After the breakdown of negotiations between the Greek government and the EU last week, the produced this article, which provides background information to the present impasse.
[Written on February 13, 2015]
The dignified stance of the Syriza government towards Greece’s creditors was maintained during the Eurogroup meeting on Wednesday, February 11. In spite of the immense pressure of Greece’s so-called EU “partners” and the apparent vacillation on the part of the government’s negotiating team (which we need to view with some reservations since we only have the bourgeois media as a source), the intervention of the Prime Minister avoided a humiliating agreement which was aimed at extending the Memoranda and committing the new government to stick to the austerity policies arising from them. The government's refusal to sign that agreement was another indication of its aim of not letting down the people. It also reflected the pressure of the mass rallies held in all the major cities of the country with one key slogan, "No stepping back!"
Last Thursday, February 12, however, the summit of EU leaders unfortunately did not produce a similar result. The German government apparently was trying to avoid publicly taking responsibility for an early head-on clash. It made a tactical manoeuvre, latching on to the infamous “separation” of the Memorandum into “toxic” and “non-toxic” debt, which had been suggested by the Greek government. Germany appeared willing to consider the proposals of the Greek government for that part of the Memorandum that it accepts, under the diplomatic formula of a combination of the existing programme with the “bridging loan” that the government suggests. On this basis, a common “technical” committee was set up which is now considering the possibility of a political agreement.
In the words of the Prime Minister in the interview after the summit late last Thursday, “the technical agreement requires political agreement.” This clearly suggested that there had been some progress in the negotiations, which could have led to an agreement in the following days, with a key moment being last Sunday’s Eurogroup meeting. On this we agree with the comrade premier: the problem is not technical, but political.
The German government, together with all the national bourgeois governments, whether social democratic or right-wing – and who only have very minor differences between them, as was clearly evident in the Eurogroup and EU summit – want to send everyone the same political message: the rules of budgetary discipline, namely austerity, according to which European and world capitalism operate, must be respected, regardless of whether this means openly violating the democratic will of the people.
On the other hand, up until yesterday, the general political message sent out by the actions of the new Greek government was that of a strict observance to key commitments: the reversal of austerity, the cancelling of the Memoranda, and the expulsion of the troika from the country.
Given last Thursday’s two opposing political messages, if an agreement on “technical cooperation” is to produce a political agreement, this logically would require an effective shifting away from their previous positions on the part of one or both parties involved.
The German government, according to all available reports, does not seem prepared to budge on any of the key policy demands it posed at the beginning of the negotiations. The only new elements to emerge in its position are one of language, i.e. to change the name of the body [the hated Troika] that is to review the bail-out programme on behalf of creditors, and to consider any counter-proposals of the new government only if they allow for a balanced budget, so that the overall level of austerity remains the same. Also, the acceptance on the part of the German government to open a discussion on a smaller primary surplus is not a substantial concession, as the estimated amount of such primary surpluses have proved hard to pin down in reality.
But what about the Greek government? Its famous proposal of a “bridging loan” is linked to substantial backtracking on its part, something which had already emerged over the previous days. Thursday's agreement on “technical cooperation”, however, sealed and cemented them as given. The government has now abandoned its demand for a cancellation of most of the debt and has limited itself to making proposals that would decrease the annual servicing costs but at the expense of spreading them out over a longer period, i.e. burdening the future generations. The Greek banking system is to remain under the control of the Troika and their major capitalist shareholders; while not the slightest initiative towards taking them under “public control” was adopted. In the field of privatisations also, their being “put on hold” was accompanied by a “freezing” of the abolition of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, ultimately allowing for its re-introduction in the name of a possible deal.
The most striking government retreat was its full acceptance of the target of achieving a “primary surplus”, which implies a commitment to normal debt servicing which in practice constitutes acceptance of the austerity programme. Any commitment to achieving “primary surplus” targets is by its very nature incompatible with the implementation of the Thessaloniki programme. By depending on the performance of the fragile Greek economy and on the very problematic tax collection process, new austerity measures would require constant review. In the name of the fixed target of achieving “primary surpluses” and with the majority of working people in the country already paying well beyond their means in taxes, at some stage measures of so-called “horizontal” cuts in pensions, salaries and public investment would become inevitable, giving further impetus to mass poverty and unemployment.
So what can be easily surmised from all this is that at the same time as the government appears adamant on commitments made in its programmatic declaration, when negotiating with the creditors it makes concessions, which practically undermine and contradict its initial position.
