Syriza Government Caves In to Eurobankers’ Assault
Only Socialist Revolution Will End Capitalist “Austerity”
Greek Workers: Defeat the Bankers’ Diktat, Occupy the Banks and Ports!
Thousands jammed Syntagma (Constitution) Square in July 2 Communist Party (KKE) protest against austerity plans of the Eurobankers and of the Greek government led by SYRIZA.
For the past five months, ever since the January 25 elections brought the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) into office in Greece, there has been a bitter struggle between the new regime and the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund. The ECB-EC-IMF “troika” has insisted that Athens comply with the Eurobankers’ program of brutal, anti-working class austerity which has devastated the Greek economy for the last five years. While European Union bureaucrats in Brussels haggle about the details, hard-liners in Berlin have made it clear that they were prepared to boot Greece out of the common currency, the euro (one variant of what’s being called “Grexit”). SYRIZA, which is not a radical leftist party at all but a bourgeois nationalist populist formation, has sought to bargain for less onerous terms and for relief from the staggering €320 billion public debt, while insisting it will not leave the eurozone.1
On June 25, the Eurogroup of finance ministers handed Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and finance minister Yanis Varoufakis a “take-it-or-leave-it” final offer demanding drastic pension cuts, tax increases on the poor, privatizations and anti-labor “reforms.” In response, Tspiras announced that the government would ask the Greek electorate to vote on whether to say “yes” or “no” to the troika’s extortionate demands, vowing that the government would not give in to the “ultimatum.” This took the Eurobankers by surprise, and after first trying to stop the referendum, they have launched a lavishly financed media blitz for a “yes” vote. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of working people, pensioners and others who have borne the brunt of the austerity have demonstrated repeatedly in Syntagma (Constitution) Square for “OXI” (“no” in Greek) while smaller, more affluent crowds demonstrated for “NAI” (“yes”).
There is no doubt what the “institutions” (i.e., the hated troika) want: total surrender to their program and “regime change” in Athens. Their aim is to bring down the elected Greek government by using the crudest financial blackmail and doomsday threats. Workers must fight tooth and nail against the assault on their living standards and very existence by these bloodsuckers. But they cannot do that by voting “no” in the referendum, for a very simple reason: Tsipras, Varoufakis & Co. have already capitulated to and accepted almost all the anti-worker demands of the troika. The government of SYRIZA and its right-wing populist allies of ANEL (Greek Democrats), which is already looting pensions, is using the referendum as a bargaining ploy: if they get a majority “no” vote, they will use this to attempt, once again, to negotiate a new austerity program that will further impoverish Greece’s hard-hit population.
The first duty of revolutionary Marxists is to tell the truth to the masses. The League for the Fourth International says that the only way to defeat the bankers’ diktat and put an end to the devastating austerity program of the Eurobosses is by mobilizing the workers’ power on the road to a socialist revolution in Greece and throughout Europe. To stop the financial extortion, workers should occupy the banks and place them under control of elected workers commissions against the Eurobankers and the Greek capitalist government. Against the threat of privatization, workers in the ports of Piraeus, Thessaloniki and the Greek islands should occupy the ports (and airports)and place them under workers control. Make public health and public transportation permanently free, under workers control. As for the unpayable foreign debt, the workers should repudiate (cancel) it entirely, as the Russian workers did in October 1917. But that will take a revolution.
And while they’re at it, since the fabulously wealthy Greek shipping magnates are so adept at avoiding any taxes and hiding their assets, instead of hopelessly advocating “tax the rich,” as most of the left calls for, workers should seize the oligarchs’ sumptuous residences, estates and island retreats to be used as summer camps for poor children and other socially useful purposes.
By now there is hardly any need to convince Greek workers, pensioners or students, or anyone on the left internationally, that the bankers’ demands are ruinous. Millions of Greeks have spent the last five years trying to resist them, to no avail. What is worth underlining is that the ECB hardliners have been pushing this program since even before SYRIZA was elected. Indeed, German chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble forced the January election by refusing to grant former premier Antonis Samaras of the right-wing New Democracy (ND) more time to carry it out. They figured that if SYRIZA won, they could burn it by forcing these phony “radical leftists” to bow down to the bankers’ diktat, or failing that, could force Greece out of the euro, which would then unmistakably be the D-mark in disguise, with the Bundesbank calling the shots.
Greek army carrying flag in front of Parthenon temple on the Acropolis. Final proposal by Troika bankers was deliberate provocation to cause unrest in the military.
