Syriza’s Mauling at the EU Negotiations

After a period of enjoyable defiance, during which they won the backing of the overwhelming majority of the Greek people — 80% according to a poll taken before the latest deal, published in today’s Avgi — they have come back with small change. Pushed to the point where they were at risk of a collapse of the banking system, and unprepared for a Grexit (and thus unable to use it as a bargaining chip), they accepted the most comprehensive drubbing.

Tsipras has tried to put the best possible gloss on this, but what he said was delusional. He said that the deal shows that Europe stands for mutually beneficial compromise. No such thing. It stands, as Schauble crowed, for Syriza being forced to implement austerity against its own mandate. It stands for the crushing of national democracy.

Tsipras said that the deal creates the framework for Syriza to address the humanitarian crisis. Not with the commitment to a primary surplus and troika oversight, it doesn’t. Not with the agreement that Syriza will not “unilaterally” roll back austerity, it doesn’t. We can admit that a 1.5% primary surplus is better than a 4.5% primary surplus. Yet even 1.5% in a depressed economy is harsh, and coupled with troika assessment of reforms for fiscal sustainability (according to neoliberal maxims), this amounts to the repudiation of most of Syriza’s reform agenda.

Tsipras said that austerity and the Memorandum had been left behind. That is precisely the opposite of what has happened. The Thessaloniki programme, itself a carefully trimmed agenda shorn of the most radical of Syriza’s goals, is what has been left behind.

The problem with Tsipras’s speech goes further than this, however. Not only is it deluded. It recalibrates the government’s language and goals in order to rationalise not just this thrashing but future routs. Having said that austerity and the Memorandum are now left behind by this deal, the government shifts the goalposts and terms of future negotiations.

And this is part of the reason why those who speak of “buying time” are wrong. Time is not a simple quantity that only one side gains from. The EU ruling classes have also “bought time” and they have the resources and are on the offensive, while Syriza has retreated. There are no grounds for thinking that Syriza’s bargaining position will be better in four months time than it is now. It has already weakened its stance, while its political position, after four months of continued austerity, will probably be worse.

One can hardly pin most of the blame for this on Syriza. They are in a weak position, and it is doubtful that any government could have obtained better against an EU determined to humiliate Greece. Yet, the line of Tsipras and Varoufakis is simply untenable. Their commitment to trying to resolve this crisis within the terms of the euro must fail. They were simply wrong to think that they would have a single ally or interlocutor in the EU. The southern European governments are even more fanatical than Berlin on this question. Hollande, far from being a friendly face, told Syriza to shove it fairly early on: he made his decision on austerity some time ago.

The question of the currency, then, was not simply a nationalist distraction as some claimed: getting an anti-austerity government elected with the specific goal of confronting the EU and struggling to overturn austerity was always going to come to a head on this very question.

The alternative, what one might call a People’s Grexit, is far from straightforward, as Dave Renton points out in the latest of a series of excellent posts on Greece. The economic risks would be considerable. It would require not just economic preparedness, or secret war room gaming, but mass social and political preparedness. It would require the mobilisation of a workers movement that has been relatively quiet since 2012. And it would require a government willing to risk economic and political isolation from trading partners and a fight to the finish with the oligarchs, the Right, and the repressive state apparatuses for the future of Greek society.

Nevertheless, there will now be a huge argument within Syriza over the acceptance of this deal, and the old slogan of “not one sacrifice for the euro” will make a come back. Manolis Glezos, an iconic figure from the antifascist resistance and prominent within Syriza, is the first to have gone public with his dissent. He is calling for a campaign up and down the party not to accept this deal, and will vote against it. He will not be the last.  Next week, there will be a rally in Syntagma Square, with the slogan “We’re not afraid of Grexit.”

We have no right to be surprised by any of this. And not just because we were warned by informed sources that a retreat was taking place. Even if it was not inevitable, we knew very well that the balance of forces favoured precisely this kind of defeat. If we didn’t know that a Syriza-led government would be “in perpetual crisis,” a “spot-lit enclave, under constant assault from capital and the media,” we shouldn’t be in this game. If we didn’t guess that Berlin would want to “make an example of Greece one way or another,” and that any concessions offered would probably “be deliberately insulting,” we really weren’t paying attention.

We can be disappointed, but not surprised. But throwing in the towel is likewise only possible with a certain degree of detachment — the sort of detachment that allows some leftists to sound even more triumphant about Syriza’s rout than even Schauble. This is still a far better and more open situation for Greek workers than had New Democracy been re-elected. Even the modest reforms in favour of immigrants, workers’ bargaining rights, and protesters — supposing they are not scotched by the troika — are worth having. And it is only because we have now had the experience of an anti-austerity government go to the wall in an attempt to reverse austerity within the eurozone that we can now contemplate the emergence of a significant anti-euro constituency within Greece.  Further, there will be opportunities to build this: every time the troika rejects a needed reform, this can and should be held up as an object lesson in what Europe means.

This is, as was anticipated by anyone with their eyes open, a nodal point and not the end point in the process of Greek workers finding a solution to their dilemma.

Richard Seymour is a socialist, writer, teacher and neurotic. He is the author of Against Austerity: How We Can Fix The Crisis They Made (Pluto, 2014), which Alan Sears calls “a crucial reference point for the Left” in his review of the book for New Socialist Webzine. Seymour’s more recent article following the Greek referendum on a European debt bailout can be found here.

This article is republished from Lenin’s Tomb, with permission.