No, Syriza has not surrendered

Tom Walker looks at what Greece's government has agreed – and argues that buying time is not the same thing as breaking promises
February 2015


Surrender! Capitulation! Betrayal! Syriza hasn't even been in office for a month, but already the obituaries are being written.

Some on the left, of course, had written them long before January's election. Syriza, you see, has failed to declare the revolution. So far, so familiar. But over the last few days some more sensible forces seem – as with the coalition deal in the early days of the Syriza government – to have got a little carried away in their horror at this week's debt deal, believing the German government's crowing rhetoric that Syriza has suffered total humiliation.

This is a deal that has been described in quite the opposite terms by Greek prime minister Alexis Tspiras: he called it 'a decisive step, leaving austerity, the bailouts and the troika'. Unless he has quite suddenly and unexpectedly taken leave of planet Earth, there is more going on here than meets the eye.

To discover the truth we need to not only look at the deal, or even the media spin around the deal, but examine what the text they have signed up to will mean in practice.

No agreement to austerity

Much of the reporting of the deal led on the claim that Syriza has 'signed up to austerity' – and that would be a massive U-turn if it were true. But this rests on some mischief with the terminology.

What the Greek government has signed up to is to continue running a budget surplus, as opposed to a deficit. That is not, in itself, austerity. Austerity is the practice of balancing budgets through cuts in public spending.

Yet the agreement, as Tsipras has said, cancels the previous Greek government's planned cuts to pensions, as well as scrapping VAT rises on food and medicine. The reforms Syriza will submit as part of its end of the deal look set to include a massive crackdown on tax evasion and corruption – meaning a shift away from spending cuts towards raising the revenue through taxation.

The Eurogroup statement also includes some flexibility for surpluses to be 'appropriate' given economic conditions. In other words, until the Greek economy returns to growth, the punishing targets of the previous government can be eased back – meaning there wouldn't be as much money to raise as previously. This should free up some cash to tackle Greece's humanitarian crisis, through Syriza's promised measures such as free electricity and meal subsidies for the poorest.

And Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has added a very important and under-reported rider: 'Nobody is going to ask us to impose upon our economy and society measures that we don't agree with... If the list of reforms is not agreed, this agreement is dead.'

Breathing space

Of course, this is hardly anyone's ideal programme for government. While it is not true that the hated 'Troika' has returned, Greece must still deal with 'the institutions' (the European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF) – the distinction being that it now has the potential to negotiate with the different institutions one by one. Greek democracy remains partially suspended, at least for the four-month duration of the deal, subject to negotiation and oversight.

But look at the situation Syriza were in before you condemn. Multiple credible sources claim that, if they had not agreed to the deal, Greece's banks would have collapsed within days – and Syriza would have got the blame for taking the country into a new crisis. As Varoufakis said, 'Greeks were being told that if we were elected and we stayed in power for more than just a few days the ATMs will cease functioning... Today's decision puts an end to this fear.'

Defaulting on the debts and leaving the euro might be preferable in the long term – though support for that course of action among Greece's people remains very low – but it would mean huge short-term chaos and pain that Syriza's negotiation has managed to avoid.

In any case, the deal is not signed in blood. It can be ended if it goes as badly as some commentators are saying. The option of 'Grexit' and default hasn't gone away. It is clear, though, that it is not currently part of Syriza's mandate, and those who put forward that alternative in the election received only a fraction of Syriza's votes. Default was always going to be a last resort, not an opening gambit: it will only be politically possible if no alternative remains.

Give Greece a chance

Insofar as the Syriza government is having to compromise – and clearly it is making compromises short of surrender – that represents not so much their failure as our own. Syriza has always been clear that we cannot expect Greece to defeat austerity alone.

The various European ministers on the other end of the continuing negotiation with the Greek government need to be feeling the pressure. We need a huge movement across Europe in solidarity with Greece, and we need to be throwing ourselves into building that movement, not reclining in our armchairs ready to say 'I told you so'.

We must put everything we can muster into shifting the political balance of forces across Europe. We now have four months of space in which to do so: we need to make them count.

There is clearly a division among the elite now over the issue of austerity, with the US government, the Adam Smith Institute and various prominent economists not usually associated with the left backing Greece's proposals. That crack is waiting to be forced open.

This battle is a very long way from over. There are more key moments this week, and no doubt there are many weeks and months of crunch points still to come. The last thing we should be doing is abandoning Syriza because it hasn't fulfilled all our hopes in the first few weeks after its election. And it's also no use flipping backwards and forwards between enthusiasm and dejection based on each day's round of negotiations.

The future of austerity across Europe now rests on what happens in Greece. If we give up on them, we are giving up on our own struggle too.

'Give Greece a chance' has been one of the slogans aimed at the European Central Bank et al. It applies just as much to us on the left.


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vicky moller 23 February 2015, 07.33

a visit to Greece? Anyone interested? Maybe just after our Westminster election. For that it would help to achieve the snp/plaid alliance with Labour to enable a more
enlightened direction of travel for the UK. Not impossible, let’s hope and work for this?

Nick Wright 23 February 2015, 19.05

This is what Manolis Glezos,said yesterday.
He is the 92 year old Syriza MEP – the hero of the Resistance who tore down the swastika from the Acropolis and who spent more than a decade in prison and nearly five years in exile under a succession of right-wing Greek regimes – has apologised to the Greek people for contributing to the ‘illusions that Syriza has fostered.

