Greece, Spain & Puerto Rico: Current Struggles and Building Solidarity


Published on Sep 29, 2015

Vicente Rubio-Pueyo, Rafael Bernabe, and Despina Lalaki, with moderator Ed Morales, discuss the struggles of their countries with debt and austerity in a forum hosted by David Galarza Santa at Camaradas El Barrio in Manhattan September 28, 2015 video by Joe Friendly

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 12.30.41 AM

Follow the link below to watch this panel discussion on Struggling With Austerity.

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“The ongoing dilemma of leaving or not leaving the eurozone, it follows, is not a matter of political principle but of costs and benefits. Although some of our comrades have taken any concessions regarding austerity by the Syriza government as a sign of betrayal and defeat, if the question before us is how can we best and most quickly end austerity and return to economic growth, the conclusion that this can best be achieved through continued agreements within the European Union and not by breaking with the euro is an understandable conclusion. Moving to the Drachma would also entail much austerity, certainly much more in the short run. We must add to such judgment that there are many factors at play and no one can predict today whether a move to a national currency or continuing with the euro will result in a higher level of economic growth in 4 or 5 or 10 years from now. The bet on the euro or the drachma as the better road is a function of measurement and tactics not one of different principles or goals.”

Painting by: Vasilios Fotopoulos

Painting by: Vasilios Fotopoulos

Lessons from Henri Lefebvre, Nicos Poulantzas, and the Greek Crisis

(Talk for conference Democracy Rising, University of Athens, July 2015)

  • Published by: Analyze Greece, September 1st 2015.

Peter Bratsis

The events of the last few years, and especially the last couple of weeks, have made it extremely obvious that we have once again reached a point similar to that in ancient Rome when its great historian Livy declared “In our times we can neither endure our faults nor the means of correcting them.” The existing systems of European cooperation and integration, capitalist regulation and accumulation, and national politics and production can neither continue as they are nor do they seem capable of reforming themselves.

This more general malaise and incapacity is reflected, unfortunately, in the limits within the existing left in Greece and beyond. The sad fact is that all the significant factions within the Greek left (Syriza, KKE, and Antarsya at a minimum) are all caught within a fundamentally liberal standpoint. For all, homo economicus is an explicit given. Economic development and growth (that is, increasing GDP and rates of consumption) are the main goals. Any differences that may exist between various factions within the left are mainly about which road is best for economic growth and wellbeing. Inside the eurozone or out? With or without privatization of public enterprises? And so on. As such, the notion that the Left Platform within Syriza is indeed to the left of the rest or Syriza or that KKE or Antarsya are even more so is not at all based on differing agendas and goals, they only differ in their judgment regarding choice of tactics. Any question of political emancipation or of the radical transformation of society is tragically absent in the debates and squabbles of the left.

The ongoing dilemma of leaving or not leaving the eurozone, it follows, is not a matter of political principle but of costs and benefits. Although some of our comrades have taken any concessions regarding austerity by the Syriza government as a sign of betrayal and defeat, if the question before us is how can we best and most quickly end austerity and return to economic growth, the conclusion that this can best be achieved through continued agreements within the European Union and not by breaking with the euro is an understandable conclusion. Moving to the Drachma would also entail much austerity, certainly much more in the short run. We must add to such judgment that there are many factors at play and no one can predict today whether a move to a national currency or continuing with the euro will result in a higher level of economic growth in 4 or 5 or 10 years from now. The bet on the euro or the drachma as the better road is a function of measurement and tactics not one of different principles or goals.

The sclerosis of left thinking is further evident in many of the slogans and formulas that are popular today. For example, at a time when, for the first time in the history of capitalist societies, in Greece less than half of the population is even active in the labor market, we still find the old workerism and historicism of the past generations in much of the left, such as Antarsya’s position against ‘class collaboration’ and in favor of the giving power to ‘the workers’. Syriza, for its part, with its constant mantra of the ‘humanitarian crisis’ has taken on the imperial gaze, reducing Greeks to ‘bare life’, perhaps worthy of our pity and charity or protection but not political subjects in their own right. From this perspective, as liberal as it gets, Greeks are reduced to their biological substructure, suffering beasts, and recognize themselves as victims in need of charity and saving by the political subjectivity of the capitalist heartlands.

