Open the gate! The fence and priorities

Manos Avgeridis

This weekend, a protest was organized on Evros, Northern Greece, with the demand to bring down the fence on the border between Greece and Turkey. Clashes between protesters and police were reported, yet the stance of the EU and of the Greek government remains intransigent. This is a call from AnalyzeGreece! for the demolition of the fence, and is a cry for help for those drowning in the Aegean daily.

Last January, I was writing a comment on the «Prime Minister of the fences», Antonis Samaras, who in the midst of the pre-election period visited Evros, presenting the wall along the Greek-Turkish border as «an achievement» and as «important work for the country». The achievement to which he was referring was none other than the reduction of refugee and migrant flows through the land border, and their displacement towards the sea, with all that that entails: more shipwrecks, that is, and drownings of hundreds of people.
Today, a lot has changed and, despite significant discrepancies and problems, the Greek government has attempted for the first time to formulate policy on the issue. The reasons are twofold: on the one hand because migration was a key issue for the people of the Left, who paid serious attention to it, and on the other hand because the exacerbation of the refugee crisis left no room for the «non politics» which previous governments usually opted for as a (non) solution, keeping their head buried in the sand of rhetorical terrorism, police crackdowns and concentration camps.
In spite of all this the fence along Evros continues to exist and were one to draw conclusions from the statements made by decision makers, there is no intention of demolishing it in the near future. The building of the fence began while PASOK was in government, continued under the New Democracy government, and continues to exist during the days of the SYRIZA-ANEL government. The Minister of Migration Policy, Yiannis Mouzalas, stated that he is «in theoretical agreement» with the demolition of the fence, that it would be logical to do so, but that for the time being its demolition is not possible; on the same day, Prime Minister Tsipras pleaded in Parliament against a Europe defined by walls and closed borders, without, however, making any explicit reference to the case of Greece.
It is often said that the fence is not a priority. Of course, the setting of priorities by a government under conditions where the possibilities of implementing independent policy are limited is reasonable and important. It is also important to recognize the strategic correlations, the limits and the difficulties that are in place today. The question, however, is precisely which these priorities are.  What one would expect would be the top, absolute priority in a 21st century refugee crisis would be the protection of human life. And this is not the case both in Europe and in Greece, despite the fact that the rescue efforts – with the participation and the decisive role played by volunteers and locals – who are fighting the waves in the Aegean, are extremely moving and often superhuman.
Which other priority can there be, under these circumstances, except the creation of free and safe routes for the refugees, so that they no longer drown at sea or die from the cold on rocky land in their attempt to cross walls, fences, police and hostile border patrols? Of course, discussions and attempts to reach the best possible agreements regarding infrastructure, organization, capacities and the distribution of «the burden» within the European Union – with and in spite of all the horror that has emerged through it in recent times. Yet do these not come after the protection of human life?
Usually at this point, in discussions on the topic, another, perennially popular argument appears: it’s the fault of the people smugglers/the slave traders/ the traffickers. The people smugglers, however, would have no role to play if there were ships, airplanes and buses legally transporting people to safe places, away from war, as required by international law (by now almost torn to pieces) and by common sense.  Let the fence stand, to go back to the case of Greece, if we were to accept that its demolition comes up against «technical difficulties», as the Minister said, but let its gates open to welcome the people; or let that be the basic demand made by the Greek government to Europe. Because, despite the fact that this would not be enough, fewer shipwrecks would occur, and fewer «shocking images» would appear. Of course, other problems would come in their place, with greater intensity than at present, but at least many of the children who drowned would still be alive. Is this not the abolute priority?  

First published in Greek on
"Enthemata Avgis", 1.11.2015

Translated by Despina Biri


SYRIZA, from the historic victory to the humiliating capitulation and the political crisis

 Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
No pain, no gain.  Following the relevant endorsement by the national assemblies of Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Latvia, the European Commission and ESM announced the approval of the 2-year loan of €86bl to Greece. This came just a few days after the parliament approved the third MoU tabled by a left-wing government supported by bourgeois parties and dominant media, following once again an urgent, self-humiliating parliamentary process under the Eurogroup's pending decision.
Yet another general election which is around the corner and the party congress which was decided by the Central Committee but yet to be confirmed, are both likely to be nothing more than a process to reaffirm Prime Minister Tsipras' dominance in the party and the political system.  If someone was to claim back in early July that we would reach this point, he would have been accused of being out of touch with reality. Still, here we are now.
All of us who found ourselves fighting for SYRIZA over the last eleven years and particularly over the last seven years of the crisis-attack, all of us who supported the case of Europe's first post-WWII left-wing government, all of us who believed that such a government, even a moderate left-wing government, could actually survive in the neo-liberal darkness of the EU, can today claim we are in the middle of a crushing defeat. This defeat which should be discussed and registered as a political defeat, not as a moral betrayal, i.e. the government's forced capitulation is our collective failure; it represents an ominous sign of imperialist obtrusion beyond any democratic framework.  There are a number of objective and subjective reasons for this failure - and as far as the latter are concerned, there are individuals throughout the government and party hierarchy and throughout SYRIZA's ideological and political spectrum, who share, even if not equally, the responsibility.
The situation is already clear: the trauma and the consequences of this defeat, sealed by the third MoU, will leave an indelible trace. SYRIZA will never be the same - and this particular 'ending' is already a key factor of the unfolding political crisis.  The current crisis, as a continuation of the representation crisis back in 2007, has already got an impact on all manifestations of left-wing political forces in Europe in the political and social race of the third MoU era which has just begun.  And it is too early to say how the crisis could be resolved, let alone be optimistic about its outcome.  Nonetheless, we do need to urgently come up with some "working hypotheses" as regards the next steps so that we can defend the working class and youth against the third MoU, keep the clash that the recent referendum demonstrated, alive - so that the pro-NO Left can consider what the victorious Left will be like in the new era.
The referendum

