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)

What can a Left-wing Government under Memorandum do?

Three Questions by Alexis Tsipras-1
Costis Hadjimichalis
Addressing SYRIZA's Political Secretariat on 27 July Alexis Tsipras posed three questions about the negotiation, the deal, Plan B and Government's course. We felt that these questions go beyond the discussion held within the Political Secretariat; they can serve as a basis for a substantive evaluation and planning-ahead discussion. The Sunday supplement "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi" have asked
Michalis Panayotakis and Costis Hadjimichalis to share their views around the following three questions:
1. Has the government done all that could be done, yes or no? Are there things it omitted or avoided to do, and what? What didn't it handle correctly?
2. Was there a realistic and viable plan available that was not adopted? What could such an alternative solution be like today?
3. What should the Left do now? Should it abandon the government to the representatives of the bankrupt old political system? Or should it continue fighting under the existing conditions?

In response to the request by the friends and comrades of “Enthemata” around the three question posed by Alexis Tsipras at the Political Secretariat I would like to share some of my thoughts with you. To start with, I must admit I am not entirely sure whether I am entitled to do so, not being a SYRIZA party member; however I could not possibly refuse the request by these comrades who have been through much more than I have.

The first two questions about the negotiation and the final conclusion of the Memorandum (MoU), are addressed mainly to party members who know much more than I do, therefore I could not really argue for or against.  From a political point of view, however, we all know what happened: the Europeans showed absolute disregard for the rules of Democracy. This left little room for maneuvering or alternatives, whereas we went there assuming that our just requests and our well-documented arguments would be enough to convince them. But this was no academic congress; it was an international confrontation and they were in a position to move the goalposts/ change the rules every so often. 

Bitterness and disappointment is justified especially following a serious failure, a defeat that's hanging over us fuelling the very popular game of "fault-ology": after all the Left has got a long experience in analysing its mistakes, in inner-party divisions and splits but very little experience in self-awareness and governance. It's worth noting though that all SYRIZA factions had fully adopted the anti-MoU rhetoric and the “solution within the Eurozone" approach; there was no preparation for confrontation but there was no preparation for such an intransigent position by the creditors and a third MoU either. The outcome was a surprise to everyone, to both the inner-party majority and minority and it highlighted the underlying weaknesses of the SYRIZA project itself.  I would like to draw attention to the comments made by two comrades I think highly of:  A. Karitzis wrote in Avgi newspaper (20.7.2015) that “it is the government and the parliament who is responsible for drawing any plans about Grexit, other currency, etc.; not individuals, not MPs, not any one of the party’s factions” – and, Ch. Georgoulas wrote in Epohi newspaper (28/7/2015) that “only a handful of stupid could feel ‘vindicated’ and self-sufficient”.

I would also add something that Tsipras said during his interview to Sto Kokkino radio station (29.7.2015): “if I was to do what I felt in my heart was right, I should have just thrown the towel there and then and I would have left”.  A statement that brings me to the third question which I feel is more relevant to me as a leftist and as Greek citizen.

Were Tsipras, Tsakalotos and the other members of the negotiating team, right in not doing what they felt in their hearts it was true?

Yes, I believe they did the right thing in the particular conjuncture, with the current balance of class and political forces in Greece and abroad and in response to their duty towards the society as a whole and not just the party. Let me reiterate at this point that I know nothing more about the negotiation nor for the alternative proposals that they were reportedly made.  But there is a wider question about the case of Memorandum and, beyond this, about the way the Left handles capitalism from a Government position.  Now one may argue that Left-wing Government and handling of capitalism is quite a contradiction in terms.  But wasn’t this what SYRIZA unanimously trumpeted with the Government’s programmatic statements in parliament?  And it did so in a neo-Keynesian tone, if I may add.  What we saw back then was the enthusiasm of the “first time for the Left” (“Left for the first time”) type but few had been prepared to make this a reality.  And today, under even worse MoU conditions, is there anything a Left-wing government could possibly do?  Very little indeed but still it should fight hard. 

Its action may not be ideologically pure or “very” Left-wing, but at least it would mean that the Government has tried, it has not turned its back to the majority of the people who believed in it not because it was “the Left” but because it was a political force much more honest than the old regime, a force that fights on their behalf and in their interest and it stands by them.  But this is exactly where the difficulty lies:  although each and everyone in SYRIZA has got a part to play, few are willing to work with citizens at the local level and ever fewer can tell the difference between the everyday functioning of the economy and the society from their ideological and theoretical analysis.

