The moment of truth for SYRIZA

May 18, 2015

The Greek government paid another installment of its debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week, but only by taking desperate measures to scrape together the funds, including tapping a special currency reserve at the IMF itself. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis admitted that the government would run out of money entirely within weeks.

The left-wing government led by SYRIZA has been pushed closer to the brink, when it will have to choose between paying its debt to international lenders and paying wages and pensions--one of the so-called "red lines" that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised would not be crossed. In February, Tsipras and Varoufakis agreed to a deal with leading finance officials of the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) to continue the bailout of the Greek financial system, but the lenders have refused to release any more funds--even money they are obligated to pay to Greece--unless the government continue the drastic austerity measures agreed to by previous governments in the "Memorandums."

Europe is ratcheting up the pressure to get the leaders of the Greek government to capitulate entirely on the pledges made by SYRIZA since its founding and during the election campaign to reverse austerity in Greece. Within the party, the left wing is organizing pressure of its own on Tsipras and other government leaders to remain committed to SYRIZA's pledges, even if that means an open breach with the EU.

Antonis Davanellos, is a member of the Internationalist Workers Left (DEA) that co-founded SYRIZA, and currently a member of SYRIZA's Central Committee and Political Secretariat and one of the party's best-known left voices. In this article for DEA's newspaper Workers' Left, he analyzes the decisive confrontation to come in Greece.

MANY OF us didn't accept the rhetoric about SYRIZA's program put forward during the election campaign to gain votes, but which begged a crucial question: Would it be possible to carry out a radical anti-austerity program while accepting the limits of the eurozone and through negotiations with its "institutions"?

Today, we know the answer: No.

The EU and the IMF are trying to crush SYRIZA by forcing it to face a dilemma: Accept all the terms and conditions of integration into the euro system or face the immediate overthrow of the government. Their motive is both economic, because SYRIZA's anti-austerity program is incompatible with the prevailing policy, and also political, because they want to protect Europe against the spread of the SYRIZA-Podemos threat to austerity policies.

The February 20 agreement accepted by the Tsipras government was a major error that resulted from being trapped by SYRIZA's election rhetoric. We made the commitment to repay the debt "in full and on time," and we renounced any "unilateral action" to implement our party's program, which would have built a more solid alliance of workers and popular masses in support of the government. We got nothing. The "creative ambiguity" that Yanis Varoufakis talked about worked--it worked in the interest of the powerful.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (right) during the Eurogroup negotiations
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (right) during the Eurogroup negotiations (Day Donaldson)

After February 20, we tried to defend the "red lines" that the government promised would not be crossed--even though these were far less than the commitments that Tsipras made at the Thessaloniki International Fair in September 2014, which in turn were inferior to the program approved by SYRIZA at its founding conference.

Today, the "red lines" have disappeared. On the subject of privatizations--the emblematic policy of neoliberalism--we talk about the price and the terms of the sale, and which companies will be sold, not whether they will be sold. On the subject of taxes, the unfair ENFIA real estate tax and raising the value-added tax as areas are considered areas where concessions might be made to the lenders, and not measures that must be overturned a matter of improving the life of working people, as we insisted before the elections.

On Social Security and pensions, we guarantee the income of seniors today, while leaving open the possibility of cuts in benefits for future generations. On labor issues, we have moved from the commitment to restore collective agreements toward the nebulous formula of implementing the "best practices of Europe," as defined by the International Labor Organization--with the risk that this means incorporating into those collective agreements neoliberal criteria such as the financial stability of firms and enterprises and their economic competitiveness.

IT IS obvious to anyone who wishes to look that we have been caught in a downward spiral--a negotiation where at each step, we have to defend the demands of working people at ever-lower levels.

It is also obvious where this downhill spiral leads--to compel the government to sign a third Memorandum, the agreement that the lenders were preparing to sign with Samaras and Venizelos [the leaders of the two main pro-austerity parties, New Democracy and PASOK, whose coalition government was defeated by SYRIZA on January 25]. It is also clear when the precise timing of this extortion will take place--when the government is forced to seek loans to pay for salaries and pensions and not merely debt repayments. At this moment, the lenders calculate that the government will not have the political power to express the slightest objection.

The decision to continue every repayment of debt and interest as required by the February 20 agreement--even though the lenders have not given a single penny of the funds they promised, and that are, in fact, due to Greece--has almost exhausted the reserves of public funds, bringing the critical moment very, very near.

The political consequences of this retreat--because it is no longer possible to speak about a "compromise"--will be dire. SYRIZA cannot be transformed into an austerity party. The lenders will not be satisfied to keep the government bound to the agreement they made in February. They will make the Tsipras government pay for its victory on January 25, demanding that the Tsipras government be "broadened" and transformed gradually into a national unity government, or else overthrown.

The media speculation about Yannis Stournaras, the governor of the Bank of Greece, serving as prime minister of a pro-Europe, technocratic government, like the one led by Lucas Papademos from November 2011 and May 2012, should be seen as a warning.

There is a way out of this vicious circle, though it becomes more difficult to achieve with each passing week as repayments are made to the lenders: Stop repaying the debt, which will also require placing controls on capital leaving the country; implement the decisions of the SYRIZA conference for social control of the banks, plus taxing capital and the wealth to fund anti-austerity measures; and defending this policy by any means necessary, including an open conflict with the EU and the euro.

Such a break, which would have been accepted after the January 25 election, today might require a reaffirmation of the government's popular mandate--including new elections, provided that the options going forward are presented clearly by the government and have the support of the whole of SYRIZA.

In any case, the crucial decisions cannot be made by a small and closed circle at the top, even with the best intentions. SYRIZA--from its central committee to its local branches--must be asked to decide. The party must stand against the headwinds that become increasingly menacing.

Further Reading

From the archives