The obvious starting point of any kind of evaluation and planning is the victorious outcome of a clash of social classes that took international proportions on 5 July, which just within a week was turned upside down reducing itself to the government's humiliating settlement with the Troika.  All of us who fought in this battle, know that  in political terms time has never felt denser, that our clash has never been that genuine or existential, that our joy for this shared victory has never been greater. But at the same time we know that the leadership and planning deficit has never been that crucial for a class clash of such a scale: let me just remind you that up to the Wednesday before the referendum we didn’t know if there was going to be a referendum at all; up to Thursday we were listening to ministers and MPs assuring the electorate that there was going to be a deal (some of them went as far as suggesting a YES vote); for a whole week we witnessed State broadcaster ERT neutrality while the bourgeois media were plotting, and our people were being blackmailed at their workplace and at the ATM queues without us being able to defend them.  The government rightly condemned the EU coup against it; those days felt like we were members of the Popular Unity merely handing out leaflets while Allende was under threat.
This is a key point we should consider:  the referendum, i.e. that citizens’ involvement was a spontaneous, almost instinctive choice of the government in an attempt to halt the downward spiral of the negotiation – a kind of survival spasm just before drowning; a turning point in the course of continuous compromise with a few quelling peaks that the deal was “a matter of days” (that lasted four months…) and of tactics  put in place in 20 February that left no room for the masses to play a role and inevitably no role for the SYRIZA party.
From (ultra) continuity of the State to class capitulation
But if money and people’s support are the sources of power in our societies today, the Government suspended its key advantage for five months, by not lining up the masses; instead it called people in the frontline when its tactics had already failed under a crashing balance of power, when its “red lines” had already faded in the “47 page proposal” which in itself was difficult to defend because of lack of power.  This phase was concluded with the masses once again on the sidelines of the Government’s planning, with the resigned interpretation of the referendum mandate and the meeting of the council of political party leaders, far from any party procedure. 
Of course the responsibility of these choices is different for each of those involved and it can be clearly attributed to certain known individuals. At the same time SYRIZA’s founding documents had foreseen that the negotiations would not be a friendly discussion amongst partners.  This kind of non-participatory model of governance with the party fully subjected to the government was not everyone’s preferred option.  Still, left-wing evaluation cannot be limited to specific moments in time or particular individuals; it should depend on wider processes and, ultimately, on a class struggle level.  What I mean is that instead of talking about “treason” and “traitors” at highest leadership level, it would be far more constructive to argue that the Greek bourgeois class fought an existential battle in support of YES against a solid international block, by activating mechanisms and alliances in order to support the equally existential objective of staying in the Eurozone.  On the other hand and to the extent that the blackmailing “MoU or disorderly default and Grexit” was a genuine and reliable one, the Government should have prepared for revolutionary conditions. In an attempt to avoid such conditions, the government’s plan was therefore limited to shifting the confrontation from a level of economic and political power in Greece and in the EU to a level of “national salvation” and of “a common European sense”.  This is why government policy was ultimately reduced to an attempt to avoid the worst by going for the least dreadful option.  
This shift and therefore the backing out from the clash, led to (a) the programmatic ambiguities and the nationalist-populist rhetoric during the campaigning ahead of the 25 January general election, (b) the choices of Pavlopoulos for the Presidency of the Republic, and of ANEL and DIMAR politicians for key ministries, as well as the appointment of “technical experts” of the establishment in key positions in the government and wider public sector, and (c) celebrating the “victory” of the 20 February deal despite the fact that the government committed both to repay “in full and on time” an unsustainable debt and to refrain from any “unilateral changes of policies and structural reforms that would have an adverse effect on fiscal objectives, recovery of the economy and financial stability as per the institutions’ evaluation”.
The political crisis
Outlining the background of the capitulation of 12 July and the vote of the third MoU on 14 August, is important because it allows us to go a step further from a discussion about plans and planning which dominates the public speech of the Left; it helps us understand that any “plan” requires a subject – a subject that SYRIZA failed to determine while in opposition.  A subject that would have a clear grasp of the limits and the potential of the circumstances, that would understand that there is no room for a middle road in the midst of a crisis and a fierce class struggle with no return and that would be able to help design the tactics and the strategy needed, instead of substituting one with the other.
It is not at all certain that this hypothesis would have lead SYRIZA to January election victory – nor that it would have allowed SYRIZA to balance the pressure of a totalitarian EU which, apart from its internal rivalries, stands united on the basis of class rationalism and extreme austerity.  Nonetheless it is absolutely certain that if the SYRIZA strategy was not so bluntly focused on parliament, had SYRIZA made sure that there was more to planning and decision making than the superficial technical discussion about the national currency, had SYRIZA proceeded to unilateral action in the banking system to face capital outflow and in the taxation system to raise the funds needed for a comprehensive policy that would support the social groups it represented, had it not left the streets, had SYRIZA really believed in what it preached regarding the EU and the euro – if, in an nutshell, SYRIZA had fought the battle on a real level of power instead of arguing in favour of an imaginary world of a solution mutually beneficial for wolves and sheep alike, things would have been different today.  In the place of those “what ifs”, we have got a government that sadly looks more and more like the late DIMAR; and a party that is at the verge of an irrevocable split.  The third MoU is designed with such precision that SYRIZA strangles with its own two hands all the social groups it has represented since 2010, one by one – and it does so in a framework of strict monitoring that leaves little room for maneuvering.  And this is all taking place despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that the programme is far from feasible and while Grexit will keep hanging over our heads both as a means to discipline the government - and thus speeding up its pro-MoU mutation… – and as the possible end destination of this new course.
Limits, needs and possibilities
Today there is little room for optimism for a number of reasons:  the fact that certain parts of the society have been familiarised with the MoU reality; the strong belief that this government did at least give a fight, the Prime Minister’s dominance in SYRIZA and in the political system; the fact that even radical currents are trapped in a real impasse (as well as the aggressive justification of the MoU as a road with no alternative by a part of the government and the party that pushes things to the edge with some help from the Troika and the Greek bourgeois). As a result the trauma in the party’s body that supported the December protests, the protests in the squares and the battle of the MoU, will take a lot of time and a lot of effort to heal – if it is possible to heal at all.  But if this is true, then it is also true that the dense political time calls for regrouping as soon as possible.  
Obviously, if SYRIZA turns into DIMAR, if, in other words, SYRIZA internalises the outcome of a coup as its own programme, if SYRIZA goes from “no sacrifice for the euro” to “staying in power, MoU and the euro at all costs”, then SYRIZA will die out in the mid-term.  It is also clear that SYRIZA can no longer /promise an “even tougher negotiation”, in a European Union which has proven to be hostile to any idea of popular sovereignty.  So in order to maintain the representation it has built over these years, particularly in the face of the very real neo-Nazi threat, SYRIZA needs to clash with the MoUs, the Greek bourgeois and the EU.  It requires something that didn’t happen when the balance of power was more favourable: nationalisation of the banks under social control, heavy taxation of capitals, ensuring political and practical solidarity by the community that recognised the 12th of July as a coup, the internationalisation of the struggle against the EU, the protests.  Undoubtedly, the pro-No Left would rather face a pro-MoU SYRIZA-lead government than the rabble that preyed upon the power until last January.  But equally the pro-No Left should undoubtedly see far beyond this, towards a new path through the development of the necessary subject and plan.  Up until now, this plan was cracked up to serve the needs of inner-Left and inner-SYRIZA rift instead of it being thoroughly worked out either in technical terms (i.e. ATM operation, changing contracts’ currency, handling inflation and necessary imports), or most importantly in political and social terms.  This should be the mission of a united pro-NO Left that respects diverse routes and subjective views while ensuring the conditions for a joint struggle and for the maximum effectiveness possible.  As the last democratic alternative is wiped out by the Troika’s blackmail, as the fight is now for the basic necessities (water supply, power supply, housing, democracy), our joint struggle will be an existential one:  we have to prepare for it as soon as possible, but, most importantly, we have to win.

Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos is a member of the editorial board of RedNotebook and AnalyzeGreece!


Pantelis Boukalas: Memoranda. The weapons that backfired

Pantelis Boukalas

The bitter history of Greece’s bailout agreements, which were introduced in a bid to regulate – and even manipulate – the country’s politics (and by extension its economy) is in fact reminiscent of similar kinds of agreements imposed in other states: Sooner or later, and regardless of any resistance based on the popular will, opposition parties that come to power due to their anti-bailout rhetoric give in.

That is not because the opposition is not in the right, nor because its economic plans are less sophisticated and productive than those laid out by creditors. Rather, it is because the opposition is weaker and is knocking on strangers’ doors out of need. Its economic needs makes the opposition vulnerable and powerless in the face of the creditors’ ultimatums.

Now it has seen its heavy weaponry slipping away and into the hands of lenders. It was widely held – among government and opposition officials, as well as pundits – that the prospects of a Grexit served as a major weapon in the hands of Greece. All the aforementioned believed that the weapon’s mere existence would be enough to curb the European’s intransigence. Perhaps that was true, if partly, in 2012 – but not in 2015. In the three years that passed, eurozone and European Union states (and some non-EU countries) prepared themselves for the consequences of a Grexit.

At the same time, Greece was chewing on the laurels of a victory that never came. And when the gun backfired and after we were informed (mainly thanks to a slate of contradictory statements by Greece’s former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis) of one, and then two, and then three different contingency plans, then we switched back to immature partisan mode. And then, what would have been necessary (i.e. the preparation of several contingency plans so that the country would be protected in the eventuality of a euro exit) was denounced as treason.

A second weapon that backfired was the general faith in the ethical and political weight of popular mandate in terms of both in the January 25 elections and the bailout referendum. Greece’s European partners responded by saying that the will of the Greek people is more than offset by the will of another 18 nations (which however never held their own plebiscites on the Greek issue). Against this argument, the Greek government – which was rich in voluntarism yet poor in preparation – responded with the usual claim about the need to respect democracy in the place where it was born. That mantra was indicative of its confusion.

The government made a big mistake in taking for granted that the EU operates along democratic lines. Here’s a goal to aspire to.

Pantelis Boukalas is a journalist and author

First published in Greek on the newspaper "Kathimerini" (18.8.2015). Published in English on the English edition of "Kathimerini" (18.8.2015)

Dimitris Damigos. And after NO, what?

