By Fred Goldstein
July 14 — With a gun to their heads, the leaders of Syriza, headed by Alexis Tsipras, have capitulated to the financial powers of Europe, headed by the German bankers. The terms of the agreement spell even graver hardship for the Greek masses and outright international bankers’ rule over Greece.
This agreement overrides the resounding “No” vote to austerity by the Greek masses in the referendum of July 5. The 61 percent vote against giving in to the bankers showed there is widespread basis for mass resistance.
The latest deal has not yet been accepted by the Greek Parliament.
But before the Brussels capitulation, Tsipras had arranged to ram a blanket acceptance of whatever agreement was signed through Parliament. He did this in collaboration with the other Greek bourgeois and social democratic parties — the very ones who campaigned for a “Yes” vote in the referendum. He did this knowing that part of his own party would rebel.
The terms of the agreement signed by the 19 countries in the eurozone require Greece to sign on to tax increases, pension reductions and other onerous conditions by July 18.
German imperialism has gotten the endorsement of a strong bloc of countries and the collaboration of the French capitalist government to crush Greece under its heel and make an example out of the Syriza leadership. The European Central Bank forced the Greek banks to close by cutting off the flow of funds, threatening financial chaos and economic strangulation.
The masses in Greece had initiated an electoral rebellion against austerity, under the leadership of Syriza and the Tsipras grouping. This rebellion interfered with the European Union’s project of holding the weaker countries of Europe in the iron grip of the financial powers in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and others. This project has been underway since the collapse of the USSR and Eastern Europe.
The Tsipras social democratic leadership was not up to the task of carrying through on the rebellion. Now the goal of the financial powers is to humiliate and bring down the government and destroy Tsipras in front of his own people as an object lesson to all others who would rebel against the iron austerity demanded by the European powers — and by the International Monetary Fund, headed by the U.S.
Terms of further austerity
The “Troika” — the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission — and the Greek government, together with the other Greek bourgeois parties, have now signed terms that will deepen the Greek debt enslavement. Following are highlights of the agreement signed in Brussels by all 19 eurozone countries.
The Greek government has agreed to submit to the oversight of the IMF; to allow supervised machinery that will trigger automatic spending cuts if budget surpluses fall short; to “ambitious pension reform,” meaning cuts to pensioners; to “modernization of collective bargaining,” meaning curtailing union rights; and to “industrial action” reform, that is, cracking down on the right to strike.
The agreement requires the government to carry out “product market reforms” that remove any price protection on prescription drugs, milk and bread, among other things; to proceed with the privatization of the national electric network (ADMIE); to transfer “valuable Greek assets” to an “independent fund” (in Luxembourg) that will privatize the assets to pay the debt.
There will be no reduction in the principal amount, the hundreds of billions of euros owed to the banks — no “haircut” — only a possible lowering of interest rates and a possible stretching out of the repayment period. But there has been no commitment at all to any debt relief.
The government must submit economic legislation to the Troika before it is submitted to Parliament or the public. These commitments are required before any negotiations for a future bailout begin.
Mass resistance needed
Whether or not the government falls, there needs to be a new leadership of resistance in Greece to mobilize mass struggle, both in the country and by winning solidarity throughout Europe, to rebuff this agreement before it can be fully implemented. An immediate, united mass response must be called to say No! — no to further austerity, no to paying this illegitimate debt.
An emergency gathering could be called by the Greek left and progressive forces of representatives from the factories, the communities, the pensioners, the schools and universities, and the countryside, as well as small businesses, to formulate a counter-program and a plan of agitation and ongoing mass resistance to overturn the agreement.
The aim must be to obstruct the implementation of the extreme austerity measures dictated by European finance capital, with Wall Street in the background, and agreed to by Tsipras’ hapless and battered government. The widest possible unity of resistance must be achieved in the coming days.
Last spring the Syriza-led Greek Parliament authorized a study by the Committee Opposed to Debt. (See Workers World, “Greek Debt Committee,” July 6.) Though presented within a capitalist framework, the arguments form the legal foundation for rejecting the extortionate debt to the bankers. The report provides evidence that the debt is “illegal, illegitimate, and odious.”
The report concluded: “The Committee considers that Greece has been and still is the victim of an attack premeditated and organized by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, aimed exclusively at shifting private debt onto the public sector.”
Break with the euro vs. long-term debt slavery
As we recently wrote in these pages, a commitment made in advance by the Syriza leaders to remain in the eurozone was a clear signal to the bankers that the financiers had the upper hand and would resort to financial strangulation, which is exactly what they have done.
