Needed in Greece: Social Transformation, Not Surrender

Imagine you're a Greek worker. Maybe you voted among the 36% that voted for the "Radical Left" Coalition, and maybe you weren't. Maybe you were among the 61.3% who voted OXI on the 5 July referendum on the European Union's harsh austerity-laden third memorandum.

And to show for it? You're being told to accept lower wages, a lower pension, higher taxes, higher utility bills, other higher bills, fewer services, the possibility of a lay-off, and even if you keep your job, the prospect of losing your collective bargaining agreement. This agreement, for which the spoiled brats who rule the EU whined about spending a few all-nighters, will crush you from all sides. 

This in a Greece whose unemployment is increasing as is its suicide rates. The pragmatism of officials and policy wonks is never a pragmatism for the poor and the workers. It is as impoverished a political philosophy as the people it allows sink to the bottom of bourgeois society. It is near impossible to think of capitulation to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble (the dominant voice in the European Central Bank, and whose office was, appropriately, built by Hitler for Goring's Air Ministry), who has desired banishing Greece from the Eurozone according to Timothy Geithner and others, as pragmatic, even from the standpoint of governance.

Surrender to a man who wants you to die.

With added duress, the European Central Bank shut off the valve of currency to Greece, and Greeks had been living for a week with closed banks and ATM limits. Under such blackmail, as the Syriza government called it, they voted No. And while a majority of Greeks in polls suggest they've always liked to stay in the Eurozone, many on the left questioned why Tsipras hadn't spent the first half of the year at least creating forums for a national conversation about an exit - at least as a bargaining chip, at most as preparation.

A report came out last week about the somehow less harsh EU austerity bailout on Portugal, one of the Eurocrisis "successes," that suggests the Portuguese had had their standard of living set back 25 years, and that they now have the highest rate of emigration to other EU states. Marxists outside and left-wing inside the Greek government are not alone in suggesting that this pressure is a failed strategy. Shrinking the Greek economy has failed so far, and non-Marxist economists like Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz all came out against the previous memorandum, saying they would have voted OXI (No) on 5 July. Syriza Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was fired immediately afterwards, and it became apparent his sacking was the result of his opposition to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' impending acquiescence to the European Union's June demands. People thought Varoufakis left government over his lack of tact at negotiations, until they saw Tsipras' proposals.

Just days after receiving an anti-austerity mandate from every single region of the country, Tsipras turned around and brought a document to the Hellenic Parliament that was nearly verbatim the demands that the voters had rejected. He had promised he would quit government before he would administer the demands under a yes vote. With a no vote, he chose to stay in government and push them anyway. What they were to vote on was Tsipras and his new Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos (an even softer Marxist than Varoufakis) taking his capitulatory proposal back to the EU and the IMF for negotiations that weekend. Some Syriza Ministers of Parliament cried, at least fifteen signed a letter saying they would vote yes under duress but no when some of the reforms actually came back to parliament. They would vote in favor of Tsipras continuing negotiations, but they would not bring themselves to vote in favor of the elements of the exact package their people had voted against: pension reforms, a higher age of retirement, public wage cuts, widespread privatizations, tax reforms, cutbacks in collective bargaining rights, rollback of gains made earlier this year, refinancing banks, and on and on and on. The head of Syriza's Left Platform (Syriza being a multi-tendency party) Production and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, head of parliament Zoi Konstantopoulou, and six others abstained. Six missed the vote. Only MPs Ionna Gaitani (DEA) and Eleni Psarrea voted no among Syriza MPs, joining the 15 KKE MPs and the 17 Golden Dawn neo-nazi MPs. Before the vote, the neoliberal parties of old, PASOK and New Democracy congratulated Tsipras on coming to his senses while rubbing his face in the dirt for taking so long. There was parallel talk that some communists in the Syriza might leave, or that others that didn't vote with Tsipras would be purged, much like the Brazilian Workers Party did of its far left early in its first administration.

Tsipras and Tsakalotos left to Brussels on virtually no sleep, as if to answer the question how can they sleep at night when capitulating so much. They faced a European Commission and European Central Bank dominated by Germany, whose money keeps it afloat, and a series of German lackeys, including the Dutch, Austrians and Finns. They faced the neoliberal socialists of countries like Italy and France, who have a view of a gentler neoliberalism that was politically quashed by Germany by the end of the weekend. They faced a number of countries who, like them, have debt that amounts to over 100% of their GDP, including Italy, Portugal, Belgium, and Cyprus. And they faced a Germany hellbent on demanding structural power be taken away from the sovereign state of Greece and delivered to finance capital. People in Greece created a #TsiprasLeaveEUsummit but he preferred capitulation.

Plain and simply, the people were told that their government would proceed with defiance and dignity if given the mandate of a referendum, and then were sold out. The Tsipras' capitulation is to just about everything that the people of every part of Greece resoundingly voted down, and on top of that so much more that was added as a punishment for a defiant play at participatory democracy. Up to 50 billion euros in privatizations (originally to a public firm controlled by Schauble, not that was dropped), demands on immediate "shows of good faith" to the European oligrachs who themselves have none to give, and, to paraphrase the euphemism for the 1960s dictatorship, offices for a new Regime of the Bankers to come in, a return of the Troika (instead of a junta) of the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission to preside over the state.

That is why #ThisIsACoup, and a neocolonial one at that. And this vindictive neocolonialism- something countries of the Global South have been decrying since decolonization- reverberates towards the neoliberal socialists who had an idea of a gentler EU neoliberalism, and it reverberates to the left socialists (like Podemos in Spain) who might've hoped gaining power in an EU state could change the union. Bourgeois democracy is often prepared to be a whole lot more bourgeois, a whole lot less democracy.

And Tsipras seems to teeter at the brink. Suggestions of a purge of at least the leftists from parliament, from Lafazanis to Konstantopolou and the sole "No" voters of Friday: Gaitani and Psarrea. Or a defection of the actual radical left. Mention is given by the old neoliberal parties of a unity government. So much is left to happen. But Tsipras' political capital is by-and-large spent, not just with Greeks, but with hundreds of thousands of anti-austerity marchers across Europe that carried banners of solidarity with Greece. All socialist leaders of the past have come to crossroads, from Tito to Allende to PASOK to Hugo Chavez. Some chose the great risks of launching toward social transformation, and others chose irreversible path toward capitulation. Tsipras has made his choice.

But for the workers and the poor and the majority of Greek society at this point, this capitulation stands as a testament that their earlier distrust in the idea that there is dignity in bourgeois democracy, pre-Syriza election, was right. Anarchists, KKE/PAME, and Antarsya are in the streets, hopefully to be joined by an ex-Syriza left, and an "active" general strike has been called- active in barricades and marches, not in simply staying home.

As I often suggest, the far left should let the near left win elections, even work with them until they turn traitors on us and on the people. The truly radical left needs to be with the people so long as the people don't tread down the darkest roads- for example, towards fascism. But there comes a time when the soft left does get power, and does show that it has the will to treachery when under pressure. And then, it is time for us to take up social war.

Written by José Martín who welcomes feedback on twitter @sabokitty