Fortunately, even with such fundamental failures in our thinking and imagination, there is always the capacity and potential to transform ourselves and our communities, to break with the liberal/economistic imaginary that has colonized and vulgarized so much of our political and intellectual lives. Most notably perhaps, the claim that political power is not ‘won’ in elections, that it needs to be produced, to emerge from below, a claim that Alexis Tsipras has often asserted and which is common to Syriza, Podemos, and many other parallel political movements today, presents us with a key and, potentially, very fruitful path of action. For, in opposition to the dominant ways of understanding the political world as a neutral and fixed arena of competition or of political power as something that can be wielded according to one’s will, this formulation builds upon the key insight that runs from Aristotle to Machiavelli, Gramsci, Castoriadis, and many more, that societies are self-created from the ground up, that political power has a materiality and momentum that cannot easily be redirected or undone or wished away but, at the same time, that we are active in the creation of this power and are capable of transforming it precisely because of the ways that we ourselves constitute this very materiality of political power.

Unfortunately, there appears to be little consideration as to what kinds of activity it takes to produce a new political power. What is it that constitutes the materiality of political power and how can new forms and articulations of such power be produced? Is political power produced through protests and demonstrations? Does public opinion have any political efficacy? The remainder of this talk attempts to address these questions and speculate on what types of changes Syriza may need to engender in order to transform political power in Greece and create a new, more democratic, society.

It would appear that for much of Syriza as well as its left supporters and critics the assumption was that people expressing their desires and preferences through protests and demonstrations or, more recently, referendums, constitutes a generation of political power. For example, many left activists have been concerned with the so called demobilization of ‘the movements’ since Syriza was elected; meaning that strikes and public demonstrations waned greatly since the Syriza government came to power. ‘Movements’ in this case, as is obvious, refers to the capacity to mobilize for the purpose of demonstrations and protests. Similarly, many thought that the results of the recent referendum would be a great boost to the power of Syriza and the bargaining position of Greece vis-a-visits creditors. We have learned in recent times, however, that the expression of political preference or opinion in the form of protests and strikes (or even in terms of how one votes in elections or referenda) has little, if any, consequence. Recent times are replete with examples of this insufficiency of protest and resistance, but perhaps mostly tellingly for us here we have the recent history of Greece where 30 plus general strikes and many more demonstrations not only did not derail austerity but failed to even slow it down by one day. This is a testament to how extremely limited these forms of action are when it comes to impacting political power even in Greece, which is certainly not a worst case scenario compared to other capitalist states, and this also underlies how rigid and inflexible the institutions of state power have increasingly become.

It is not true, of course, that the popular classes are irrelevant or inconsequential but that their agency is to be found elsewhere, notably in their social activity; the materiality of their social existence is much more significant than the fleeting expression of opinions. As Nietzsche pointed out long ago, “public opinion private laziness”. Let me remind you of Vaclav Havel’s well known essay from his days as a dissident, “The Power of the Powerless”. There he astutely points out that despite the widespread dissatisfaction and disagreement with the regime in Czechoslovakia it was able to govern quite securely and reproduce itself without much difficulty precisely because where the Czech citizens did have agency, in their everyday routines and actions, they, out of habit, repetition, and self-interest functioned as sinews of state power; from decorating shop windows for national holidays, voting, showing up dutifully for work, pay one’s taxes, and so on, people actively produced and reproduced the power and legitimacy of the state. In a similar way we could argue that a key, but not the only, reason that the many demonstrations and general strikes in Greece have proven to be insufficient for transforming power relations is precisely because they have not disturbed the everyday practices through which state power is generated. 24 hour strikes and demonstrations of various scales and intensities may have been quite effective as expressions of how much people disagreed with austerity but they where of no consequence in either disrupting or transforming the everyday routines and rhythms of life in Greece. There is no doubt that the vast majority of Greeks were and are opposed to the many austerity measures adopted in the last five years. So what? To the degree that their daily routines and activities stayed constant, the production of political power continued unabated and the Greek state was able to implement austerity with little difficulty. The minds and will of the Greeks may have been opposed to austerity but their bodies were fully in support.

Thus a fundamental lesson we have learned or relearned from the Greek crisis is that public opinion in itself is of little consequence and that any attempt to derail and undo existing modalities and articulations of political power need to disrupt the routines and activities that are constitutive of such power. Such was the effect of May ’68 in bringing the French state to its knees and such is the explicit threat by the European Union that by closing the Greek banks the Greek state could and has also been brought to its knees just as quickly.

