from the Left would certainly undermine a crucial safeguard against the government becoming indistinguishable from mainstream social-democratic governments across Europe. But a far greater proportion of the party than is represented by the Left Platform, and this is true of the parliamentary party and even the cabinet, are determined that this should not happen.

At the same time, no one should see the defeat of the Tsipras government or a split within the party as an “opportunity” for the Left. It would be a disaster that the political right, including the fascists, would primarily benefit from.

The profound issues involved here require the international left to seriously confront the uncharted complexities of any democratic socialist strategy in today’s global neoliberal context. No party of the left that comes into office anywhere today is likely to be as radical as we might like.

What is the responsibility of the socialist left in these concrete circumstances? There will be disappointments; achievements will be partial at best and vulnerable to reversals; and there will be continual, renewed attempts to get them on track again. Ultimately, we know little about how to deal with this situation.

Debates within the left are absolutely essential, but they should be conducted without easy revolutionary posturing, and with appropriate modesty — because no one has easy answers in this difficult and complex moment.

[Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch are the authors of The Making of Global Capitalism.]

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FT: Tsipras faces new challenge from Syriza hardliners

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8d5a24ca-360c-11e5-b05b-b01debd57852.html#axzz3hOqsgqBu

Financial Times       July 29, 2015

Tsipras faces new challenge from Syriza hardliners over Greek bailout

Kerin Hope in Athens

Alexis Tsipras will on Thursday face an unprecedented challenge to his authority, as the central committee of his governing Syriza party meets to discuss the prime minister’s plan to hold a snap election as soon as Greece signs up to a €86bn third bailout.

After abandoning its earlier vows of unity, Left Platform, an anti-bailout faction of the party led by Panayotis Lafazanis, the former energy minister, appeared to be preparing for a showdown that could split Syriza and deprive Mr Tsipras of his parliamentary majority.

The development was a reminder of the threats facing Greece’s prime minister as he tries to finalise a bailout deal with international creditors that is deeply unpopular within his own leftwing party.

Mr Tsipras has so far succeeded at winning parliamentary support for two packages of reforms connected to the bailout even as he has expressed his own misgivings about them. In the process, he appears to have energised Mr Lafazanis, a former Communist party official who has advocated a return to the drachma.

The prime minister is expected to propose an extraordinary party congress for September, provided his government can meet its own tight deadline of August 12 to strike a deal with creditors.

The central committee meeting also coincides with the arrival in Athens of Delia Valesescu, the International Monetary Fund’s new head of mission. The IMF is part of the so-called “quadriga” of bailout monitors that also includes the European Commission, the European Central Bank and, for the first time, the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s own bailout fund.

Earlier this week technical experts from the EU and IMF gained access to the national accounting office at the finance ministry for the first time since Syriza came to power in January, reflecting a more accommodating attitude towards the creditors since Yanis Varoufakis, the combative finance minister, stepped down earlier this month.

Mr Tsipras’s newfound willingness to negotiate tough economic reforms with the deeply unpopular bailout monitors in order to keep Greece in the euro has left Mr Lafazanis sounding disappointed and increasingly angry.

He made a strong speech this week outlining the rebels’ plan for Grexit, saying: “It is time to open within Syriza the forbidden debate on what should be our national currency.”

The Left Platform’s 30 MPs have already shown their mettle by voting against a set of “prior actions” — the conditions set by creditors for opening the negotiations — in two parliamentary votes.

Several Left Platform legislators also backed the controversial plan by Mr Varoufakis, revealed this week, to hack into the independent revenue service’s computer as part of a scheme to set up a parallel payments system in case Greece was forced out of the euro.

Mr Varoufakis now faces possible judicial action over the hacking claims after a supreme court prosecutor referred several lawsuits brought by private citizens to parliament, which could vote on lifting the former finance minister’s immunity from prosecution.

