Monday 26 January 2015

Syriza Victory Raises Hopes for an Alternative to Austerity.

I thought today would be the perfect day to relauch the TUSC Wales blog, since last night we heard that Syriza, the new party which has built support by voicing opposition to austerity in Greece, has just won the general election. If a new party can break through to power in Greece, the forces backing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition can do the same in Britain too.

Syriza, which just two years ago was a minor party, now has more than twice as many MPs as New Democracy, the Greek version of the Tories (apparently they call it "No Democracy") and Alexis Tsipras, its leader, is prime minister of Greece. PASOK, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which pushed brutal austerity onto the Greek people, has the lowest number of MPs of any party represented in the parliament. No wonder Milliband, leader of the British PASOK, greeted the news less than warmly.

So what does this show?

1. Austerity governments can be brought down by a determined opposition, especially weak coalitions like the previous Greek government...and ours.  Cameron and Clegg are only still there because of the weakness of the leadership of British opposition in politics and in the trade unions.

2. The main parties always try to scare us that voting left gives you the Tories. It didn't in Greece: it gave them a left government. It was voting for PASOK which gave them Tory policies.

3. Pledging to fight austerity doesn't make you unelectable. You listening Tony?

4. Building a new party is the way to break the big-business monopoly on power, so you should all support the historic, record-breaking 8 candidates that TUSC is standing in Wales for the general election this year, and the 100+ TUSC is aiming to stand across the UK!

5.  But also - ominously for Labour, for the Greens too I'd argue, and potentially for Syriza as well depending on whether they stand up to the pressure over the next few months - carrying out cuts in obedience with the demands of bankers and big business destroys political parties.

Will Syriza be up to the job? The pressure from the institutions of capitalism will be incredible, and the government will be severely tested. There's an urgent need for international solidarity, especially in other European countries, to demand the governments of these countries back off from Greece, but it's primarily up to the Greek government to stand up to the demands of the capitalist robber-bankers. The institutions of finance capitalism are holding a gun to the head of Greece, and threatening to pull the trigger unless the government - whichever party they are from - obediently cuts the living standards of working-class people even further in order to pay back the €240 billion bailout money

But despite the cash, despite the "reforms" that the Troika demanded to the economy, the Greek economy is a basket case. Greek debt now stands at €318 billion, a wopping 175% of GDP.  That's not down to so-called "Spanish practices" (laziness in the workforce); it's thanks in large part to the destruction that austerity has wreaked on the Greek economy. A million people lost their jobs in this small country between 2007 and now, leaving less than half of working-age people actually in employment. Despite the IMF predicting Greece would grow as a result of the cuts they demanded, GDP has fallen by 25%, industrial output has collapsed by 35% and exports have flatlined. Ordinary Greek working-class people shouldn't have to pay for this economic vandalism.

Yet the puppet politicians of big business are rushing to the defence of the bankers once more. Our own David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hurried out statements urging Syriza to be a "responsible" government and have ruled out debt forgiveness. Christine Lagarde from the IMF has said the same thing. A lot of this is posturing ahead of negotiations. It's not just socialists but the more sober capitalist commentators who are saying that there is no chance of Greece paying off its debt at their current level and agreed rate. The reason the finance markets hardly dipped is that capitalists are expecting to take a loss but are counting on reaching an agreement with the new Greek government that gets as much money for the creditors as possible. In the real world, Greece has already had the terms of its repayments adjusted twice, and before each negotiation the Troika insisted nothing could be done, that the whole debt must be paid, etc. This time around, Finland's prime minister has already let slip the possibility of extending maturities - in other words allowing Greece to pay over a longer period. Greek debt already has maturities twice as long as Germany's and Italy's as a result of previous renegotiations, and an interest rate barely above France's - a much stronger economy that would in normal conditions secure much better repayment rates. Despite entering a new phase of economic crisis, European capitalism could probably afford this change too, since Greece makes up only 4% of EU GDP.

But the deal capitalism is counting on Tsipras making won't provide enough the extra funds necessary to fulfil Syriza's promise to raise the minimum wage, reconnect those who have been cut off with electricity, abolish some of those most regressive taxes and reinstate public-sector workers. If Tsipras doesn't play ball, big business could take ruthless action against Greece. They have potentially devastating weapons in their arsenal. For example, they could withhold the €7.2bn of bailout money due at the end of February, or they could refuse to refinance the debt, €20bn of which is due in two instalments in the spring and summer of this year. Even extending maturities is risky for them, because of the danger of any concessions fuelling calls for similar relief in countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland, which have, like Greece, also received big bailouts. The Irish Independent noted that "few politicians have more to fear from yesterday's Greek elections than [Taoiseach/Prime Minister] Enda Kenny."

What's ironic is that Greek finances would be in the black, the €10 billion deficit wiped out, were it not for the crippling interest payments that are a result of the burden of the debt. The only way Syriza is going to honour its promises to those who put it in power is not to renegotiate debt repayments , but to refuse to pay the debt at all. Syriza would have to dash the gun from the hand of international capitalism and nationalise Greece's banks together with the rest of the finance industry in order to prevent economic sabotage from undermining the economy further. In other words, it is only socialist measures that could fulfil the hopes that have been placed in the Syriza government. 

Unfortunately, Tsipras doesn't sound like that's his plan at the moment. Syriza has signed up the Independent Greeks, the Greek UKIP, as coalition partners. Syriza's options were limited, but this wasn't their only course. Criminally, The Greek Communist Party, the KKE, refused to support Syriza in the confidence vote necessary for them to form the government. But if push came to shove and Syriza tried to form a minority government, enormous pressure would have been put on the KKE and they would probably have had to back down rather than be blamed for letting another right-wing force come to power again. Greek socialists say that Syriza could have won an outright majority, if it had not toned down its anti-austerity message in the months leading up to the vote, or if had taken up the offer to form a united front with other socialists like Xekinima (Greek website here). 

Plans aside, the election of Syriza will set the Greek movement off like an explosion in a fireworks factory: 2015 will open a new chapter in the struggle of the Greek masses, which has already seen 32 general strike since the onset of the recession. Whatever capitalism's plans, and whatever Tsipras' intentions, colossal pressure will be exerted by the Greek working class, which has seen a third of household income disappear since 2008. The number of people reporting that they cannot find enough to eat has doubled to levels higher than Brasil and even China. The emigration rate has doubled too, but despite this 60% of Greek youths are unemployed. There is misery in Greece, but there is also a determination to change things.

There is misery here in Britain too. In the 6th richest country in the world we have 1 million people having to use food banks. But at TUSC's national conference, held the day before the Greek election, I think I detected a very Greek steely determination in the eyes of councillors, mayors from Warrington, Leicester, Hull, Walsall and elsewhere, all of whom have gathered under the banner of TUSC to mount our own anti-austerity challenge. Time to go back and prepare for power!

To get involved email wales.tusc@gmail.com.

1 comment:

  1. Good update at link, below. It's all hanging in the balance.