It is here that I would like to turn to Nicos Poulantzas and Henri Lefebvre. If the generation of political power can be derailed by suspending the routines and repetitions of daily life, an even more important and difficult question is how one can produce a new power that supersedes the old. Once we destroy the existing political order how can we replace it with the new? With Poulantzas and Lefebvre we find two guiding principles for such a project of change.

Firstly with Lefebvre we find the raising of the everyday to the most fundamental and concrete level of social existence. For him everyday life is the social level that is lived and where all change is manifest. Put simply everyday life is everything and there is no political transformation if it is not a transformation of the everyday. As such, any and all lofty intentions of what it is we desire (a furthering of democracy or human emancipation for example) can only be realized as a transformation of everyday life. Questions of architecture and urban design, the school and working day, and food and sexuality, to give just a few obvious examples, are not secondary or tertiary issues but primacy ones that are at the heart of our social existence and from which the more abstract and presumably grander institutions of society emerge. There is not enough time here to go into much detail about what such changes could be but the point is that at the heart of our struggle and efforts we need to be we need to be working on these questions and actively engaged in remaking our own world. Rather than give the answer of Samuel Gompers, that ‘more’ is what we want, we need to think about and act on remaking our daily lives rather than blindly engage in repetition.

Poulantzas’s understanding of the state dovetails very nicely with this position when he defines state as a social relation and its institutions as condensations of class struggle. This not only means that the state is created by and through daily practices and struggles as already noted, it also underlies the fact that political institutions are one of the ways that past struggles live on and exert their influence on the present. If capital, following Marx in the Gundrisse, is dead labor then the state is dead struggle. As such, any efforts to transform our societies must deal with this weight of the past on the present and have as a strategic goal to transform the institutions and apparatuses of the state. The struggle inside and outside the state needs to always include reconstituting state institutions so as to be more favorable to the substantive outcomes that we desire. For example, if the ever increasing bureaucratization and centralization of the state is a key limit in the political agency of the popular classes, a key goal for Syriza needs to be to focus the struggle on transforming these state institutions. Instituting popular assemblies to replace municipal authorities, as one possibility, or, at a minimum, establishing a new constitutional assembly to begin thinking about how to replace the existing one. Unfortunately, instead of intense discussions on the foregoing what we find in Greece today, in the best-cases scenario, is dedication to combat corruption and eliminate clientelism rather than dedication to remaking the Greek state. In other words, rather than being critical of the state-form as such and thinking of ways that we could try to reconstitute Greece, we are stuck in the liberal fantasy that an objective and impersonal organization of state authority would, finally, provide the conditions for prosperity and justice. Any party that has named its think-tank after Nicos Poulantzas should know better than that.

To conclude, at this very moment of flux and uncertainty when so much is possible, when a radical left party is able to win elections in Greece, when everyone’s focus is on VAT rates and bond spreads, when the bulk of Greeks have been momentarily roused from their petit-bourgeois slumber, we have the opportunity to make fundamental changes in the rhythms of daily life as well as the constituent institutions of the Greek state. If it is indeed the case what we have reached a point in where we cannot continue as we were, we need to be agents in this process of transformation and not spectators and victims. It is not too late to extend our efforts, to progress from the attempt to rein in austerity and bring some measure of economic security and hope to the attempt to reconstitute Greek society. Such moments of historical possibility are few are far between, rather than squander it out of fear and economistic tendencies, a Syriza with a clear politico-ethical project is needed that places political life above biological life, that understands the deepening of democracy in our daily lives as the only measure of success and efficacy.

Peter Bratsis teaches at the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York. He is the author of “Everyday Life and the State”.

Translated by:Original in english
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What about “Popular Unity” ? by: Stathis Kouvelakis

After Syriza

 Stathis Kouvelakis3

Syriza failed to stop austerity in Greece. What can Popular Unity do differently?
by Stathis Kouvelakis

Published by “Jacobin”

A Greek election official prepares a polling station before the July 5 referendum. Ekathimerini
A Greek election official prepares a polling station before the July 5 referendum. Ekathimerini
When Alexis Tspiras resigned his premiership earlier this month and called for a snap election, it signaled a new round in the ongoing battle between Greece and its creditors.

