Talk by Alan Akrivos
February 6, 2015 Forum
“After the Greek Elections:
The Future of Austerity in Greece, Europe and Beyond”
Thank you Joanne, thank you Tom. I think it was excellent to hear the presentation from Natassa. I think we’re truly living through a historic moment and I hope people recognize and see how important this is – it’s part of the changing political landscape, as capitalism internationally is facing a huge crisis since 2007. It’s an international crisis that even though its portrayed as if it was caused by Greece; it started in fact in the United States, as people know, and it is actually spreading on an international scale. Europe at the moment is faced with another bout of a deflation and economic downturn in the past period.
But part of the picture that is changing is also the changes in the US. We see it, in the past period the $15 an hour campaign that is actually an offensive for the first time in a long time, we see an offensive movement to demand wage increases for the lowest paid workers in the US. We’re seeing the movement of Black Lives Matter. We’re seeing the movements that got some of the best results for the left in the last election, the Green/left candidacy of Howie Hawkins and we saw of course a year ago the election of a first socialist council member in the city of Seattle, Kshama Sawant. This is part of the picture of a changing political landscape that SYRIZA's victory took place.
Of course in the international scene as was mentioned before we saw a protest, a humongous rally of PODEMOS in Madrid the week before -- some people said up to 300,000. And we saw rallies after the election across Europe in virtually every city in Europe; the victory of SYRIZA has actually had a colossal effect on consciousness - showing that there is a way for the working class to fight back.
I should explain that the organization I represent, Socialist Alternative, our sister organization in Greece is Xekinima -- Socialist Internationalist Organization, and it's part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). Xekinima is one of the collaborating organizations with SYRIZA and has initiated the “Initiative 1000,” which is part of an effort to unite the left and the movements in Greece trying to build the forces that will be able to challenge the reaction that is inevitably going to come. And I think it is part of the effort that is needed.
I will read a quote about some of the conclusions that we drew from the election of SYRIZA: "the victory has had a liberating effect on the working class, the movements and society. There is an expectation from the working class that under a SYRIZA government the massive attacks will stop - at least to a certain extent be reversed - and some of the demands of the mass movement will be satisfied. So despite the lack of clarity that exists at the moment in terms of the demands that are taking place, we believe that the SYRIZA victory represents a significant shift in the class balance of forces in Greek society and it can have a catalyzing effect, it can unleash a new period of working class struggle."
And I think this epitomizes the effect that this victory has had. And I think we have already seen an outline, as I mentioned -- the international response of solidarity to the SYRIZA government in Greece But we also saw in Greece itself, in the face of the attacks from Schäuble and the German government when Varoufakis visited Berlin -- we saw the spontaneous demonstrations in Syntagma Square of tens of thousands of people, calling for support for the government to stand firm in the face of the reaction that is taking place.
Natassa mentioned the fundamental elements of the program that SYRIZA has outlined and I think people have to see that these demands, they are in many ways extremely limited demands. They are in effect asking for a moderation and limits to the most brutal aspects of austerity in Greece. However, even those limited demands are being rejected. In effect, you can see already the outline of rejection on behalf of the ECB (European Central Bank). Just in the last couple of days we’ve seen the demand having returned to the table to increase the repayment of the debt! We have to remember the audacity of these people -- that this debt that was supposed to be going away. It started a few years ago at 125% of GDP of Greece and last year it reached 179%. It’s the exact opposite, in effect. In many ways, the Greek bailout, was in effect a bailout of the big banks and the big economies in Europe. So that is what in effect you have in the past period.
SYRIZA’s demand in many ways to re-negotiate and prolong the payment of these debts is a retreat from SYRIZA’s demands before -- it used to call for a full renegotiation, for abandoning half the payment of the debt. A lot of that is, at the moment they are saying basically they want a prolongation of debt repayment. Varoufakis recently said they want a prolongation of the debt repayment. That is basically what is taking place.
But even those extremely limited demands are being rejected and the European Union representatives are preparing to reject these minimal steps! This is what SYRIZA and the Greek population are increasingly going to face on behalf of the European directorate. Greece is being used as the guinea pig in order to claw back gains that working people across Europe have made. This is what is actually happening -- this is what is being prepared! If you follow the press, you saw the threats by the ECB to pull the plug on financing for Greece. They are already indicating that they are going to play hardball despite the limited program that SYRIZA is presenting, in reality trying to "appeal to reason," in the sense that "you cannot continue this, it is totally irrational" and so on. And I think that this what the ECB are preparing for -- war! This is what actually they’re preparing, at the present time. I think this response will be part of the discussion that is going to envelop Greek society in the next period.
