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Syriza Fails, but the Anti-austerity Struggle Continues

The left-wing party Syriza won election in January 25 on the program of opposing austerity. Then the referendum of July 5 saw 61% of the people vote «NO» against a new program of austerity dressed up as a «bailout». They voted «NO» despite the fact that the «troika» — the European Central Bank, the Eurogroup of finance ministers, and the IMF – had already forced the closure of Greek banks in order to panic people. They voted «NO» in defiance of the threats of the troika to force the Greek government to issue a new currency separate from the Euro. This vote suggested that a majority of the Greek working people now regarded ending austerity as more important than whether Greece stayed with the Euro. Only a minority preferred to give up the Euro, but the majority wasn’t going to sacrifice everything for the sake of staying in the Eurozone.

Yet right after the referendum, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to new and harsher demands from the troika. He agreed to yet more cuts in pensions, wages, and social programs and yet more privatization. He agreed to continual surveillance by troika officials over Greek government actions. He had agreed earlier to abandon the Thessaloniki Program on which he was elected, but now he crossed every «red line» he had himself declared in the last five months.

Tsipras gave in to pressure; he could not envision Greece giving up the Euro under any circumstances, so he eventually agreed to just about everything that was asked. He rationalized that he had obtained promises that the troika would start discussions on new loans that would supposedly ease conditions in Greece. Actually, these were only promises to begin discussion, discussions in which the troika could, if it wished, set additional harsh conditions on Greece. Moreover, the new agreement might collapse because the troika might itself back out of it. But even if the promises were kept, it would only mean that the troika would reinstate the same miserable type of «bailouts» that Greece had suffered for five years already. During the months of negotiations with the troika, the Tsipras government itself had denounced such plans as unworkable and responsible for the misery of the last five years.

No one is quite sure now why Tsipras called the referendum of July 5. But whatever he intended, the result was not an endorsement for whatever he did. The referendum campaign had taken on a life of its own. People voted against the troika proposals of June 25, and they weren’t going to simply accept another proposal with new and worse terms. As I and others pointed out, they wouldn’t necessarily accept whatever deal was reached with the troika.

And that is what has happened. The new agreement has faced widespread condemnation. It didn’t even have smooth sailing in parliament. In the vote yesterday, July 15, 38 of Syriza’s members of parliament voted against the agreement or abstained, so that Tsipras needed the votes of the establishment parties who had been backing austerity for years. Meanwhile there were demonstrations outside parliament against the agreement, and one-day strikes. The parliamentary vote won’t end matters, and the resistance will continue in one form or another. There were also demonstrations in various countries, although modest in size.

There is also a deepening of the split between various bourgeois governments in their attitude towards the demands on Greece. Some governments want even harsher measures against Greece than those in the current agreement. Other bourgeois governments, while agreeing with the specifically anti-worker measures forced on Greece, worry that the financial demands of the new agreements are unrealistic, and will lead to economic collapse. Even the IMF believes the plans of the rest of the troika are unrealistic: the IMF likes the neo-liberal reforms being foisted on Greece, that being what the IMF does to all countries, but sees that Greece cannot possibly pay the huge amount of money to the bondholders that the troika wants to extract from it.

The political collapse of Syriza

The capitulation of Tsipras to the troika is raising a lot of questions about why it happened. A great deal of opposition is reported from the rank-and-file members of Syriza. A slight majority of Central Committee members oppose the agreement: indeed, it was negotiated without consulting the CC. About one-quarter of Syriza parliamentarians opposed the agreement, and so have some Syriza government ministers. Already there is discussion of whether the left can win control of Syriza or will instead be purged, and what other type of organization should be built.

The last five months have indeed been a political earthquake, not just for Greece, but for Europe. They have made the austerity inflicted on Greece into a major political issue that is causing tremors throughout Europe. The troika may have succeeded in humiliating Syriza and hurting Greece even worse than before, but it has won a Pyrrhic victory: the resistance against austerity will continue, and the troika’s victory was won at the price of causing divisions throughout Europe and perhaps threatening the ultimate existence of the Eurozone itself. Meanwhile the experience of the negotiations with the troika and of the referendum campaign has resulted in a shift of opinion among the Greek masses.

So it is now a time to examine again how Syriza is organized, and what was led to the present situation. We need to look at its strengths and weaknesses, at what allowed Syriza to help set off this earthquake, and what has led to the political collapse manifested by Tsipras’ agreement with the troika. We need to step up solidarity with the Greek working masses, who will be facing tremendous hardships in the coming year. But we also need to learn from their painfully-won experience.

Joseph Green

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