By Fred Goldstein
July 20 — The bailout deal signed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the European bankers has brought more hardship to the Greek workers, more money to the bankers and shows that electoral politics without vigorous class struggle is a dead end for the working class.
Cutting pensions and raising sales taxes on items needed to survive so that bankers can be paid are a crime against the working class. Yet that has been agreed to by Tsipras and his new-found bourgeois allies: the center-right New Democracy party, the bourgeois social democrats in PASOK and the To Potami party. They made up the votes he needed in Parliament due to defections from the Syriza delegation.
As the banks reopen on a limited basis, new taxes are being imposed on the masses. A value added tax, or sales tax, has now been placed on restaurants, taxis, other forms of transportation, some types of meat, milk, cooking oil and many other basic necessities. The sales taxes are severe, going from 13 percent to 23 percent — almost doubling this regressive form of taxation that falls heaviest on the workers, the poor and the elderly.
These increases are being imposed on a basically impoverished population that is in the midst of a Great Depression. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25 percent; there is 26 percent overall unemployment and 50 percent youth unemployment. One-third of pensioners are in danger of falling into poverty.
Over 2.5 million people — in a country of 11 million — have no health insurance. Some 800,000 people are estimated to lack unemployment insurance, which also carries medical insurance. Health care spending was 9.3 percent of the budget in 2012; it had already fallen to 5 percent under the existing banker-imposed austerity program, and will now decline further.
It is no surprise there was a 35 percent increase in the suicide rate during the first two years of austerity. (Newsweek, July 15)
Bankers repaid as cuts are enacted
The cruel farce of a so-called bailout for the Greek government was played out today as Brussels transferred 7.16 billion euros to Athens. This bailout payment had been allocated to the Greek government long ago and was held in a European Union fund euphemistically called the Emergency Financial Stability Mechanism.
The bankers had refused to release the money until the Greek financial system was on its knees and the banks were closed down.
The money was released after the Greek government, backed by the Parliament, put into place the sales tax increases and ratified pension reductions along with attacks on union rights that make it easier to fire workers. The Greek government also had to transfer 50 billion euro to a privatization fund. All these were called “confidence-building” measures. These cuts were a prior condition to beginning negotiations with the bankers on an additional 80 billion euro bailout going forward.
Once the bankers were “confident” that the Greek government was implementing draconian austerity measures, Brussels sent the emergency funding.
Where did the money go? It went to paying the European Central Bank 4.2 billion euro, the International Monetary Fund 2.05 billion euro and the National Bank of Greece 500 million euro. The relatively small amount left over was deposited in escrow to be available to London and other non-eurozone countries as security in case they suffer any future losses from the bailout process.
Not one euro went to the Greek government for expenses to relieve the suffering of the Greek people.
Debt relief scam
Two days before the deal was made in Brussels by the eurozone ministers and Tsipras, the IMF issued a report saying that while “reform” — read austerity cuts — was absolutely essential, Greece would need massive debt relief because the debt could not be paid. This was directed against the German bankers and their bloc of countries in the eurozone. In the end the final agreement said there would be “no haircuts” — no reduction in the debt principal.
The IMF has threatened to refuse to participate in the bailout without debt relief for Greece, perhaps including a 30-year moratorium before the debt has to be paid. This may seem like a generous gesture, but it is entirely self-serving for the financiers.
In the first place, the Greek government is insolvent and cannot pay the debt. So any debt payment will have to be financed by loans from the IMF, the European Central Bank or European bankers directly.
With the Greek government indebted for over 300 billion euro and about to negotiate another 80 billion euro loan, the entire debt structure will become a danger to the bankers themselves.
So a moratorium on debt payments is actually a moratorium on having to make more risky loans to Greece.
Secondly, if the debt is unsustainable, that means default is on the agenda. Greece has already missed two loan payments to the IMF. But if a loan is in default, it has to be marked down on the books. It is no longer an asset and the amount of the write-down must be replaced by additional capital contributions by the bank. So a moratorium on debt payment turns the unpayable loans into “performing” loans that are deferred for a given period of time. This protects the balance sheets of the banks.
What is ‘Europe’?
The euro bankers and the Tsipras faction of Syriza tried to terrorize the masses into accepting the austerity deal with the threat of “leaving Europe.” Leaving the eurozone — that is, leaving the euro currency — was made equivalent to leaving Europe, meaning the European Union.
