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Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 1139
July 12, 2015

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Requiem at an Empty Grave?
Syriza's Momentous Day

Leo Panitch

Did those who are already raising Lenin from his tomb to render quick judgement on Syriza's abject “world-historic defeat” (without saying much about what victory would look like or require) actually bother to read the rather similar plans that Syriza put forward before the referendum and that were consistently rejected by the EU and IMF “Institutions”? This rejection is what the referendum was about. The resounding OXI was then used by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to secure the resignation of the leading political representative of the domestic ruling class (and former Prime Minister), Antonis Samaras, and to get all the party leaders with any such claim or ambitions to speak for that class to adopt Syriza's position on the need for debt restructuring and investment funds. One might even say that if there was a class crossover involved here it was the other way around, one that looks more like what Gramsci meant by a hegemonic strategy rather than the way it is presented from the perspective of those standing on Lenin's Tomb.

[Mike Constable]

The virtually same formulations in Syriza's plans that were just yesterday called intransigence by mainstream media in Greece and aped by the media abroad are now presented as capitulation in order to disguise the significance of this. This is not surprising but what is surprising is the immediate acceptance of this capitulation interpretation by so much of the Western radical left from whom one might have expected a rather more sophisticated reading and less quick rush to negative judgement. Of course, the latter view is shared by many on the radical left here in Greece, including those Syriza MPs who opposed or abstained on the vote in the Greek parliament. But in doing this, they only raise the question of whether the Antarsya strategy of Grexit (which obtained less than 1 per cent of the vote in January) is any more viable today than it was then.

Deal or No Deal?

The real situation is this, as we await the outcome of what will in fact be a momentous day. If there is in fact some significant debt restructuring and investment funds in a deal today and this is not effectively tied to further conditionality, this would offset many times over the four year $12-billion plan for fiscal surpluses in the plan just passed by the Greek parliament. Of course, even if this is the effective outcome of this weekend's final maneouvres, this will require some political sophistication to discern, since it will be concealed somewhat so that other European leaders can disguise this from their electorates, whose attitudes the Northern and Central European labour movements have done little or nothing to change. Tsipras would need to explain this well to get people to understand the significance of the victory he – and they with their support in the referendum – would have pulled off.

It will not be a “world historic” victory, for those who like such language, since it will still involve tying the revival of the Greek economy to the fate of what remains a very much capitalist Europe, but this would not mean that the Syriza government would exclude itself from the continuing struggle to challenge and change that. On the other hand, if Tsipras walks away today accepting the same conditionalities as before to debt restructuring, and without any guaranteed investment funds on top of this, then it will indeed be interesting to see where Lenin will take us once he is let out of his tomb, and sees that he faces yet again the sad fact that a break in the weakest link could not break the stronger links of the labour movements in Central and Northern Europe to both domestic and global capitalism. •

Leo Panitch is editor of the Socialist Register and distinguished research professor at York University, Canada. He is co-author, with Sam Gindin, of The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (Verso). He is currently in Athens, Greece.


#16 Anonymous 2015-07-14 18:40 EST
"Lazy Greeks" rubbish
@ alternate reality: It's one thing to have to read the torrent of chauvinist bigotry in mainstream venues, it's another to have to put up with it on a leftist site.

The rubbish about "Lazy Greeks" is pumped out for world consumption by the German Right wing. It their propaganda designed to protect their banks bailed out by their government after those banks IRRESPONSIBLY lent to the previous (and definitely corrupt, but nothing particularly "Greek" about that) governments. As with the Wall Street banks in 2008 and TARP. According to this right wing propaganda, the collapse of Wall Street finance was the fault of "deadbeat working class homeowners" borrowing beyond their means. That provided a convenient ideological cover for the banksters as they ran whining to Uncle Sugar for a handout. The propaganda is all to cover up who are the real "welfare moochers" and "deadbeats" here: The capitalist banksters!

Ever apply for a home mortgage? Notice who is RESPONSIBLE for checking out the financial viability of the transaction? It is the MORTGAGE BANK. Think about it for a minute: Who is supposed to be "professional" at finance in these transactions, the bank or the random individual who applies for a loan? I think the answer is clear.

And that means that if the banks have over-lent, they were doing so DELIBERATELY and not out of financial ignorance. This is called a crime, and that is why they are properly known as "banksters". But of course, no one at least in the U.S. has been held criminally culpable!

