Over 100 days have passed since the popular verdict of the Greek people on 25 January, which led to the formation of the Syriza-Anel government.
If only on a symbolic level — but symbolism has its importance in working-class politics — this government is of a different quality from the previous once. We saw Alexis Tsipras meeting and hugging the reinstated cleaners at the Ministry of Finance, thanking them for their class struggle, and for key members of the Syriza cabinet such as Katrougkalos and Valavani joining the cleaners’ celebrations. In the ND-Pasok years ministers were photographed at charity galas for the “helpless poor”.
However, in terms of even a minimal redistribution of wealth, the government has not handed much back to the people. Neither the minimum wage rise to 751 euros, albeit gradually, nor collective bargaining agreements have been restored. Nor has the 13th month’s pension for low-income pensioners passed through parliament. Tsipras has left the window open to postpone to 2016 legislation for the €12,000 income-tax threshold and the abolition of the regressive property tax.
Since 25 January, the government has stopped the implementation of the further austerity measures which the previous government had promised. Just that gives the government time and support from a large part of the working class, even though the initial excitement has subsided. The government’s establishment of an audit committee will allow for adequate documentation to expose the class nature of the accumulation of debt.
But, since the government’s deal with the eurozone finance ministers on 20 February, the government has been pushed back further and further in negotiations. After each step backwards, the next battle starts from a worse position, and, so long as the government does not open up discussion within the Syriza membership and in structures such as the trade unions and neighbourhood assemblies, it undermines its own base.
Offered this or that “something” by the Greek government, the lenders have so far responded with a grandiose “nothing”. The relationship exceeds that for even a normal usurious loan agreement. A parallel would be to imagine, for example, that one has a home loan. You are paying the bank in time and the bank is guaranteed by the property. However, the bank requires in order to grant you the next loan instalments that you limit yourself to one meal a day, cut the pocket money of your children, and sell your furniture.
In exchange for the “nothing” provided so far from the lenders to the government, the lenders demand not “something” but “everything” from the government.
The creditors have shifted the “technical” negotiations onto the issues of pensions, labour rights and legislation, property tax, VAT, etc., seeking the humiliation and wholescale defeat of the government. They demand “labour market flexibility” and “reform of the pension system” as prerequisites, even though those are the last two remaining “red lines” of the government.
One point that stands out for its regressive nature among those agreed by the Greek side with the creditors, is the creation of a single VAT rate ar 16%, 17% or 18%.
It will replace the two existing rates 13% and 23%, and the lower VAT rates on the islands will be abolished. This mean the transfer of food, non-alcoholic beverages, electricity, public transport tickets, cinema and concerts, restaurant and coffee shop bills from 13% to a higher rate, and the burden will fall disproportionately on working-class households.
Even if Merkel, Hollande, and Juncker talk about a conciliatory and pragmatic approach and “honourable compromise”, it is by no means certain that the autonomous power centres in the multilateral negotiations, such as the IMF, the ECB, etc. accept that.
To cope with debt repayments of around €6.5 billion to date, the government opted to freeze the liquid assets of organizations in the broader public sector. At the heart of the government’s negotiating strategy is the idea that the Grexit is “not an option” for the eurozone leaders and therefore the government will be able to implement its minimum commitments in the Thessaloniki declaration. As long as Greece does not “blink first”, “Europe will not shoot itself in the foot”.
In facti was the Greek government has “shot itself in the foot” by exhausting the liquid assets of the public sector, i.e. exhausting its strategic stocks. And what happens when that gambit is exhausted?
The 20 February deal yielded no cash for Greece, but committed the Greek government to avoid “unilateral actions”. The period since then has shown that this “no unilateral actions” rule leaves no possibilities for implementing even traces of the Thessaloniki, let alone of the comprehensive programme of Syriza.
The argument that the “freezing” of the implementation of the program of Syriza is temporary does not withstand criticism: those measures already labelled as unilateral actions under the interim agreement will be labelled that way even more clearly in an overall agreement in June, if that happens.