Whatever the difficulties of breaking with the euro to free Greece from the absolute financial control of Frankfurt, the ECB and German, European and U.S. finance capital, these difficulties must be faced. The technical preparations and the education effort to explain it to the masses should have been carried out long ago. As many left forces have pointed out, it is better to go through temporary hardship than to submit to permanent debt slavery and financial plunder.
Left forces in Syriza called for a break long ago. Even the bourgeois anti-austerity Keynesian economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have suggested that Greece would be better off if it left the euro.
Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of the Syriza Central Committee who teaches in London, quoted Thanassis Petrakos, one of the three speakers of Syriza’s parliamentary group and a prominent member of the Left Platform, who declared:
“The ‘no’ of the referendum was a radical and a class ‘no.’ Some high-ranked comrades insist on the ‘there is no other way’ logic. We should prepare exiting the eurozone and say that clearly to the people. The Left has a future when it opens its wings to the unknown, not to nothingness. Those who insist on the choice of staying in the euro whatever the cost might know that it is a disaster. We need a prepared exit to open up a new path. The first steps are the public control of the banks and of the Greek central bank and a crackdown on oligarchy.” (Jacobin magazine, July 10)
Only the left and revolutionary forces can prepare the path forward — the struggle to overturn the agreement and to break with the euro. Under new left leadership there could be a mass campaign to overcome the fear of a rupture. The possibilities of surviving a break with the euro could be illustrated concretely. For example, plans to form local committees everywhere to ensure the food supply and to carry out distribution, especially to the poor, could be drawn up. These committees could also be empowered to suppress hoarding, to monitor the capitalists against profit gouging and hoarding, to ensure medical services, etc.
It should be pointed out that a new sovereign currency could be employed to put the masses of unemployed, especially the youth, back to work; vastly increase production; and overcome the depression that Greece is now in.
Of course, the nationalization of the banks and of strategic sectors of the economy would be fundamental steps to regain sovereignty over the economy.
Such steps could be accompanied by international negotiations to set up alternate trade patterns where necessary, both import and export. This would be in anticipation of commercial obstruction by the EU. It should be possible to open up discussions with every government that praised the “No” vote. The ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) countries in Latin America come to mind.
This past April, the Greek ambassador to Iran was received by President Hassan Rouhani. “In the meeting (the president) said that Greece has many capacities in various fields and the economies of Iran and Greece can complement each other. ” The Greek ambassador, in turn, said: ”Greece seeks strategic ties with Iran and is against the policy of imposition of sanction to isolate countries.” (Iran News Agency, April 20)
Tsipras recently made a trip to Russia to discuss a gas pipeline, which also opens up possibilities to maintain trade outside the euro. If necessary, temporary barter relationships could be established. This tactic was used successfully by Iran to get around U.S. sanctions.
In any case, the logic of remaining in the euro at all costs has transformed the Syriza government from an opponent of austerity to an enforcer of austerity. This cycle must be broken.
Capitalist parasites cheering
Right now the stock markets around the world are on the rise as news spreads of the signing of the austerity agreement by the Greek government. The millionaires and billionaires who speculate on stocks are drooling as they sense that the banks are going to squeeze ever more blood from the Greek masses.
An obscene celebration is going on in financial circles over the intended attack by the banks on the Greek people — the workers, the poor, the pensioners, the youth. The global financial oligarchy is looking forward to the Troika shoring up the Greek banks so that Greece can shell out money to the creditors.
There are those on the left who regarded Tsipras’ capitulation as inevitable and used this as a rationale to abstain from the struggle. In particular the Greek Communist Party held back its broad following among the militant, class-conscious sectors of the organized working class from joining with the broader anti-austerity forces loyal to Syriza in a common struggle against the Troika. Thus, they gave up the chance to steer the wider movement in a left and revolutionary direction, which could have helped to forestall a capitulation or to prepare for it when it came.
We hope present developments will cause all the forces on the left to rethink and regroup for the broadest possible united struggle to overturn this latest capitulation to the austerity demands of the financial powers.
The smiles can still be wiped from the faces of the financial parasites and the stock exchanges of the capitalist world if a powerful mass movement mounts a counterattack. It is time to overcome differences and launch a fightback that will rock the Merkels, Hollandes and all the bankers of Europe and the U.S. back on their heels.
Goldstein is the author of two books, “Capitalism at a Dead End” and “Low-Wage Capitalism.” More of his writing is posted on lowwagecapitalism.org and on his Facebook page.