Adapted (by JD) from an article by Theodora Polenta (at Workers Liberty):
Up to Friday 26 June the Greek government of Syriza-ANEL was very close to reaching an agreement with the eurozone leaders. It looked set to abandon its last “red lines” and accept 90-95% of the conditions for a new bailout, including direct wage and pension reductions and explicitly maintaining the framework of the last five years of Memorandum.
The Greek government had accepted the logic that increased tax revenues would be based on VAT increases and the preservation of the regressive property tax; the principle of zero deficit for the financing of the pension system; the gradual withdrawal of the Pensioners’ Social Solidarity Benefit (EKAS), and the extension of the retirement age to 67.
In the end no deal was reached. On Saturday 27th, after a long cabinet meeting Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum. The eurozone leaders would not even cede enough to make a “honourable compromise’ for the Syriza parliamentary group and Syriza’s rank and file and electoral base.
The only talk of debt restructuring the eurozone leaders would accept was a vague reference to a debate on the Greek debt in the future based upon a framework sketched with Venizelos and Samaras back in 2012.
The drama of the negotiation for the last five months has been largely the refutation of the Syriza leaders’ central illusions, of a return to progressive development achieved through rational negotiations and by exploiting the “internal contradictions” within the creditors’ camp. The government’s negotiating team had the illusion that the eurozone leaders were sure eventually to back down, even at the eleventh hour, and concede a poor but nonetheless manageable political agreement, because they feared the economic cost of a rupture and because of their internal contradictions.
The eurozone ministers, accustomed to the servility of Papandreou, Samaras and Venizelos, thought that Alexis Tsipras was a puppy that barked but would not bite.
In the end, under the threat of a bank run, they were sure that Tsipras would sign an agreement that would dissolve his government and his party, and initiate the conversion of a mutilated Syriza into a neoliberal social democratic party with a new government coalition.
Alexis Tsipras and the Greek delegation were treated in Brussels as troublemakers who needed exemplary punishment. As journalist Stavros Lygeros put it: “they are not satisfied with chopping his head off. They would like to parade his head as an example to everyone else”.
On Monday night 29th, Alexis Tsipras invited the Greek people to vote “no” in the referendum on Sunday 5 July. Then on Tuesday 30th he made another U-turn. He wrote a new letter to the eurozone leaders asking for a €30 billion euro loan from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to pay the lenders up to 2017; virtually accepting the eurozone ministers’ proposal of 28 June; but also calling for debt restructuring.
On Saturday morning 27 June the Greek people woke up to find that the call from Alexis Tsipras and his government for a no vote against the persistent blackmailing of the creditors, the “partners”, the “institutions”, or whatever else we call them, has finally got us (albeit in an unprepared way, somewhat sideways) out of the black hole and deadlock of the “compromise” made by the Syriza government with the eurozone finance ministers on 20 February.
Since then we have seen harsh class struggle and conflict, with the national and international ruling class exhibiting coordination and “solidarity” in order to protect their vested interests. The ruling classes and the oligarchies, both internationally and in Greece, are trying to impose the power of fear as the only permissible ideology.
Since 27 June, there was a high level of political activity from both camps. The united front of New Democracy, Pasok, and Potami in Greece, worked alongside the international financial oligarchy represented by the likes of Christine Lagarde, Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Mario Draghi and Wolfgang Schäuble. The mainstream media tried to create a climate of panic, with continuous reporting and live interviews from the queues outside the ATMs. It reached a crescendo with a Sky journalist publicly announcing he had cancelled a holiday in Corfu because of the “unstable and chaotic situation”.
Some bosses announced the suspension of work, or reduced production. Others threatened lock outs and mandatory unpaid leave for their workers. Yet others said that their companies would not open if the “no” vote prevailed on 5 July, and some openly threatened their workers with redundancy if they did not vote “yes”. Many companies have announced that they will not be paying the wages of their workers until further notice.
The trouble is that for five months the government has left untouched the power of the industrialists, the contractors, the bankers, the media barons, the pharmaceutical manufacturers and the ship owners.
The trade union confederation GSEE (for private sector workers), with its leadership controlled by the trade union fractions of Pasok and New Democracy, had the audacity to demand that the government withdrew the referendum and declared support for a “yes” vote.
There were sizeable demonstrations and rallies in support of the “no” camp in virtually every city of Greece, with support from all major trade unions, with the sad exception of GSEE, and community movements, anti-fascists committee and solidarity networks. The “yes” counter-demonstrations mobilised the cream of the reactionary intelligentsia of the country, minor celebrities, and some lower middle class people.
The official Syriza guidelines for Syriza’s activity in the “no” campaign emphasized the need for national unity whatever the outcome of the referendum.
It campaigned on three points.
1. The social character of “no” in the referendum, highlighting the impact of the memoranda and supported the need to overthrow austerity policies. The “no” vote, said the Syriza leaders, would be a negotiating tool in the hands of the government to continue negotiations from 6 July freshly empowered by a re-affirmed popular mandate.
2. The right for the Greek people to be left undisturbed to vote without foreign interference. The slogan was “no, for dignity and democracy.”
3. Emphasis on Syriza being a European party that seeks equitable participation of the country in the EU and that it is trying to build a new Europe.