Syriza itself, its political-electoral dynamics, is the genuine product of the class struggle and the social rift caused by Memorandum policies in Greek society after 2010. The political scene was shaken violently and reconstituted on the class line of “Memorandum versus anti-Memorandum, austerity versus anti-austerity”.
Yet at Syriza’s conference its programme implementation was disconnected from the strategic goal of socialism. In autumn 2014, the implementation of the Thessaloniki declaration was disconnected from any idea of confrontation with the lenders and in substance from the implementation of the overall program of Syriza. The Thessaloniki program was disconnected from plans for a progressive redistributive taxation system and a “Memorandum for the Rich” which would “make the rich pay for the crisis”.
After the 20 February deal, the abolition of the Memorandum was forgotten, and the axis of the party’s policy and the government shifted to defence of the “four red lines”: no new cuts in pensions, no new wage cuts and mass layoffs, a halt on privatisations and no to new tax burdens. As the negotiations have progressed, those “four red lines” have been reduced to two or fewer. The privatisations of the 14 regional airports and the Piraeus port will proceed.
The question is not why the capitalist governments of Greece’s “partners” follow a policy of economic suffocation. A Syriza government should have been prepared for that. The question is why Syriza continues to pay debt instalments while the other side has taken such a hostile stance.
Even to implement the Thessaloniki declaration, Syriza will have to move to non-repayment of debt, nationalisation of banks and strategic sectors of the economy under workers’ and social control and management, full transparency and democracy in production, planning of the economy for the needs of the people and not for the profit of big capital.
The Syriza leaders should be open with Syriza’s rank and file and its supporters. They should prepare working class people, Syriza’s rank and file, and the social movements for the possible outcome if the government refuses to bow to pressure and the EU “partners” push the country into a forced exit from the euro.
If the government does not do that, and keeps failing to meet the needs and expectations of the people, it runs the risk of causing massive frustration and disillusionment in its rank and file and giving the establishment parties time to prepare their counter-attack. Some of the latest polls give Syriza a lead of less than 10 points when only a few weeks ago that lead was approaching 25 points. The risks are real — and the worst thing the government can do is to underestimate them.
In this country with six million people living in poverty, there are 559 “Greek patriots” who through the years of the crisis saw their wealth rise to 76 billion euros, equivalent to 45% of the country’s GDP.
The Syriza government should impose a special contribution tax on those privileged Greeks. Even at a at a nominal rate of 10% that could raise €7.6 billion.
In this country with 1.5 million unemployed, there are 11 “Greek patriots” who through the years of the crisis saw their fortune increasing from €16 billion in 2013 to €18 billion in 2014.The Syriza government should imposea special tax on these privileged Greeks. At a nominal rate of 10% that would bring in €1.5 billion.
In this country with 686,000 undernourished children (Unicef report), 10% of the population saw their wealth soar during the crisis years. The Syriza government should impose a special wealth tax, which could raise at least €10 billion.
Investigators have found funds of Greek capitalists held abroad totalling at least €140 billion euros. Euro. The Syriza government should impose a special contribution tax on that wealth.
The voices within Syriza supporting an uncompromising stance against the EU “partners” have been strengthened and multiply. They explain that an “honourable compromise” is unattainable and the only realistic option is that of rupture. Such statements and articles play an important role But they are not enough.
Even more voices, from the entire spectrum of the components and tendencies of Syriza, refer to the possible need for the government to resort to the people in the event of a deadlock, via a referendum or via elections. However, even in that case, the political leadership of Syriza cannot simply delegate the decision to the electorate. The role of the political subject, Syriza, is to take responsibility and dialectically lead the base.
The Central Committee of the party must be convened before any meaningful decisions are taken at government level. It must have the opportunity to formulate specific and detailed “red lines” and direct choices and moves that will follow if these “red lines” are not respected.
The members need the opportunity to express themselves on the choices and alliances that will determine the course of the party and the government. It’s time for the leadership of Syriza to listen to the party.