Moderate Demands: Notes on Greece and Ireland

I don’t care very much about charges of betrayal or capitulation, just as I don’t think there is any need to laud Tsipras and others as heroes for getting something, however small that something might be, rather than nothing. Plainly speaking, however, it is a capitulation: the Greek government bowed before the demands of the Eurozone countries and Germany in particular.

Could it have done anything else? Yes, it could have refused to back down, and, most likely, the European authorities could have inflicted further punishment on the Greek populace. Others might say that if they had been in the same position, or, if other more heroic figures had been there instead, a radically different outcome would have happened. I don’t believe this. Anyone in that same position would be bound by the same forces.

But if the forces were different, then so too would be the scope for action. Some people think the 61% OXI vote was sufficient sign that the Greek working class was ready to fight for a radically different social vision -one of life outside the Euro, whose membership the majority of Greek society, regrettably, would like to maintain. Personally I don’t believe this either. Nor do I believe that the turning of economic screws produces a commensurate fightback in and of itself, or the flowering of new forms of organising society.

It’s not that I believe these things are impossible or unthinkable; I just don’t think they can be relied upon as automatic. So, if it’s something you think is desirable, then it’s something you have to build for, not simply conjure up. Someone without the charge of governmental responsibility is free to leap into the void, those who bear it are not. That is a structural problem, not a problem of personalities or strength of character. To my mind, the major criticism to be made of the Syriza leadership is the way they refused to countenance the possibility of leaving the Euro. But whether they would have it in their power to persuade the Greek populace to ditch the Euro is another question. I don’t know the answer to that.

Me, I have nothing to tell anyone in the working class in Greece, or in any political party committed to democracy and socialism there, about how they ought to do things. What is clear from the last 36 hours -as if it were not clear before- is that people in Ireland and people in Greece are subject to the same regime. It is just that people in Greece have rattled their chains louder. The Eurozone bears no prospect of democratic progress. Contrary to the messages getting pumped out, people in Ireland are not more free because they more readily accepted the will of the Troika as their own. They have no say in the matter either; they can only fool themselves into thinking they have, or rationalise that it doesn’t matter.

It sickens me to the core to see the Labour Party leader Joan Burton, who, only a couple of months ago lined up alongside SPD thug Sigmar Gabriel to demand more blood from Greece, stand up today and declare that the “European social democratic movement”, including herself, had been extremely supportive of Greece. In fact, Joan Burton and her gallant allies have been baying for blood.

During the Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum, Joan Burton took to the streets with placards sporting a huge Tricolour in order to tell the public that the balanced budget rule to be put into national law -an idea of German origin- was the guarantee of a bright future for the country. Burton’s double-dealing vindictiveness knows no bounds. Burton ventured that Syriza was “lecturing the rest of Europe”. As Varoufakis’s interview in the New Statesman today reveals quite convincingly, it wasn’t that Varoufakis was “lecturing”: rather, the Eurozone finance ministers were not interested in any solution that did not entail Greece’s complete humiliation.

As I’ve said before, I see little value in pointing out how much the present-day Labour Party differs from the socialist vision of its founder, James Connolly. Yet there is a line from Connolly’s song We Only Want The Earth that illustrates perfectly just how fraudulent the present-day Labour enterprise is: ‘For our demands most moderate are/We only want the earth.‘ What were the demands of the Syriza government in Greece? Not the earth. They were far more meek than moderate. Just a partial end -a partial one- to the criminal looting of the country conducted on behalf of the Europe’s big banks and its economic elites. Burton’s party looked upon these demands, and, abandoning any pretence of international solidarity, poured scorn on them, demanded the Greeks be crushed, and took up their position alongside the thugs and bullies. If it was good enough for lone parents, good enough for the water charges protesters, it was good enough for Greece. In truth this should not come as much of a surprise: they are a member of the same grouping -the Socialist International- that counted among its ranks the parties of dictators Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; it just so happens that this truth is seldom discussed.

It does not surprise me in the least to see Ireland’s press cock-a-hoop at the humiliation inflicted upon Greece. As you would expect, they have cast aside any concern for what it means -not least for the Irish populace- for the Eurozone countries to act in such a despotic and vindictive fashion, and are more concerned instead with whether or not left-wing parties will be damaged here. This is, after all, a political jurisdiction where capitulation, humiliation, power worship and the absence of solidarity are felt to be the norm, and where the ruling party has been supporting coups against democratically elected governments in Europe since 1936.

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4 responses to “Moderate Demands: Notes on Greece and Ireland

  1. After *not* writing what is and isn’t possible in Greece (no one else could have done anything diff & 62% oxi vote doesn’t indicate working class is ready to fight for EU exit) but instead explaining what does and doesn’t happen *automatically* (wtf does this even mean? And please point to someone who thought it was automatic!) you explain you’ve nothing to tell working class greeks. hah!

    You’re only mild criticism is Syriza’s refusal “to countenance the possibility of leaving the Euro”. But even this you absolve them of, for they must bear “governmental responsibility” and it is for others to build for rupture.

    To follow your logic to its conclusion there was indeed no alternative to austerity/bailout.

    Which ironically enough is the very same logic Labour & their supporters use to defend their atrocious attacks on the Irish working class.

    • Yeah, you’re right. I don’t believe a majority of Greek people are prepared to leave the eurozone, at the minute. That is not to discount the possibility that they might do so in future. Like I said, I don’t know.

      What is more, I don’t speak Greek. I don’t presume to know the ins and outs of what the Greek working class thinks.

      But seeing as you yourself appear to know that indeed the Greek working class are ready to fight to leave the euro: if this is the case, why haven’t they already left? Is it because the Syriza leadership exercises some kind of ideological chokehold over the working class’s sense of its own power and agency?

      By the way I am not a priest and I neither ‘absolve’ nor ‘condemn’ Syriza of anything. I am not a Syriza supporter. It is a party composed of different tendencies. But that party takes on a different shape once it enters the State. To my mind whether Tsipras or whoever is committing an act of betrayal is not important. I don’t really know, and I don’t care. The question is how best to organise. Hence what I say about structures: how do you hold a leadership to account, that sort of thing. But sure if you think this is all Bourgeois Left fripperies, knock yourself out.

      • Syriza don’t need to have an “ideological choke hold” as you put it, in order to influence the Greek working class or a section of it.

        Certainly Syriza diverted attention away from building for a rupture. With the spectacle of the troika negotiations -during which the Greek people were largely kept in the dark re the details- they distracted & pushed the lie that an end to austerity was possible within the EU & NATO. Leave it to us they said.

        The material results of Syriza’s 5 months in government have been the de-mobilisation & disillusionment of a section of the Greek working class, and a harsher memorandum than 62% of Greeks rejected -one which previous right wing governments could not have gotten passed due to the level of mobilisation.

        “the question is how best to organise”

        I think syriza provide us with a good example of precisely how *not* to organise.

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