Syriza’s rank and file, however, have given the “no” vote a meaning beyond the government’s intentions — a bold “no” to all memoranda and a bold demand on the government to adhere, “unilaterally” and against the “institutions”, to the Thessaloniki declaration on which it was elected.
The eurozone leaders warned that they would take a “no” vote as a mandate to expel Greece from the eurozone.
Inside the eurozone, there at least appeared to be possibilities for piecemeal relief via a serious easing-off by the eurozone leaders and the European Central Bank. That was entirely possible in economic terms, and refused by them only because they want to warn workers everywhere else in Europe that resistance as in Greece cannot bring results.
If Greece is forced out of the eurozone, the tempo changes. Only thorough and radical measures by the government can limit disruption and chaos and enable reconstruction.
The revolutionary left must demand that the government implement these measures:
Immediate nationalisation of banks. Protect the deposits of small and medium savers with transparency and methods of social control. Running of the banks by elected and revocable administrations, involving representatives of government, of bank workers, and of the organisations of the working class.
As Lenin wrote (“The Impending Catastrophe”, September 1917): “To talk about ‘regulating economic life’ and yet evade the question of the nationalisation of the banks means either betraying the most profound ignorance or deceiving the ‘common people’ by florid words and grandiloquent promises with the deliberate intention of not fulfilling these promises. It is absurd to control and regulate deliveries of grain, or the production and distribution of goods generally, without controlling and regulating bank operations.
“It is like trying to snatch at odd kopeks and closing one’s eyes to millions of rubles. Banks nowadays are so closely and intimately bound up with trade (in grain and everything else) and with industry that without ‘laying hands’ on the banks nothing of any value, nothing ‘revolutionary-democratic’, can be accomplished”.
The current connection of banks with the (“illegal and onerous”) government debt demands the unilateral stopping of debt payments, as a necessary measure for the rehabilitation of nationalised banking system.
The dependency of the country’s larger companies on the indebted banks, and their interweaving with them, requires the immediate implementation of a plan of nationalisation of large enterprises in industry under workers’ control.
Large businesses whose owners blackmailed and threatened the workers to vote “yes”; large business which have falsified information in order to avoid paying workers’ wages and are involved in fraud, and tax evasion, should be expropriated immediately without compensation under workers’ control.
It is inevitable in the coming days that shortages will appear in hospitals and the state health system. For the government to find the resources needed to pay in full the pensions and to ensure money for health it should enforce an immediate special, heavy emergency levy on high incomes, the large estate owners and the Greek oligarchs who have supported the economic war of the Troika. It should expropriate all the assets of churches and monasteries: the religious have a right to use their places of worship, but not to have a government subsidy.
To ensure the sufficient supply of food and medicine requires the immediate nationalisation of the large industrial groups in the food and pharmaceutical industries, and the large supermarket chains under workers’ power and control.
To ensure the fuel supplies requires the immediate nationalisation of energy companies under workers’ power and control.
Television and radio frequencies should right now be released from their status as hostages to the capitalist oligarchy. They should be expropriated immediately and all private media and frequencies and equipment should be passed over in citizens’ associations for free and equitable use based on the principle of truly pluralistic media.
These radical measures in order to have a viable prospect, should be part of an overall programmatic plan socialist transformation of society.
The Europe of the workers and popular strata, the Europe of solidarity and joint struggle for our common problems, only this is “our” Europe. The Syriza government needs to turn and seek allies and comrades there.
The events of last week, the polarisation and the conflicts at all levels, dragged both camps into a vortex of radicalisation.
The revolutionary left in and outside Syriza has campaigned for a “no” in the referendum right from the start.
Whatever the intentions of the government, the referendum objectively creates conditions of rupture with the EU/ ECB/ IMF Troika and provides a historic opportunity for the working class and youth to enter the political stage.
But the Greek Communist Party (KKE) voted in parliament against the government’s proposal to proceed to the referendum and asked its members and supporters to spoil their ballot papers. They called this “a working-class triple no” against the memorandum of the creditors against the memorandum of the government and against the EU and Eurozone.
So KKE has again abstained from the class struggle as it is expressed through the internal contradictions of the capitalist system, Of course the referendum was a restricted democratic process, far short of workers power and control and extensive workers’ daily democracy. However, it was an arena that the workers’ vanguard and the revolutionary left had to engage with, in the same way that trade unions engage with the arena of working-class exploitation and the reproduction of the capitalist system. KKE is disengaging from the current struggle of the working class and transferring all hopes to Saint Long Distance Socialism.
It indicates KKE’s fear of defeat and victory at the same time, its inverted tailism (opposition to the Syriza government’s tactics and political moves at all costs), and its lack of consistent and principled working class analysis of the concrete situation and concrete duties. The duty of the Revolutionary left was to form a United Front and align all its forces for the victory of a “thunderous” and revolutionary “no”: which is what happened!
Along with the working classes of Europe we must fight the battle for the future. The peoples of Europe can aim to better days only under the prospect of a united socialist Europe! This is the fight that is ahead of us! It will take time and class confrontations! But there is no other way!
The people who voted “no” to the agreement of the lenders know very well the consequence and the gravity of their vote, regardless of the limited question of the referendum, and are ready to accept the road of rupture and confrontation and class struggle if the revolutionary left fights for it boldly and clearly.