So the major criticism I would make to my government, is the fact that it misread the domestic front; it misread the everyday life and these small but substantive changes that the citizens anticipate – and they are the same citizens who keep supporting this government in such a generous way, even after the new MoU.  Because, if such a “Left-o-meter” exists, I strongly believe that in the current conjuncture maintaining and then enhancing the small social wins we managed so far, is a much more Left-wing intervention than rejecting the MoU and leaving the government.  Making provisions for SMEs that are about to go bust due to the prolonged capital controls and banks closures in case of a stand-off with creditors, is a much more Left-wing policy.  Similarly, protecting the already low salaries and pensions from being completely wiped out, is a much more Left-wing policy.  Of course, there is always the risk of turning SYRIZA into
DIMAR –some argue that this has already happened and they leave the party– but this can only be judged retrospectively. 

The risk of a spineless/spiritless, flat governing Left was there long before the new MoU anyway; it didn’t just appeared out of the blue now.

On the other hand, refusing to comply with your party’s guidance to give part of your MP or MEP compensation (as well as the Solidarity Contribution levy) to the party and then accusing your party of right-wing concessions, isn’t exactly a left-wing political practice I dream of. The awkward staffing of some ministries, general secretariats and Public Utilities companies, is far from the promises about marshalling left-wing forces. And finally, there hasn’t been a single “left-wing” draft bill on production reconstruction; police brutality continues; State Assets Management Agency still operates dispossessing public properties; the interim bill on education is lagging behind the party’s well-prepared proposals – none of this makes any sense. 

What should the Left do today then?  I don’t particularly like “shoulds”, they are too ethical/code-of-conduct like.  And then, what should the Left do in relation to what?  Even in everyday life you get to make plans, then something comes up and your need to constantly review and change your “shoulds”.  Reality is much harder than theory; what I’ve read so far about any alternative proposal, is a bunch of theories and econometric models, similar to creditors, which I do not trust at all.  But if I “should” contribute to the discussion (apart from what I’ve already said about provisions for the weaker, changes in everyday life, reforms stemming from the Left’s principles, such as citizenship), I would mention four, not so Left-wing I am afraid, notions: morals, seriousness, hard work and effectiveness.

So this Government should carry on governing provided it enjoys the support of the majority of SYRIZA MPs, the party’s support and the society’s support – otherwise reality will confirm this concept that SYRIZA is united only when in opposition. The announced Party Congress next September and expected new elections in fall, may confirm the above. 
[1] According to the  regulation of the Parliamentary Group of Syriza, each MP  of Syriza has to donate 20% for the party and 20% for the Solidarity of all.

Costis Hadjimichalis is professor Emeritus, Harokopio University.


Huffing and puffing for collapse, or looking for an umbrella?

Left with a New Perspective
Kostis Karpozilos
“A puff and it all comes down”. Thus spoke a wise older comrade in the spring of 1994. After laying out the structural contradictions in global capitalism, he reassured me that a mere puff of air – the collective breath of the global oppressed – would suffice for the ostensible victor of human history to be blown down like a house of cards. A few weeks later, the same comrade explained that a disappointing electoral result was the natural consequence of a dispiriting balance of power: “What did you expect? They are powerful…hold tight and let the storm pass”. Where earlier we had professed the imminent collapse of the global capitalist edifice under a puff of air, we then sought a sturdy umbrella with which to brave its onslaught.

This perpetual oscillation between voluntarism and fatalism constitutes one of the principal contradictions at the heart of the Left; its thought and action have historically vacillated between unconsidered optimism and passive internalization of failure. The past six months have been true to paradigm. Before the 2015 elections, Syriza  reassured us that the internal contradictions of the European Union, together with the pan-European recognition that the Memoranda had failed, would inevitably carve a space for the fruition of something of an ideal scenario: the endorsement of an alternative plan would bring about a radical revision of austerity policies without, however, endangering Greece’s position at the core of European integration. That promise has since been hollowed out, feeding into a further ritualistic stage of voluntarism: the rhetoric of unfavorable balances of power, the post facto admission that the opponent was almighty, that room for an alternative proposal was thus minimal from the start, and that, in such hostile conditions, the Left government was coerced into the decisions it took. 

The tendency on the Left to swing from heightened expectations to extreme disappointments has left all of us – regardless of our views about Syriza – concerned and bewildered about what will come next for the Left. Following Syriza’s negotiations with the creditors, the agreement now being imposed on Greece is anti-political for its neoliberalism. It has acted as a catalyst for increasing skepticism about the six-month experience of a Left government. Over those months, a peculiar exercise in patience led many to tacitly tolerate practices and choices which went against the grain of the anticipated turn in Greek politics and society. The welcoming of the remains of Saint Barbara, the petty nationalist festivities of 25th March, the resurrection of the old political personnel in the middle and upper echelons of the state apparatus and the absence of bold and radical initiatives in education and culture are all indications of a significant problem: the first six months of the Left’s governmental tenure did not signal a transformative moment in policy terms,  nor did they bring about an improvement in living and working conditions for the victims of the economic crisis. Yet we accepted this situation as entailing a set of necessary compromises in the run-up to a grand victory. Our expectations remained high. Now, the half-empty glass of those first six months – the main achievements of which were the passing of legislation granting Greek citizenship to migrants, moves to permit the payment of tax arrears in 100 installments, and some reform of the penal system – now looks emptier still, following the signing of the agreement and all that has happened since.