Now a state is not an individual, true, but a state is not a bank, either. A bank is permanently in the finance business for one thing: to make a profit. A state is not "in business" at all, but is politically responsible for the welfare of its citizens, formally speaking.

Finally I hate to use the "H" word indiscriminately, but this is the German Right we are speaking of, after all, and is quite apropos. The whole "Germans are efficient", "Greeks are lazy" , (add stereotypes here) stinks of a present-day watered down version of the old Nazi ethno/race hierarchy they had planned in intricate detail for their future Thousand Year Reich.

It stinks to the high heavens. It is not a stench you want to have on your person. Especially around here.

#15 Brad 2015-07-14 18:03 EST
On the Euro Summit’s Statement on Greece: First thoughts
We need only listen to the horse's mouth:

#14 Jara Handala 2015-07-13 09:48 EST
Addendum: the 30 June Tsipras letter calling for a 'yes' vote
Re my point #1, not as tired as the negotiators, but I couldn't find this last night, the link to the Tsipras letter accepting the Troika's final offer, the letter Schäuble couldn't even be bothered to read, the letter that showed the Tsipras faction was effectively calling for a 'yes' vote in the referendum:

As Peter Spiegel (FT) put it the next day, 1 July: "Alexis Tsipras will accept all his bailout creditors’ conditions that were on the table this weekend with only a handful of minor changes, according to a letter the Greek prime minister sent late Tuesday night."

And in Tsipras' own words: "The Hellenic Republic is prepared to accept this Staff Level Agreement subject to the following amendments, additions or clarifications [. . .] our amendments are concrete and they fully respect the robustness and credibility of the design of the overall program."

#13 Jara Handala 2015-07-13 08:18 EST
SYRIZA always lacked the means - but never fessed up
This process is fast-moving but unfortunately readers haven't been given the time of either when this was written or posted; hopefully the editors of the site can provide that info. One assumes it was posted Sunday morning (EDT), 12 July, having been written (Greek time, where Leo is) late Saturday or Sunday breakfast time. (Hereafter times are GMT.)

As of early Monday morning it's obvious the Greek government is being butchered: as Paul Harris put it, "Germany refuses to accept Greece's surrender" (19h36, Sunday). So what facts were available to Leo when he wrote his piece, facts he chose not to draw upon in painting his picture?

1) Having called for a 'no' vote, three days later the government effectively called for a 'yes' vote by accepting the Troika's offer (17h00GMT, Tuesday, 30 June). I say 'effectively' because they quibbled on the VAT concession for the islands & some less important matters. As has been established now (New York Times, 2 July), the puzzling absence of any reference to debt restructuring was because it was precisely this that had antagonised the European parts of the Troika so much in the previous week; so best to cave in, & be a good boy. But it was a stunning turn, & a capitulation whether you like it or not. But does Leo mention this? No. Silence.

2) Instead we get the immediate post-referendum assessment that Tsipras had pulled a masterstroke, causing Samaras to quit as New Democracy leader, and getting the opposition parties to adopt SYRIZA's position: "if there was a class crossover involved here it was the other way around, one that looks more like what Gramsci meant by a hegemonic strategy". So what's the strategic content here? And what leadership is being provided, and to what putative effect? And how is "adopt[ing] Syriza's position on the need for debt restructuring and investment funds" anti-capitalist, an alleged example of "class crossover"? They're just requisites for some meaningful capital accumulation in today's Greece: they're capitalist measures through & through. It wasn't even framed by the Tsipras faction as a need for capitalist modernisation, to challenge the social prominence of Greece's oligarchs. No, the common statement by the parties was the typical organisation of the politics of the moment in a nationalised form, one submerging the class dynamics that created and sustain those politics & the economic demise of capital in Greece. Nothing more, nothing less. The popular front lives on. (And why the poor Sardinian always gets roped in whenever leadership is invoked I'll never know.)

3) The meaning of the start of Leo's second paragraph is not clear at all: "[t]he virtually same formulations in Syriza's plans that were just yesterday called intransigence by mainstream media in Greece and aped by the media abroad are now presented as capitulation in order to disguise the significance of this" - the significance of the Friday, 10 July, Greek proposal being dogged "intransigence"? Given the implausibility of this is the "yesterday" simply metaphoric? It's a pity the meaning is not clear here, not least because the author thinks he's making an important point.