In fact, during the months of “negotiations” in Brussels the Eurocrats haven’t ceded on anything. Every time the Greek government gave up a point, the “institutions” demanded more. Already at the end of May, Varoufakis handed in a 47-page policy draft (and another 8-page summary) agreeing to run a 3.5% primary budget surplus (i.e., before payment of debt) by 2018; to raise sales (value added) taxes to 11% for hotels, restaurants and most products and 23% for many foods; to gradually raise the lower age limit for early retirement to 62 years; to privatize a host of state-owned enterprises (plus tightening tax collection and raising taxes on the rich). Even though this represented an unheard-of level austerity for a country in the depths of economic depression, it was rejected out of hand. So the Greek government capitulated again and submitted a new plan agreeing to just about everything. Troika negotiators made positive noises.
But even that was not enough. On June 24, the day after Athens’ proposal was handed in, the troika negotiators handed their Greek counterparts a red-lined version with a whole series of amendments, notably:
- VAT (sales tax) to go to 23% immediately, including for hotels and restaurants. This would be a body blow to the one functioning sector of the Greek economy, tourism.
- Raise VAT for many medical supplies, hitting the healthcare industry hard, while setting lower prices for generic pharmaceuticals, one of Greece’s main exports to Europe.
- Abolish preferential tax treatment and fuel subsidies for farmers, further weakening agriculture, once a mainstay of the Greek economy.
- Cut back corporate tax hikes.
- Raise the minimum retirement to 67, except for those who have worked 40 years, while eliminating supplements for the lowest pensions, many of which are around €360 (US$400) a month.
- Double the reduction in the military budget and require “reduction in headcount.”
Obviously, this “proposal” was designed to be rejected, as it would hit the poorest, most vulnerable working people hardest, devastate the functioning parts of the Greek economy, and encourage unrest in the military. Sure enough, within days the German press was speculating about whether the Greek military was about to revolt and impose a dictatorship, as it did in 1967. The purpose of this exercise was to force the Greek government into groveling total submission, or to lay the basis for a German-engineered “Grexit” should Tsipras balk.
A “yes” vote in the referendum would mean abject surrender to the Brussels bureaucrats, Frankfurt bankers and vicious Berlin politicians who seek to humiliate the Greek people. But can a “no” vote strike a blow against the austerity mongers? It cannot, because the whole purpose of “voting NO,” as Tsipras himself says repeatedly, “means continuing the negotiation with better conditions for the Greek people” (July 3 TV speech). Or again: “NO is a decisive step towards a better deal that we aim to be signed immediately after Sunday’s result” (July 1 TV speech). Even if Varoufakis could miraculously convince the other European finance ministers to agree to Athens’ proposal of last May, it would be an unmitigated disaster for Greek working people. They would be immediately hit with drastic tax increases, lower wages for public sector workers, continued elimination of collective bargaining, rampant privatizations and all the rest. SYRIZA is using the referendum not only to bolster its maneuvering, but as a vote of confidence in its government.
The bulk of the Greek left has joined the call for a “NO” vote, as one would expect since most are either part of SYRIZA, including its leftist components (Left Platform, Red Network), or give critical support to it from the outside like the smaller ANTARSYA (Front of the Anti-Capitalist Left) coalition. Even the small Trotskyist Group of Greece (part of the International Communist League led by the Spartacist League/U.S.) is calling for a “no” vote. The TGG spices this up by saying “down with the EU” and “no support to the SYRIZA government” (July 1 leaflet) when in fact the vote is precisely a vote to politically support the SYRIZA government, which insists that it will stay in the imperialist European Union, and the euro, no matter what. Curiously the TGG says that “A ‘yes’ vote would be a victory for the imperialist rulers and the Greek bourgeoisie.” But previously the TGG/ICL held that SYRIZA is a bourgeois party.
A somewhat larger centrist group, the EEK (Revolutionary Workers Party), likewise calls for a “no” vote while adding down with the EU, cancel the debt, etc., but barely criticizes SYRIZA (June 28 statement). Some groups, such as the Communist Tendency of SYRIZA (linked to the International Marxist Tendency led by Alan Woods), call for voting “no” while urging SYRIZA to nationalize the banks, cancel the debt and carry out “anti-capitalist” measures supposedly constituting a “socialist rupture” with the “economic power of the Troika and of capital within the country.” But calling for a bourgeois party (of which these supposed Marxists are a part, contradicting Marx’s insistence on workers independence from all bourgeois parties) to nationalize the banks hardly represents any kind of “rupture” with capitalism. Banks nationalized by the SYRIZA-ANEL government will act like any other capitalist banks.
For their part, the sinister “Golden Dawn” (Chrysi Avgi, or XA) Nazis have called for a “no” vote, clearly hoping to pick up the pieces if SYRIZA fails, using this to fuel their vicious anti-immigrant, anti-working-class drive. What’s needed is a militant, mass worker-immigrant mobilization to crush the fascist threat.