This experience has brought into relief three main questions facing the European Left in the 21st century. First, there is the question of what organizational form our political involvement should take following the collapse of the mass political parties that historically shaped the Left. Secondly, how do we move from the critique of neoliberal capitalism to concrete proposals for taking power and wielding it effectively? Third, how might we pursue alternatives to neoliberalism at a European level, across national borders? The contemporary Left has proved grossly inadequate in addressing these issues, choosing to avoid their thorny dimensions in favor of the reassuring glow of wishful thinking. The Left’s interpretation of the economic crisis is a case in point. Hundreds of pages of analysis insist that we are faced with a historic crisis of capitalism and with the domination of the most reactionary versions of neoliberal politics and economic thought. Such harsh conclusions, if sincere and not merely rhetorical flourishes, should surely have guarded against any expectation that the alternative plan to austerity put forward by the Greek government would be accepted. That expectation evinced a failure to recognize the true balance of power.

We are at a crossroads: a few months ago, the Greek case seemed the harbinger of a new status quo in which the 21st Century European Left might claim a leading role in shaping political developments. Now, the Left looks set to suffer a decisive defeat which may lead to the dominance of its opponents once again: to the silent recognition of the dogma that “There Is No Alternative”, and to the marginalization of the Left. Recognizing this problem is a necessary prerequisite if the following months are to escape from the spirit of defeatism and introspection which feels, especially for those who became politicized following the collapse of actually existing socialism, like “our own 1989”. The collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 brought about a crisis in all Left ideological currents, regardless of whether they identified with or opposed the Soviet paradigm, while the Greek 1989*  sealed the incorporation of the Left in the bourgeois political game. The danger today seems analogous: with the possibility of alternatives apparently defeated as Syriza hits the rocks, submission to the form and content of bourgeois politics gains ground.

The possibilities for a new beginning at this moment seem limited. Dialogue within the Left is confined to morally charged exchanges of blame and the odd witticism too on Facebook, or in long-established domains of debate which include ever fewer people and which definitely exclude the overwhelming majority of non-aligned Left activists. The Left needs to look for new forms of organization. We need a Left with a New Perspective which will systematically critique the Left’s inertia, its introspective spirit, by recommending tangible ways to overcome it. That is, of course, a very broad recommendation; I am not here suggesting particular organizational forms or strategies for the Left. Instead, I think we need a radical think tank capable of envisioning and pioneering equally radical forms of intervention in our everyday lives – our lives, that is, not the everyday lives of “others” – with the goal of facilitating the Left’s search for strategies that can successfully enforce its alternatives to austerity and neoliberalism. To prevent any misunderstandings, I am referring neither to a gathering of the aged “wise”, nor simply to a youth wing of already extant initiatives, but to the creation of a movement from scratch which, without grand ambitions, will create political possibilities, intervene in political realities and cast doubts upon past certainties.

In my opinion, any such new body must be innovative in its organizational form itself: it must be based on decentralized working groups, divided thematically, it must aspire to professionalism and productivity as working norms. It must engage with contemporary debates on the emergence of forms of dual power and it must, finally, comprise a creative extension of the numerous Greek initiatives, movements and publications that played a leading role in articulating radical critiques after 2008 and which are today called upon to decide on what comes next: a stormy forecast, as the wise comrade called it back in 1994.

In 1989, Synaspismos, one of Syriza’s predecessor parties, participated in a coalition government with the right-wing New Democracy.

 Kostis Karpozilos is a historian and member of the AnalyzeGreece editorial board 
Translated by Despina Biri


Costas Legakis: The Solution is (after all) in our hands

What are the duties of a bottom up movement in  the (new) Memorandum years?

Costas Legakis

So, habemus Memorandum 3! Are we talking about capitulation? Submission? Sell off? Treason? Or necessity?

If you read, coo-headed, the course of events since the beginning of the crisis, in 2010, until today, you realise that this has been a rather predetermined and unavoidable development.
And for that development, all fractions of the Movement are responsible; the Left of all hues, the Anarchists of all hues, the independent, commonalty, everyone.

It is obvious that the Left Government and the Left in general have no equal share of responsibility. However, everyone must realise its mistakes, omissions, obsessions and move towards a new prospect, in light of the new circumstances.

Since the official beginning of the crisis, in 2010, the Left dealt with the problem “technically”. Through an endless chain of analysis, Varoufakis, Lapavitsas, Kazakis and other “national economists” – but also politicians (Tsakalotos, Stathakis, Dragasakis, etc) – have become the new superstars.