The obvious question is, why on earth would anyone call it capitulation if it wasn't? The rabid ultraleftists at the Guardian saw it as it was: "Greece has put forward a plan of reforms, spending cuts and tax rises that is close to what was demanded by its creditors before Alexis Tsipras called last Sunday’s referendum" (Guardian, 00h15 Saturday, 11 July)". So it was consistent with the 30 June acceptance of the Troika's offer. Readers can judge for themselves: (the 10-sectioned proposals are at the end; in the new world of the SYRIZA austerians, with health & safety de-regulated, the knife was not cleaned after each cut)

4) "If there is in fact some significant debt restructuring and investment funds in a deal today and this is not effectively tied to further conditionality, this would offset many times over the four year $12-billion plan for fiscal surpluses in the plan just passed by the Greek parliament." Leo is no spring chicken. He's been around the block. Yet he speaks of "[i]f [. . .] this is not effectively tied to further conditionality". Where has he been since the IMF started this SAPs industry forty years ago? Has he been ensconced all that time in Varoufakis' island holiday home?

So what about the €35bn investment programme that was dangled as bait by Juncker a few days before the 30 June deadline? "The cash on offer is not an ad hoc investment but is actually an EU grant that is regularly available to all member states. And, as Süddeutsche Zeitung points out, accessing the cash requires a 15% co-financing in Greece’s case, which it cannot afford. Because of this, *Greece has unspent sums from its €38bn 2007-2013 pot of available grants*" (Guardian, 30 June, my emphasis).

5) In his next sentence we get the most absurd contortion: "Of course, even if this [debt restructuring & investments] is the effective outcome of this weekend's final maneouvres, this will require some political sophistication to discern, since it will be concealed somewhat so that other European leaders can disguise this from their electorates". Sure. Only the best-educated in "political sophistication" could possibly "discern" the golden egg when what they see is a virgin-white goose soaked in blood. Besides investment matching, restructuring debt is also public policy: the Troika statement November 2012. Concealment would be counter-productive as the two measures show how magnanimous & Beethoven-Eroica the EU remains towards those profligate and irresponsible Greeks.

Leo's follow-on point is so breathtaking it stands best alone, stark in its naivety: "Tsipras would need to explain this well to get people to understand the significance of the victory he – and they with their support in the referendum – would have pulled off."

6) The final paragraph starts by talking about "the revival of the Greek economy". As I wrote at the time elsewhere, the 20 February agreement saw all such aspirations dropped by the Greek negotiating team:
"What is totally missing from the framework agreed last Friday are these concepts proposed by Varoufakis: humanitarian crisis; model of Greek growth; a state-created development bank; debt sustainability. Instead the persistent focus remains: repay the debt, in full. The troika is much less interested in growing the Greek economy; as the Eurogroup statement has it, all must be done 'on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement'."

7) "[T]ying the revival of the Greek economy to the fate of what remains a very much capitalist Europe, but this would not mean that the Syriza government would exclude itself from the continuing struggle to challenge and change that". And it is true the Tsipras faction has been involved all this time in a continuing struggle, offering in their 20 February agreement & 30 June proposals privatisations & reducing what welfare state is left in Greece, all this carried through into Friday's proposals, which include "ensuring a declining path of the wage bill relative to GDP until 2019" in the public sector. That's stuggling, but that's engaging in class struggle having crossed class lines; that's struggling on behalf of capital & their managers against Greek workers & their allies. Privatisations, welfare cuts, wage cuts. Leo knows that's true. Why doesn't he say it?

8) The key to SYRIZA's adventure in government is that within their horizon of what was possible they have always lacked the means to carry out their electoral promises. Stay in the EU, stay in the euro, & no austerity (the Triangle) was only possible if the Troika wanted it to happen. If any anti-capitalist or any re-distributive measures were to be introduced then it would only be with the Troika's agreement - as if they would. SYRIZA could never do it on its own. The January election was an exercise in mutual delusion: the well-educated SYRIZA prominents promoted belief in the Triangle, & the 23% of the electorate who voted for the party lived the daydream of relief from the Troika.

The Greek negotiators proceeded to put their arguments to the Troika. And that's the point: all Greece has had, in its Tsipras faction-led form, is words. The money they want sits elsewhere. And if Greece was to continue signing up to extend-&-pretend then it would only be under conditions imposed unilaterally by the Troika. No ifs, no buts.