Demonstrators at Communist Party protest demanding “No to the proposal of the EU-IMF-ECB, No to the proposal of the government.”
The main force to refuse to join the regime’s call for a “no” vote in the referendum is the Greek Communist Party (KKE), which remains a sizeable force in the workers movement. The KKE and its trade-union affiliate, PAME, held a large demonstration of thousands of workers on July 2 saying “No to the proposal of the EU-IMF-ECB, No to the proposal of the government.” It is encouraging workers to place a flyer with those slogans in the ballot box, or to write “no” over both choices, essentially to cast a spoiled ballot. The KKE’s answer is entirely parliamentary, as it has been throughout the euro debt crisis: some big demonstrations and one- or even two-day “general strikes” as a pressure tactic, but nothing that would challenge the capitalist system or state. And second, as dyed-in-the-wool Stalinists and nationalists the KKE calls to “disengage with the EU” with “people’s power” (nothing about socialism, of course).
Revolutionary Marxists, supporters of the program of Lenin and Trotsky, politically oppose all of the competing bourgeois forces, the ECB-EC-IMF Eurobankers, their Greek flunkeys of the mini-troika ND-PASOK-Potami, and the SYRIZA-ANEL government. We call instead on the workers to take action to prevent the present or a future Greek government from carrying out further austerity policies and to unleash a proletarian counteroffensive with measures that challenge capitalist rule. Whatever the outcome of the Sunday referendum, it will not decide this battle. Since the troika is out to punish Greece for electing SYRIZA, would-be regime-changers may not stop at financial blackmail and doomsday talk. In the face of an attempt to topple the government, if the struggle goes to pitched battles in the streets, Trotskyists must take their place fighting against the coup-makers. But even then, we will be fighting for a workers government, not the bourgeois populist SYRIZA-ANEL.
A potentially revolutionary situation may be opening in Greece. The multifaceted Greek left is facing a decisive test. By hitching their cart to the SYRIZA horse, many leftists, including would-be socialists and communists, have sought to cash in on its popularity. But the reason that millions voted for the supposedly “radical left” coalition is that they could no longer take the grinding austerity which had reduced the country to penury, with 27% official unemployment, over 50% youth unemployment, large numbers of young professionals forced to emigrate and sharply increased suicides as desperate people saw no way out. Tsipras on the other hand, only wants a better deal within the confines of the imperialist EU. And his finance minister Varoufakis is a Keynesian bourgeois economist who wants to “save European capitalism” from itself.
Pensioners protest in June 23 Athens march against further new austerity measures. SYRIZA government proposals to Eurobankers would further gut pensions.
What has happened in Greece is not an isolated national event, supposedly due to “lazy Greek workers” (who work longer hours for lower wages than any other West European country). Everyone is watching Greece, workers and capitalists alike, because it is the focal point of the world capitalist crisis. Throughout Europe in the last two decades there have been militant struggles against the capitalist offensive. Battles over pensions and reduced youth wages in France. Occupation of the squares in Spain, Portugal and Greece. “General strikes” all over the continent. Even in Germany, railroad engineers have been striking. But they have all failed, because the leadership limited their struggle to purely defensive battles within the limits of capitalism.
The capitalists will never agree to massive debt reduction or elimination of austerity because the survival of their system is ultimately at stake. They are not worried about Greece itself, but the rest of the continent. Greek debt of €320 billion is held by governmental institutions. The five times larger Spanish debt and much larger yet Italian debt is held by private banks, which could go under. Despite the phony “stress tests,” all the European banks are effectively bankrupt, and what the bankers fear is that if Greece can get out from under their heel, Spain and Italy will be next. So all attempts to negotiate the way out of crushing debt and debilitating austerity are doomed to fail.
If SYRIZA succeeds in implementing a new program of attacks on working people – which will hardly be “austerity light” – the leftists who aided it, including in the referendum ploy, will have criminally sabotaged this chance at unleashing revolutionary struggle throughout the continent. They will have aided German finance minister Schäuble in either burning the “left” or in turning it into the obedient servant of the bankocracy, in either case betraying Greek poor and working people. Instead of presenting a revolutionary opposition to the bourgeois populist regime, they have acted as opportunist camp followers. But if the most conscious militants in Greece draw the lessons of the events of these past months and undertake the struggle to forge the nucleus of a genuinely communist, Leninist-Trotskyist workers party, then it can serve to spark a proletarian, revolutionary response that can turn the slogan of a socialist united states of Europe into a reality.■
- 1.See “Greece: The SYRIZA Illusion Exploded” and “What Is SYRIZA?” in The Internationalist No. 39, April-May 2015.