It’s going to be a return in many ways of the class struggle across Europe, something we’ve seen again and again. We have to remember that SYRIZA was in many ways a creation of the social movements and it was a reaction of the youth uprising that took place after Alexis Grigoropoulos was killed by police and the massive uprisings of youth over the past period. It’s a creation of the movements that have exploded the past period. Those movements will return in the next period. And we have to be clear that in many ways the idea that the sheep will negotiate equally with the wolves in Europe will not work. The wolves are going to return for more. This is going to mean more conflict and war. That means SYRIZA has to be careful about which allies to choose. For example, in the early days after the SYRIZA victory Varoufakis and Tsipras visited French President Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Renzi. Because of SYRIZA’s popularity among the European workers, they attempted to try to say that they were "supportive" to Greece. But of course immediately afterwards they were called to Berlin, and immediately they got behind the demands of Merkel and German capitalism. In many ways the threat for Greece is going to be to agree to the demands for more austerity and poverty or for the European Union to kick Greece out.
What is the response and what kind of program is going to be necessary to deal with this? I can only make a few preliminary comments, within the limits of time, of the kind of program that the Left is going to increasingly need to discuss and initiate in the next period, in my view. The question of the response will be debated within SYRIZA, within the movements and within the working class as a whole. The working class will begin to return in many ways into struggle -- as working people feel that they have a government that’s going to be on their side. We saw the spontaneous mass rallies in support of the government. We saw the triumphant return of the cleaning ladies -- fists raised with nylon gloves -- when they returned to the Finance Ministry and the movements of social solidarity that Natassa outlined.
These movements, for workers’ rights, for environmental and human rights against fascism, etc., are going to return to the streets and they’re going to return feeling that they have a government that’s on their side. They’re going to exercise mass pressure on that government to resist, to draw a line in the sand -- which is what is needed - in order to send a clear message across Europe: the need for working people across Europe and internationally to fight against austerity and to fight against the continuous impoverishment of working people in Greece.
The basic outline of the demands needed as this class struggle develops, will be to start from the limited, "reasonable," demands of limiting the debt. The rejection of these demands however is going to lead to a bigger discussion within the Left and on the streets about what kinds of policies are needed to end this blackmail against working people. The kind of program that is in reality needed is going to be able to say: No to the blackmail of Germany against the barbarism that they have inflicted on Greece. In fact, some statistics indicate that the current crisis in Greece has actually led to a worse fall in the Gross Domestic Product than during the war and Nazi occupation in the 1940s. It is a fact that half the population in Greece is currently at or below the level of poverty. The demands that increasingly will be needed will be to nationalize the banking system and to move in the direction of nationalization of strategic sectors of the economy, to plan them under democratic control, workers control of management and in effect initiate economic development, which is what is needed for the country to return to its feet. Whether Greece is within the Eurozone or whether it’s kicked out these are going to be the radical economic measures that are going to be necessary in my view.
And I want to finish this: All of us here in the US have a role to play -- building solidarity with the struggles that are going to unfold in Greece and Europe. The struggle in Greece is not going to be a single event but a prolonged struggle with steps forward and steps back for the workers movement -- like the Spanish Revolution in the 1930s. We are going to see explosive political movements like PODEMOS in Spain and general strikes in Italy, Belgium and other parts of Europe (like Ireland where we are seeing a big movement against austerity) as well as the ugly head of reaction -- like the Front National in France. We need to build international solidarity. We need a mass solidarity movement for working people! It’s going to demand building actions and demonstrations to fight against austerity and for a Socialist Europe -- which will of course will have a massive impact on the consciousness of working people in the U.S. and is going to create similar movements in the next period here as well.
Alan Akrivos, a founding member SYRIZA-NY, a member of Socialist Alternative/(CWI), and among the founders of AKNY. He has been active in the struggle to stop the neo-fascist Golden Dawn in NYC, and speaks frequently across the U.S. on issues of international politics, labor, and socialism.