Friday, 3 July 2015

Let's Be Partisan: Support for the People of Greece!

Syntagma: where European democracy starts

The strategy of the Syriza leadership - if it can be called that - has been muddle-headed, inconsistent and at times utterly bemusing. But this is not because of the Greek government's amateurism. Indeed, if professionalism is the characteristic of most European politicians, Syriza's amateurism is infinitely preferable. It is time, I think, to be unashamedly pro-Greece, against the "blackmail" of Europe.

Let's be partisan: the Greek government, bearing the unmistakable imprint of the radical Left, promises the only future of any worth for Greece and for Europe as a whole. There is no need for measure on this point. Absolutely no need for balance. What justifies such a sweeping statement is precisely the ruin brought upon Europe by decades of post-democratic marketisation and liberalisation. The sole governmental call for democracy and dignity emanates from this small nation in Europe's south.

If the Syriza leadership has made desperate moves, it is because the situation is objectively desperate. More than any other force in Greek politics, Syriza expresses the contradictory relations of Greek society. It is the political condensate of profound social struggle. By the very nature of the situation, it can hardly be expected to speak with one voice. That simply isn't how the real world works.

This does not absolve the Syriza leadership, however, since the strategic presupposition of Syriza (an end to austerity and a continuation of the single currency in its present form) has always been a delusion. Syriza could have told the Greek people after their first electoral successes in 2012 that an anti-austerity government of the radical left might have to contemplate unilateral moves to defy the creditors - and that one risk was an exit from the eurozone (this, admittedly, would have been difficult given the broad and diffuse nature of the party at the time). There is a lot of talk about democracy in Europe today, but little substantive comment on what it involves. As the renowned German philosopher Jurgen Habermas says, democracy is a process of "opinion and will formation." The great supporter of European integration has a rare lesson for the radical Left here (and also for others): democracy is a dialogue through which beliefs, positions, and eventually policies are developed and built. Opinion is not a static force towards which politics reaches, either in vain or with some proximate success. Opinion is a back and forth process of formation. The Greek people overwhelmingly support euro membership precisely because nobody has ever talked to them about a convincing alternative. Sunday's fraught referendum, replete with confusing phraseology, is the outcome of the Syriza leadership's flawed long-term strategy.

To attack the Syriza government over the present economic catastrophe, as many in the euro hierarchy and in the increasingly hysterical right-wing press seek to do, borders on the grotesque. The entire basis of Syriza's platform was, from the outset, that economic sovereignty had been taken from the Greek people. Robbed of any control over their own fiscal state, their monetary and central bank policy, and their own labour and capital markets, Syriza's victory was a striking rebuttal on the part of the Greek people of control of whole economies by the enforced legality, and brazenly anti-democratic core, of the European treaty system. Those who have robbed the Greek people of their right to decide their own economic and national fate, now blame the Greek government for the calamity enforced upon them by Europe itself. The ECB's brutal drip-feeding of the Greek banking sector since February has, moreover, underscored the callous disdain in which Europe's leaders hold the Greeks. This has been a further imposed, and entirely political, form of aggression against Greece, resulting in enormous social suffering. "Things have got worse and worse since Tsipras arrived," EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sighed. Juncker is known for his lies, but this was especially egregious and brazenly self-serving. Such, then, is the European sense of imperviousness to truth.

So, let's be partisan then. The Greek people have earned themselves a little bias. After all, they have had years of scorn heaped upon them whilst swallowing a blatant poison that was only ever unconvincingly masked as medicine. The Greek government may have its flaws, but its heroism is beyond doubt. It is, to be sure, the same heroism as that of the Greek people. Greece must be supported in its decision on Sunday, be it Yes or No. And we must hope that, either way, the vote is not the end of Greek defiance.

If I were Greek, I would vote a resounding No this Sunday. But unlike those European leaders who, infuriated by any whiff of popular opposition, have noisily and melodramatically pleaded for a Yes vote, I do not think that either choice offers an immediate solution.

The path chosen by Syriza - and the Greek people - has been resoundingly to support euro membership. This is totally understandable. Currencies are more than pieces of paper or the mere form of endlessly flashing electronic digits. They are expressions of a social relation, a means by which society itself is represented in the world. Leaving the euro is objectively ominous. And with nobody prominent willing to champion the alternative, not even the Syriza leadership, the people of Greece are hesitant to jump further into a mostly untheorised unknown. That hesitation, even fear, is eminently reasonable for a people who have already taken several leaps into uncharted territory since they were crippled by the banking crisis and Europe's fiscal straitjacket.

How, then, to break this impasse? Syriza offers the only hope for Greek people. Defiance of the troika remains their only route away from further social catastrophe. Much ink has been spilled over the fallout from a victorious No vote. But consider the alternative. There is no force within Greece capable of leading a democratically legitimate government except Syriza, yet that party will be deemed illegitimate by the European powers. The frustration and sense of de facto divorce of Greece from the Europeans will only be reinforced should Tsipras sign whatever deal the EC and the ECB can cook up after Sunday. Even worse, Syriza's replacement by a technocratic coalition of the right and centre will make politically tangible that widening fissure.

What hope does a no vote promise? The former right-wing Polish president and now president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has declared today that the vote will not determine Greece's membership of the euro. Even the treaties could, after all, be tweaked, he suggested. It is also clear, perhaps too late, that the IMF will resist a deal that does not promise some form of debt relief, not in the future but now. Syriza followers - and the fifty percent of Greek society that leans left - will take some heart from both of these. But now is the time for Syriza to promise it will do whatever it takes - including unilateral moves to relieve the intolerable suffering of working and unemployed people - to end austerity. The no vote can mobilise the venerable history of Greek opposition and guarantee the Greek people will stand firm with their government should negotiations resume. But this will only happen if Syriza argues the case now for a transformation of a relationship that has become untenable. The leadership should be firm and candid: they will not, under their leadership, see any return to austerity. If the government is forced to issue scrip or a parallel currency it should say it is willing to do so. Moreover, across Europe, we should oppose the argument that such a move will be apocalyptic. It will not. The pain will be sharp, but nothing compared to the slow death of austerity. In accordance with the present will of the Greek people, the government should promise to do all it can to enforce Greece's legal right to remain a member of the single currency. But the government should also maintain the simple democratic fact that no means no. Should Europe attempt to strangle the Greek people, it must seek exit. It must insist this is the only way to avoid perpetual misery.

Should Greece vote no, a rupture will have taken place, at least within Greek society, with the present form of European integration. It is not expected now, but such an outcome could also spell the end of Angela Merkel's career. Rocked by waves of strikes from a German workforce that has suffered decades of wage repression in order to retain a shaky competitive lead over its supposed partners, Merkel's seemingly impervious government could be brought down if Greece somehow escapes her punishment. We should take solace from the fact that the suffering cannot last; that even in the technocratic and deluded rules-based system of Europe, time does not stand still.

For Greece to stand a chance, however, the call must go up once more across Europe, confident in our democratic inheritance: end the barbarism of austerity; support the popular will against the tyranny of the creditors; support the people of Greece now!

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