He is also thought to be enthusiastic about staging an early election under a special regulation that would allow party leaders to choose the full list of parliamentary candidates.Under attack from the left, Mr Tsipras has been forced to seek support from Greece’s pro-European opposition parties to win approval for the measures.

In spite of the discontent within his party, the premier’s approval rating is still above 60 per cent; meanwhile, Syriza holds a 15 to 20-point lead over the centre-right New Democracy party, according to pollsters.

But that could quickly change as the impact of new taxes begins to be felt later in the year, among them a revived property tax credited with bringing down the New Democracy government at the January election, which Mr Tsipras pledged to abolish while in opposition.

A battle looms at Thursday’s Syriza meeting over Mr Lafazanis’s expected counterproposal, which appears to be aimed at undermining the bailout talks before they gain momentum.

Rather than hold a congress dominated by new, younger delegates loyal to Mr Tsipras, Mr Lafazanis and his supporters want to revive an existing “continuous congress” over which it holds a strong influence, and if that fails to win approval, hold a referendum of Syriza members to decide whether the negotiations should proceed.

The central committee, which was approved by the “continuous congress”, has already voted by a narrow majority of 109 out of its 201 members to condemn the new bailout as “humiliating and destructive for the Greek people.”

It was enough to send shockwaves through Mr Tsipras’s supporters in the party.

“This all began with some defections by dissatisfied leftwing ideologues who didn’t accept that being in power meant making compromises but it’s grown into a full-scale rebellion with potentially damaging consequences for the government’s stability,” said one member of Mr Tsipras’s faction.

Tsipras: ‘thus far and no further’

http://www.gulf-times.com/uk-europe/183/details/449286/tsipras,-hounded-by-the-left,-vows-%E2%80%98thus-far-and-no-further%E2%80%99

Gulf Times       30 July 2015
Tsipras, hounded by the left, vows ‘thus far and no further’
 
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, struggling to contain a revolt in his left-wing Syriza party, said yesterday that his government would not implement reform measures beyond those agreed with lenders at a euro zone summit this month.
 
sipras faces a tough Syriza central committee session today with many activists angered by his acceptance of bailout terms more stringent than those voters rejected in a July 5 referendum.

In a clear warning to party rebels, Tsipras said he could be forced to call early elections if he no longer had a parliamentary majority, and suggested an emergency party congress could be held in early September.

At the same time, Tsipras is under pressure from Greece’s creditors to go beyond the two packages of so-called prior actions passed by parliament and include unpopular steps to curb early retirement and tax breaks for farmers, EU sources say.

“I know well the framework of the deal we signed at the euro zone summit on July 12,” he told Sto Kokkino radio. “We will implement these commitments, irrespective of whether we agree with it or not. Nothing beyond that.”

With Greece close to the financial abyss last month, the government closed the country’s banks for three weeks under a capital controls regime, and Tsipras was later forced to make the major concessions on reform and austerity in order to open negotiations on a third bailout worth up to 86 billion euros.

A European Commission spokeswoman declined to say what additional measures were expected of Athens before the conclusion of the new bailout, although she said earlier this week that more reforms were due before the first aid is disbursed.

Tsipras said Greece’s primary budget balance before debt service would break even at best or show a deficit this year, depending on a financial situation that has deteriorated sharply since the imposition of capital controls on June 28.
The terms for launching the bailout talks that began this week did not include specific fiscal targets but Athens had previously been expected to achieve a primary surplus equivalent to 1 percent of annual Greek economic output this year and 2 percent in 2016.

Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine reported that the creditors were willing to allow a gentler fiscal path taking account of Greece’s return to recession, provided Athens pursued economic and administrative reforms more energetically.
With the banking squeeze easing, the European Central Bank kept its cap on emergency funding for Greek banks unchanged yesterday after Athens did not request another increase, a source familiar with the decision said.

The stock market remained closed because authorities are still waiting for a ministerial decree needed to resume trading after a nearly five-week shutdown, a senior official at the Greek securities regulator said.

