The way out of the trap is a radical left policy
With the possibility that the Greek government will run out of money to meet repayment obligations on its international debt within weeks, the Central Committee of SYRIZA met in a marathon meeting last weekend to discuss the negotiations with Europe's political and financial rulers and their blackmail demands for further drastic cuts and privatizations from a government elected four months ago on a promise to reverse austerity.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised that he will not cross what he has called "red lines" during the negotiations, like accepting further cuts in wages and pensions after those agreed to by previous governments under the so-called Memorandums. But at the same time, he and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis have promised that Greece will repay its debts in full and on time. Meanwhile, the left wing within SYRIZA, organized in the Left Platform, is organizing against any further concessions to the demands of the lenders.
At the Central Committee meeting, SYRIZA's leadership body voted for a resolution that promised continued resistance against the lenders' extortion. An amendment to the resolution proposed by the Left Platform went much further, calling for the government to "go directly on the counter-offensive with an alternative plan based on the pre-election commitments of SYRIZA" and to announce that it would not pay the next installment due to the International Monetary Fund in early June. Among other measures, the amendment's text called for the immediate nationalization of Greek banks and higher taxes on the wealth of the country's rich and its large companies. The amendment was defeated but by a 75-to-95 vote--meaning 44 percent of SYRIZA's Central Committee supported the text put forward by the Left Platform.
The--an alliance of revolutionaries, including the socialist group Internationalist Workers Left (DEA), that is a leading force in the Left Platform--issued this statement making the case for a new direction in negotiations with the lenders, based on devoting resources to meeting the needs of Greece's workers and poor.
DURING THIS moment, as the menacing clouds thicken over the government and SYRIZA, it is important to remember how and why SYRIZA won the long political struggle that culminated in the elections on January 25.
We promised not that we could end the crisis generally, but that we would abolish the Memorandums and begin the reversal of austerity. With the program of initial measures of a new government put forward at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, we committed to accomplishing first steps, not everything we wanted--and we promised to implement them regardless of negotiations with the lenders.
The strategy formulated by the majority at the founding congress of SYRIZA as a party called for the unilateral--that is, based on the internal decisions of the government of the left, with the support of the people, regardless of the lenders--overthrow of the Memorandums. We proposed to negotiate with the lenders only about the debt, based on certain priorities, such as renouncing a majority of the debt, repaying the remainder on the condition of a revival of economic growth and after a grace period, and an international discussion of the debt crisis.
These positions differentiated SYRIZA from New Democracy and PASOK, which proposed "renegotiation of the Memorandum," and from the Democratic Left, which proposed "gradual disengagement with the Memorandums." All of these positions were defeated if not crushed in the elections.
The election promise that this strategy would be implemented with the consent of the lenders and the European "institutions" plunged us into a dangerous trap: never-ending negotiations with the EU, the ECB and the IMF, where in each phase, we retreat, while they remain firm, or even escalate their extortion.
With the February 20 agreement, the government retreated by accepting that the debt would be repaid "in full and on time" and that we would not unilaterally implement the minimum measures of our program outlined at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. But we not only didn't receive funds from the EU, but faced even greater difficulties in domestic borrowing from banks, even though they are heavily in debt to the state.
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THE DELAY in making radical decisions led to the mistake of exhausting the available resources of the state to repay installments of a debt--all for no other reason except to keep alive the illusion of negotiations.
In this phase of the prolonged negotiations--where the idea of "creative ambiguity" worked in favor of the lenders and the exhaustion of available resources weakened the government--we attempted to defend the "red lines" that the government insisted must not be crossed in negotiations with the lender.
These "red lines" are more minimal than the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair program, which itself was more limited than the agenda set out at SYRIZA's founding congress. As the crisis spiraled downward, there was no sign of relief. In fact, even if the lenders accepted all of the government's "red lines" and came to an agreement, it would only be a temporary halt to the disaster, but on the terms of hyper-austerity that produced Memorandums one and two. If we remain on these terms, the social and political influence of SYRIZA is doomed to fall as it prepares for even more drastic counterattacks from the lenders.
The policy of defending some "red lines" is a shift of SYRIZA toward renegotiation of the terms of the Memorandums--toward a policy that has no future for us or for our people.
It is clear that the "red lines" which were once considered unchangeable are now being bent in the process of the negotiations with the lenders. Remember the critical issue of privatizations, one of the great symbols of neoliberalism. Within SYRIZA, there are privatization projects that our people have fought against and will feel overwhelmed if they proceed--the port of Piraeus, the airports, the former airport site of Elliniko, the Skouries gold mine. Then there are privatizations that would affect not only SYRIZA but the survival of the government if they proceed (the electricity system and the water systems of Athens and Thessaloniki) or aren't reversed (telecommunications, the lottery, the toll system). If these privatizations go through, there is no longer any possibility of addressing major issues such as unemployment and social security.
Similarly, another key aspect of SYRIZA's commitments was the issue of taxes: the promised reduction of value-added tax on a wide range of consumer goods, the elimination of unfair ENFIA property tax and the re-establishment of 12,000 euro threshold before income is taxed.
The renegotiation of the Memorandums and the search for an agreement with the lenders, no matter how steep the price, would produce a series of political developments that would challenge or even overturn the election result of January 25.
The issue of expanding the government to include the neoliberal Potami party has already been proposed, while scenarios of a national unity government, like the one headed by the unelected technocrat Lucas Papademos, are rumored. On the basis of the negotiations as they are taking place now, the pressure for a shift of the government away from the radical left and toward the center left, and even the defeat of SYRIZA, is inevitable.
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THEREFORE, IN order to defend our people and for the sake of the future of SYRIZA, it is necessary to escape the downward spiral of the negotiations by choosing a break with the lenders. The primary features of this alternative would be:
-- Default on upcoming debt repayments and interest payments as a first step toward rejecting the greater part of the international debt, as was decided by the founding conference of SYRIZA.
-- The imposition of measures to prevent capital from escaping the country and implementation of the SYRIZA conference decision regarding the banks.
-- Heavy taxation of capitalists and the accumulated wealth of the rich, as well as the renationalization of large public enterprises and firms under public ownership and labor-social control, with the goal of reversing austerity measures and promoting employment growth.
-- The use of any means necessary--governmental, diplomatic and financial--to defend this policy.
-- A systematic effort to mobilize workers and the people within Greece, in combination with an international appeal to the workers' movement and the left in Europe to support a radical left program to overthrow austerity.
-- Immediate abandonment of political openings towards parties and even individuals from the old, corrupted regime and a steady orientation toward a united front of the whole left.
The precondition for implementing all of the above is the reconstruction of the party and its collective decision-making capacities. Defending party democracy is a critical condition for political effectiveness when faced with a battle that has taken on the characteristic of life and death.