This contradiction is not a moral question, not a question of mere inconsistency. It is a reflection of the contradictions in the political position of the leadership of SYRIZA, i.e. a dead-end logic of pursuing an agreement that would be “mutually beneficial” for the Greek people and their creditors, a logic which in turn reflects the social-democratic idea that under the false mask of “national interest”, the interests of the working class and capital can be served at the same time.
An attempt to put into practice this mistaken policy in the next few days would likely lead to an agreement that, regardless of how it would be presented in the media, would constitute a serious retreat from the commitments of the government and would end up with it agreeing to extend the austerity measures, something which at the moment it is correctly resisting. Thus, the government, if it signs an agreement based on the acceptance of normal debt servicing and achieving the targets for the primary budget surpluses, would sooner or later have to deal with the contradiction of reversing its own anti-Memorandum laws. That would be the biggest trap, and then austerity and cuts would appear as the policy of the government itself rather than provocative pressures of the lenders. This is an absolute impasse in which the social-democratic conception of class compromise and class collaboration can lead today.
The Communists of SYRIZA call on the comrades in the leadership of the party and the government not to succumb to the manoeuvres, the traps and pressures of international capital and stand firmly on the road of dignity and consistency with the party’s election commitments. The rupture with the EU has already practically taken place, as the “partner/creditors” have made it abundantly clear that austerity cannot be removed. As the circle cannot be squared, so a draconian austerity programme cannot be “mixed” with a pro-worker, anti-Memorandum programme “beneficial to everyone”.
The leadership of SYRIZA and the government will have to come to terms with reality. The continuation of the negotiations, with the aim of reaching a new political agreement with these so-called “partners”, offers only traps and forces new concessions from the Greek government. The last few days have shown clearly that the only reliable partners and allies of the government and SYRIZA are 80% of the Greek people, together with the European workers, who with dozens of rallies and acts of solidarity see Greece, not as an isolated country, but as a living example of struggle that breaks the mould of draconian austerity imposed on all the workers by capitalism.
The political line of SYRIZA and the government should now be as follows:
- No illusions in the outcome of the negotiations. Use the summits and conferences of the “Eurogroup” as a public platform for the continued advocacy of putting an end to austerity and carrying out a radical socialist policy, but also as a forum from which to appeal to the European and world working class for a joint struggle.
- Since the “partners” continue to present draft agreements which are actually traps for Greece to follow the same policy line of the Memoranda that were voted against by the Greek people, it is time to fight back! Disarm the troika! Remove the whole debt which hangs around the neck of the Greek people. It is not enough to simply loosen it a little and pass it on to future generations. For the unilateral cancellation of the debt now!
- Disarm the friends of the Troika inside the country. Do not leave the banks in the hands of the large shareholders! The only guarantee for people’s savings and for a developmental role of the banks is the nationalisation of the banking system, i.e. its passage into state ownership under workers' control, with a governing body chosen by the elected government and the mass organizations of the working people!
- Nationalise immediately the businesses and assets of the big tax evaders – i.e. those oligarchs denounced in Parliament by the Minister of State and Anti-corruption, Nikoloudis. Immediate establishment of workers' control in big enterprises with elected committees of workers. The fight against tax evasion will not be carried out by bureaucratic committees, but by the workers themselves, with the help of dedicated specialists and accountants. Every large company that commits tax evasion should be nationalised.
- Immediate and complete abolition of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund. Stop privatisations, while nationalising all those companies privatised in previous years, without compensation to the big shareholders that have profited on the backs of the Greek people.
- Immediate implementation of the Thessaloniki programme! Nationalisation of all the major companies that refuse to implement the measures that the government legislates!
- A total clampdown on corruption and waste in the state, with thorough management control across the whole of the state apparatus by the unions and elected committees of workers in government agencies and enterprises. The army and security forces must pass under the democratic control of the mass organisations of the workers.
- Nationalisation of all the property of the Church and monasteries to finance the necessary social policies.
- Reduction of the working week with no loss in pay and a programme of public works to tackle the problem of unemployment decisively.
- The bourgeois ANEL (Independent Greeks) and all those who oppose the necessary break with the Troika and capitalism to be removed from the government.
- Break the shackles of those agreements and treaties that protect capitalism economically, politically and militarily. Exit from the EU, the Eurozone and NATO! Call on the European workers for joint struggles with the aim of achieving a United Socialist States of Europe!