Jonathan Neale adds his view to the debate on events unfolding in Greece.
We need to be honest about what is happening in Greece.
The leadership of Syriza said during the election that under no circumstances would they leave the euro. But if they won the election, they would be able to persuade the governments of other European countries to allow them to end austerity and stimulate the economy.
This turned out not to work. Once Syriza has begun the negotiations by promising not to leave the euro, the leaders of the other governments knew they could humiliate Syriza. So they did.
This was not just a matter of “Germans”. It was a class thing. The governments of Spain, Italy, France and all the rest piled in with the government of Germany. The Greek ruling class support the “Germans” too.
This was entirely predictable. In fact, many people predicted it. The far left Antarsya coalition predicted it in Greece. Antarsya said that Syriza would have to impose capital controls, take over the banks, default on the debt, and leave the euro.
In this, maybe they were half wrong. Imagine that Syriza had gone into the negotiations saying they were prepared to impose capital controls, take over the banks, default on the debt and leave the euro if they had to, but they would rather compromise. They might well have won if they did that.
But Syriza would have had to be willing to go all the way, not bluffing. So if Antarsya were maybe half wrong, they were also basically right.
This is not necessarily a matter of reform vs. revolution. Capital controls, not having the euro, taking over the banks, and defaulting on debts, are not revolution. They are reforms. Serious reformists would have taken the chance. As it is, Syriza is delivering no reforms, but the opposite.
Many countries have defaulted on debts – most recently, Russia and Argentina. Many have capital controls, like Cyprus and Malaysia. Many have taken over the banks, like Sweden.
Capital controls can be imposed in five minutes. What you do is close the banks and stop all transactions while you work out the detailed rules. Roosevelt closed all the American banks when he came into office in 1933, for weeks. In the Iranian revolution, the bank workers stopped all movement of money out of the country on one day. The bank workers in Greece are in a radical union. It is completely doable.
Many people say, however, that Syriza would not have been elected if they had not promised to stay inside the euro. This is true, but some people would have voted for that Syriza. Particularly if all the leaders of Syriza had spent months patiently persuading people, instead of telling people a Grexit was unthinkable. Moreover, no one at all would have voted for what the leadership of Syriza has actually done.
But, some people say, we should not listen to Antarsya because they are “sectarian”. After all, they did not join Syriza and they ran against Syriza in the election.
At the time, Antarsya were saying they had to stay separate because if they did not, their coalition would fall apart. There are eight organisations in their coalition, and this is probably true.
More to the point, I don’t think they could have joined Syriza and continued to say in public that Tsipras’ strategy would not work and he would crumble. After all, there is a left in Syriza, and many of their leaders did think that, and they did not say it in public – although they are now saying it in public.
Also, it is very important now that there is an organised force in Greece that can call for protests and resistance. That has to be against government policy, and against Tsipras, or it is meaningless. Antarsya has called on everyone to go the streets. They can do that because they remained separate and organised. That creates a pole of attraction that makes the left in Syriza stronger. It also means the left in Syriza are more likely to fight, because if they do not there are other people who will lead their members.
We need to be honest, and balanced, about what Antarsya represents. They got two-thirds of one per cent of the vote. Partly that is because their vote was squeezed by people wanting to make sure Syriza won a close election. But still, a very small vote. Maybe their real support is 2 or 3 percent. Among activists, students and union militants, the proportion prepared to work with them is higher. Now, it will be higher again. So not good, but real support.
This means, though, obviously, that all calls for protests, demonstrations and strikes have to be calls for joint action. It would be mad to say Antarsya has to replace Syriza now. Instead, the supporters of the Syriza left, the Communist Party (KKE), and Antarsya have to move together, and that will mobilise much larger number of Syriza voters.
Of course anyone who knows the Greek left knows also that formally united demonstrations and protests may be too much to hope for. But all that is needed is protests on the same day, in the city centres, called separately by Antarsya, the Communist Party, and the Syriza left. That would be the beginning of resistance.
But we need to be clear about some of the things that will happen. The leadership of Syriza will impose austerity. The majority of Syriza MPs support Tsipras.
Austerity will not be an abstract matter of political position. Many people in Greece are now going through dumpsters for food, and many very sick people have no medical care. Austerity will be lived. People will hate whatever government imposes it.
This means that Syriza will be pulverised at the next election. It also means that Syriza will split – not immediately, but it will split.
Can Syriza wait for a movement of European solidarity? No. Mass solidarity comes to people who are fighting, strong, confident, and defiant. Mass solidarity does not come to those who grovel. But if there is mass resistance in Greece, then there will be solidarity.
Does this mean resistance will be easy in Greece? No. The defeat of Tsipras’ strategy will demoralise many. The fact that the defeat is abject, and that Tsipras is lying about it, will demoralise more. People are exhausted – literally, this is not a political metaphor. And many are terrified of leaving the euro.
On the other hand, people voted for change. They are desperate for change. And right now we don’t know the outcome. The only realistic strategy is to hope and fight. And if the result is defeat, at least there has been an organised part of the Greek left that has held together, told people the truth as they saw it, and been proved right by events.
That part of the left will grow, in two ways. Formally, there will probably be unity moves with splits from Syriza. At least as important, there will be a much wider informal unity on the streets, in the workplaces and in the schools and universities.
So there will be an alternative to the far right. And that as Syriza craters, there will remain a left, formally and informally, that has dignity, argues for an alternative, and is visible on a national level.
There will also be a living lesson for the rest of us, so that we are not bound to make the mistake of Tsipras again.