Yannis Stouraitis: Where does the Greek ‘uprising’ go from here?

Christos Kapralos, “Three Female Figures Around a Table”, 1987 Christos Kapralos, “Three Female Figures Around a Table”, 1987
Yannis Stouraitis
One month ago I argued here that SYRIZA's coming might signalize the time to overcome our fears. At the time, it was still an open issue whether the new government would prove prepared enough to radicalize its attitude in the course of the negotiations as a response to Germany’s blackmailing methods. This was not the case for certain reasons. For one, SYRIZA did not exactly betray the vision of the Greek people for a breach with the EU, as some are eager to claim in the last days. According to a recent poll, the party's hard negotiation practices enjoyed full support of the people (80%), but at the same time 67,7% of the same people disapproved a potential disengagement from the EZ and the EU (almost 30% were in favour of a disengagement, if needed). These results demonstrate that the Greek Leftists were elected to fulfil a very difficult task: to negotiate the end of austerity and a debit-haircut without endangering Greece’s position as a member of the EU and the EZ.
In the immediate aftermath of the new agreement, one may claim that this was a naïve and self-defeating vision, for it assumed that hard negotiations would be all it takes to change the course of the EU. Moreover, the decision of SYRIZA leadership to fully give in to this misconception during the electoral campaign is inevitably a subject of criticism. It is hard to deny that the anti-capitalist Left, as well as some marginalized voices within the party, were right to speak of the negotiatory usefulness of an alternative disengagement plan. The course of the negotiation demonstrated that the new government was deprived of an important bargaining chip in the effort to decline the continuation of the existing economic agreement. However, it is also fair to say that it is questionable whether SYRIZA would have won the election, had it advertized the need for such an alternative plan.
What is most interesting about the negotiation though is that, while the Greek Leftists were forced to retreat from their initials demands, Germany avoided stretching them to their limits by seeking to humiliate them. At the last moment, it masterfully made a step back and accepted SYRIZA’s capitulation in the language of the party’s ultimatum based on the Moscovici-agreement-plan. This allowed the Greek leftists to come out of an admittedly hard negotiation with the minimum gain of having a chance to loosen the terms of the existing economic agreement while avoiding the popularly undesired disengagement. Many of the voters consider this a success, while the majority of the rest was relieved that a default was avoided. It is possible that many of them are going to be bitterly disappointed in the weeks and months to come, should the new government be obliged to wear once again the EU-straightjacket of austerity abandoning a great deal of its programmatic anti-austerity measures. 
If this is so, the question is whether the Greek – but also the European – Left should read the result of the negotiations as a defeat or as a minor, useful step towards change. According to my view, the critical voices raised within SYRIZA alongside those from other Greek and European leftists should not aim at fully deconstructing the new government’s effort. They should rather seek to re-orientate it towards the right path in the following months. This presupposes a sober evaluation of the losses and gains of SYRIZA’s effort so far. The economically unfavourable outcome of the negotiation makes the restructuring of important domains of the state until June a sine qua non, if the leftist government wishes to maintain and enhance popular support.

On the other hand, the forces of the Greek Left – the communist party of Greece (KKE) is probably self-secluded from this task – need to put aside their theoretical differences and work together towards – the now more than ever before – realistic aim of convincing the majority of the Greek people about the need to fearlessly support a concrete political line; To begin with, there can be no real end of austerity for Greece – as well as for other debt-ridden countries – within the EZ and the EU without a large-scale debt-haircut.

Since SYRIZA’s victory, this is an argument consistently highlighted by the most distinguished economists worldwide, which only dogmatic Greek neoliberals and other strategic allies of Germany in the EU insist on ignoring. Moreover, such a demand will have no chance of success in the new negotiations four months from now, if the government is not ready to use the bargaining chip of a controlled disengagement and, also, fully prepared to take this course, should the other side remain intransigent.
The time until June will be a transitional period of great difficulties due to the close inspection of the Greek government by the EC, the ECB, and the IMF. Therefore, the main duty of the Greek Left should be that, by the end of this period, the majority of the Greek people will have realized that there can only be two solutions to the problem: Either the EU will accept a fundamental change of course regarding its financial policies or the country will need to disengage and take its own independent course away from Brussels’ neoliberal dead-end.

To make this happen, the Greek leftist movement must make constructive use of both SYRIZA’s governmental power as well as its demonstrated weakness to push through its economic agenda in the late negotiation. These developments should function as a useful lesson, both to those that are calling for subversion in the name of the people, who do not as yet think subversively, as well as to those that are still inclined to let the people believe it is possible to make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Yannis Stouraitis is a full-time researcher and adjunct lecturer at the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Vienna

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  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!