On one hand, the “European” SYRIZA has, light hearted, promised that it would abolish MoUs with just one law, while staying in the EU and the Eurozone. They claimed that they would negotiate using the “tricks” to startle, scare and finally beat their opponents.  As a result, we have lived 5 months of “game theory”, “creative vagueness”, a referendum that the winning No was turned into a YES, etc.

On the other hand, the extra-parliamentary Left focused – almost exclusively – on the exit from the EU and the Eurozone, as if capitalism exploits people only in these boundaries, as if people in countries with a national currency, never suffer.

The Communist Party, played once again the role of Pontius Pilate, secluded in its socialist paradise dialectic, made itself completely “harmless” and offered its best services to the bourgeoisie.

The same path was followed by the majority of the Anarchists, who while chose a different methodology (escalation of street fights, create mayhem etc,) suggest nothing tangible to the people who suffered.

All hues, Left and Anarchist, contributed nothing new and followed the usual beaten tracks. SYRIZA, while confronted with election victory since 2012, spent these 2,5 years on election campaign instead of allocating  more time and resources to prepare and handle victory and its consequences.

SYRIZA prepared for the 25th of January but not for the 26th. Didn’t they know what they had to face? Is it possible that what we all knew and openly discussed about it, while SYRIZA had no idea? On the other hand, the Grexit devotees, what have they done to prepare for a bottom up organised confrontation? You don’t start a revolution with just revolutionary rhetoric.

The clashes, the battles, the social change need organisation and preparation not verbalism and marches from Propylaia to Syntagma. Not property destructions in every march or weekend clashes around Exarhia Sq.
The brightest moment of the Memorandum years, the so called “Movement of the Squares” was either discredited or criticized from the Left and the Anarchists or used for political expediency by others. SYRIZA managed to appreciate it.

Few were the political forces that believed in the proceedings set from the basis as practised in the squares. Those who were the most involved in these proceeding, were primarily the independent or members of political parties/organisations that acted independently, even against their collectivities.

Instead of claiming that the only choice is to sign a MoU, Alexis Tsipras should instead explain why he and his party didn’t do anything to avoid reaching this point.

1,300 € per each SYRIZA MP’s salary are supposed to fund solidarity structures. Which means that since June 2012 a sum of 3,776,500 € (according to my calculations) would be now available.  Are you aware, my SYRIZA comrades, how much investment in self-organised business could have been done with all that money? Where have they been spend? In food, clothes and medicines? And if so, then why we struggle to collect all these staff by volunteers in their neighbourhoods?

Wouldn’t we be in a different situation if we had a cooperative and solidarity based economy, which could be robust and sustainable? What if we had developed agricultural cooperatives of a new type, so we can be self-sufficient somehow? A “grassroot bank” could have also produced a sort of currency, provided this was well planned.

What kind of confrontation did you have in the back of your head when negotiating? A confrontation you couldn’t do because you were not prepared in advance? And why is the left wing SYRIZA complaining now? What did they do to prepare the clash? Just writing articles in iskra and rproject?

“There are alternatives” says Lafazanis. Which ones? What happened with our contacts with Russia, China, the BRICS? Did they fail or not? And if the failed which are now the alternatives? The same questions apply for the extra-parliamentary Left and the Anarchists.
What are the duties of a bottom up movement in the Memorandum years though, because well said dear author, but what now?

First of all, we fight the measures. Yes, through the beaten track, that is strikes, marches, riots, etc. but through a new perspective. We should think of new ways. No more Syntagma Sq trap. If our mobilisation is unpredictable, it would be more effective and difficult to suppress. Neighbourhood gatherings, people’s assembly, people from the country coming into towns and so much more that the author cannot think of.An “attack” of such a magnitude will be difficult to deal with.
Secondly, the “clash” or the “revolution” or whatever you want to name it, would still mean nothing, if we don’t provide for the next day. Ensure that there is bread, milk and petrol.Be prepared for the battle; strengthen self-organised cooperatives; Bottom-up co-ordination and management of the agricultural production in order to become self-sufficient; self -organised “banks” and “insurance bodies”.
Thirdly, we should create counter-structures in all operating levels, through open democracy, without hierarchy and bureaucracy
. In the future we want to stop paying taxes to the state; instead, the communities will collect this amount of money and dispose it in support of social needs. However utopian it may sound, even schools and hospitals could work this way.
Of course, I don’t believe I have the magic recipe. I am just brainstorming. My point is that no Left government can do the great productive reconstruction and restart the economy; we need to do it ourselves by self-organising the land and the factories.

If no Left government can redistribute wealth, we should to do it by confiscating businesses, when they don’t pay our salaries, and operate them ourselves.
If the Left cannot save us, let us save ourselves! If you can’t do it, we can. The solution is after all in our hands.
Costas Legakis is a member of a cooperative
 Translated by Caterina Drossopoulou

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