For Tsipras, next month’s election represents an attempt to secure a mandate for the deal Syriza has signed off on. Yet the former prime minister’s approval rating has dropped from 61 percent to 29 percent in the last month. Almost 80 percent of voters say they’re disappointed with Tsipras’s performance during Syriza’s time in office. And 70 percent think the bailout package the leadership approved will deliver more economic pain than the previous two austerity agreements.

It is to this discontent which Popular Unity, a new formation of dissident Syriza members and other anti-austerity forces, hopes to give institutional expression.

In this recent interview — conducted by Thomas Lemahieu for the French paper L’Humanité — Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of Popular Unity’s leadership, discusses the formation’s anti-memorandum program, how to find allies outside of Europe, and what Popular Unity wishes to accomplish in the upcoming election.

When did Syriza reach the point of no return that led you to create a new party, Popular Unity?

When the agreement was signed on July 13. The fracture had already appeared earlier, when, in the space of a few days, the “no” from the referendum was transformed into a “yes,” and when the Greek government went to negotiate in Brussels with a mandate that effectively meant accepting the austerity framework.

But it was Alexis Tsipras signing the agreement that started the process leading to Syriza splitting — indeed, we would more accurately speak of Syriza disintegrating. Then there were two votes in parliament on the agreement’s two packages of preliminary measures, and then the one on the memorandum itself, which confirmed the split. The Tsipras government signed the memorandum without ever obtaining the approval of any of Syriza’s internal structures, at any moment.

Alexis Tsipras cannot cite a single text, a single decision authorizing him to do what he did; on the contrary, on the few occasions that the central committee did meet during Syriza’s time in power, its decisions all had one same orientation: namely, that in no event would we sign a memorandum. “Anything but that!”

What happened was exactly the thing that had been totally ruled out on principle. While the coexistence of different currents and sensibilities in one same party was possible so long as it maintained the central objective of overturning the memorandums — even if there were disagreements, including on the euro question — it was not possible for supporters and opponents of signing the memorandum to coexist in the same party.

When Alexis Tsipras decided to accept a memorandum, he was himself deciding to dissolve his party!

Have you rallied all the Syriza MPs who spoke out against the new memorandum? Surely Popular Unity’s twenty-five initial MPs aren’t all of them?

In the vote there were thirty-two “against,” and seventeen who voted “present” — which in the Greek parliamentary system does not exactly amount to abstaining, but is very close to a “no.”

The ones we don’t have yet are Zoe Konstantopoulou — the president of the parliament, who still has her institutional functions, but who will soon join us — and three MPs of Syriza’s Maoist KOE current, who we are in discussions with. Then there is Yanis Varoufakis, who won’t come with us, since our positions are too far apart.

It’s important to remember that Popular Unity is not a party, but a front jointly mobilizing a dozen component parts. Some of them came out of Syriza, others were part of Syriza in the past, and still others come from the far left, like currents from the Antarsya coalition.

Fundamentally, Popular Unity is quite close to what Syriza was until 2013, before its currents merged into a single party. This is a formula that we are sticking to: we are a political front based on pluralism, respecting each other’s differences, and placing a stress on self-organization.

Our goal is to ensure that the “no” vote expressed in the July 5 referendum, which was in the crushing majority among youth as well as among working-class and popular layers, is given political structure. We want to construct broad, open committees from below.

Of course, we are also expecting militants, individuals, and political figures to join us, too. You do not have to agree with all the points of our program, but the heart of the matter is the recognition that it is indispensable to break with the memorandums, and that this implies a confrontation with the European Union — even if there may be points of divergence as to the means that ought to be used in such a confrontation.

But clearly, we have all drawn lessons from Syriza’s strategic failure, and we have an alternative approach to avoid ending up in the same capitulation.

Since Popular Unity is the third largest group in the Greek Parliament, the constitution gives it an “exploratory mandate” to try to form a government (i.e. before the next elections are formally called). How are you going to make use of this mandate, which lasts up until August 27?

We have been given these three days, and we will try and use them to demonstrate what our conception of politics is. We are guided by the principle that social forces should have their say, and our proposals work in this same direction: namely, the democratization of Greece’s institutions.

So firstly, Panagiotis Lafazanis will have discussions with representatives of the social forces most affected by the memorandum’s various different aspects, and who are in the front rank of the fight against the memorandum and its consequences. That is to say, representatives of the unions of employees and retired people particularly affected by the coming pensions cuts and the liquidation of our remaining social rights; citizen campaigns against privatizations; farmers, fishermen, etc.