Writing on the website of the Movement for Active Citizens which he founded he said:

“Renaming the Troika into “Institutions,” the Memorandum of Understanding into “Agreement” and the lenders into “partners,” you do not change the previous situations as in the case renaming “meat” to “fish.”

Of course, you cannot change the vote of the Greek people at the elections of January 25, 2015.

The people voted in favor of what SYRIZA promised: to remove the austerity which is not the only strategy of the oligarchic Germany and the other EU countries, but also the strategy of the Greek oligarchy.

To remove the Memoranda and the Troika, abolish all laws of austerity.

The next day after the elections, we abolish per law the Troika and its consequences.

Now a month has passed and the promises have not turned into practice.

Pity. And pity, again.

On my part, I apoligise to the Greek people because I have contributed to this illusion.

Before it is too late, though, we should react.

First of all, SYRIZA members, friends and supporters at all levels of organizations should decide in extraordinary meetings whether they accept this situation.

Some argue that to reach an agreement, you have to retreat. First: There can be no compromise between the oppressor and oppressed. Between the slave and the occupier the only solution is Freedom.

But even if we accept this absurdity, the concessions already made by the previous pro-austerity governments in terms of unemployment, austerity, poverty, suicides have gone beyond the limits.”

Manolis Glezos, Brussels February 22, 2015

Peyman 26 February 2015, 20.42

What a terrible analysis – Tom’s political orientation has blinded him for the reality it seems

Guy James 27 February 2015, 17.49

Excellent analysis. I wonder if people thought that Syriza were somehow miracle workers who could rectify the situation within a few weeks.

Totally agree we need solidarity with Greece and then it will become easier for them to achieve their aims (which to my mind are not that unattainable).

Jara Handala 2 March 2015, 15.07

The author is obviously right: austerity is now over.

He has noticed what was presumably missed by the non-Greek negotiating teams & all of the mainstream media. This was helped by Varoufakis & co. exercising due decorum in not celebrating this victory, their success in persuading the Troika that enough is enough & that austerity had to end. It shows the power of a determined single government, of a small nation, in the face of a behemoth that seemed omnipotent. It has been proved that Most analysts had seriously misjudged what was achievable.

But I’m a little concerned that the author was unable to quote the relevant passage from Friday’s statement that demonstrated the end of austerity. But maybe it isn’t in this document because it had to be an unspoken understanding, given, that is, the Troika’s previous approach.

Anyway, austerity has been defeated, it has ended. Soon you will be able to see it, if not on the faces of the destitute, then at least amongst the people at large.

The task for SYRIZA now is to let the Greek people in on the secret. The party, the government, & the civil service need a comprehensive campaign to effectively communicate the good news. This would generate jobs, & in the spirit of a new Europe it could draw upon the talented amongst Greece’s partners.

Austerity is dead, long live budget surpluses! This fundamental change could be the basis of the new progressive thinking, & practice, that Europe desperately needs. We should be able to learn much from Greece.

Will Podmore 4 March 2015, 09.52

Syriza’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, wrote in the Guardian on 18 February, “What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone, of the European Union itself …?”
“we … must try to save European capitalism …”
But to save capitalism, to save the euro, to save the EU was not what they were elected to do. They were elected to end austerity, which means to default on the debts, exit the euro, exit the EU, and oppose capitalism.
Manolis Glezos is right.
Jara Handala writes, “austerity is now over.” He confuses a declaration with reality.

Akis Siamantziouras 4 March 2015, 22.38

Syriza’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, didn’t write any article in the Guardian on 18 February!

His “article” was actually an adaptation from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013

Will Podmore 5 March 2015, 11.21

What’s your point Akis? Are you trying to deny that Varoufakis wrote what I said he wrote?
The Guardian headed the piece ‘Before he entered politics, Yanis Varoufakis, … wrote this searing account ….”
In it he did indeed write, “we … must try to save European capitalism …”

Akis Siam... 5 March 2015, 15.07

See, also, his anti-Austerity work at:

Don’t forget that M.Glezos and Y.Varoufakis have been elected as a member of the European and Greek Parliament, respectively, both with the greatest number of votes (500.000 all over Greece and 135.000 in Athens, respectively).

In my highly subjective judgement, they are both an integral part of the Greek radical left-wing party, Syriza.


P.S.: The article of Manolis Glezos is original !

Will Podmore 5 March 2015, 16.56

The Greek Communist Party rightly calls for Greece to leave the euro. Until Greece accepts this policy, the people will continue to suffer.

Akis Siam... 5 March 2015, 22.49

Syriza Leader Alexis Tsipras and the Greek people would prefer to look set to change the Europe rather than pull out of the eurozone.

But to your disappointment, there is a diversity of approaches to address the “austerity issue” [or sadistic capitalism (according to the Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki)] within Syriza.

See, for example, the last article of Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP as well as an economics professor, in the Guardian on March 2:

Will Podmore 6 March 2015, 11.27

David Cameron too talks of ‘reforming’ the EU, which should show you how unrealistic a goal that is.
Greece needs to default on its debts and leave the euro. Countries that have defaulted and restored control over their currency have done well. Countries that stay throttled in the euro will suffer interminably.

Akis Siam... 9 March 2015, 22.37

Brexit or Grexit?

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