Greeks betrayed by Syriza reformists

Athens, May 18, 2017. Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos (left) and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) attend a Parliament session where they sought approval for pension cuts and more tax hikes as part of an international bailout agreement. Photo credit: Petros Giannakouris / AP
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More cut-backs, more belt-tightening, more desperation. Vulture bankers from the European Union (EU) are reducing Greece, a tiny, ancient country, to a giant bone-yard where private investors loot public property and resources.

This is class war at its starkest. The working class pays for the ravages of government borrowing, while native and foreign capitalists grow very, very rich.

And the Syriza government, elected in 2015 as a bulwark against just this, now oversees the destruction.

Angry residents and migrants are learning harsh lessons about how capitalism operates, enabled by politicians who promote merely reform. Yet the courageous Greek people continue to fight back.

The debt trap from hell. Greece is heavily indebted to European banks, and these creditors use every payment deadline to tighten the screws on a depleted country. In the latest instance, EU bankers lent €8.5 billion to the government so that it could repay €7 billion in interest. This avoided default, but paid nothing of the debt.

To satisfy creditors, Syriza officials squeezed more out of its people’s lives. They further cut pensions, unemployment and other vital benefits. They accelerated lay-offs and sell-offs of public assets, and took aim at union rights. Greece currently has an unemployment rate of 26 percent and one-third of its people live in poverty.

Athens began borrowing heavily from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2010. Lenders knew the state could not pay the IOUs. Practically none of the borrowed funds help the Greek economy or people. In many cases, they go directly to French and German banks to pay off interest. As the economy chokes under dire cut-backs, the loans pile up. Today, Greece owes €315 billion.

This debt scheme is central to neoliberalism, the current capitalist strategy to transfer wealth from the needy to the rich. Credit is provided to those who cannot afford it, whether home owners or nations. Then massive indebtedness becomes a lever. The IMF uses it to pry open poorer countries so private investors can take over land, utilities, and public resources.

This scenario may be most severe in Greece, but Portugal, Cyprus, Spain, Italy and Ireland are in the same boat. Any default threatens the stability of the European Union and its currency, the Euro. In Greece, the situation is so ominous that even the IMF argues for some temporary respite, which German bankers reject.

Syriza’s betrayal. The Coalition of the Radical Left — Syriza — swept into power in 2015 on a tsunami of working-class fury against austerity. Syriza’s victory sent shock waves through Europe’s ruling elite. Grexit, a Greek exit from the European Union, suddenly seemed possible.

So global capitalism deployed all its might, short of bombs, to force a hard-right turn. Greek oligarchs transferred their billions out of the country and European Union negotiators refused to extend payment deadlines or ease loan terms in any way.

In July 2015, only ten days after a referendum overwhelmingly opposed further cutbacks, Syriza Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras signed the most punishing loan agreement in Greece’s history. It was a stunning capitulation.

Greece’s choice in 2015 was the same then as it is today — stay in the debt trap or throw out the system. At the critical moment, the working class was ready to fight, but there was no revolutionary will in Syriza, and no revolutionary party to lead the way.

Syriza was expected to stand up to the 1 percent. It was supposed to be different from the old traditional sell-out Social Democratic party, PASOK, which imposed the original austerity.

Unfortunately, Syriza is sewn of the same cloth. The party began as a coalition, with some revolutionary leftist parties uniting with those who don’t agree with the necessity of overthrowing capitalism. But Syriza leadership had no intention of leaving the European Union or replacing its economic system. Syriza became a new face of the social democracy ideology.

In Europe, social democratic parties have been part of governance for decades. Labor, Stalinist communist, and socialist parties allegedly represent Europe’s working class and downtrodden. Although they claim to oppose capitalism, misleaders of these movements reject revolution, instead relying on negotiating temporary reforms with the bosses. In truth, they are guardians of the system, there to persuade their grass roots to adapt to harsh realities.

The complicity of social democrats in bailing out capitalism has justifiably led disgusted working people to seek radical change. Their challenge is to avoid the Syriza trap — relying on new social democratic sell-outs.

Reform is a no-win strategy. Greece is a tragic example that reformism cannot stop the ravages of capitalism. Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained in his theory of permanent revolution that when the working class is in motion, stopping short of socialist revolution is a recipe for disaster.

When anti-capitalists give up their revolutionary program to settle for temporary reforms, they capitulate to the rulers and bring ruin to everyone else. What to do? Build united fronts where social justice activists, leftists of various stripes, labor and community groups — some that don’t always agree with each other — organize together under working-class leadership and genuine democracy.

The Greek spirit of rebellion is tenacious. Protests and strikes, constant since 2010, now rage against Syriza. Unionists, anti-fascists and advocates for the flood of refugees trapped in miserable camps organize frequent rallies. On May 17, labor and the Left called a general strike to protest the new round of cuts which crippled the country.

The socialist way. The stark reality facing Greece now is fascism or socialism. Hope for a better future and for stopping Greek Nazis lies with rejecting capitalism and reformism, and building for revolution. ANTARSYA, a Trotskyist-led coalition, is providing revolutionary socialist leadership. Its demands deserve broad support from internationalist revolutionaries, because they defy Syriza and show a path forward:

• Cancel all the debt.

• Break with the Eurozone.

• Reopen all closed factories and enterprises under workers’ control. Rehire all fired workers.

• Nationalize all banks and large enterprises.

• Prevent capital flight out of the country.

• Legalization for immigrants and citizenship for their children born in Greece.

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