The idea is to show that for us politics is not simply about conclaves with the representatives of political parties. Politics is something we do with social forces and mobilizations.

Secondly, we will make institutional proposals: as a democratic measure, we want to do away with the fifty-seat bonus that is given to the party who comes first in the vote, as Syriza itself had promised before the elections — one of its key policies, abandoned just like the rest. And we also propose to support the discussion that Zoe Konstantopoulou has tried to initiate in parliament with respect to German war reparations, such that the parliament can continue its work to its proper completion.

You have been sharply critical of Alexis Tsipras’s decision to go to the polls again. Why is that?

What we criticize is the fact that the elections are being rushed! It is a classic way of trying to catch your opponents unaware, but Tsipras has done something that none of the system parties ever dared to do, namely to call elections in the middle of August: and in a country like Greece, that means a time when people are on holiday. And that’s when he chose to call the election. Which reduces the electoral campaign even further.

The purpose of this maneuver is more than obvious: he is going to the polls as soon as possible, before the concrete effects of the memorandum make themselves felt among the population.

What are the key elements of Popular Unity’s program?

The decisive point is rupture with the memorandum and austerity policies. We want to cancel the memorandums, just as Syriza had promised to do. We want to break with the budget surplus targets.

Our policy is based on immediately stopping the debt repayments: we will negotiate for the cancellation of the greater part of the debt, but on that basis! Greece cannot get back into shape so long as it is being bled dry to pay back this debt.

One of the Syriza government’s major errors was to continue paying back the debt: and with €7 billion taken out of the public coffers between January and June, they were left totally empty.

Moreover, we have no illusions as to the compatibility of this rupture program with the euro framework. So if the institutions are intransigent, with the ECB deciding to restrict access to liquidity, we will return to a national currency. The transition phase would present difficulties, certainly, but also important opportunities for relaunching the economy, and for an economic policy working for social and environmental justice.

You referred to the institutions’ “intransigence.” Are all of you in Popular Unity agreed on exit from the euro?

Yes, we think that we have to prepare for euro exit. That is absolutely clear!

Popular Unity’s program has now been finalized and it will be published shortly. Preparation for euro exit is a fundamental point. This question has several aspects. The first is clearly the recuperation of political sovereignty, in a context where a government is confronted by a Holy Alliance of all the neoliberal powers.

As we have seen, deprived of monetary levers, we were taken hostage by the ECB. Syriza suffered that ever since February 4. Secondly, it is a means of making it possible to restart the economy, guaranteeing the supply of liquidity. Furthermore, it is an extremely important lever with regard to the debt question: if we instead go for a national currency, the debt will become almost unpayable, since no one would accept the repayment of a debt redenominated in a national currency. That places us in a position of strength.

Finally, devaluation would make it possible to kickstart growth, indeed vigorously so: all countries that have found themselves in a situation of deep recession have only been able to restart the economy by making use of currency devaluation.

The choice is a simple one, really. Either we have currency devaluation, or else internal devaluation, meaning the structural adjustment plans imposed in order to reduce wages and pensions and drive down the cost of labor.

Certainly, currency devaluation does create certain problems, but also opportunities: it boosts domestic production, it allows for exports to be substituted for imports, and makes exports more competitive. Without doubt it creates problems for some things that have to be paid for in hard currency: petrol, energy, some medications that have to be imported — although not all that much, since domestic production can provide a good part of that.

All that does open up temporary difficulties, in the transition phase. But as all the economists hostile to neoliberalism have shown — from Krugman to Stiglitz, and from Aglietta to Lordon — the debate is over. As they tell us, Greece’s best possible choice, and in reality the only viable one, is for it to return to a national currency; naturally, within the framework of a progressive policy to relaunch the economy, and which can also handle the problems that result from this. There will be inflationary pressures, but even in that context a left-wing government can protect wages.

Your program would have Greece leave the eurozone — but would it quit the European Union?

No, not necessarily. The question may well be posed, but not automatically so. After all, there are ten EU countries that are not in the euro. For us, that’s not a done and dusted question. What our program prescribes for, in the case that the confrontation does go further, is to go to a referendum.

The British government is preparing such a vote: its political orientation is entirely at odds with our own, but we don’t see why we couldn’t pose the question, too. But leaving the EU is not one of Popular Unity’s objectives.

