The news from Greece has gone from the inspiring referendum result to the collapse of the government into implementing austerity. Colin Wilson asks how this happened, and looks at the prospects for future struggles.
The last ten days have seen historic developments in Greece. First, we saw the unexpected and inspiring “No” vote in the referendum of 5 July. The No vote was strongest in working-class areas – entirely understandable, when unemployment in Greece stands at 25 percent and youth unemployment at 50 percent, rising to almost 70 percent in some parts of the country. Pensions have already been cut by 30 percent, when in many families a pension is the only income, since out-of-work benefits are typically paid for only a year. The budgets of public hospitals have been cut in half since the start of the year – doctors have lost their jobs, and those that remain are recycling medical equipment.
The austerity proposals rejected in the referendum meant more of the same – cuts in pensions, rises in VAT and privatisation. The victory for “No” – in the face of almost all the Greek media, and against a campaign of fear from the European ruling class – was a great victory for Greek workers, and a great defeat and humiliation for Merkel, Lagarde and the whole pack of European leaders.
And yet, a week after celebrating that victory, we find the situation reversed. Tsipras has led his government in a U-turn which involves him recommending to the Greek parliament an austerity package even worse than the one to which the people gave their resounding OXI. How can this have happened?
Part of the answer lies in the approach of the Greek government. Speaking in the European parliament on 8 July, Alexis Tsipras declared himself honoured to address a “veritable temple of European democracy”, associated with a project of European integration built on “principles of democracy, solidarity, mutual respect and equality.” But the response of the European Union to economic crisis has been far from democratic. In 2011, after all, former European Commissioner Mario Monti was manoeuvred into position as Prime Minister of Italy, entirely unelected, so that he could head an austerity government and so help ensure the stability of the euro.
The contempt for democracy at the heart of the European Union is made all too clear by the interview with Yanis Varoufakis published yesterday. He makes clear that the institutions at no point negotiated in good faith. Schäuble’s consistent position was that “this was accepted by the previous [Greek] government and we can’t possibly allow an election to change anything.” Varoufakis responded, “Well perhaps we should simply not hold elections anymore for indebted countries” to which no one had a reply. At one point it turned out that the Eurogroup – the finance ministers of the Eurozone countries, meeting as a group – has no legal existence and so can do whatever it likes, accountable to no one.
Tsipras, and those elements in Syriza which followed his lead, were therefore completely mistaken to assume that European leaders would shift in response to the referendum. Implicit in this is a certain view of the state, including international bodies like the European Union – that states are neutral arbiters between different social classes, acting in the good of society as a whole. Marx took a quite different view – as he put it in the Communist Manifesto, “The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” The actions of the European leaders in the last week have taken just this approach – they are uninterested in democracy or the interests of Greek or European society, but they are concerned to maintain the power of their class. In response to that power, Tsipras had no more cards to play, nowhere to go but to concede an agreement.
There seems little doubt that Syriza now faces political crisis and possible collapse. This is not, however, the end of the story, because the story is not just about parliament and the Syriza leadership. Neoliberal leaders rely not only on class power – their control of states, corporations, banks and so on – but on ideology, on convincing people that, as Thatcher once put it, “there is no alternative”. The resounding No vote makes it clear that millions of Greek people – many of them workers, with other social forces too – reject that idea. Those millions will not simply change their minds or sink into apathy as they see Greek society destroyed. And so the anti-austerity movement in Greece isn’t over, but the leadership of it must now move from parliament to the streets and to workplaces, involving members of Syriza, Antarsya and other organisations. The first signs of that have already appeared with the call for a one-day general strike on Wednesday 15 April by ADEDY, the public sector union federation.
This means that all of us can take some action in our workplaces, colleges or neighbourhoods to support the struggle in Greece. For example:
- See the Greece Solidarity Campaign (also on Facebook) for actions in support of Greece.
- Join the protest on Wednesday 15 July at the German Embassy in London
- There is a crisis in the Greek medical system – do a solidarity collection for medical aid at work, in your college or your neighbourhood (see the Greece Medical Solidarity Fund and Medical Aid for Greece on the Greece Solidarity Campaign website).
- Get your union branch to twin with a union branch in Greece