9) The German black bloc is intent on destroying the possibility of any anti-austerity political party winning an election in Europe. It is ruthlessly practising class politics - something SYRIZA has failed to do. And the butchering of the Aegean lamb is the result. But it's worse than that: SYRIZA has been transformed by the German black bloc into the butcher, carrying out the blood-letting of Greeks. SYRIZA has become the new austerians. Not just that: austerians the likes of which Greeks have never known. Time will tell what damage these 'leftists' have done to the denuded hope that is pervasive today, the hope of a less painful life under the rule of capital.

One can conclude, this was not Leo's finest piece.

#12 Paul Zarembka 2015-07-13 07:51 EST
Syriza leaderships lets Greece become a vassal state
Tsipras claims he has no mandate to leave the Euro zone. But that goes double for what he has agreed to in the early morning hours today! He ran for office against austerity and he has a referendum against it. He ran for office to restore Greek control of its economy.

The honorable thing to have done would be to resign. But he hasn't and won't. He turns Greece into a vassal state.

I can only hope that enough Syriza MPs come to their senses very quickly so that such a formation for the future remains, not only for Greece but for the serious left generally.

#11 Richard 2015-07-13 04:29 EST
this is a coup
Leo, come on... no need to bring Lenin in here... please leave him out of this...even the likes of Krugman have it more spot on...? Re: the hashtag "this is a coup"...

#10 BBBb 2015-07-12 18:49 EST
Articulating the fine points of economic theory is just "OK" for an academic. It does not reflect an understanding of the requirements for a working economy.

Greece is a beautiful pile of rock. The population size has exceeded the capacity of the agricultural base. Shipping, the mainstay of the post WWII recovery is in decline. Mining, lumber and fish are almost non-existent. Tourism has been in decline as a consequence of the world economic crisis.

The academics have exquisitely detailed descriptions of the negative effects of Greek Politics, starting with the monarchist, capitalist, post WWII anti-communist crusade. The resultant political corruption and inefficiencies, through to the current era are described as well. The resultant debt, 118% of GDP and military expenditures are inequitably transferred to the people-at-large.

The WWII partisans, led by the Communist Party were abandoned by Stalin, possibly at Yalta. Their valiant efforts during the war pointed to a Socialist Greece in the immediate post war period. They were left to battle the right wing forces without help from the outside. Their adversaries were reinforced by the church, monarchists and capital, world wide.

SYRIZA won the vote by appealing to the populace with a clear description of the problems. They WILL fail. They have not the capacity to solve the basic problems. They are already making devastating compromises with the Eurozone over the debt. The Greek right wing could not propose a more severe austerity, which leaves us with the question,



#9 peter 2015-07-12 18:02 EST
the rotting horse of post-marxist left
Leo's points are rubbish. Instead of aping the bourgeois complicity of Syriza's leadership, he should be presenting the correct analysis (namely: exit, bank nationalization, capital controls, socialist planning, mass mobilization) and supporting those in Greece who are working for it.

#8 Tom 2015-07-12 17:25 EST
The Left
For a long time now the left has perfected the ability of seeing sucess where abject defeat has occurred. Leo Panitch's views on the Greek situation is just another example of this phenomena. The Left history over the last 1/2 century has been abysmal and resulted in defeat after defeat resulting in dispair. If we don't see ourselves as pathetic we will continue to lose and hold no promise to those who we seek to defend and lead.

#7 alternate reality 2015-07-12 15:13 EST
it all began in what?
I've seen much commentary here about the current state of affairs but hardly anything of note covering the origins of the crisis. That would be quite helpful for understanding all the rhetoric that we hear.

For example, how much responsibility does Greece itself bear for the fraud that was committed to have it enter the Eurozone? The Greek state, and, by extension Greeks, for many years prior to the crisis were living above their collective means because of excessive borrowing and creative financing.

A company that borrowed too much ought to be allowed to collapse. Because of the scope of the collective misery that would be caused by a collapse we can't allow that to happen to an entire nation. However, at the same time we can't absolve people from complicity in or responsibility for the past when they profited from the undesirable activity in the past.

Ultimately all members of the Eurozone have paid a dear price for allowing nations like Greece,Italy Spain and Ireland to enter -- Nations whose economies were built on excessive (by developed world standards) debt accumulation and currency devaluation (Anyone remember when a car in Italy cost dozens of millions of lira?).

The Eurozone has shown us how successful a regional currency union can be (much like the united STATES of America).

But it has also shown how it must be a union of like minded equals. Either everyone pays taxes or everyone engages in tax evasion. You can't have some paying full price while others ride on their coattails.