Over recent months, neoliberal circles reacted to the Greek government’s efforts with phenomenal determination, and it seemed that they were prepared to totally destroy the country’s economy. If there were, for example, a devaluation, with the expected effects that would have on the debt, how would you protect yourselves from their attacks?

The conclusion we have drawn from the Syriza government’s experience — immediately being confronted with the blockade and the war unleashed by the European institutions — is that you have to show at least the same level of determination as they do.

That is precisely where the Syriza government let itself down: it did not take any self-defense measures. That is the context for our proposed return to a national currency.

This would also help us on the question of repaying the debt, because it puts us in a position of strength for making the creditors accept the cancellation of the greater part of the debt.

We want that kind of compromise: like what happened with all the other over-indebted countries. I’m thinking of Argentina, Ecuador, etc. We think that it is indispensible to take back monetary sovereignty — within the framework of a democratic reestablishment of popular sovereignty, and absolutely not in terms of turning in on ourselves in a nationalist sense. Our approach is profoundly internationalist.

We are not telling tall tales, like Syriza did: we are not saying that we will convince the other Europeans, and we have no illusions that Hollande or Renzi or whoever else in the EU is going to help us.

Rather, we are counting on the mobilization of the Greek people, European public awareness, and solidarity from social movements internationally. They are our true allies!

You don’t think you have any institutional allies in Europe?

No, not in Europe! We might find some elsewhere. That’s a whole different question.

In that regard, you seem to want to establish strong relations with other states, elsewhere around the planet, in order to cover Greece’s financing needs. But still today the Tsipras government say they did make attempts to do this, but that these initiatives didn’t lead anywhere. Is that not the case?

Firstly, I should say that not everything the Syriza government did was bad. It was the Syriza government’s mistaken strategy that made it possible for large sections of the Greek population to see the European Union for what it really is.

The referendum battle allowed for a powerful popular mobilization, a decisive advance in the terms of the debate, and that also owes to the Syriza government. All this did result in defeat; but we also need to have a clear view of the road that was taken.

So in the initiatives that the government did take, there were indeed openings toward certain other countries, but we got stuck halfway. It took a hesitant attitude toward Russia, in particular: some approaches were made, but at the crucial moment the Syriza government did not follow through.

At what moment?

During the critical turning point, the referendum. The agreement that Panagiotis Lafanazis had secured on the gas pipeline — he was energy minister at the time — was a highly favorable one. He had the political space to make this important move.

But truth be told, fundamentally the Russians did not know what the Greeks wanted. They were extremely distrustful, since they had the impression that Greece’s moves toward an opening were being used as a card in its negotiations with the European institutions, as a PR tool.

The photos with Putin served as a means of exerting pressure, but it all remained very superficial, and they could tell that it was not going to be followed up with concrete commitments. And they did not appreciate being toyed with.

So if Greece left the euro, would you find sufficient financing from outside the EU?

We don’t take a eurocentric view. In any case, Europe is not just the EU; Russia and Turkey are part of Europe, for example. Europe itself has to break out of its imperialist and neo-colonialist attitude toward the world’s other countries.

And of course we want to develop relations with the progressive governments of the South, and in particular the South American ones — that is a strategic choice of Popular Unity’s — as well as powers like the BRIC countries.

Of course, we would do so on terms favorable to the interests of the Greek people. Developing relations with Russia or with China is not exactly the same thing.

The Chinese interest is in trade and business. We don’t want the privatizations that so attract the Chinese; but at the same time, they have made openings with regard to establishing a BRIC bank.

With Russia, it’s a different matter, since it takes an essentially geopolitical view: for Russia, economic interests are subordinate to this geopolitical outlook.

It is also clear that having relations with Russia in no sense means thinking that Putin is politically or ideologically close to us. This is a question of international relations.

Another question on your program: how do you think you can stop the privatizations?

One of our key points is the nationalization of the four systemic banks. That’s something very simple, and it was a strong element of Syriza’s program.

In three of the four banks there is already a majority public stake, but its rights over the bank are muted and passive, under the recapitalization conditions imposed by the European Stability Mechanism.

We are for insubordination against these rules, and therefore we want to take immediate control over these banks. In principle, this is simple — it would suffice to activate the existing public holding.

One of the most scandalous aspects of the third memorandum is the fact that €25 billion will be devoted to recapitalizing the banks, and these €25 billion are the first funds resulting from the sell-off of Greek state assets!