Dimitris Damigos
 The outcome of the 17-hour Euro Summit held on July 13th 2015  filled the vast majority of the Greek Left (excluding the leadership of the Greek Communist Party/KKE, but including the KKE voters, among whom 80% turned their back to the party line), but also a great part of the broader society with sadness, disappointment and even anger.
A society notwithstanding being devastated by five years of austerity and then subjected to terror by foreign and local establishments regarding the damaging consequences of following any other  path other than that of the euro (with the media showing “coming soon” scenes of closed down ATMs), dared to vote “NO” in the referendum July 5th 2015. And this popular act of resistance made it even more difficult to bear the Euro Summit outcome. But it didn’t do just that. 
Many said that during the Euro Summit, the Greek Prime Minister was subjected to «mental waterboarding». I would personally call it «virtual rape», aimed to intimidate all those who might dare to challenge «their way». And along with the Greek Prime Minister, not only the 62% that voted NO in the Referendum, but a much broader part of the Greek population were ethically and mentally raped– with the exception of the neoliberals (politicians, journalists and “intellectuals”) together with representatives of the KKE leadership, who jointly appear elated in TV shows trumpeting, from different perspectives that  «they had told us so».
SYRIZA clearly bears responsibility for this. It miscalculated how far its opponents where prepared to go, and went unprepared  to a battle given at a place, a time and under circumstances set by the opposition. Seen from this perspective, the result did not come as a surprise. It was a defeat for SYRIZA, a heavy defeat.  A capitulation. One that cannot be eased in the face of the losses that Schäuble and his neoliberal counterparts underwent on a symbolic and ethical level - judging at least by the criticism they received internationally (of course, only time will tell whether this criticism will bring about a broader challenging of their policies, as the Greek Prime Minister seems to believe).
And now that the Euro Summit answered back to the Greek NO with its own NO, what happens next?
Part of the Greek Left speaks of “treason” and calls for a fight against the SYRIZA-ANEL government. Another part supports the new memorandum unenthusiastically, using arguments that the previous supporters of the memoranda, Samaras, Venizelos ans Papandreou, have used. And a third part remains silent due to sadness and embarrassment. The first reaction is the more spontaneous within the Left, and the “safest”. When one feels defeated, she tries to save at least her ideological purity, even if this only means falling heroically. The second reaction puts the Left in the great danger of abandoning its beliefs, and becoming part of the establishment. The third reaction is of no use to anyone - neither to those that are going through it, nor to the rest of the society. And at this very difficult and crucial moment, the criterion of the Left should be the protection of society.
The way our «partners» treated Greece destroyed everyone’s (myself included) hopes for a Europe of Enlightenment, a Europe of the people - perhaps not completely, nevertheless, it made it crystal clear that now more than ever, if Europe does not change, Greece should start preparing to follow an alternative path. It will be up to the Greek society to choose when to follow a different path – it will not imposed by others. And this preparation presupposes the total reorganization of the country in all levels: in terms of production and consumption, but also socially, ethically and intellectually.
And this time, the Left must avoid making mistakes such as promising a vague, ideal alternative path without a clear, concrete and realistic vision, without preparing the people and the country. A plan to exit the Eurozone needs to convincingly address a series of questions; it should not be an emotional reaction. It should address, for example, the issue of alimentation, for the current production of grain and other arable crops cannot cover the country’s needs. It should provide answers regarding the function, with no reserve assets of importance, of the primary sector, which is today completely dependent on imported fuel, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, and even seeds.
It needs to clearly indicate what can be produced by a secondary sector, that has been deindustrialised for several years now, and this has been accelerated further due to the economic crisis (losses in gross investment capital have increased to more that 60%). Unless the Left’s vision, at least for the short term, is that Greece will survive mainly or exclusively on the tertiary sector, and that we should all move to the countryside and work the land using traditional manual methods.
Whatever the plan may be (and if there isn’t one, one must be prepared right away), the Left should present it, advocate it, and eventually inspire and convince the people that there is life after the Euro. And yet, there is another question we need to answer: Whilst moving towards this direction, which of course passes through [the austerity of] another memorandum, do we want to deal with Mitsotakis or with Katrougkalos? With Arvanitopoulos or with Baltas? With Voridis, Georgiadis, Lazaridis, Kranidiotis, and Samaras, or with Dragasakis, Sakellaridis, Pappas, Tsakalotos and Tsipras? The answer is quite clear – and yet this does not mean that we are offering the government a blank cheque or that we will abstain from any critique or participation in social movements.

Otherwise, our ego, our tendency towards ideological purity and our desire to maintain «the barbarians» will prevail – for «what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”, as the poet C. P. Cavafys put it.

 We should instead leave behind us illusions of a different Europe and move on towards dreaming of another path. With sense and prudence.

Dimitris Damigos is an Associate Professor at the National Technical University of Athens.

First published in Greek on, 16.7.2015

Translated by Daphne Lappa

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