Not a single step backward!
Negotiations between Greece's left-wing government and eurozone finance ministers collapsed without an agreement on Monday, in a new escalation of a showdown that could force Greece into default and out of the euro currency.
Greece has been plunged into an economic depression by a one-two combination: the debt crisis that struck across Europe in the late 2000s and the bailout of the Greek financial system organized by the Troika (the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) that came on the condition that the government adopt the so-called Memorandum--an agreement to impose harsh austerity measures that have inflicted mass suffering throughout the country.
The Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, won parliamentary elections in January with its promise to overturn the Memorandum, reverse austerity and renegotiate Greece's massive foreign debt that has ballooned under the bailout scheme that was supposed to control it. But the rulers of Europe are refusing to give any ground at all on the proposals put forward by the new government. SYRIZA leaders like Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis have said they would accept a compromise that falls short of the left-wing party's previous commitments to renounce the Memorandum and reverse austerity. Nevertheless, the government has been presented with an ultimatum by the eurozone ministers: extend all the terms of the bailout and accompanying austerity measures or be forced in a matter of weeks or days into having to default on debts owed to EU governments and institutions.
This editorial, published at the RProject website, a part of the Left Platform within SYRIZA, was written before the conference of Greek government officials and the eurozone ministers began last week with a two-day meeting.
THE TWO-day special conference with the Eurogroup finance ministers and Council of EU leaders on February 11-12 is the first turning point faced by the Greek government led by SYRIZA.
In contrast to the practices of Memorandum governments, which negotiated with the lenders to satisfy the demands and interests of the Greek bourgeoisie, rather than the interests of the working class and poor, the SYRIZA-led government has a completely different task--to speak for the aspirations and hopes of the victims of Memorandum barbarism for five years. SYRIZA's election victory, coupled with a popular mobilization in Greece and the solidarity movement throughout Europe, has opened up a new path.
The lenders have set up a double trap. With their blackmail demands for a complete acceptance of the Memorandum program, they show that they are unwilling to accept any solution that would send a message that one small member state, led by a left-wing government, can achieve a victory against the eurozone and the European Union--this Holy Alliance of capital.
Just within a few weeks, the political sea change that led to the electoral victory of SYRIZA has gained a lot of momentum. If it were to continue for even a few more months, it would become an even more serious threat to the European consensus on extreme austerity, and shift that consensus toward anti-austerity.
This is what they cannot accept--not only German imperialism and its more hard-line allies, but also François Hollande, Matteo Renzi, Mario Draghi and the Brussels bureaucrats. These more moderate voices would like to loosen the German noose, to the extent that it began to tighten around the French and Italian bourgeoisie. But they will confront with just as much hostility as German imperialism any prospect of reversing austerity. They want a slowdown in the pace of austerity, especially as imposed on public expenditures, so the cuts won't exacerbate the dangerous problems of a new recession and outright deflation. But they don't want to risk the gains of their own bourgeoisies.
All sides among the lenders allow for an escape route: "an honorable agreement." They don't accept a proposal for negotiation while the austerity measures of the Memorandum are frozen, much less while the Greek government carries out unilateral initiatives to overturn different parts of them. Also, unsurprisingly, they do not accept a bridge arrangement to meet the financial needs of the Greek government for the next few months while the government negotiates the overthrow of austerity.
Instead, they demand the entire program: Bring in the Troika to do its last evaluation of austerity and disburse the 7.2 billion euros of remaining bailout funds. This demand is not only certain to cause a stalemate between the Greek government and lenders, but it eliminates any sense of discussion.
In any case, they demand that an austerity program remain in place until negotiations over all matters related to the debt are complete. On this basis, some are recommending a "compromise" to revise the Memorandum: The basic measures that exist now would remain in place, but new cuts and taxes still to be imposed would be suspended for the duration of the negotiations. The flip side of this "concessions" is that the Greek government could not take any actions that undermine the existing austerity measures implemented under the Memorandum.
If this is a "compromise," then it is obvious that it cannot be accepted!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THERE ARE two reasons for this early high-stakes confrontation. First, the political shock wave triggered by SYRIZA's electoral victory threatens the continuation of austerity measures across Europe, and the lenders therefore want to halt them now before they acquire dangerous and uncontrollable proportions.
Second, the "bridge" arrangement for four months while negotiations on a comprehensive agreement continue doesn't have a neutral meaning. Either it will be a "bridge" toward acceptance of the Memorandum, with some additional debt relief that was already promised to the previous government, such as lengthening the repayments, reducing the interest rate, etc., or will either be a "bridge" toward overturning the policies of austerity!
Lenders want to a "bridge" toward acceptance of a new Memorandum, with a few minor and symbolic differences from the old one. For us, for the government led by SYRIZA, for the social movements and for the left, it should be a "bridge" toward not only dismantling the laws, directives, policies and enforcement mechanisms of the memorandum, but also the comprehensive reversal of austerity.