This was criminal, and the Syriza government agreed to push it through. These €25 billion will exclusively be devoted to repaying the loans for the future recapitalization of the banks. We have to put an end to this scandal now, and nationalize the banks.

We are also in favor of the country’s essential infrastructure coming back into public ownership, such as the electric grid, ports and telecommunications.

For us, economic recovery will come through public investment: no country in world history — and here I am not talking about countries in transition toward socialism — has been able to resume growth unless it had a public sector and public investment serving as locomotives.

We don’t believe the claptrap about encouraging private investment in an asset-stripped country paying poverty wages. That’s not how we’ll get the Greek economy going again! And particularly not through this European finance, with its very tight conditions: that clearly hasn’t allowed for any kind of economic recovery, during five years of crisis.

Everyone knows that the objective set for the privatizations — that is, raising the €50 billion that the lenders are demanding — is entirely unachievable, and that the country will not be able to live up to such commitments. So what is the point of such demands?

They serve the purpose of systematically bleeding the country dry. This is a true neo-colonization effort, liquidating the Greek state as a democratic and sovereign state.

The €50 billion privatization fund is directly controlled by the troika. The budgetary policy council is composed of seven members, four of them directly appointed by the four institutions: the IMF, the European Commission, the ECB, and the European Stability Mechanism.

In the event of budget overspend, they have the power to impose automatic, horizontal cuts. The national statistics institute is also under the institutions’ control. The general secretariat of tax receipts is to become a completely independent authority, though in reality it is obviously under the heel of the institutions, and it can make decisions with the status of ministerial degrees.

Whatever the composition of the government, today it no longer has any levers under its control. Which means that this third memorandum takes us an awful lot further than what went before.

How would you explain this dogged hostility to the first radical left government in Europe?

There was a very clear punitive dimension to all this. In breaking Syriza, they wanted to kill off any attempt at a break with austerity. At the same time, we ought to be clear that the current capitalist crisis is far from over, and that the ruling classes seem prepared to do everything necessary to deepen austerity policies.

Once again, Greece is serving as a laboratory: it was the guinea pig for the first stage of austerity, but now it is being forced to serve as the guinea pig for the second stage, the even more violent onslaught of austerity policies.

Syriza was the counter-attack against phase one of the austerity experiment, and Popular Unity is the political response to phase two.

You are now breaking into the Greek political landscape, but where would you set your ambitions for the coming elections?

If there is one aspect of Syriza that we are intent on preserving, it is that of speaking in a language that the population can understand; of aiming to build a majority around a simple but radical program that truly responds to the people’s needs and urgent problems, and of being able to offer an applicable alternative.

That was a fundamental point of Syriza’s — to do mass politics, not the politics of little groups, not sectarian politics or politics limited to protest.

It is very much possible that Alexis Tsipras and Syriza will win the current elections. But without going into alternative histories, we can say that it is possible that they won’t get an absolute majority. If Popular Unity does succeed in making an electoral breakthrough, would you be able to govern together with Syriza?

The memorandums are like the god Moloch, they demand ever greater sacrifices. They already destroyed two governments, even before Syriza. They annihilated Pasok — a party much more solid and better implanted in Greek society than Syriza, transforming it into a groupuscule. They also destroyed New Democracy, in good measure.

The third memorandum will destroy Syriza, and indeed that is very much already underway: in any case, the resignation of its general secretary in recent days was a striking symptom.

So anyone would be very much mistaken to think that the political instability in Greece is over. A new cycle is opening up with Popular Unity, allowing popular layers and social movements hostile to the memorandums to find political expression. From that point of view, our strategy is not all so different from Podemos’s.

We want to make a breakthrough, overturn the political landscape, and do fundamentally what Syriza had done between 2012 and 2015. I don’t see why we will be any worse placed to do so than they were — we were also part of that “they,” after all!

Translated by David Broder.


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Nicholas Levis reports from Greece – JUNE 21, 2015

Nicholas Levis

Nicholas Levis

I attended the pro-Syriza rally last Thursday, and ended up having drinks with Paul Mason! Yes, with ND taking the streets for the first time, the pro-austerity rally on Friday was bigger, based on the pictures. (If you saw their signs in English, the joke making the rounds is that the rally was sponsored by Google Translate. For Greeks: Τόρα τους λέμε Μενουμευρωπαίους.)

