One year after the Greek "OXI"

Dimosthenis Papadatos Anagnostopoulos

Referenda have supporters but also fanatical adversaries on both sides of the political spectrum. In the case of last year’s Greek referendum, the first one in the country since 1974, its opponents from the Right (New Democracy, but also Pasok’s social democrats and To Potami’s liberals) rejected it as “divisive”, but at the same time took sides in favour of NAI. Its opponents from the Left (the Communist Party, KKE) interpreted it as an effort by the government to entrap the Greek people between two versions of austerity: a hard Memorandum proposed by the “institutions” (EU, ECB, IMF), which the people were called to reject, and a “milder” Memorandum the government was fighting for.

Referenda are not actually divisive in themselves; they just reflect and sharpen pre-existing divisions. So, the 5th July referendum revealed a deep social divide that was not created in a week, and this is why the dispute between NAI and OXI was all but a mere surface effect.

Anyone who witnessed the enormous gathering for OXI on Friday 3 July (but also the unprecedented “pro-European” rallies backed by the bourgeois parties) can understand this; anyone that remembers the lock-outs in small businesses, the discontent at the queues outside the closed banks and the way privately-owned media exploited it, as well as the incessant threats and the blunt political interventions (both from inside the country and from abroad) who equated a possible OXI vote with Grexit and chaos.

For the rest, who don’t remember, a simple analysis of the OXI vote will suffice to convince them: OXI was supported by the many who found themselves at the hard end of austerity, but also those who believed the crisis could recede only if the Greek government ended austerity, and stop servicing the debt. What’s more, a recent poll published in Ta Nea (a daily newspaper that openly supported NAI) shows that 74% of Greeks still believe austerity to be self-defeating. In other words, the division brought to the surface by the Greek referendum was not incidental.
On year on, however, the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets for OXI will not go out to celebrate the first anniversary of that historic victory. So what’s left of it?

For the NAI supporters, nothing at all: the referendum was just a reckless political maneuver that led us to a harsh third Memorandum and capital controls that worsened a market which was already in recession. In reality, NAI supporters were calling for the government to sign whatever deal was available, no matter how harsh or bad, if only it ensured Greece’s place in the Eurozone and the EU. The market was in crisis before capital controls due to the fact that in Greece as everywhere in Europe, profit margins have been shrinking and demand is crumbling; not because of a lack of cash!

Nevertheless, despite their flawed analyses and crushing defeat, NAI supporters seem vindicated today: one year after the referendum, the government that led the OXI campaign was forced into signing a hard third Memorandum that is enforcing to the letter, presenting it not as a product of extortion but as a solution to real problems. This is why the hundreds of thousands that took the streets for OXI will not be there today for the commemoration of that great victory.

The 5th July referendum was one of the rare moments in History when large parts of a society felt they have nothing to lose and stood behind those political leaders who seemed willing to fight in their defense. In reality, the then-government declared the referendum in the hope that it would stop its continuous slip towards the troika positions during the dragging negotiation: at the beginning of 2015 Syriza was elected to put an end to austerity while staying in the Eurozone; a little later it promised a “mutually beneficent compromise”; and when that proved impossible, it aimed for an “honorable agreement”. On the night of July 12th, when the troika enforced a harsh third Memorandum in a way that made international public opinion react with cries about a financial coup, it became clear that elections and referenda are no longer allowed to influence economic policy in the Eurozone –and that, apart from a defeat for the Greek government and those of us who stood beside it, was indeed a political coup.

Still, losing to superior opponents is part of the game – even if the government reassured Greek society for months that this was not a possibility; what was clearly foul play was that  a left government accepted a political coup in favour of the continuation of austerity as the limit of its policy: that happened in August 2015, when Alexis Tsipras called for elections, ignoring Syriza’s central committee’s calls for a conference in order for the party to decide not to impose the new Memorandum as government. That was a second coup that eventually led to the breakup of Syriza. And that had nothing to do with the expectations of the 3.5 million people who had voted for OXI. 

The division the referendum revealed is no longer just about the Memoranda, but also about the correct stance toward a European Union that allows exceptions to its rules only when they come from the Right. There are no easy answers, but the recent Brexit win makes them urgent. Europe, held “together” only by capital for the past two decades, hasn’t been more divided since WWII;  if the answers are not provided by the Left (a Left that will no longer mistake OXI for NAI) the UK example shows who is lying in wait to provide them.
Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos is a member of the editorial board of RedNotebook.

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou, edited by Caterina Drossopoulou

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!

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