Insofar as any agreement is "mutually beneficial" to both sides, any "bridge" involving payments to the lenders and a program in the form of the Memorandum will be a prelude for submission to the lenders.
This conflict, which was inevitable, is coming early, and the challenge is difficult, because there are no "intermediate" solutions, nor is there any prospect of a win-win arrangement during a transitional period while negotiations take place.
From the Eurogroup summit will come the message that either one side retreated or we are heading for a major confrontation. For the Greek government, it is unthinkable to leave this two-day meeting defeated--not because of its own interests, but because of the interests, needs and hopes of the working class and poor of Greece, the millions of victims of Memorandum barbarism.
Therefore, we will go into the streets and squares to shout: Not a single step backward! No "bridge" with the Memorandum! We can win!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE LENDERS are terrified of the international wave of solidarity with the Greek rebellion and are therefore against a grace period of several months while negotiations continue. The underlying reason for this is that the eurozone is stuck in a deep crisis, a mixture of stagnant or negative economic growth on the one hand and price deflation on the other that threatens to be the Lehman Brothers [the U.S. bank collapse that set off the Wall Street meltdown of 2008] for a new round of capitalist crisis.
The situation is a powder keg, and the lenders cannot tolerate a dangerous spark by showing any possibility for a reversal of austerity. Because of the deep problems that resist various methods of treating it, the tinder is dry and the risk of an extensive fire is immediate.
Their failure to deal with the crisis explains the hardening of the EU position against Greece, but it is simultaneously a source for optimism. With the tinder so dry, the opportunity to spark a fire is not only real, but tangible.
But it is not only the international conditions that are favorable for beginning the battle--the same goes for the conditions inside the country. The mood of the working class and the poor in Greece, the political left and the social movements is uncompromising. There is now widespread support for the government to continue to take a tough stand in negotiations, even if this means a bigger conflict and even a rupture and exit from the eurozone.
Signs of this support fill the streets and the squares. The vindication of the struggle of the Finance Ministry cleaners, the school guards, the victims of the previous government's layoff policies for state workers, and more have created the basis for mobilizing the unions and social movements generally around the slogan: "Let's take it all back."
The Greek government, but also SYRIZA as a political party and the left as a whole, can and should in this context to fight this battle in order to win.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE CONDITIONS for beginning and winning the struggle exist, but they aren't enough. Tomorrow [February 12] is the 70th anniversary of the Varkiza Agreement [a deal negotiated with Britain at the end of the Second World War that obligated the left-led Greek resistance against the Nazi occupation to give up control of major cities and hand over its weapons, even though it remained in control of 90 percent of the country]. This invites us to learn from historical experience and not to repeat the mistakes that led to betrayal in the past.
Appeasement and reassuring approaches to the lenders and the Greek bourgeoisie will not work. Invoking "national unity" with representatives of Memorandum camp and the bourgeoisie will not shield us. We must insist on the overthrow of the austerity program through a mobilization of the people, a united front of the Left and international solidarity.
The government led by SYRIZA, SYRIZA as a party and the left as a whole must rise to this historic occasion:
-- Not a single step back from the goal of overturning austerity! We do not negotiate for a minimal relaxation of austerity measures and the tempo at which they are imposed, but for the reversal of this program. We are not 30 percent or 70 percent, but 100 percent anti-Memorandum and anti-austerity! [Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said in a speech to Parliament that he supported maintaining 70 percent of Memorandum policies]
-- Not a single acceptance of a "bridge" arrangement that incorporates Memorandum commitments, regulations and policies. The only "bridge" we are interested in discussing is unconditional funding for the period of the negotiations.
-- No retreat from the overturning austerity program. We fight for debt cancellation and not for schemes for rearranging debt servicing.
The Thessaloniki program [a program of initial measures for a left-wing government to deal with Greece's humanitarian crisis, announced last September at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair] must be immediately implemented, independent of negotiations with the lenders. As part of our program for bringing banks under public ownership and control, we will bring the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund [set up under the Memorandum] and the Bank of Greece under public control.
Privatizations must cease immediately, and the government must start the process of recovering public infrastructure, goods and enterprises that were privatized. We will confront high unemployment with a massive public investment program.
In the circumstances of this difficult confrontation with the lenders, SYRIZA as a party must not be regarded as an optional luxury and subordinate to the actions of the leaders of the government who have a monopoly on handling these negotiations.
Without the militant mobilization of party members and organizations and without the democratic and functioning of the elected bodies of the party, SYRIZA will lack the decisive political and organizational links to its base. Without these links, the government's policy will stray from SYRIZA's commitments, and the coordination of international solidarity and the efforts of a united front of the left will be unattainable.
From this starting point, we will fight to get back everything that was lost in the years of Memorandums, as well as everything that was never won! This is the task of the left in Greece, the social movements and those in solidarity with Greece internationally.
Let us dare!