Anti austerity Protest

Anti austerity Protest

But there was not much difference. Both rallies were well under 10,000. Both looked like unusually middle-aged crowds for demos. Youth may seem largely indifferent, but it’s unimaginable that with 50% unemployment among them for years they feel any stake in favoring austerity. The danger is that the government has not been inspiring people and the general sense is some rotten deal is coming.

It has impressed me that people are not generally acting or talking as if the banks might be closed tomorrow. Yakkety-yak on trains and buses, small talk I overhear among Greeks at the university, is almost all stink-normal stuff. Nothing about the crisis except as a kind of weather. Perhaps there is a popular overload after all these years of the same shit. People have told me (and I’ve also heard it on the TV talk rounds) that Tsipras/Varoufakis have already signed Memorandum III with the Troika and everything happening on the news is just theater. Others, meanwhile, think Tsipras made a secret deal with Russia/BRICS.

In any case, about a billion a day are being withdrawn from Greek banks, says the news. The Greek central bank (under leadership appointed by ND the week before the election) joined the ECB in stoking panic about a bank run. Naked threats. Today the monthly Avgi poll shows increased support for the government’s course and has prompted complaints from ND. There’s a lot of talk, but it’s all talk so far, about the IMF being cut out of tomorrow’s Eurogroup talks in preparation for a separate deal with the EU. The IMF in particular is being blamed as the architects of the memoranda and austerity policy.

All last week I’ve been watching the Vouli (Parliament) channel, which I’ve taken to calling Zoe TV, because she really is a star. If I might be allowed a bit of hero worship! The Debt Truth commission and a separate one on the events of 2010 have been covered round the clock. There is an oft-played commercial from Spain, of people in various city squares reading a message of solidarity in Greek and repeating that the debt is odious and should be written off. The truth commission, as you all know, has pretty much called it all odious, and you can find their report online. The 2010 commission has had testimony from economists who were employed by ELSTAT (the Greek statistics bureau) at the time, who are presenting a new story about what happened. According to this, the sudden spike in debt and deficit after the election of Little Georgie Papandreou was not simply a discovery of crooked deals that had been kept off the books by the prior governments, as was claimed, and as we’ve believed. On the contrary, the commission is finding that under the direction of EUROSTAT and the ministry, the ELSTAT economists were forced to violate EU accounting rules in force since 1995 to make the deficit look much bigger than it was, through a variety of tricks. They were let go soon after. So what proportion of the spike was because of prior camouflage to meet Maastricht criteria and what was fabricated by crooked accounting on the spot is not clear. Either way, big lies were employed to make the crisis much worse.

The message appears to have finally sunk in here and internationally, as we have known all along, that there was never a bailout – that 90% of the new debt went into the rescue of European banks, and never reached the Greek economy. German taxpayers were tapped to bail out German banks, and Greeks were made responsible for paying it back even as the austerity program (intentionally) shrank the economy made it impossible for them to sustain payments.

The 2010 committee’s testimony prompted conniptions later on the floor from Loverdos, the PASOK politician whom you may remember as one of the ministers behind the disgusting election maneuver in 2012 detailed in the great film by Zoe Mavroudi, Ruins. (The police rounded up hundreds of women at random on the street, gave them forced HIV tests, and charged those who tested positive on assault, on the basis of this crazy story about prostitutes luring good Greek family fathers – hundreds of them, none of whom ever appeared – so as to intentionally give them AIDS.)

Samaras is trying to get Potami and PASOK to hold a leadership summit, and it’s reported that he’s met behind the scenes with the former prime minister and originator of neo-liberal economics in Greece, Simitis (who got out early enough that his shit supposedly doesn’t stink), who has a Greek-German background and is seen as a backchannel. Oh, and more bullshit is flying about how Merkel and Schäuble are split. No problem in finding either narrative: EU about to fold in terror of euro breakup, EU absolutely iron in its determination to cause the Syriza government to fall as the only priority.

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Zoe Konstantopoulou to Speak at The GCAS Conference in Athens / AKNY is sponsoring GCAS conference


Zoe Konstantopoulou, President of the Greek Parliament.

Zoe Konstantopoulou,
President of the Greek Parliament.

The Global Center for Advanced Studies’ conference, Democracy Rising   announced that the President of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou will address the conference Continue reading

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