But it should be remembered that the British ruling class refused to give up the pound when the common currency union was formed. So did Denmark and other countries. These countries are not in the eurozone. They are in the European Union while retaining their own currency and their financial sovereignty.
When Britain and Denmark refused the euro, they were given an “opt out” option, even though every EU country is supposed to apply to become a member of the eurozone.
So the Greek government would be following a precedent if it demanded an “opt out” of the euro, while retaining membership in the EU. This would mean that Greeks could continue to travel throughout Europe without having to apply for visas while retaining the common benefits of being in the EU.
But even while that should be legally and politically possible, the ideological damage in promoting the idea of “Europe” without applying a Marxist, class approach is extremely dangerous and all too common.
The EU is a group of capitalist states, ruled by exploiting and plundering ruling classes. Their motivation for sustaining “Europe,” that is, the EU, is to be able to compete economically with U.S. imperialism and Japan. The capitalist classes of Europe were willing to set up a structure by which Wall Street and Washington would face common tariff barriers, commercial rules and regulatory oversight.
Also, by centralizing power in a Brussels-based bureaucracy, the European bankers could reverse gains the working class had won in countries where workers were organized in strong unions and workers’ parties, such as France and Italy.
U.S. imperialism, on the other hand, wants a stable European capitalist structure to endure for a number of reasons. First, the corporations and bankers want a large uniform market where they can invest and conduct commerce across borders with a very large population. The European Union encompasses 508 million people; the eurozone covers 338 million of them.
Second, they do not want political conflict to endanger the NATO alliance in any way. This is their bulwark for world domination, second only to the Pentagon itself. While the German imperialists hold economic sway over Europe, Washington wants to ensure its military sway over a unified NATO and European alliance.
Opposed to these capitalist interests in Europe is the multinational European working class, exploited by the capitalist classes of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. The European working class is filled with immigrant workers who suffer severe oppression, which is getting worse.
Europe, for the workers, should signify a continent-wide proletariat that must unite in common cause against the collective power of capitalist Europe, as well as show its international solidarity with the workers and the oppressed of the world. Some of these states are rich; some are poorer, like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Greece. But they are all dominated by the exploiting classes, and must be fought as such.
Parliamentary road alone leads to a dead end
If the latest Greek crisis and the capitulation to the bankers mean anything, it is that all electoral activity of the masses has to be subordinated to, and integrated with, the organized, militant class struggle.
In the long run, elections under capitalism can, at best, only be a measure of the maturity of the working class, as Frederick Engels famously said. They can provide an indicator of when the working class is ready to bid for power.
But long before that point is reached, the obsession with elections as the fundamental lever in making gains for the working class must be abandoned. The latest experience of the betrayal of the Greek masses underscores this point.
Greece held two elections in five months. The first was an election in January that Syriza won with 35 percent of the vote — as the party opposing austerity. The second was the July 5 referendum on austerity, in which 61 percent voted No.
To accept the deal, the Tsipras faction used a vote in Parliament — an indirect vote — to overturn the direct vote of the masses that had firmly rejected austerity. Defying his own party, Tsipras really had no right to represent Syriza. The Political Secretariat of his party opposed the deal; the Central Committee of 201 voted it down with 109 votes against. (sputniknews.com, July 15) Some 33 Syriza MPs voted no, six abstained and three Syriza ministers resigned, including the speaker of the Parliament and a leader of the Left Platform.
But Tsipras, knowing he could not sell this betrayal in his own party, made a deal ahead of time with the bourgeois parties to override the referendum.
In Greece, as well as elsewhere in Europe, there is an overemphasis on elections; the class struggle has taken a secondary place. This is just the reverse of what it should be. The class struggle against the bosses and their stooges in Parliament and in government should be primary.
This message should also be heard in the United States, as the ruling class gears up for its quadrennial presidential charade in which the masses “choose” which leaders of the oppressing and exploiting class will rule.
The labor movement and militant workers should not be pulled into running after Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or any other candidate who wants to preside over the capitalist state. That is the lesson of Greece.
Goldstein is the author of two books, “Capitalism at a Dead End” and “Low-Wage Capitalism.” More of his writing is available at lowwagecapitalism.org and on his Facebook page.