You also can't combine governments who use currency devaluation as a means to deal with debt repayment with those who avoid it at all costs.

This is certainly not the end of regional currencies, but, hopefully it will also be a good lesson learned to ensure that fraud is severely punished and avoided -- unfortunately only the Greeks have paid the price and not the other parties to the fraud. Though, hopefully the example of tragedy that is Greece will be enough for others to think twice about engaging in wholesale fraud.

#6 tobias 2015-07-12 12:58 EST
German need for a Eurozone
The situation as it has developed seems to indicate that Germany, with a trade surplus tied to undervalued the undervalued Euro when compared to the German economy, will not countenance any disruptions in the status quo. Germany wants and needs a Eurozone where they have the premier manufacturing and export economy built on the disadvantages that this currency means for its primary trading partners -- since the Euro is overvalued to them. The Germans will not give an inch to Greece and would rather toss them out and in concert with the ECB cut off Greek banks and let them suffer the consequences. This provides a fine example of the willingness for Germany and Brussels to engage in economic executions. Does anyone think that Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland or even France is willing to follow that same path? Political courage, when facing the banking cartel, evaporates like alcohol on a sunny day. Lets see how it plays out. Greece may ultimately have no other choice but to risk an exit and a re-establishment of the drachma. That will be a tough row to hoe with its meager export economy.

#5 Robert Ages 2015-07-12 12:01 EST

That's what I've been saying in FB posts for weeks in response to diatribes from the ultras. Good to see someone with Leo's depth and reach putting forward the same reality based analysis.

#4 S. Artesian 2015-07-12 11:54 EST
So what's your point Leo? That Tsirpas has been "true" to his position since the January election? That Syriza has always been a pro-capitalist organization, intent on keeping Greece securely within the web of the European Union? Tell us something we don't know.

Tell us why, for example, in this article, you aren't calling for immediate repudiation of the entire sovereign debt? Tell us why, for example, you're not calling for a break with Syriza; no support to Syriza?

Seymour, in Lenin's Tomb, was a enthusiastic supporter of Syriza, projecting his own wishes for "victory" against austerity unto that organization. He embraced the illogic of attempting to separate austerity from debt and debt from membership in the EU, and the EU from capitalism. So it's understandable that he's heartbroken, and confuses his own despair with "world-historic" events, just as he confused his own "optimism" with Syriza as a force for socialism.

But there is indeed an important defeat going on here -- a defeat based on Syriza's success in muffling class struggle, in demoralizing workers, in frittering away time as the economy slips back into recession.

Now the beneficiaries of this bankruptcy of the "left" and the "left platform" within Syriza, which relegates Syriza into the PASOK and New Democracy category, can only be the force of repression. Anti-austerity demonstrations will resume and whatever government is in Greece will reinvigorate the use of the police and the military, and the power of Golden Dawn will grow rapidly.

Pay attention to current events. You're getting your ass kicked even if you can't feel the boot, yet.

#3 Herb Wiseman 2015-07-12 11:08 EST
Spinning the Greek proposals
Politics and the art of the possible. Spin it to get the support of the plurality. It is a process not a goal. This journey is in uncharted waters. Shaking it up too much will get us into chaotic processes that will lead to those with power gaining even more power. Saving face in the rest of Europe rather than acknowledging their screw-ups and failures becomes the name of the game. Once again the banks get bailed out and the people pay for it! When will we ever learn?!

#2 Paul Zarembka 2015-07-12 10:34 EST
Why bring up Lenin?
Why bring up Lenin as the counter-point? Cannot this be discussed in the current context?

Why not confront an analysis like the following: "Tsipras rattled his sabre until it was blunt – and for what?" [The Guardian]


"Debate Rages in SYRIZA Over Austerity Plan."

Why call for a referendum on austerity, if the Syriza leadership were not intending to follow the instruction from the voters?

For the future, those MPs who voted 'no', abstained or were absent have avoided being discredited; 17 were from Syriza, most of whom either abstained or were absent. All 32 'no' votes, except 2 from Syriza members, came from the Communist Party and fascist Golden Dawn.

Note: Few press summaries mention that Syriza's proposal includes widespread privatizations of public assets in Greece (which would be sold at fire-sale prices and have dire implications for the future).

Paul Zarembka

#1 Anonymous 2015-07-12 09:52 EST
Poor Lenin
Poor Lenin. People standing on his tomb and rising from the tomb at the same time.

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