The Athens Stock Exchange has been shut since June 29 after the government closed the banks and imposed the capital controls to stop a run on deposits by savers and companies.

European Commission spokeswoman Nina Andreeva, keen not to add to Tsipras’s domestic problems, praised the conduct of the bailout talks so far, brushing aside talk of issues over security and access.

“We are satisfied with the smooth and constructive cooperation with the Greek authorities and that should now allow us to progress as swiftly as possible,” she told reporters.

Intensive preparatory talks with officials from the Commission, the ECB, the International Monetary Fund and the euro zone’s rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, began on Monday. The creditors’ Athens mission chiefs are due to start negotiations with Greek ministers later this week.

Andreeva played down critical comments by Tsipras on the bailout made to his domestic audience, saying the commitments made at the summit were being carried out as foreseen.

Tsipras faces an uncertain vote in the 200 member Syriza central committee with sacked former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis leading a leftist faction that rejected the July 13 deal and is demanding a tougher line with the creditors.

Compounding his problems, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis continues to pour abuse on the agreement in daily media interviews and articles, accusing the creditors of trampling on Greek sovereignty and justifying his own secret planning while in office to set up an alternative currency.

“It was a financial war,” Varoufakis told Germany’s Stern magazine in an interview released on Wednesday. “Today you don’t need tanks to beat someone. You’ve got your banks.”

European Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici laughed off Varoufakis’s disclosures about a “Plan B” he had developed with a covert five-member unit that would have involved hacking into citizens’ tax codes to create a parallel payments system.

“This is perhaps something for domestic politics. It’s a career plan, a Plan C for Mr Varoufakis,” Moscovici told France’s Europe 1 radio. “Everything done in a dilettante way is an absurdity.”

A prosecutor has launched an investigation into whether any laws were violated after former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis revealed plans to hack into tax codes and create a parallel payment system, court officials said yesterday.
The probe will not focus on Varoufakis himself, since Greek courts can only investigate those who are not ministers or lawmakers, who enjoy parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

Instead it will look into media reports on the plan to see whether any crimes like violation of personal data protection and breach of duty were committed. A group of lawywers filed a lawsuit this week.

Varoufakis this week confirmed he assembled a small team to prepare a parallel payment system as part of a so-called “Plan B” in case Greece was forced to leave the euro zone, prompting shock and outrage from opposition lawmakers who have demanded an inquiry into the matter.

Two separate lawsuits filed against Varoufakis over the case have been transferred to parliament who will decide whether he needs to be investigated. As things stand, he cannot be prosecuted because the immunity rule covers any crime that might have been committed during his term at the finance ministry. Varoufakis, who has denied any wrongdoing, said that this was an effort to hurt the government.

“Their aim is to register the January-July period as a “great” mistake or even “better” to criminalise the five-month tough negotiations by the government of the Left,” said a statement issued by his office.

One of the suits was filed by the mayor of a Greek town who attacked Varoufakis’ personal style, accusing him of “exceptionally unfriendly” behaviour and exposing Greece to hostility from euro zone partners.

The government served notice yesterday that prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s promised crackdown on tax evasion is now under way, a week after sweeping increases in value-added tax were imposed.

“We will start in the expensive destinations, the luxurious hotels and we will go even to the smallest taverna,” deputy finance minister Trifon Alexiadis told reporters, outlining the government’s summer plans for cracking down on evasion.
Spot checks by the ministry’s financial crimes squad over the past weekend turned up tax violations by almost one in four businesses, he said.

Budget cuts have left the debt-stricken country’s financial crimes unit short-staffed, but extra inspectors will be drafted in from other departments to help with the audit push, Alexiadis said. Offices that handle public enquiries will also be closed periodically so staff can concentrate on anti-evasion work.

In a recent report on Greece, the International Monetary Fund said that while debt collection was improving, tax evasion remained rampant among the rich and the self-employed.

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